FRISCO, Texas -- If you listen hard enough, you can start to hear the whispers.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott needs Ezekiel Elliott. Without the star running back, Prescott isn't the same quarterback. He can't make things happen when defenses are designed to stop him, not Elliott. Prescott can't be mentioned with the better quarterbacks in the NFL. He's a game manager.

The two-game sample size offers up the evidence to those who want to believe Prescott is more that kind of quarterback than the one who won 13 games, threw 24 touchdown passes with only four interceptions, and ran for six more scores as a rookie in 2016.

In the losses to the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles without Elliott, the Cowboys have had 22 possessions with Prescott and scored only one touchdown. That drive was only 21 yards long after a takeaway against the Falcons.

Excluding the season finale when the coaches held out Elliott against the Eagles, the Cowboys scored at least 24 points in 12 of 15 games. They scored at least 28 points in the last six games Elliott played this season.

cowboys sackedPhoto by Todd Kirkland/Icon SportswireDak Prescott has been sacked 12 times in the past two games.

In the two games without Elliott, Prescott completed 38 of 61 passes for 321 yards without a touchdown and three interceptions. He was sacked 12 times. He has lost two fumbles in the past two games, too.

Prescott is aware of the whispers but pays no mind to them. In the Atlanta game, the Cowboys could not protect him. And against the Eagles?

"I simply didn't play well in the Philly game," Prescott said.

Have the defenses done different things without Elliott on the field.

"Can't say they have," Prescott said.

Prescott said there have been a couple of plays that have changed the shape of the past two games. Against Philadelphia, he could not shake the image of seeing Cole Beasley running free underneath on an all-out blitz by the Eagles that led him to throwing a jump ball in the end zone to Dez Bryant that fell incomplete.

If he finds Beasley, he knows the Cowboys get a first down and he says he thinks Beasley might have scored. Instead the Cowboys settled for Mike Nugent's third field goal of the first half.

"Me personally, I've just got to take some passes underneath and let guys run with the ball in their hands," Prescott said. "The game goes back to two or three plays and you can always say, 'If we would've done this or that on that play it would've been a different game.' For me it's just getting the ball out sometimes and trust a short route is going to get as much as a deep ball down the field."

Without question, Elliott's absence has hurt the Cowboys' offense, not just Prescott, but the absence of left tackle Tyron Smith, who has sat out the past two games because of a groin strain, has impacted Prescott more. The 12 sacks in the past two games are the most he has been sacked in a two-game span in his career. He had a three-game run last year in which he was sacked three times each game. In the first eight games of the season, he was never sacked more than twice in a game.

Smith is expected to play Thursday against the Los Angeles Chargers.

"The last couple of weeks, as much as anything else, we have been compromised a little in our protection," coach Jason Garrett said. "We haven't been able to protect as well as we typically have. ... We have to get better there. We have to do a better job protecting the quarterback and giving Dak a chance, and I think that will help everything. I think we will be able to simply be more efficient. Complete more balls, make more big plays."

As good as things were for Prescott as a rookie, there were questions last December. He had two subpar games against the Minnesota Vikings, a 17-15 win, and the New York Giants, a 10-7 loss.

The Cowboys had 28 possessions in the two games and produced three touchdowns and a field goal. Prescott's touchdown pass to Bryant beat the Vikings after the Cowboys recovered a fumbled punt at the Minnesota 8. Prescott completed 12 of 18 passes for 39 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked three times and lost one of his two fumbles.

Against the Giants, the Cowboys had nine possessions end in a punt, two in an interception and one on a fumble. He completed only 17 of 37 passes for 165 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown to Terrance Williams. He had the first two-interception game of his career.

He had Elliott for both of those games.

He won't see Elliott again this year until Dec. 24 against the Seattle Seahawks.

A year ago, he answered the December questions by completing 32 of 36 passes for 279 yards in a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He needs similar answers now, starting Thursday against the Chargers.video

On the first play of the first NFL SkyCam broadcast, a quarterback threw to a receiver who had lined up wide and was initially unseen by the audience. Five plays later, we watched that same receiver streak downfield and get open -- even before the quarterback noticed and threw to him for a 41-yard touchdown.

Those two connections between Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown illustrated the limited utility of the SkyCam angle. Although it excited viewers during an unplanned weather-forced appearance in Week 7, especially those who found it familiar to the "Madden" video game perspective, it received more mixed reviews when NBC intentionally used it for most of the Steelers' Week 11 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

An unscientific ESPN poll found 52 percent approval among nearly 9,500 respondents. More importantly, none of the NFL's four broadcasters would commit this week to televising another game primarily from the SkyCam view. For now it appears more likely to serve as a secondary option, destined one day as a digital choice and also a platform for further innovation.

"We enjoyed the challenge of presenting last Thursday's game with much of the live action covered by SkyCam," an NBC spokesman said. "As we expected, there was a range of reaction as some fans have become accustomed to the traditional camera angles, while many others were excited to watch the game from a perspective that they've grown up with, but was new to television. We look forward to evaluating the telecast further in the coming days."

A CBS spokesperson said: "We will continue to use SkyCam aggressively but there are no changes planned to our core coverage."

Titans-SteelersNBCAntonio Brown, who would catch a pass on this play, was lined up wide right and not visible in this pre-snap view from the SkyCam angle.

ESPN has routinely offered SkyCam views as part of its supplementary digital and command center for college football. Ed Placey, senior coordinating producer for college football, said earlier this month that "there was enough of an appetite" to continue providing SkyCam views as an alternative but that "there are too many times when it has an inferior angle."

As for NFL coverage on Monday Night Football, an ESPN spokesman said: "We will continue to use SkyCam on Monday Night Football, primarily on replays but also live on specific plays when viewers will benefit from this perspective as the primary view."

A Fox Sports executive, meanwhile, said it is more likely that SkyCam will provide an avenue for new content rather than replace the current approach.

"I don't know if using a SkyCam as a main view is really worth making a big thing about," said Michael Davies, senior vice president of field and technical operations. "Because we've been able to mix it in with our regular coverage. It's not a one-size fits all. I think there are certain plays and certain situations where it make sense to use the SkyCam live as your play-by-play, and there are certain times where cameras 1, 2 or 3 do a great job as well. I think it's a platform that can work for that. Whether or not you use it for your whole main angle, I think it's a good tool to use among all the other tools that are out there."

While the verdict appears to have fallen against SkyCam as a primary view, it does lend itself to other experiments. For the Notre Dame-Michigan State game on Sept. 23, Fox engineers attached a 360-degree camera to the SkyCam structure, providing social media and YouTube users with modified virtual reality of pregame and halftime festivities. The feature will also be available for this weekend's Michigan-Ohio State game, and it's not difficult to imagine it making its way into both the NFL, perhaps to provide in-game highlights, in the future.

