Rapid Reaction: San Diego Chargers

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
12:21
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 38-35, come-from-behind, overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers.

What it means: At 9-6, the Chargers need a win in the team’s final regular-season contest against the Kansas City Chiefs, along with one loss in the final two games by the Baltimore Ravens, to reach the postseason for a second straight year.

Impressive comeback: Trailing 28-7 at halftime, the Chargers forced overtime after scoring two touchdowns in the final 5:15, highlighted by Philip Rivers' 11-yard scoring pass to Malcom Floyd with 29 seconds left. Kicker Nick Novak hit a 40-yard field goal in overtime for the victory.

Gore, 49ers run wild: The Chargers allowed San Francisco to rack up 355 rushing yards. At 31-years old, running back Frank Gore looked like his younger self, bowling over San Diego’s defense for 158 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown run in the opening drive of the game. Gore became the second running back to rush for over 100 yards against the Chargers this season. Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman ran for 109 yards in Week 8. Colin Kaepernick also finished with 151 rushing yards, including a 90-yard run for a score -- the longest run given up by the Chargers this season.

Stock watch: Up: Chargers inside linebacker Manti Te’o finished with a team-high 11 combined tackles, including his first career sack, playing against an athletic quarterback in Kaepernick and the hard-running Gore.

Game ball: Playing with an ailing back and chest, Rivers overcame three interceptions by throwing for 356 yards and four touchdowns.

What’s next: The Chargers hit the road for the team’s final regular-season game against AFC West rival Kansas City at 1 p.m. ET. Dec. 28.
Brown
The Oakland Raiders have put cornerback Tarell Brown on the injured reserve list. He has a foot issue.

Brown, who signed a one-year deal with Oakland in 20104 from Bay Area rival San Francisco, started all 14 games this season. Brown is the 14th player Oakland has put on the injured reserve this season. He is the 10th defensive player to be put on the injured reserve and sixth defensive starter shelved due to injury for the 2-12 Raiders.

The Raiders promoted linebacker Spencer Hadley from the practice squad to take Brown’s spot on the 53-man roster.

W2W4: San Diego Chargers

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
3:00
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Diego Chargers (8-6) travel to the Bay Area to face the San Francisco 49ers (7-7) in a nationally televised contest at 8:25 p.m. ET at Levi’s Stadium.

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

1. Get off to a fast start: The Chargers have not scored a point in the opening quarter of the past two games, both losses. Wrestling control of the game by getting some points on the opening drive on offense is important for San Diego on the road this weekend. The Chargers are 4-1 this season in games when they led at the end of the first quarter.

Rivers
2. Run the ball with authority: The Chargers have not rushed for more than 100 yards as an offense in the past three games, and they are 1-2 in those contests. San Francisco’s defense has given up an average of 131 rushing yards a contest in the team’s past three games -- all losses. San Diego can’t expect Philip Rivers to sling the ball 40 times with an ailing back and chest in order to move the football. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich has to figure out a way to generate a consistent run game in order to protect Rivers. That is especially true without receiver Keenan Allen available.

3. Make Kaepernick play from within the pocket: Opposing defenses this season have done a good job of keeping San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick from breaking containment, making him complete passes from inside the pocket. Kaepernick has an 84.1 passer rating and has not thrown a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. He has yet to post a rushing touchdown after finishing with four last season. The Chargers have to stay disciplined in their rush lanes defensively, and not allow Kaepernick to gain confidence by making plays with his feet.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was sent home Saturday from the team’s complex because he suffered from what head coach John Fox called "flu-like symptoms."

Sanders
Sanders did not participate in the team’s practice and was officially listed as questionable for Monday night’s game against the Bengals. However, Fox said Sanders will make the Sunday afternoon trip to Cincinnati with the Broncos and is expected to play in the game.

Sanders is the team’s second-leading receiver with 89 catches and 1,261 yards.

