• By JESSE J. HOLLAND and ERRIN HAINES WHACK Associated Press Writers
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What began more than a year ago with a lone NFL quarterback protesting police brutality against minorities by kneeling silently during the national anthem before games has grown into a roar with hundreds of players sitting, kneeling, locking arms or remaining in locker rooms — their reasons …

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NEW YORK (AP) — Four assistant basketball coaches from Arizona, Auburn, the University of Southern California and Oklahoma State were among those arrested on federal corruption charges Tuesday after they were caught taking thousands of dollars in bribes to steer NBA-destined college stars to…

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A Pittsburgh-area volunteer fire chief is apologizing after using a racial slur to describe Steelers coach Mike Tomlin for instructing his team to stay in a stadium tunnel instead of standing on the field for the national anthem ahead of Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Several NFL owners locked arms with their players this weekend instead of taking a challenge from President Donald Trump to fire them for protesting during the national anthem. NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty said he would get rid of anyone on his racing team who …

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly has tempered his criticism of NFL players protesting during the national anthem after being accused by Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes for attempting to divide the team.

BELTON — The Mary Hardin-Baylor defense is in for a new experience this week as it prepares to face Southwestern for the first time.

The Pirates run a variation of the flex-bone from the pistol formation, and Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg is eager to teach his players how to defend the attack that is rooted in old-school philosophies.

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Alejandro Villanueva just wanted to get a glimpse of the American flag, the symbol he wore on his military uniform during three tours in Afghanistan before beginning an unlikely journey from Army Ranger to the NFL.

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HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul and James Harden have spent so much time together since he was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Houston Rockets in June that he's learned the most important facts — and some that aren't as vital — about his fellow All-Star teammate.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer may not see eye-to-eye on much, but they agree on one thing — something needs to be done about locker rooms for visiting football teams in the Big Ten.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida standout receiver Antonio Callaway used a stolen credit card to add $1,970 to his campus bookstore prepaid account and then used the money to purchase a high-end computer and fancy headphones, according to university police.

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LeBron James is not backing down on his comments about President Donald Trump, and countless other players and coaches in the NBA made it clear at media days around the league Monday that they are equally fed up with what could perhaps be described as a pattern of actions from the White Hous…

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NEW YORK (AP) — Most television shows would love to have the "bad ratings!" that President Donald Trump tweeted the NFL is suffering from. But he's generally right that the TV audience size for professional football is off this year.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who has yet to sign a contract extension, said Monday that Oklahoma City is where he wants to be and he is "happy" about the offseason additions of superstars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.

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With the Atlanta Falcons and the Kansas City Chiefs the only two teams left in the league at 3-0, through the first three weeks, Hub Arkush points out that many of the top teams around the league have records that we didn’t expect. The Patriots need help on “D”, the Steelers are struggling, are the Titans that good, and the Jacksonville Jaguars blowout the Ravens across the pond. Hub takes a look at the unexpected records early in the season. 

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From the rounding into form of Washington's offense to Case Keenum answering the bell for the Vikings, here are five fantasy football observations from the weekend with just one game to go in Week 3.

If Kirk Cousins can do that — 25-of-30 for 365 yards and three TDs — without Jordan Reed and Rob Kelley, what might he do when they return and Terrelle Pryor and Jamison Crowder regain their 2016 form?

It might not matter if Chris Thompson continues his Kareem Hunt-esque terror. Thompson, fantasy's RB3 overall, has the production to qualify as a top-5 fantasy wideout, as well. He turned a season-high 12 touches into a career-high 188 scrimmage yards, plus a touchdown in his third consecutive game.

Indeed, it appears Washington's improvements on Cousins' game-winning drive in Week 2 carried over into the Sunday-night massacre of the Raiders. And the beauty of it for Cousins and Thompson owners is Washington's defense absolutely dominated the proceedings, and yet there was more than enough fantasy meat on the bone for them to devour. That's encouraging because Cousins' 2015-16 fantasy breakout coincided with his defense rankings 28th in yards and 19th in scoring.