"I think there's just a lot more to [SkyCam]," Davies said. "We think it's an important live camera, and we're certainly thankful for that and use it for that, but there's a lot more to it as well."

Ultimately, even if not immediately, broadcasters won't face an either-or choice between traditional and SkyCam views. The looming digital broadcasting era will allow audience members to make that decision with the click of a mouse. In the short-term, however, there is no indication that SkyCam will spark a paradigm change in the way football is broadcast to its main audience. So it goes.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Rashaan Melvin wasn’t supposed to be in this position.

Not after failing to receive any NCAA Division I football scholarship offers coming out of high school. Not with the countless injuries that the Indianapolis Colts cornerback still remembers as if they occurred yesterday. Not with a former back-to-back Pro Bowler and a 2017 second-round pick expected to be the Colts' top cornerbacks this season.

But here Melvin, a quiet yet confident player, stands as the Colts’ No. 1 cornerback, while Vontae Davis was released two weeks ago and Quincy Wilson has either been injured or in the coaches’ doghouse most of his rookie season.

Rashaan MelvinPhoto by Zach Bolinger/Icon SportswireRashaan Melvin has gone from a Division I walk-on to the Colts' top cover man.

“It’s always a goal to be a No. 1 corner, to be the top cover guy on your team,” Melvin said. “That was my goal, my plan and it’s coming together by the way I’m playing.”

There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind inside the Colts organization that Melvin is now the team’s top cornerback. That’s why coach Chuck Pagano and his defensive coaches had no reservations when Melvin approached them two weeks ago and said he wanted to shadow Pittsburgh All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown.

That was a different approach from in previous seasons -- even with Davis on the roster -- for the Pagano-coached teams. They routinely kept left/right assignments with cornerbacks in the past.

Melvin held Brown to two catches for 15 yards for nearly 60 minutes. The one time Melvin didn’t stop him -- a 32-yard reception -- put the Steelers in position for the game-winning field goal as time expired.

“At the end of day they made a play when it counted, but it doesn’t take away from how I played in that game,” Melvin said. “I feel like you have to have a mind set of a boxer, like a heavyweight champion. You have to be willing to take some hits, give some hits for all 12 rounds. Just like in a football game, you have to be able to take some hits and give some hits out for all four quarters. At the end, the better man on that day is going to win. I’m not afraid to put my talents up against anybody.”

The fact that Melvin was even on the field shadowing one of the NFL’s premier receivers is something that not even he was sure would happen.

Melvin was a basketball, football and baseball player growing up. Many thought he should have pursued playing college basketball. But Melvin didn’t want to hear that. Melvin’s father, James, constantly told him he had what it took to play in the NFL.

That seemed like more of a dream than a reality for Rashaan Melvin. The only football scholarship offer he received was from Concordia (Minnesota) University, a NCAA Division II school. Melvin ended up walking on at Northern Illinois, where he eventually earned a scholarship during his sophomore season. Melvin signed with Tampa Bay as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2013.

And remember his injury problems? Melvin knows them all.


He pulled a hamstring in the last preseason game during his rookie season with the Buccaneers. Melvin still made the 53-man roster, but he ended up tearing his hamstring, which ended his season, in the days leading up to their Week 6 game. He suffered a badly sprained ankle on the first day of training camp in his second season before tearing the deltoid ligament in his ankle right before the start of the regular season. Melvin eventually was released by the Buccaneers.

After a brief stint on Miami’s practice squad, the Baltimore Ravens signed Melvin in Week 10 of his second season. Offseason shoulder surgery cost Melvin all of the offseason workouts. He then tore his quad and pulled his hamstring during training camp. The Ravens stuck with Melvin until he played the “worst game of his life” in Week 3 of the 2015 season.

Melvin was called for three penalties, gave up a first down on a third-and-long play and also a touchdown in just 19 defensive snaps against Cincinnati. Melvin was inactive the following week and then released by the Ravens. He spent the rest of that season with New England before being released again.

“I don’t think it was a matter that I couldn’t find a team, it was more a matter of if I can stay healthy,” Melvin said. “If you can’t stay healthy they’ll bring somebody else in.”

Melvin, who signed with the Colts in 2016, played in 15 games, finishing with 60 tackles and seven passes defended. It looked like he was going to have a lesser role on the defense this season because of Davis and Wilson on the outside and rookie Nate Hairston defending the slot receiver. But Melvin has 36 tackles, two interceptions and a career-high 12 passes defended in just nine games while serving as the veteran cornerback of the group.

“He’s playing with a ton of confidence,” Pagano said. “He’s preparing really well. He knows the defense inside and out. He’s got the skill set to cover these guys and to play with these guys, but I think it comes down to confidence with him.”

Melvin’s father isn’t around to celebrate the highest point of his son’s NFL career so far. James Melvin passed away from prostate cancer in 2015. But Rashaan Melvin, who will be a free agent in the offseason, said he knows how his father would feel.

“I’ve come a long way to be blessed to play in the NFL,” Rashaan said. “To sit as the No. 1 corner on my team and guys are starting to notice who Rashaan Melvin is and what type of player I am, it took a little bit time, but it’s all worth it.”

Vince BiegelLarry Radloff/Icon SportswireVince Biegel has played 41 snaps in three games this season but should see a boost in time Sunday night.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Whether Vince Biegel likes it or not -- and it sounds like he doesn’t -- he’s always going to be compared to his former University of Wisconsin teammate T.J. Watt.

That was cemented the moment the Green Bay Packers picked Biegel in the fourth round of this year’s draft after they passed on Watt and traded their first-round pick (No. 29 overall) to the Cleveland Browns. The Packers took Biegel with one of the picks they acquired in the trade (cornerback Kevin King, in the second round, was the other), while the Pittsburgh Steelers grabbed Watt at No. 30.

Seven months later, it’s time to examine where things stand between the two Wisconsin natives, considering the Packers play at Pittsburgh on Sunday night. This could be Biegel’s best chance to make a lasting impression. His snap count is expected to spike given the groin injury to Clay Matthews, and he could see his most extensive action since he made his NFL debut three weeks ago after coming off the physically unable to perform list following foot surgery in May.

In three games, he’s played 41 snaps and has yet to record a sack -- at least not officially, even though Packers outside linebackers coach Winston Moss thinks he deserved half of the sack Dean Lowry got against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday (more on that below).

Meanwhile, Watt has been everything Packers fans would've wanted had general manager Ted Thompson selected him. He opened the regular season with a two-sack, one-interception game and ranks tied for third among all rookies with four sacks. Only Cincinnati’s Carl Lawson (5.5) and Philadelphia’s Derek Barnett (4.5) have more sacks among this year’s rookie class.

It was back in August, when Biegel was on the PUP list and Watt recorded two sacks in his preseason debut, that the Packers rookie said while he was happy for Watt, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” and that he knew he would have to be patient.