Quarterback Peyton Manning was limited in Saturday’s practice because of a right thigh injury he suffered in this past weekend's win against San Diego, and also listed as questionable. However, Manning, too, is expected to start. He threw in drills during the workout after participating in the team’s walk-through.

Other than when he missed the 2011 season following spinal-fusion surgery, Manning has not missed a start in his 16 other NFL seasons. Asked about Manning’s workload in Saturday’s practice, Fox said:

"(It was) fairly normal to the rest of the season ... He looked good in practice."

Manning also participated in the walk-through and threw in individual drills Friday. On Thursday, Manning participated in the Broncos’ walk-through, went through the team stretch and then went back into the Broncos’ complex to get treatment.

Manning, who played Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms after getting four IVs Saturday night and Sunday morning combined, injured his thigh when he rolled out right to throw a 12-yard completion to Sanders with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the first half.

Manning stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but left the field following a C.J. Anderson run for no gain on a third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 1-yard line. Brock Osweiler finished out the first half before Manning played the entire second half.

Also Saturday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot) and tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) did not practice and will not play Monday night. Marshall is the Broncos’ leading tackler.

Running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee), running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) were also limited in Saturday’s practice and officially listed as questionable for the game. Clady is expected to start at left tackle, and Thompson and Hillman are expected to be available to play.

Hillman has not played since he suffered his injury Nov. 9 against the Oakland Raiders.

Center Will Montgomery (knee) and tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) participated fully Saturday and will play. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), Anderson (left ankle), and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) all took part fully in Saturday’s practice as well and will play.
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ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reports that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell put an end to speculation that a team would relocate to Los Angeles in 2015 when he told the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams -- each of whom can file a relocation application for the 2015 season starting January 1 -- that there will not be a team that moves to Los Angeles for next season, per league sources, and any team that is considering it should look to 2016 instead.

Schefter’s report explains why the Chargers announced on Tuesday that they are staying in San Diego, stating that the team will not exercise its right to terminate the lease at Qualcomm Stadium, and committing to play in the city for the 2015 season.

According to Schefter, Goodell’s message does not stop a team like the Raiders or the Rams from filing relocation papers. However, without the league’s support, it would be hard for an application to get the required 24 votes for approval. So the expectation is Los Angeles will have to wait for a team until at least 2016.

Mark Fabiani, special counsel to Chargers president Dean Spanos and the team’s point person on the stadium issue, explained the reasoning behind this week’s announcement in a recent interview with The Mighty 1090 AM radio.

"We thought it was the right time, because it’s basically the same time period we’ve used in past years," Fabiani said. "But we also came to the conclusion based on all of the intelligence-gathering that we’ve done that it’s not likely that any other team is going to relocate to Los Angeles this next season, which means that 30 percent or so of our business that comes from the L.A. and Orange County markets will be safe for us for at least another year."

While the team’s announcement provides a one-year reprieve for San Diego to put together a stadium approval that satisfies all of the stakeholders involved in the project, Fabiani said the team will continue to keep a watchful eye on the Los Angeles market.

"It’s such a huge market," Fabiani said, when asked about the reason teams want to move to Los Angeles. "It’s 19 million people, if you count L.A., Orange County and the Inland Empire. And if you have owners that want to go to that market, if you have a market that’s big enough that you can basically privately finance your stadium, somebody’s going to do it, and sooner rather than later.

"I think the fact that it hasn’t happened over the last 13 years is because these teams were not eligible to leave their existing stadiums -- they had leases. But that’s different now. Both of those teams (Rams and Raiders) are at least legally free to go. And at some point, one of them is going to do it, and maybe two of them are."

Fabiani went on to say that two teams moving to Los Angeles is a possibility, because they could share the costs of privately financing the stadium. However, two teams in the L.A. market would hurt the Chargers financially.