2. Should owners with Oakland shares be feeling uneasy on Monday? The Raiders, who were coming off a 45-point, 401-yard Week 2 eruption at home against the Jets, failed to convert a third down and barely crested 100 total yards. Amari Cooper's numbers have decreased in three consecutive games. Same for Marshawn Lynch. And in the next five weeks, Oakland has trips to Denver and Buffalo flanking the Ravens, Chargers and Chiefs at home.

It's possible — likely, actually — we undersold Washington's 'D.' But we already know what four of the next five on Oakland's docket can do. The 2016 Raiders didn't lay any road eggs like Sunday night's, but their defense appears eerily similar to the current configuration. At its core, Oakland wants to be lean on its mashing O-line and power run game to set up explosive chances for Carr, Cooper and Michael Crabtree. It's a nonstarter when it digs quick 21-0 holes.

3. Let's take a moment to appreciate what the Bears did with their ground game and without any semblance of a downfield passing attack on Sunday. Jordan Howard battled a shoulder injury to gut the Steelers for his second-best fantasy output (26.40 points) and fourth top-5 RB finish in the past year. Tarik Cohen thought he had the walk-off 73-yard scoring scamper in overtime, but settled for 102 scrimmage yards on 16 touches and an RB18 finish.

Mike Glennon threw for 125 yards and didn't connect with a non-QB until the play before the first half's two-minute warning. His only completion to a receiver came with 5:56 left to play. Against a 'D' that limited Isaiah Crowell and Dalvin Cook in similarly challenged passing offenses to 3.5 yards per carry, Howard and Cohen combined for 216 yards on 35 carries (6.2 YPC).

We boldly predicted before the season DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry would be this year's Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman — the only backfield duo to each crack the top 20 in standard scoring among backs in the past five years. For now at least, it's Howard (RB11) and Cohen (RB13).

4. Will the Vikings be even more cautious with Sam Bradford this week, coming off Case Keenum's monster performance in the blowout of Tampa and with an extra day to prepare in Week 5 before visiting the Bears on Monday night?

It's worth considering (more than our advice last week to avoid Minnesota's passing game with Keenum, apparently). If Sam Bradford's backup has ever had a better day than Sunday, it was last season in Detroit: 321 passing yards and four total TDs. Now, this doesn't appear to be the same Detroit 'D,' but the Vikings' offense — both schematically and support-wise — is far superior to the Rams outfit Keenum was working with.

At least we wrote on Friday that Dalvin Cook was a safe play? Minnesota's dynamic rookie workhorse handled a career-high 27 carries and five receptions and is now averaging north of 23 touches and 123 scrimmage yards per game.

And he hasn't been the most impressive player on his team. Stefon Diggs' 17.2-yard average leads all NFL pass catchers with 15 or more grabs. His four touchdowns tie a career high and are more than halfway to his scoring production in his first 27 games.

Diggs and Adam Thielen garnered the attention from Keenum for a second consecutive week to plug them in vs. Detroit as WR2 and WR3, respectively, if nothing changes behind center.

5. An emotional win for the Eagles over the rival Giants on Sunday was followed by an emotional Monday, as Darren Sproles suffered a broken arm and torn ACL on the same play that will end his season, if not his remarkable career.

That the Eagles had their second-best rushing performance of the Doug Pederson era essentially sans Sproles, while merely happenstance, can provide silver lining for the Eagles and perhaps Sproles pwners. Wendell Smallwood, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement combined for 30-160-2, with Smallwood (43 snaps) nearly doubling Blount's playing time and attracting the only two targets two backs.

Pederson's ground game improved from Week 1 to Week 2 before exploding over the once-stout Giants run 'D,' and he likely is realizing it's the surest way to limit freewheeling Carson Wentz's exposure to big hits and turnovers.

It's awful to see Sproles, or any player, lost in such a gruesome way. But with Donnel Pumphrey already on I.R., it's becoming a last-man-standing situation in an Eagles backfield that may not be the season-long avoid it seemed poised for not long ago.