“Obviously, it was nice to see T.J. start off like that, but my focus is here with Green Bay,” Biegel said this week. “They drafted me for a reason, and I want to be able to be a productive player for them for a long time. At that point in time, when you guys were interviewing me, I meant it to be patient. Now it’s continuing to build every week. I’m staying focused on what I’ve got to do.”

When asked whether he was trying to downplay the Watt storyline this week, Biegel said: “Downplay stuff? I’ll be honest with you, on the record, everything, that has not crossed my mind one time. T.J.’s his own guy, I’m my own guy. I know the fans and I know you guys like to build up stories and kind of make things bigger than what they are, but it is truly for me another week against a great offense in Pittsburgh, and for me it’s about continuing to get better every week. I know that sounds cliché but ...

“T.J.’s a great player and he’s been doing great things in Pittsburgh. But listen to me: I’m focused on what I’m doing. I’m focused on what’s going on here in Green Bay.”

With Matthews’ status up in the air, defensive coordinator Dom Capers likely will increase reps for Biegel and second-year pro Kyler Fackrell, who recorded his first sack of the season Sunday against the Ravens after Matthews dropped out. Biegel looked like he should have shared a sack with Lowry, who was given the full sack.

“Coach Moss sent it in to be reviewed, so we’ll find out in a few days if I got a half-sack or not,” Biegel said. “But hey, at the end of the day, it was a great defensive play, so whether I get the stat or not, it was a good defensive play.”

Capers said Biegel “probably needs to be ready for more” playing time. For his part, Biegel said he’s ready for it after slowly working his way back from foot surgery.

“I missed OTAs, I missed minicamp, I missed preseason, I missed the first six games of the season,” Biegel said. “For me, the more time as the weeks progress, the more practice time I’ve had, the more game experience I had, my confidence has continued to get better. This last Sunday I feel like my twitch and my step was starting to really come back. As the weeks go on, I’m going to continue to get better and I’ll be able to take on the workload. Whatever they put me in, if they give me five reps, if they give me 30, whatever the case is, I’ll be ready for it and continue to build each week.”

What's next for the Seahawks after Dwight Freeney's surprising release

November, 22, 2017
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AP Photo/Rick ScuteriDwight Freeney had three sacks during his four games with the Seahawks, but was waived on Tuesday.

The Seattle Seahawks made a move that no one saw coming Tuesday when they waived veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney, who had produced since joining the team last month.

Coach Pete Carroll may shed light on the decision when he speaks with the media Wednesday afternoon. In the meantime, let's try to make some sense of it while also looking ahead to what it could mean.

Why it was surprising. Because Freeney had been helping Seattle's pass rush, at least before Monday night. He recorded three sacks and a pass defensed over his first two games -- Week 8 vs. Houston and Week 9 vs. Washington -- and also had a QB hit last week vs. Arizona. That's good production, especially considering he was averaging 28 snaps over those first three games. Freeney didn't record any stats while playing 17 snaps Monday night, when the Seahawks hardly got any pressure on Matt Ryan. But Freeney wasn't alone there, and he had clearly shown over his first three games that he still has plenty left at 37 years old.

Could money have been a factor? This is one of the only explanations that comes to mind. Freeney was making a prorated share of $1 million (the minimum for a player with 10 or more credited seasons) and his contract included $8,000 roster bonuses for each game he was active, according to ESPN's Field Yates. That was by no means a prohibitive amount relative to Freeney's production, but perhaps the Seahawks felt it was too much given how hard up they are against the salary cap at the moment. According to NFL Players Association records, the Seahawks have a league-low $150,505 in cap space (NFLPA salary cap records aren't always accurate to the exact dollar amount but generally provide a good ballpark figure). That's cutting it pretty close. Then again, teams can usually create salary-cap space when it's badly needed without having to part with productive players. Recall that Seattle freed up money by restructuring Doug Baldwin's and Russell Wilson's contracts to make way for the Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown trades, respectively. So money isn't an obvious explanation for waiving Freeney.

The Cassius Marsh connection. Seattle's move with Freeney came on the same day the Patriots waived former Seahawks defensive end Cassius Marsh, which will potentially make him available. Potentially is the operative word here. The Seahawks could very conceivably have interest in bringing back Marsh, whom they traded to New England before the season. He was an excellent special teams player and that's an area where Seattle could use help given how injuries have sidelined some top contributors like Dewey McDonald and Tre Madden. Another, Bradley McDougald, will play significantly less on special teams now that he's starting for Kam Chancellor at strong safety. But Marsh is subject to waivers and the Seahawks aren't anywhere near the top of the order (which is now determined by the reverse order of the standings). That means that even if the Seahawks were putting in a claim on Marsh, there's no guarantee they'd end up with him. That makes it hard to imagine them waiving Freeney with an eye toward adding Marsh. And besides, Freeney was giving the Seahawks at least the same if not more in terms of pass-rush production than they could reasonably expect to get from Marsh.

Who fills Freeney's spot? The Seahawks didn't announce a corresponding move, so waiving Freeney leaves an opening on their 53-man roster. Seattle still has 10 defensive linemen, so that's not necessarily a position that needs an extra body. Cornerback is one possibility. Shaquill Griffin suffered a concussion Monday night, and getting cleared in time for Sunday's game at San Francisco could be a challenge with Seattle on a short week. Tailback is another as Mike Davis (groin) is likely out this week. Seattle has also been without a fullback for the past two games.

What it means for Seattle's D-line. Dion Jordan is one player who figures to play more in Freeney's absence. The 2o13 No. 3 overall pick made his Seahawks debut in Week 10 vs. Arizona, which marked his return from injuries and a third drug suspension that had kept him off the field since 2014. Jordan had a sack vs. Arizona and has played 33 and 19 snaps over his first two games. Branden Jackson and Marcus Smith are Seattle's other backup defensive ends behind starters Michael Bennett and Frank Clark.

What's next for Freeney. He'll be subject to waivers as well and should appeal to teams in need of pass-rush help, though it's unlikely that Freeney would have interest in playing for anyone other than a Super Bowl contender at this stage of his career. He said he nearly gave up on the thought of playing in 2017 before the Seahawks signed him in late October.

videoCHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints are on a collision course for the NFC South lead when they meet at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Dec. 3.

But don't forget about the Atlanta Falcons (6-4), who are only a game behind the Panthers (7-3) and two games behind the Saints (8-2) after Monday night's 34-31 victory over Seattle.

This is shaping up to be the best division race in the NFL.

This is shaping up to be the best division in football.

Scott Clause/Daily Advertiser via USA TODAY SportsMark Ingram running ahead of the pack is symbolic of his team, as the Saints have won eight straight and are the hottest team in the NFL.

If the playoffs started today, the South would be the only division represented by three teams: New Orleans as the No. 3 seed in the NFC, Carolina at No. 5 and Atlanta No. 6.