"If we have two teams in that market, we dry up our 30 percent of the revenue that now comes from that market," he said. "We have no options here in San Diego. We’re playing in an aging stadium. Our lease is expiring in 2020. You just can’t allow the team to be in that position. And I don’t think that Dean Spanos has any intention of allowing the team to be in that position."
The Oakland Raiders and their home crowd always have a special bond on game day. On Sunday, the feeling could be even more emotional because the team's future in Oakland is still up in the air. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills could be the team’s final game in Oakland.

Sparano
The Raiders do not have a lease to play in Oakland beyond this season, and the team has been connected to both Los Angeles and San Antonio. Raiders owner Mark Davis is on the record as saying he wants to stay in Oakland with a new stadium, but he is open to all possibilities.

Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said he doesn’t know too much about the situation, but he said his players know it’s possible that this could be the last game in Oakland.

“I have given some thought to that. It’s not something I’ve really spent a lot of time talking to the team about, but I know the team knows and they’re aware of it; we’ve touched on it briefly,” Sparano said. “But at the end of the whole thing, we don’t know.”

The Raiders have won consecutive home games and Sparano said the primary focus is making it three in a row to close the season.
SAN JOSE, Calif. – San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews will miss a second straight game because of a severely sprained ankle.

Mathews was ruled out for Saturday's game against the San Francisco 49ers on Friday. Mathews did not practice for a second straight week and will miss his ninth game this season.

However, the Chargers will likely have the team’s franchise quarterback. Philip Rivers (back, chest) was a full participant in practice for a second straight day on Friday and is listed as probable on the team’s injury report.

Along with Mathews, receiver Keenan Allen (shoulder, ankle) and punter Mike Scifres (shoulder) also were ruled out.

Defensive tackle Corey Liuget (ankle) and tight end Ladarius Green (concussion, ankle) were full participants for a second straight day and are questionable. Defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers (elbow) also was a full participant and is probable.
The Oakland Raiders have taken a beating during this rough, 2-12 season. Oakland has 13 players on injured reserve and six additional players were ruled out for Sunday’s home finale against Buffalo.

The six players are defensive backs Tarell Brown and Chimdi Chekwa, tackle Menelik Watson, receivers Vincent Brown and Denarius Moore and tight end Brian Leonhardt. The Raiders need to add just one player to the inactive list Sunday.

Cornerback D.J. Hayden (back) and defensive tackle C.J. Wilson (knee) are both listed as questionable. Hayden was limited in practice Friday. With Brown and Chewka out, Hayden, who’d start for Brown, is needed.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was officially listed as limited in Friday’s practice because of a right thigh injury, but Manning threw more than he did in Thursday’s practice as the Broncos close in on Monday night’s game in Cincinnati.

Manning participated in the walk-through and threw in individual drills Friday and is still on track to start against the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. Other than when he missed the 2011 season because of spinal-fusion surgery Manning has not missed a start in his 16 other NFL seasons.

Thursday Manning participated in the Broncos’ walk-through, went through the team stretch and then went back into the Broncos’ complex to get treatment on his leg. Friday he remained in the field for practice, throwing throughout the portion open for viewing.

“He’s improving, I thought he had good work out there [Friday],’’ said Broncos head coach John Fox, following Friday’s practice.

Manning, who played last Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms after getting four IVs Saturday night and Sunday morning combined, injured his thigh on a rollout with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the first half.

He stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but gave way to Brock Osweiler, who finished out the first half. Manning went on to play the entire second half.

Also Thursday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot) and tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) did not practice.

Running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee), who was held out of Thursday’s practice, took part in Friday’s on a limited basis. Also limited were running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), center Will Montgomery (knee) and cornerback Kayvon Webster.

Tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs), who had been limited in Thursday’s practice, was a full participant in Friday’s practice. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), Anderson (left ankle) and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) all took part fully in Friday’s practice.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- I’ve heard the suggestions -- not from anyone inside Kansas City Chiefs headquarters, it should be noted -- that we are seeing the beginning of the career decline for running back Jamaal Charles.