Smallwood will be a popular waiver add this week, and Blount, dropped by some owners after his Week 2 disappearing act, is back on the radar.

  • Courtesy: New Orleans Saints
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It’s harder to win a road game in the NFL. Harder still, to win a road game against a division opponent. And hardest, to win a road game, against a division opponent, by three touchdowns.

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CHICAGO – There were two separate and distinct stories Sunday at Soldier Field.

The story worth telling involves the Bears' 23-17 upset win in overtime over the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers came to town undefeated at 2-0 and boasting arguably the most talented offense in the NFL.

The Bears' only path to victory was to dominate with their running game, exhausting the Steelers' defense and keeping Pittsburgh’s offense on the sideline, and to get a few big plays from their defense and special teams to keep the Steelers' offense at bay.

The Bears executed that singular plan to perfection on the strength of a ground game that got 23 carries for 138 yards (6-yard average) and two touchdowns from Jordan Howard and five receptions for 26 yards and 78 yards rushing on 12 carries (6.5 average), including a 36-yarder that set up the winning score in overtime from rookie Tarik Cohen.

Special teams captain Sherrick McManis pitched in a recovered muffed punt to set up the Bears' first touchdown and blocked a late first-half field goal attempt by the Steelers that set up a Bears field goal at the gun, and Kyle Fuller seemed to be all over the football field making big plays in defense of the Steelers' vaunted aerial attack.

Howard’s heroic effort came in spite of his having to be helped off the field on three occasions with a badly bruised right shoulder.

“Sometimes I was hurt pretty bad. I didn’t feel like I could finish," Howard said.

“But Benny Cunningham, he kept pushing me through, and my coach, and I just saw my team – they kept fighting, so I had to keep playing.”

Coach John Fox said of his Pro Bowl running back, “He’s a tough son of a gun. The more you have of those, the better off you are, and the better chances you have to win.”

Howard thinks he and Cohen can be special.

“We can be very potent," Howard said. "I think the sky’s the limit – we’re trying to be the best duo in the league.”

Kyle Long returned to the lineup and was a huge part of the Bears' success, as was backup offensive tackle Bradley Sowell, who was forced into three quarters of action at guard with Josh Sitton out and center Hroniss Grasu leaving early with an injury to his right/snapping hand.

Quarterback Mike Glennon had another rough day, throwing for only 101 yards on 15-of-22 passing, and he suggested Sowell was the difference in the Bears win.

“I thought it was a great job by Bradley to step in there and play three quarters," Glennon said, "and last week was the first time he played guard in his life, and now he’s thrown in here against a really good defense.

“He has a great attitude and a great mentality, and he brings toughness to our offensive line.”

As for the sideshow forced upon the league by Donald Trump after he randomly attacked its players at a political rally Friday night, every team and player in the league made clear they’d stand together and weren’t happy with Trump.

The Steelers elected to stand in the tunnel and not participate in the anthem at all.

“To be quite honest with you, I didn’t appreciate our football team being dragged into politics this weekend," coach Mike Tomlin said. "I’m sure that is a global perspective.

“But we are blessed to do this for a living, and with that blessing comes responsibility, and we understand that. I understand that we are given a platform that is a unique one. Many of us are called to do things that we normally wouldn’t do because of that platform. People apply pressure to us to do things because of that platform.

“The bottom line is that we chose not to play ball today in that regard.”

Tomlin is a class act even if our president is not.

The Steelers' choice was met by strong and very different emotions clearly derived from heavily partisan political positions and was an unfortunate distraction from what was the most significant performance of the Bears' still young season intended to entertain us and instead used to divide us.

• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at harkush@profootballweekly.com, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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Here are Arthur Arkush's five takeaways from the late-afternoon Week 3 action.

1. It's crazy to think Aaron Rodgers had never won in overtime prior to Sunday, when he willed the Packers from a 21-7 halftime deficit to overtime and eventually past the Bengals, 27-24.