Detroit (6-4), which has lost to Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans, is on the outside looking in, along with Seattle (6-4).

The South doesn't get a lot of credit for being a strong division top to bottom. Only six times since the current division was formed in 2002 has a second team qualified for the playoffs. A third never has.

But the South has represented the NFC in the Super Bowl each of the past two seasons, with Carolina (2015) and Atlanta (2016). Since 2002, the division is the only one to see all four of its teams make the Super Bowl.

The 2002 Buccaneers and 2009 Saints won it all.

And top to bottom this is the strongest the division has been.

Three South teams are ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's latest power rankings. New Orleans is No. 5, Carolina No. 8 and Atlanta No. 9.

Those teams also rank in the top 15 in total defense, led by Carolina at No. 2, Atlanta at No. 10 and New Orleans at No. 13.

All four division teams rank in the top 20 in total offense. New Orleans leads the way at No. 1, followed by Atlanta at No. 10, Tampa Bay at No. 13 and Carolina at No. 17.

New Orleans (3), Carolina (7) and Atlanta (14) also rank in the top 15 in rushing.

A sound defense and solid running game typically equals a formula for success. Perhaps that explains why this is the only division with three teams that have won six or more games.

Remember, it was only three years ago that the South was considered the weakest division when Carolina advanced to the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record.

It might be difficult for the division to get three teams into the playoffs this season because Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans will beat each other up over the final six weeks.

But two definitely have a legitimate chance.

Here’s a breakdown of what each team faces down the homestretch:

NEW ORLEANS (8-2)

Remaining opponents (34-26): at Los Angeles Rams (7-3), Carolina (7-3), at Atlanta (6-4), New York Jets (4-6), Atlanta (6-4), at Tampa Bay (4-6).

Division record: 2-0.

Comment: No team in the NFL is hotter. The Saints have won eight straight after losing their first two. They overcame a 15-point deficit in the final three minutes on Sunday to beat Washington. The next three weeks will be crucial, as they face three of the best teams in the NFC outside of Philadelphia, and two of those games are on the road. Win two of those three and New Orleans should have clear sailing to the playoffs, and perhaps the division crown.

CAROLINA (7-3)

Remaining opponents (35-25): at New York Jets (4-6), at Saints (8-2), Minnesota (8-2), Green Bay (5-5), Tampa Bay (4-6), at Atlanta (6-4).

Division record: 2-1.

Comment: Cam Newton & Co. are just finding themselves offensively. They put up 45 points in a win over Miami before the bye week. Newton threw four touchdown passes with no interceptions and looked like the player who won the 2015 NFL MVP award. If he can remain hot, the Panthers, on a three-game winning streak, are legitimate contenders with the No. 2 defense in the NFL. Their playoff hopes and division title could come down to the finale at Atlanta if they can get past New Orleans on Dec. 3.

ATLANTA (6-4)

Remaining opponents (39-21): Tampa Bay (4-6), Minnesota (8-2), New Orleans (8-2), at Tampa Bay (4-6), at New Orleans (8-2), Carolina (7-3).

Division record: 0-1.

Comment: Beating Seattle on Monday night was huge for the defending NFC champions. The Falcons still have a tough road, with five division games remaining. But they have the next three at home, and four of their final six are in Atlanta. If the defense holds together, the Falcons have plenty of offense to keep the heat on any team in the NFL. And remember: They were 6-4 a year ago when they got hot.

Arizona Cardinals defenseAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinCalais Campbell and Frostee Rucker became fast friends when Rucker joined the Cardinals in 2013 and still text each other often.


TEMPE, Ariz. -- There's a lot Frostee Rucker misses about Calais Campbell.

There's Campbell's friendship, which was cultivated years before the two became teammates in 2013 and continues through group text messages as the two live their lives a country apart. There's Campbell's personality and spirit. There's his presence on the field. But one of the things Rucker misses most about Campbell were his speeches.

"He likes to give speeches and I don't," Rucker said. "So he used to always want to give the speech and I don't care to. That stuff. Not that it's a problem, but I'd rather just play than have to, not say motivate guys, but have to give a rah-rah speech.

"He was very, very good at that, but that's part of his passion for the game. He liked to be vocal, he liked to talk."

When the Arizona Cardinals stopped pursuing Campbell in free agency earlier this year, Rucker's role as a leader in the Cardinals locker room expanded. However, instead of Rucker giving Campbell's old speech, it's now inside linebacker Karlos Dansby in the middle of the huddle giving the pep talk.

When Campbell signed a four-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars worth $60 million in March, he took his unique style of leadership and kind-hearted personality with him. But he's letting his play do the talking for him with the Jaguars, who visit the Cardinals on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Campbell is tied for the league-lead with 11.5 sacks, leading Cardinals defensive tackle Josh Mauro to declare Campbell "probably one of the best players in football right now on either side of the ball."

Campbell's former teammates have enjoyed watching their good friend set a career-high in sacks while making the most money of his career, and they're happy for him.

"He's a beast," Cardinals defensive tackle Corey Peters said. "He's always been a beast, now I think that it's just a new market of people being able to see him."

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians hasn't seen much of Campbell this season but thinks Campbell is "playing really solid."

"He's got his sacks playing a lot of different positions," Arians said. "He fits pretty well in that defense."

Rucker credits the Jaguars' usage of Campbell as one reason for Campbell's blockbuster season at 31 years old.

"He's playing phenomenal," Rucker said. "He's spending a lot of time playing outside and picking on tackles. I think he wanted to do that a bunch here and it was never possible just because of the way we ran our scheme. He got his wish and he's delivering."

Campbell's former teammates don't just follow him through his ever-increasing stat line. They watch his film and then pull up the group chat to share their thoughts, Rucker said. And Campbell does the same with them.

Even though Rucker and Peters still stay in touch with Campbell, they miss being around their friend.

Campbell helped Peters adjust to Arizona after Peters signed with Arizona in 2015. Their friendship grew from there.

But watching a friend go to another team is part of doing business in the NFL. The Cardinals defensive line understands and accepts that.

"You don't really have time to miss people in this business," Mauro said. "You just move forward with the guys you have."

It’s been hard for Rucker to not miss him.

"Just him being himself," Rucker said. "You always miss their spirit, so to say. He was great in the community, great in the locker room. He was a great guy."

When Campbell's former teammates talked about him, the first thing they said wasn't that he left with the second-most sacks in Cardinals history or that his size -- 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds -- made him one of the most unique players in the NFL.

The first words out of their mouths were about what kind of person Campbell was off the field.

"He came here and he did every single thing that they asked him to do and he left here with the respect of everyone in this locker room and should (get the respect of) everyone in this organization and everyone in this community," Rucker said.

Said Mauro: "He was very vocal and brought really good energy to the group. But he also backed it up with his play on game day. He worked hard at practice. He didn't miss a beat. He wasn't a guy that took advantage of his status or role (or) his respect from people. He never took advantage of that. He always worked.