Charles
The theory goes that the repeated injuries he’s fought through this season are an indication his body is breaking down after a few seasons with a heavy workload. A decline in skills is sure to follow.

Charles has gone through more than his share of injuries this season, enough to make you wonder whether we are seeing the beginning of the end. From foot problems in August and September, to current knee and ankle issues, to the strange situation in October when he described having several concussion symptoms without having a concussion, it’s been a weird season for him.

But Charles hasn’t reached the point where his skills are declining. You can’t possibly have watched Charles run in recent games and come to that conclusion.

By the numbers, Charles is more effective when he’s getting the ball this season than he was in a relatively healthy 2013 season. Charles averages 5.2 yards per carry, compared to 5.0 last season. He scores a rushing touchdown every 20.4 carries, as opposed to every 21.6 carries last season. He is nowhere near as dynamic a receiver as he was last season, but that speaks to larger problems with the passing game more than it does Charles’ shortcomings.

The situation bears watching. When a back loses his skills, it doesn’t happen over a period of years, but almost overnight.
Charles turns 28 next week. That is young by many standards, but not for a running back who has touched the ball more than 1,500 times during a seven-year NFL career.

So it’s going to happen and sneak up on us when it does. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Broncos vs. Bengals preview

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:00
AM ET
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When: 8:30 p.m. ET Monday Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati TV: ESPN

Peyton Manning is good. Under the lights, the Cincinnati Bengals are not.

But if the Bengals have plans of joining the Denver Broncos as a playoff-bound team, they will have to overcome the future Hall of Fame quarterback and put to rest their atrocious recent prime-time showing.

Since 2011, the year Andy Dalton became its starting quarterback, Cincinnati is 2-9 in nationally televised playoff games and night games on Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights.

Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Bengals reporter Coley Harvey are here to preview this week's "Monday Night Football" game:

Harvey: Manning is 8-0 against the Bengals, including a 3-0 mark against them in December. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and no interceptions against them in December. For the Bengals to have any hope of stopping him, what are two things their defense must do?

Legwold: As an opposing defensive coach told me this season, "I don't know why anybody needs to list the stats for him; let's just assume they're good against everybody and go from there." Manning has won at least eight games against 10 different teams in his career. And defensively, the formula is not complicated, yet difficult to do. Defenses who succeed against him generally create some kind of consistent pressure in the middle of the field -- they win the A gaps -- keeping him from setting his feet, and they don't give him room to climb the pocket to step into his throws. Those defenses also limit the Broncos' ability to use their variety of crossing routes. They play physically against the Broncos' receivers and limit yards after the catch because they tackle well. Not rocket science, but difficult to do because the Broncos are creative in play design. Manning delivers the ball quickly and consistently makes defenses pay for sending extra rushers (game video shows Manning had five completions this past weekend against the Chargers' blitz for 111 yards and a touchdown). So, a defense has to get all of that done largely by rushing four players, and it can't miss assignments behind that rush.

Defending a rookie in his first NFL start is one thing, and the Bengals did well in a 30-0 win against the Cleveland Browns with Johnny Manziel behind center last week, but how do you expect them to defend Manning?

Harvey: You just summed it up perfectly, Leggy. I'll add this. A defense can best stop Manning by sending a standard four-man rush and hope and pray the coverage downfield holds up. Last week, in fact, this was exactly what allowed the Bengals to bully Manziel. Only twice did they send blitzes on the mobile young quarterback. The rest of the time, they did exactly what you prescribed: They attacked the A gaps with great interior pressure from the line and forced Manziel to roll to his right. Obviously, Manning isn't rolling anywhere, but the Bengals have to hope Geno Atkins is up to pushing back the line the way he has finally started doing in recent weeks. With the Bengals also expected to use a lot of nickel defense to counter the Broncos' multi-receiver and tight end looks, don't be surprised if defensive end Wallace Gilberry goes inside to give some extra athleticism to the interior rush.