It's even wilder to think Green Bay did it without its left tackle, slot receiver, perhaps two best defenders, No. 1 corner and sans right tackle Bryan Bulaga for a portion of the game, and after Rodgers tossed just the second pick-six of his Hall of Fame career to give Cincinnati a two-touchdown lead before intermission.

Yet, that's what unfolded at scorching Lambeau Field. The Packers appeared on their way to 1-2 before Rodgers dusted off his crunch-time mastery to lead a game-tying 12-play, 75-yard drive, punctuated by a laser from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson for their second scoring connection, then a five-play, 70-yard overtime dagger on their first offensive series.

Nelson and Rodgers were brilliant. Green Bay got a gritty effort from its shorthanded 'D,' including strong showings from rookie defensive backs Kevin King and Josh Jones. The Packers' shallow offensive tackle depth was a problem throughout, magnified by Ty Montgomery's pass pro struggles and Green Bay being pass-heavy for the final 30 minutes.

But Rodgers connected on big gains with Geronimo Allison, who caught the 73-yard bomb in overtime on a free play to set up the game-winning Mason Crosby field goal, to overcome continued drops by Martellus Bennett, an ineffective run game and leaky offensive line that surrendered six sacks and nine QB hits.

The Packers host the Bears, also coming off an overtime thriller in record heat, on Thursday night. It'll be an endurance test, in addition to challenge for the training staffs to get these two banged-up teams prepared.

2. The Bill Lazor effect was evident in Green Bay, where the Bengals interim offensive coordinator prioritized quick throws, run-pass options and featuring Pro Bowl WR A.J. Green and rookie Joe Mixon to steady Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense.

Dalton posted a sterling 124.1 rating. Green turned 13 targets into 10 catches — the same number as in his first two games combined — while becoming the offensive centerpiece he never should've ceased to be under fired Ken Zampese. And Mixon took the backfield lead with a hard-fought 18-62 rushing in addition to securing all three targets for 39 yards, second only to Green among Bengals pass catchers.

Rookie pass rusher Carl Lawson consistently abused Packers fill-in LT Kyle Murphy en route to 2.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. But as impressive as Cincinnati's rookies played, they each made critical mistakes with the game in the balance. Lawson jumped offsides with Green Bay in the red zone and looking for the tie; Mixon slipped on a third-and-1 run play that forced Cincinnati to settle for a field goal, instead of potentially running out the clock.

Most importantly, Marvin Lewis' Bengals are 0-3 and it he appears increasingly hard-pressed to survive the mess and attempt to develop the young nucleus the team has in place.

3. The scoreboard read Titans 33, Seahawks 27. The reality is Tennessee handled the Seahawks, particularly — surprise! — Seattle's O-line, producing just one sack but 10 quarterback hits.

Tennessee received the best outing yet from Marcus Mariota in 2017, and DeMarco Murray went from game-time decision to churning out 115 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries — including a 75-yard scoring jaunt that was the longest against a Pete Carroll 'D.'

Indeed, it's easy (and fair) to hang Seattle's struggles on its offensive line. A perfect snapshot of its incompetence came when the Titans rushed just three on a fourth-and-22 and still managed to speed up and drill Russell Wilson after he barely got to his second read.

But the Seahawks' run defense isn't the same vaunted group we're accustomed to seeing after another 100-yard performance against them Sunday. And Wilson, who threw for a career-high 373 yards and 49 attempts, still doesn't have his own run game, never mind a reliable offensive line, to make his life easier.

Seattle welcomes the Colts, coming off their first win of the season, in Week 4 before greater pass-rush tests in the Rams and Giants in Weeks 5 and 6, respectively.

4. Kareem Hunt and Alex Smith are both playing ridiculously good football. Another 172 rushing yards and a touchdown for the rookie revelation, Hunt, in the Chargers' 24-10 victory. And Smith tossed two more touchdowns without an interception as Kansas City improved to 3-0.