"As a former teammate and just as a person, all you can do is respect somebody like that. He definitely brought energy and just brought a really unique talent."

However, it's hard for his former teammates to forget what Campbell accomplished in between the lines.

"I would think he'll be in the Ring of Honor here when his career is done," Mauro said. "I know he was pretty young and wasn't playing much defense when they went to a Super Bowl, so he experienced that. He was in the shadow of [former Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell] Dockett for a while and he made a name for himself after a while.

"He'll definitely be one of the greats that played here."

Jimmy GaroppoloStan Szeto/USA TODAY SportsHe hasn't made it into a game for them yet, but the 49ers say Jimmy Garoppolo, center, checks all the boxes for a franchise quarterback.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch will leave the decision of when to start quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the first time in the hands of coach Kyle Shanahan.

But in the few weeks Lynch has gotten to know Garoppolo since the Niners traded for him on Halloween, he has seen nothing to deter him from the idea that Garoppolo can and will become the team's franchise quarterback.

In a wide-ranging 40-minute discussion with a handful of Bay Area reporters on Tuesday, Lynch was more forceful than he has been about how he and the Niners view Garoppolo's future with the team.

"He's going to be our guy, you know?" Lynch said. "We feel like we've got a great quarterback room. You watch the way C.J. Beathard played the other day, he looked like he could be the guy. I think it's a good issue, and we also realize that we have got to grow around them and we've got to continue to put pieces in place, and we will."

Lynch declined to say whether the Niners have already engaged agent Don Yee, one of Garoppolo's representatives, in contract extension discussions. He did, however, acknowledge that the 49ers have been in touch with the agents for some of their players who are headed for free agency.

Garoppolo is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but the 49ers have also made it clear they are aware that they have options when it comes to retaining his rights.

Some alarm bells went off recently when Lynch said in a radio interview that Garoppolo could be seen as a trade "chip" in a worst-case scenario after the team acquired him. Lynch made it a point to clarify that comment when asked if he could see a scenario in which the Niners would trade Garoppolo after the season.

"That probably was a stupid thing to say because people take that and [run]," Lynch said. "I think what the point was, Kyle said, 'We love this guy,' but [that comment about the chip] was a throwaway. If you just took away our feelings for him and said, 'If we were to do this for that [trade],' then it's a good decision based upon that alone. So that is not at all how we think.

"We really, genuinely believe that this guy has got the makings of a guy who could be our guy for years to come. That's all got to come to fruition on the field and all that, but that was kind of a throwaway line that got a lot of attention."

Of more importance for Garoppolo's long-term future with the Niners is what Lynch and Shanahan have seen from him since he arrived. All parties were hesitant to declare Garoppolo the face of the franchise on the day he was acquired, but a big reason for that was the relative lack of familiarity that existed on all sides.

Now, the 49ers are invested enough in Garoppolo and Beathard that Lynch acknowledged Tuesday that the team's scouting staff has scaled back its efforts in looking at college quarterback prospects.

Garoppolo has been in the building for nearly a month and had a chance to show his work ethic, interact with his teammates and coaches and display his physical ability on the field. According to Lynch, Garoppolo has checked all of those boxes in a positive way, whether it be how well his teammates have embraced him, his quick release and accuracy throwing the ball or his willingness to stay around the facility and put in extra work.

So while Lynch and the Niners still want to see that manifest in a game, they have gotten enough of an idea of what he brings to feel confident in him.

"The work ethic, the intangibles and the skill set, like I said, of course, with as little as he's played, some of this is projection and we understand that," Lynch said. "We felt very comfortable with Kyle having studied him in college, we having studied him together this offseason, you can just talk about the games he's played, the preseason and such. There's a lot that we like."

In the short term, questions still abound about when Garoppolo will make his 49ers debut. He spent as much of his bye week as the league allows at the team facility studying with Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello. Most of that time was spent circling back to the basics of the offense rather than focusing on small pieces of a weekly game plan.

Shanahan will ultimately make the call whether Garoppolo or Beathard starts this week, a decision that once seemed academic but might have been altered a bit by Beathard's strong performance in leading the Niners to their first win of the season against the Giants.

"C.J. playing the way he played last week, we think before that even, some adverse situations, the way he handled himself, gives us an opportunity to kind of continue to really -- we're trying to accelerate the growth, but we don't want to rush it," Lynch said. "But it gets a little better and gets a little more comfortable with each given day. He's working at it extremely hard."

Regardless of when Garoppolo gets his opportunity -- and at this point it seems to be more a question of when rather than if -- Lynch will join many others in their enthusiasm to see how he performs.

For it's the final and biggest piece in determining how the Niners and Garoppolo proceed in the future.

David Rosenblum/Icon SportswireCalais Campbell, tied for the NFL lead with 11.5 sacks, returns to play his former team as the leader of the league's best defense.


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Calais Campbell spent the first nine seasons of his NFL career playing for Arizona, so it'd be reasonable to expect him full of emotions when the Jacksonville Jaguars play the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

Campbell, however, is spending the week trying to concentrate on the 2017 season instead of dwelling on his past.

"Honestly, I get it's a storyline, but for me, you have to make it just another game and make it about just getting a W," Campbell said. "Yeah, I have friends there. I spent a lot of time there. There's a lot of history, but at the end of the day you've got to live in the moment and right now we're a really good team trying to take that next step and set ourselves up to win our division."

Campbell is one of reasons why the Jaguars (7-3) are alone in first place in the AFC South. He's tied for the NFL lead with 11.5 sacks -- which also are a career high -- and anchors the front of the league's top defense. The Jaguars lead the NFL scoring defense, total defense, takeaways, pass defense and sacks.

In addition, he's provided the vocal veteran leadership the franchise desperately needed. He's been invaluable as a mentor to young pass-rushers Yannick Ngakoue (9 sacks) and Dante Fowler Jr. (6.5 sacks) as well as other players from both sides of the ball.

"Enormous impact on the field with what he's able to do on third down and in passing situations," linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "He bolsters the run defense as well. He's extremely stout. But then him coming in here and being the type of leader he is, helping guys out, he's had an enormous impact of being able to change the culture of what things were to how it is right now.

"He's had an absolutely enormous impact on that."

Campbell was that way in Arizona, as well. He also was remarkably consistent, recording at least 6 sacks in seven of his nine seasons, including a career-high 9 in 2013. He was the Cardinals' second-round draft pick in 2008 and played in all 16 games that season for a team that reached the Super Bowl.

He was a fan favorite because of his play on the field as well as his charitable work with his CRC Foundation. Campbell clearly loved the area and the team, giving the Cardinals a chance to match the offer the Jaguars made in free agency last March -- four years, $60 million with $30 million guaranteed. Not because he wanted more money, but because he respected the organization.