Jeff, it seems like over the past seven weeks, running back C.J. Anderson has exploded onto the scene for Denver. First, why did it take so long to get him involved in the run game, and second, what did Buffalo do so well to hold him in check two weeks ago?

Legwold: During the Broncos' offseason work, especially in minicamp, there was some thought around the team that Anderson's spot was pretty tenuous and that he might not make the roster because he had tried to bulk up a bit and looked sluggish. Anderson showed up to training camp leaner and looked far better, but Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman had already pushed their way in front of him. Anderson had routinely flashed in practice and in his limited game work, at least enough to stay in the mix, and when injuries forced the Broncos to hand him the ball, he showed patience and vision as a runner -- perhaps more than they thought he had -- and he almost always made the first defender miss or powered through the attempted tackle. If you're looking for a play that got everybody's attention, it was his 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown in Oakland when he made a one-handed grab on a screen pass -- a play Manning said he thought was "going to be a 1- or 2-yard loss" -- and five different Raiders had a chance to bring Anderson down and did not. In terms of Buffalo's plan, it was a sound group that was assignment-disciplined and tackled well; defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has faced Manning plenty over the years because of Schwartz's time with the Titans. The Bills came into the game against the Broncos leading the league in sacks, and they didn't sack Manning in the game. Anderson did pound the ball into the end zone three times, but his 2.8 yards per carry were the lowest since he became starter.

The Bengals are one of six teams averaging more than 30 rushing attempts per game this season; the Broncos are No. 2 in run defense. Do you think the Bengals will still try to pound away some to limit the Broncos' possessions, or because they believe they will be able to make some running room?

Harvey: One of the Bengals' most recent additions is NFL Players Association president Eric Winston, an offensive tackle who, before coming to Cincinnati three weeks ago, spent six seasons with the Texans and one with the Chiefs. He had an up-close look at Manning twice a season during the Texans' AFC South games when the quarterback still played for the Colts, and saw him twice in Kansas City in 2012. This week, Winston said those teams' mindset against Manning always involved running. So yes, I believe the run should, and will, be the Bengals' approach. Besides, Jeremy Hill has been running well in the past six weeks, topping 140 yards three times in that span. His hard running and guard Kevin Zeitler's constant pulling made for a nightmare day for Cleveland's defense. Also, I noticed that of the four times this season when teams have run 25 or more times against Denver, they beat the Broncos three times. To me, Cincinnati's best hope of winning is to run well, run often, get a late lead, and play keep-away from Manning.

Jeff, I'm sure the Broncos' many pass-rushers will be hounding Dalton all night, but why has Denver's front seven been so good against the run?

Legwold: Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is -- even nationally, perhaps -- an undervalued player when it comes to what he means to the Broncos' run defense. He's disruptive, ties up blockers and doesn't get turned in the hole. He stays square and takes away run lanes. The Broncos also have plenty of team speed across the front and pursue the ball well. Even their pass-rushers, like DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, are disciplined in their run fits. Ware especially has shown himself to be reliable in how he sets the edge, and as a result, offenses haven't been able to run the ball to the inside shoulders of Ware and Miller because they play with some vision as they move up the field. That wasn't always the case earlier in Miller's career, when offenses would catch him at times being a little too aggressive as he tried to get upfield. The Broncos have tackled well for the most part, too. They have helped themselves with good work on first down, as well. Offenses are routinely facing second-and-8 or third-and-7, and that takes those offenses out of any rhythm to run. For example, the Chargers ran the ball 10 times on first down last Sunday. Only one of the runs went for more than five yards -- an 11-yard run by Branden Oliver early in the fourth quarter -- and six went for three or fewer yards.

Few players take as much heat for their prime-time and/or postseason performance as Dalton. Is there significantly more pressure on him in this one given it is the "Monday Night Football" regular-season finale and the Bengals need the win to keep the inside track for a shot at the division title?