Campbell admitted that he's not sure how he's going to feel when he walks out onto the field for the first time as an opponent.

"I'm looking forward to the game," he said. "I definitely had a great time while I was in Arizona. Nine years of experiencing success, failures, a lot of lessons learned, a lot of good people, met a lot of friends. It's going to be fun being in that stadium, that environment, again, but at the end of the day, I'm just trying to make it another game."

Marqise Lee doesn't think that's possible, though.

"It can't be that for him," Lee said. "Don't let him fool you. He's going to try to control his world and keep his mind as calm as possible for the most part, but things are going to flare up. Why not have emotions go up a little bit going out there playing against the old team in which you have most of your career with? At the end of the day I'm happy for him.

"I know Calais is going to go back and do what he's supposed to do. I know he's eager to go out there and make some plays so I can't wait to see it."

Tashaun Gipson was in the same spot last week that Campbell is in now. He was returning to Cleveland, where he spent the first four years of his career, and it was an important moment for him. He made it even more so with comments critical of the Browns management -- as well as saying he wanted to shut out the Browns -- and his teammates rallied around him.

He says the players will support Campbell the same way.

"I understand how personal this game is for him, so just like those guys rallied behind me it's going to be big that we rally behind him and get him that win that he deserves going back to a team that he played X amount of years for," Gipson said. "He put a lot of blood, sweat and tears in that city so I understand it's going to be emotional for him and we want to do this for him for sure."

There is one thing that Campbell does want out of his return. It's something he wasn't able to accomplish in his nine seasons there.

"Larry Fitzgerald, I hope he will trade jerseys," Campbell said. "I've always wanted a jersey from him. I never asked him for one before, so this would be kind of cool.

"Hopefully he'll let me have that one."

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The message sent by New York Giants co-owner John Mara about general manager Jerry Reese after the 2015 season was simple.

"Jerry knows this is on him. I've had that discussion with him," Mara said at the time.

The Giants had finished a 6-10 season, their fourth straight without making the playoffs. The pressure was placed directly on the shoulders of the general manager.

Two years later, what will Mara say to Reese after missing the postseason for the fifth time in six years? It could be "you're fired," and it would be warranted.

The Giants team Reese assembled this year wasn't good enough, and Tom Coughlin is no longer around to be scapegoated. That was the feeling among everyone close to Coughlin when the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach was fired and Reese remained.

Not much has changed. The Giants (2-8) head into a Thanksgiving night matchup with the Washington Redskins in last place in the NFC East and Reese has a target on his back.

His future is among the most pressing subjects for Giants ownership to address after this season concludes. The future of coach Ben McAdoo will be the other major topic after a year filled with drama, losses, controversies and a roster that proved to be nowhere near good enough to compete for the Super Bowl some thought was possible.

Instead, it has become apparent the roster and the playoff berth that came last year during an 11-5 campaign were propped up by Reese's best draft pick, Odell Beckham Jr., who is out for the season with a broken ankle.

Jerry ReeseAP Photo/Julio CortezJerry Reese has been under fire before, but the longtime Giants general manager might not make it past this lost season.

"Odell Beckham," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said about the biggest difference in this year's Giants team. "He's the best receiver in the league."

He was Reese's first-round pick in 2014, which seems a world away. That's what happens when things come apart like they have for the Giants this season. The coach and general manager are under fire. Giants ownership issued a statement last week to explain they will "determine the reasons for our poor performance ... at the end of the year" when rumors about their coach reached volumes that could not be ignored.

It's a results-oriented business, and the Giants are among the NFL's worst teams entering Thursday's game against the Redskins. Nothing they can do can save the season, only potentially salvage their jobs.

Reese has to shoulder a good portion of the blame, which he admitted last month. He badly misjudged the state of the offensive line, whiffed on his most expensive free-agent acquisition (wide receiver Brandon Marshall never made an impact before being lost for the season) and some of his most precious draft picks -- inside the top 10 -- have, to date, flopped.

That begins with the underwhelming play of 2015 and '16 first-round selections Ereck Flowers and Eli Apple, both top-10 picks. They are the headlining mistakes over the past six years and have contributed to the Giants' depressed state.

"This roster -- it's my roster. I'm responsible for everybody on the roster and I'll take ownership to where we are right now with this 1-6 start," Reese said during the Giants' bye week, before stating he thought there were good players and shifting blame elsewhere.

There is more than enough finger-pointing to go around, as McAdoo and the players haven't exactly held up their end of the bargain.

The draft record

It all started so with promise for Reese. His first draft class as general manager in 2007 was perhaps his best. All seven players made an impact, with second-round selection Steve Smith and fourth-round pick Zak DeOssie turning into Pro Bowl players.

The Giants also won the Super Bowl that season. Reese became the first black general manager to lift the Lombardi trophy. He did it again in the 2011 season. His current résumé: 11 seasons, two Super Bowls, seven missed playoffs.

After that second Super Bowl, the Giants' problems began. Reese drafted just three players who developed into full-time starters in 2012-13, and only one (Justin Pugh) remains on the roster. Only two players he has drafted in 11 seasons (Jason Pierre-Paul and Will Beatty) ever received a long-term extension. That's two out of 78 players to date.

When some of the older players from the Super Bowl years left there wasn't a next generation of young talent to succeed them. Reese has drafted six Pro Bowl players in his 11 years as general manager. That ranks 21st out of 32 teams. One of those six players -- Linval Joseph -- became a Pro Bowler after he left the Giants and the other was DeOssie, a long-snapper.

The others were Beckham, safety Landon Collins, Pierre-Paul and Smith.

A bigger problem might be Reese's lack of mid-to-late-round hits. The Giants have found three players in Rounds 3 through 7 from 2007 to '17 who have become full-time starters for more than a full season. They are linebackers Devon Kennard and Jacquian Williams and wide receiver Mario Manningham.

All this left the Giants' cupboard relatively bare after Reese's second Super Bowl and forced them to restock (especially defensively) by spending last year in the offseason.

Building a defense with players unfamiliar with the Giants way has backfired this season. They allowed 82 points in a two-game stretch to the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers and had a pair of veteran cornerbacks suspended for violations of team rules. It has been an unpredictable debacle.

Who stays, who goes

Mistakes were made this offseason and this season. They were made in droves over the past six years.

McAdoo can't be held responsible for missing the playoffs five of the past six years, though he can be charged with being unable to keep everything under control inside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center this season. Neither can his mentor Coughlin, who was exiled after failing to qualify for the postseason in his final four seasons.

Next in line? Reese. He's the most prominent fireable figurehead remaining and has been responsible for assembling rosters lacking in competent offensive linemen and sufficient weapons to salvage the tail end of quarterback Eli Manning's career. The Giants have been near the bottom of the league in points scored three of the past six years -- even with a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

The final six games will go a long way in determining everybody's fate. How Flowers and Apple play might be telling for Reese's future. He might need one or both of them to flourish in order to be charged with the task of selecting so high in next year's draft, because the success of those two players falls on the résumé of the general manager.