Harvey: It's more of the latter, Jeff. The pressure will be raised on Dalton this week because the Bengals simply have to get it done. Though there is an outside shot they will sneak into the playoffs as an AFC wild card if they lose the next two games, they would do themselves so many favors if they won at least one. The finale at Pittsburgh next week won't be a cakewalk, either. The heat Dalton has taken is real and deserved. It seems like he's mostly great at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. But turn on the lights and he's not. From a personal standpoint, Dalton wants to make up for his last nationally televised outing. The Bengals lost to Cleveland 24-3 in a Thursday night game last month in which Dalton registered a 2.0 passer rating.

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Bills vs. Raiders preview

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:00
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video When: 4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: O.co Coliseum, Oakland TV: CBS

The Buffalo Bills have the longest playoff drought in the NFL. It’s been 15 years since this franchise has tasted the postseason.

The Oakland Raiders are right behind them in the playoff futility chase. Oakland is tied with Cleveland for the second-longest playoff drought. Oakland hasn’t been to the postseason since 2002.

The Raiders are going to try to keep from moving up on this dubious list by attempting to knock off the visiting Bills Sunday. The Bills are 8-6 and their playoff hopes are alive. Oakland is 2-12 and is in play for the No. 1 overall pick.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Raiders reporter Bill Williamson preview the game:

Rodak: Bill, what's your gut feeling on the Raiders' future in Oakland? Could this be the last game they play at O.co Coliseum?

Williamson: Yes, we could be on the cusp of the final game in Oakland. It is not out of the question that the Raiders move back to Los Angeles for the 2015 season. Oakland owner Mark Davis is on the record as saying he wants to stay in Oakland, but it has to be with a new stadium. The team does not have a lease to play in Oakland next season. Davis is also saying he’d be open to playing in L.A., or even San Antonio, if a new stadium deal in Oakland isn’t reached. The Raiders are not close to a new deal in Oakland. While L.A. is possible and we hear a lot about it, I think we have to actually see the Raiders move to Los Angeles before I'll believe it. Everything is in play.

Mike, the Bills, on the other hand, are set with their new leadership. Do you think the stability has changed the entire feeling around the franchise?

Rodak: Without a doubt. There were always fears about the team moving to Los Angeles, or more recently, Toronto. The team faced blackout issues for games in recent seasons, while funding for a new stadium was an issue in a small market. In truth, there would have been more outside suitors for the team had the Bills’ lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium not been so restrictive -- a victory for the county and state. In the end, the Bills found owners for the team in Terry and Kim Pegula who had both local ties and the capital necessary to win the bidding. While much remains to be decided about a new stadium, when it will be built and how it will be funded, any thoughts of the team relocating have passed.

Bill, if the Bills are going to draft a quarterback this spring, it will almost certainly have to be in the second round or later -- they don't have a first-round pick. The Raiders selected Derek Carr in the second round last May; has he shown signs he can be Oakland's franchise quarterback?

Williamson: The Raiders could trade their top pick to a team wanting to draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston for a gaggle of selections. The Raiders like Carr. Even if there is a brand-new regime in Oakland, which is very likely, I’d think Carr will be the guy. He has a great arm, he’s poised and he’s a leader. Give him more talent and he should be a quality player for the long haul.

Mike, the Bills made a big trade up in the draft this year to get Sammy Watkins. Could you see them perhaps being a trade partner with the Raiders in their search for a quarterback?

Rodak: I do think that the Bills must get creative at quarterback. Given what we saw out of EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton this season, it would be a tough sell to fans to turn back to either next season without a clear backup plan. I don’t see the Bills having interest in either of the Raiders’ backups, Matt Schaub or Matt McGloin. The names that have been the subject of media-based speculation include Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin III, although it’s unclear if either will become available or if the Bills would have interest. As far as the Bills and Raiders trading draft picks, I see that as unlikely. The Raiders could select as high as first overall, and having already sent their first-round pick to Cleveland in the Watkins trade, the Bills don’t have anywhere near the ammunition to move that high in the draft.