"Yeah, well, you're always on notice," Reese said last month. "I've been doing this over 10 years now and every single time -- I’ve been left for dead a lot of times since I've been doing this job and that's just part of the business."

This time it could -- and maybe should -- be for good.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Some friendships are built to last, seamlessly going from one year to the next, the connection strong, the times fun and bright. Others don’t go quite as well. They are rocky, bumpy, have their issues.

Recently, the pairing of the Detroit Lions and the run game would definitely fit into the latter category. Coach Jim Caldwell referred to the running game as “a quarterback’s best friend” on Tuesday.

The Lions may want to consider improving that friendship.

Detroit’s run game continues to be one of the worst in the NFL -- and is currently worse than in any other season under Caldwell. The fourth-year head coach has said multiple times that he wants his run game to be “respectable” and that 4.0 yards per carry is a good bar to hit.

The Lions have never averaged 4.0 yards per carry or 90 yards per game over a full season in Caldwell’s tenure. They’ve consistently been in the bottom third of the league -- and often worse -- in both yards per game and yards per carry under Caldwell.

This season, though, the Lions have been especially bad running the ball. Detroit is averaging 80.8 rushing yards per game, and if that holds through the rest of the season, it will be the fourth straight season the Lions' run game has declined in yards per game under Caldwell. The 3.35 yards per rush is also down 0.39 yards from last season.

The Lions also haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in a game since 2013, when Reggie Bush had 117 yards on Thanksgiving. Now, headed into this year's Thanksgiving contest, the Lions have gone 62 games without a 100-yard rusher. It’s the longest streak without one by a team in two decades.

Lions players either have chosen not to divulge what the issue is or have been saying it's a little bit of everything.

“It’s not always player issues. It’s sometimes we may not be dialing the right thing at certain times,” running back Ameer Abdullah said. “At the same time, it’s about just bringing a good attitude, bringing an attitude of just executing your job, really. I think that’s really what it comes down to, if you ask me.

“It comes down to guys just saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to be better than the next guy this play.'"

Abdullah, who is Detroit’s leading rusher with 491 yards, also said, “I got to be better. That’s the thing I keep telling myself. Just try to do better. Just keep going hard.”

Lions vs. Panthers ( Ameer Abdullah )Gregory Shamus/Getty Images Ameer Abdullah leads the Lions with 491 rushing yards but is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry.

Abdullah is averaging a career-low 3.41 yards per carry this season on 144 attempts, while Theo Riddick is averaging 3.53 yards per carry on 104 fewer rushes.

Matthew Stafford said he hasn’t thought about what a consistent run game would do for him. Caldwell called Detroit's run game “inconsistent” Tuesday, but when asked why there’s been a consistent disconnect between what he would like out of his running game and what has actually transpired, he didn’t have many answers.

“I think you brought this up, this is probably the fifth time that maybe you’ve brought this particular subject up,” Caldwell said. “The fact of the matter is it is what it is. What I’m more concerned about, and I’ll repeat it over and over again, I want to win however it takes to win, OK. And that’s what counts to me.

“So right now, we’re still not winning as much as I would like to win, and we’ve still got a ways to go, but I think our guys are heading in the right direction.”

Right direction might be a tough description. The Lions have rushed for more than 4.0 yards per carry in just two of 10 games this season, and they’ve been under 3.0 yards per carry in two of the past three games -- wins at Green Bay and Chicago.

The inconsistency has been prevalent throughout Caldwell’s tenure with Detroit. The Lions have cycled through Bush, Joique Bell, Abdullah, Riddick, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington and Justin Forsett during Caldwell’s four seasons. They’ve had two different offensive schemes. They’ve had two different offensive coordinators, running backs coaches and offensive line coaches. There have been -- as with almost any team -- multiple combinations of offensive linemen.

The one constant during that is Caldwell, who has not consistently employed a strong running game during his time as a head coach or coordinator in the NFL or at Wake Forest.

Stafford said he wasn’t sure if his job would be easier if the run game was going well, but that “the more balanced we can be, the better.” Detroit has had some games where the run/pass ratio is balanced, but the difference in success between the pass and run has been stark. Stafford said he didn’t think the Lions' scheme -- a large amount of it similar to what Indianapolis ran and with major roots in Tom Moore’s philosophy -- hampered their chances to run the ball.

Instead, Stafford said that sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. For the Lions, however, trying to run the ball has not worked out much at all.

Al Bello/Getty ImagesKareem Hunt averaged 6.28 yards per carry during the first five games of the season. He has averaged 3.47 yards per rush in the five games since.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After each game during the Kansas City Chiefs' recent slide, running back Kareem Hunt is asked some version of the same question: What’s wrong with the running game?

Like his teammates and coaches, Hunt doesn’t have a solid answer. His reply after Sunday’s 12-9 loss to the New York Giants was typical.

“[Opposing defenses] focus on the run a lot,’’ said Hunt, who had one of his better games in the past five by rushing for 73 yards against the Giants. “We have to fix some things and get it going.

“We know we are better than this. We are going to fix it and get back on a roll.’’

Perhaps, yet the Chiefs have had that kind of resolve before and then displayed only minor improvement, if any, on game day. But the sense of urgency is no less because the drastic drop in what the Chiefs are getting from their running game is a factor in the slide. The Chiefs, who started the season at 5-0, have lost four of their past five games.

The running game has become a particular problem for the Chiefs on first down. During the five-game winning streak, the Chiefs averaged 6.9 yards per first-down rush. They scored five touchdowns on first-down rushing plays and gained a fresh set of downs on 19.5 percent of all such plays. All were league bests.

In the past five games, the Chiefs are averaging 3.0 yards per first-down carry (27th in the NFL). They gain a fresh set of downs on 9 percent (22nd) of such plays and are one of six teams without a rushing TD on a first-down snap.

Their bigger offensive problems won’t be corrected until the Chiefs fix that.

“That’s tough, for sure,’’ quarterback Alex Smith said. “You’re behind the chains. It’s hard to play that way when everything is second-and-long.

"And then when you’re clipping off runs and the run game is rolling, you really have everything at your disposal."

The Chiefs have 18 pass plays of 20 yards or more in their past five games, which is four more than they had in the first five games. They also scored more touchdowns on such plays (five in the past five games, three in the first five).

But their long running plays are well down. The Chiefs had nine runs of 20 yards or more with three TDs in the first five games. They have one such run (no TDs) since.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's inexperience still rears its ugly head on occasion, but veteran offensive guard Josh Sitton has seen enough to buy in.

"He's had the ability since he got here," Sitton said on Monday. "We all saw that. It just takes a long time to learn offenses in this league and it takes a long time to learn coverages. I mean, coverages change at the last second. It's tough. It's not easy to do as a young guy."