Bill, wins have been a rarity for the Raiders this year, but they were able to beat the Chiefs, a team that is fighting with the Bills for an AFC wild-card spot. What would be the formula for Oakland to repeat that sort of performance against Buffalo?

Williamson: Playing at home won’t hurt. Both of their wins came at home. The Raiders get a lot of energy from their fans. The Raiders won those two games with timely offense. They ran the ball and Carr was terrific when it counted in both games. The offense has not been good for most of the season. If this offense can play a clean, clutch game, Oakland can end the home slate on a good note.

Mike, could you see the Bills letting down against the Raiders after their big win over Green Bay?

Rodak: I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility. The Bills put a lot of energy into trying to topple Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers over the past two weeks, and now they’ll need to take a six-hour plane ride across the country Friday night. Road trips that long can be draining at this time of the season. If the Bills have a “letdown” game in Oakland, I think the formula would be what has plagued them in other losses this season: an inability to score on offense. The Bills have the NFL’s 31st-ranked red zone offense and might not have won against Green Bay had they not scored on defense and special teams. Unless the Raiders have a meltdown as the Jets did against the Bills twice this season, the Bills most likely will need to find a way to put the ball in the end zone.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs have rightly tried to do everything they possibly could this season to take the pressure off rookie kicker Cairo Santos. But they might have gone too far this week by blaming long snapper Thomas Gafford for two missed field goals in Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders.

The snaps on both kicks were off, but not by that much. In both cases, holder Dustin Colquitt did a nice job of getting the ball to the spot for Santos on time.

Santos
Santos
“It starts with the snap and the hold," special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “The hold was good, and then that just throws it off a little bit.

“Sometimes when [Santos] feels like he needs to speed it up and he doesn’t see a perfect snap and it just throws the timing off a little bit and he hits the ball not like he wants to hit it. We have to make sure that everything is perfect. Especially with a rookie kicker, we have to be consistent. The snap and the hold have to be perfect.”

But as coach Andy Reid noted early in the week, it isn’t always going to be perfect for the kicker. To his credit, Toub didn’t let Santos escape without blame.

“We held him accountable, too," Toub said. “We didn’t make an excuse for him, that he missed it because of the snap. He was still able to see the ball. He has to get in there and make that kick.

“Being that it is his rookie year, we need to give him every opportunity to be successful. The veterans need to do that."

Toub said the Chiefs have no plans to promote long snapper Charley Hughlett, who was added to the practice squad this week, to replace Gafford.

“The timing of it seems like we’re trying to put the pressure on Gafford," Toub said. “We’re looking at a future guy, a possible guy that we’re going to have for training camp, in the offseason."

Despite success, rookie Khalil Mack still looking to improve

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:50
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Khalil Mack might be a strong candidate for defensive rookie of the year honors, but the Oakland Raiders' outside linebacker is far from a polished product.

The fifth overall pick in this year's NFL draft, Mack has been attracting attention and garnering praise from opposing players and coaches around the league from the moment he first stepped on the field in the preseason.

Mack
Despite frequently facing double-team blocking schemes, Mack is among the team leaders in tackles, is tied for the team-high in sacks and is second in the NFL behind Denver's Von Miller in quarterback hurries. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Mack also has 15 tackles for losses which is second among all rookies behind St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

In Mack's eyes, however, there is plenty of room for improvement.

"There are a lot of things I need to work on," Mack said Thursday. "My vision looking in on plays, playing with my hands better, especially pass-rushing. A whole lot of things I want to work on. It's always something to get better at, whether I'm excelling at it or not."

Mack had a decorated career in college while attending the University at Buffalo but there was some apprehension and debate over whether he could make the transition to the NFL. That chatter died down and was quickly replaced by talk about how many postseason awards Mack might be in line for.

Through 14 games Mack has the highest grade among all linebackers, according to ProFootballFocus.com. It's worth noting that Mack has been so strong that until this week the website listed him as an outside 3-4 linebacker even though the Raiders play a base 4-3.

ESPN analyst and former NFL running back Merril Hoge was effusive in his praise of Mack when discussing the rookie linebacker recently.

"Every week, one of the teams I watch early on is the Raider defense," Hoge said. "And the reason I want to watch is Khalil Mack. He's not just one of the best rookies to come out, he's the best linebacker in the National Football League, and he is the best against the run."

Mack won't go that far.

He long ago shed the feelings of being a rookie and has steadily improved throughout the course of the season, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the 2-12 Raiders.

"I'm trying to go out and get better every week," Mack said. "I know I'm playing against the best in the world whenever I'm out there on the field so I want to play at my best. I can't really look at it as being a rookie."

Having a locker next to two-time Super Bowl champ Justin Tuck has kept the young linebacker humble and has helped keep Mack focused on the task at hand.

"You can see me out on the field, I'm always bugging him about something but he's always teaching me lessons," Mack said. "He's in my ear as well. It's great to have that type of guy in the locker room. He's a stand-up guy. He's like a big brother."
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When defensive tackle Terrance Knighton offered his quasi-promise -- his "we won't be satisfied" belief -- that the Denver Broncos would win the Super Bowl, it raised the expected hackles in the social media world.

It certainly got the expected venom from the New England Patriots' faithful, some of it directed toward Knighton himself, who saw their team defeat the Broncos 43-21, on Nov. 2 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

It even drew the "we'll do our talking on the field" quote from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The one place it hasn't registered all that much on the football Richter scale is in the Broncos' locker room.

"[Knighton] is a grown man, [Coach John Fox] talked to him a little bit, I guess, talked to the team a little bit," said cornerback Aqib Talib, who played just under two seasons in New England before he signed with the Broncos this past March. " ... If that's how he was feeling when the question was asked, that's how he was feeling when the question was asked ... everybody in the league, it ain't no secret, he just said it, but everybody in the league is thinking it. He was just the one who said it. It ain't no big deal to us."

"I think Terrance has got a lot of confidence, I think that's a good quality about him," said quarterback Peyton Manning.

Following Sunday's win over the San Diego Chargers that clinched Denver's fourth consecutive AFC West title, Knighton was asked about the team's postseason potential. He then told Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla:
It doesn't matter what happens. At the end of the year, we're hoisting that trophy. I don't care if New England doesn't lose again. I don't care where we have to play. I don't care who our opponent is. We're not going to be satisfied until we hoist that trophy. So if we've got to go to New England [in the playoffs] and win somewhere we're not used to winning, we're going to make it happen. Write that. And put a big period after that one.

Following Thursday's practice Fox, much like he did earlier in the week, chose to simply deflect Super Bowl talk. The Broncos, from John Elway on down, have said since the start of the offseason program they wanted another shot at the title game after the blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII last February.

Many players have said anything less than a Super Bowl win this time around would be a major disappointment. A theme many Broncos players believe has been expressed in many other NFL outposts, so Knighton's teammates haven't seen what much of the fuss is about.

Fox simply deflected away from the topic following Thursday's practice with: "I think there is no doubt we've had a lot of goals this season and right now our goal is to focus on Cincinnati."

And Knighton? Well, he's treated this like he does run defense much of the time, as in he has dug in and is not being pushed off his spot. After practice Thursday, Knighton, a Connecticut native who has repeatedly said he was a Patriots fan growing up and that many of his family members are still Patriots' fans, was still feeling good about the Broncos' chances.

"I feel like our defense right now is playing the best of any defense right now in the NFL," Knighton said. "And we want to carry this team to a Super Bowl victory. I stand by what I said, I don't care who we play, where we play, put the ball down and we're going to come out with a victory."

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