Trubisky is a mixed bag every week.

In last Sunday's 27-24 loss to Detroit, for example, Trubisky had several plays where he stood tall in the pocket in the face of pressure and managed to push the ball downfield for completions -- notably to rookie tight end Adam Shaheen.

Also, Trubisky's 19-yard scramble on fourth down on the game's final drive was a thing of beauty. The kind of athleticism and mobility Trubisky displayed on that play cannot be taught. That Trubisky's run came in crunch time was an added bonus.

Mitchell TrubiskyDennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports"He's got what it takes to be a great player in this league," Bears offensive guard Josh Sitton said of rookie Mitchell Trubisky, above.

"Well, he's a stud," Sitton said. "I've had confidence in him from the beginning, but like I said he's been growing and growing and you see it each week. Last week he probably took his first big leap in the passing game with the receivers and what not and then you saw that continue this week, and he's just growing and growing and you just see it.

"You saw the talent right away and he just keeps ... the nuances of the game he just keeps learning and learning. He gives you all the confidence in the world as a guy in the locker room and on the field, in the huddle. He has that look in his eye where you're thinking 'All right, he's going to get the job done.'"

On the downside, Trubisky is still off target sometimes because of bad footwork.

The second overall pick misfired on a pass to a wide open Benny Cunningham on the goal line last Sunday, and several other pass attempts sailed wide of their intended targets -- Trubisky also fumbled a snap that Detroit picked up and returned for a touchdown.

Trubisky is completing just 53.1 percent of his throws through six starts.

"He's got to continue to grow and learn the little nuances of this game," Sitton said. "The windows are a little bit tighter so you have to be a little bit quicker with your reads. You saw him this week, get one, two and into his third read really quick in a lot of situations. And getting the ball out on his third read, which you hadn't seen a ton in the past. So he's just growing and learning. It's really hard for a young quarterback.

But Sitton added: "He's a play-maker, he's got all the confidence in the world in himself and the guys around him, like I said, you can just see it on his face. I don't think he really says anything, he doesn't really need to say anything, you can kind of see it, by that look in his eyes. He's got what it takes to be a great player in this league."

Marshon LattimoreDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsMarshon Lattimore has been one of the league's best cornerbacks all season.

METAIRIE, La. -- Mark Ingram was fired up after he and backfield-mate Alvin Kamara helped the New Orleans Saints rally for their eighth straight win on Sunday -- a 34-31 overtime thriller against the Washington Redskins.

Kamara, the versatile rookie from Tennessee, finished with another 42 rushing yards and 74 receiving yards -- including the 18-yard touchdown catch and two-point conversion run that tied the game with 1:05 remaining.

"Man, we've got the offensive rookie of the year and the defensive rookie of the year," Ingram said of Kamara and cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

"Don't 'at' me, either. Don't 'at' me!" Ingram shouted -- a reference to people disagreeing with him on social media. "We've got 'em, man. There's something wrong if they ain't it."

Hey, accuse Ingram of being a homer all you want, but that's not crazy talk.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. listed Lattimore and Kamara as the No. 1 and No. 3 rookies overall on last week's rookie big boardInsider -- with Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk coming in at No. 5 on the list.

There is a very real chance that the Saints could become the first team with both the Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year since Detroit Lions running back Mel Farr and cornerback Lem Barney in 1967 -- the first year the Associated Press began splitting up the award into two categories. (The Chicago Bears' Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus easily would've pulled off the same feat in 1965, as well, if they had separate awards at the time.)

Since then, we have seen teams win the awards in back-to-back years (including the Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley in 2014/2015 and the Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly in 2011/2012).

But the Saints have the chance to do something that is unprecedented in the modern era.

Lattimore is absolutely a front-runner for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award after winning the league's monthly honor for October and being rated as the best cornerback in football by the analytical service Pro Football Focus for most of the year.

The 11th overall draft pick from Ohio State has two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), nine pass defenses, a forced fumble and 36 tackles. And his value only increased when the Saints struggled in his absence after he left with an ankle injury in the first quarter of Sunday's win.

It's unclear if Lattimore will be able to return in time for this Sunday's pivotal NFC showdown at the Rams, but Lattimore insisted Sunday evening that he won't be sidelined for long:

Kamara, meanwhile, is more of a long shot for the offensive award because of Kareem Hunt -- another dual-threat running back who has been more of a one-man show for the Kansas City Chiefs. Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette is in the conversation, as well. And it's possible that Carolina Panthers runner/receiver Christian McCaffrey could enter the conversation with a strong finish.

But with Hunt dropping off a bit from his torrid early-season pace and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson suffering a season-ending ACL tear earlier this month, Kamara has been gaining on the competition fast.

Kamara is on pace for 734 rushing yards, 77 receptions, 715 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

He has the most yards from scrimmage in the entire NFL since Week 7, with 589 in five games. (Ingram ranks second with 574).

Kamara, Ingram and former Saints tight end Jimmy Graham are tied for the most touchdowns scored since Week 8 (5).

"[Kamara] is always making plays, squeezing through tight gaps in the open field, making stuff happen and breaking tackles," Ingram said. "He's elusive. He's strong. He can do everything, from running routes to taking a power. He's a special player."

Unfortunately the Offensive Rookie of the Year award doesn't work like the Heisman Trophy -- Ingram doesn't get a vote.

Stephen GostkowskiRebecca Blackwell/APThanks to Giorgio Tavecchio, Stephen Gostkowski will have the football he booted 62 yards on Sunday in Mexico City.


ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Giorgio Tavecchio, a huge international soccer fan, wanted to take home a piece of history from the Oakland Raiders game at historic Estadio Azteca.

So the Raiders kicker grabbed a ball that had the NFL In Mexico logo emblazoned upon it when the team arrived back at its headquarters on Monday. Then he wondered if the K-ball he grabbed, labeled No. 1, might have been the one New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski booted 62 yards for a field goal at Mexico City's 7,200-feet elevation at the close of the first half.

"He smoked it," Tavecchio said. "I told him and he said, 'Thanks.'"

Tavecchio also had the Raiders equipment staff give the Patriots a call to find out which ball Gostkowski kicked for the third-longest field goal in NFL history. Matt Prater has the record with a 64-yarder while Tom Dempsey, Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowski and David Akers have converted from 63 yards.

"Just out of respect," Tavecchio said, "because he should have it."

Indeed, Gostkowski kicked K-ball 1, and the Raiders were preparing to send it to New England as Tavecchio rummaged through the equipment for his own keepsake.

He has K-ball No. 3 at his locker now and, yes, it's also emblazoned with the NFL In Mexico logo.

And while Gostkowski's field goal hit the net behind the uprights with plenty of room to spare, the furthest Tavecchio kicked one in pregame warmups was from 56 yards out.

It was true, and Tavecchio said it would have been good from another 10 yards out.

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