What shouldn't be lost in Kansas City's offensive revival is a defense that forced three more takeaways — all Philip Rivers interceptions — and continues to get dominant play from Justin Houston and Chris Jones, among others. They'll need it if Dee Ford, who left early with injury, is out for a while.

5. The team responses to Donald Trump's weekend remarks continued in the late-afternoon window. Both the Titans and Seahawks stayed off the field during the anthem. The Raiders' offensive line knelt together on Sunday night, when more players, coaches and front-office executives also stood in unity with interlocking arms.

"As a team, we have decided we will not participate in the national anthem," the Seahawks said in a statement. "We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms. We remain committed in continuing to work towards equality and justice for all. Respectfully, the players of the Seattle Seahawks.”

Seattle and Tennessee followed Pittsburgh's lead with their players staying off the field during the anthem. Per multiple reports, the players, although subject to fines, won't be penalized by the league for not being on the field for the anthem.

"As a team, we wanted to be unified in our actions today," the Titans said in a statement. "The players jointly decided this was the best course of action. Our commitment to the military and our community is resolute and the absence of our team for the national anthem shouldn’t be misconstrued as unpatriotic.”

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CHICAGO — The best play, worst play and most hilarious play of the afternoon came together in one weird package, at the end of the first half of the Pittsburgh Steelers-Chicago Bears game Sunday.

It was an unseasonably hot day at Soldier Field, 89 degrees before kickoff. The pre-game signs of solidarity by the Steelers (not taking the field for the national anthem) and Bears (players’ arms locked while standing) made this a rare setting before the game even kicked off. And the Bears eventually beating the Steelers in overtime strangely felt like the third-most interesting storyline of the day.

That’s partly because of what happened late in the second quarter. The game took a turn for the utterly absurd on what appeared to be the final play of the half. Even that ended up not being the case after the mess was sorted out several minutes later.

Steelers kicker Chris Boswell lined up for a 35-yard field-goal try that would have cut the Bears’ lead from 14-7 to 14-10 in the waning seconds. But the attempt was blocked by Bears CB Sherrick McManis, who was allowed to get by Steelers TE Xavier Grimble without even a paw on him.

“I missed. I couldn’t get off [the snap],” Grimble said. “A bad miss by me. Huge play. That’s on me. It feels terrible.”

McManis screamed off the right edge and batted the ball right into the hands of the Bears’ Marcus Cooper, who had nothing but green in front of him.

“As a wing, you never want to hear the double thud,” said Steelers TE Vance McDonald. “I was coming from the other side. So my job is to just stop the bleeding if something really bad happens.”

Little did McDonald know he would be part of one of the strangest plays of his career. You thought that turn was odd enough? What happened next defied explanation.

Cooper raced toward the end zone with no blocking help but an unimpeded path to a touchdown. He had been running full speed but appeared to gear down a bit at the Pittsburgh 15-yard line.

At that point, two Steelers — McDonald, followed by FG holder Jordan Berry — were about five yards behind Cooper. (McManis had a chance to block McDonald very early in the play but appeared to fear getting flagged for a block in the back.)

“I thought: No way are we catching him unless something weird happens,” said Steelers OL Matt Feiler, who was blocking on the right side on the play.

But then, the unthinkable: Cooper stopped. He stopped running entirely. The clock had hit zero 25 yards ago, and he was just not running any longer at about the Pittsburgh 2-yard line. It’s not that Cooper ran out of gas … he just turned off the engine, stuck it in neutral and idled the car.

After the game, Cooper said he thought he already had scored. McDonald — who started the play on his own 20-yard line — came racing in, followed by Berry, and just swiped at the ball, which came loose.

“I didn’t really know what Coop was thinking,” McDonald said. “I played with him in San Francisco. He’s going to be looking at that one and wishing he had it back, for sure.”

Cooper looked completely confused by what was happening. Berry also appeared not to know what was happening. He swatted the ball out of the back of the Steelers’ end zone.

It should be noted that Berry is Australian. Upon being approached after the game, he said, “Oh wow, I haven’t been interviewed in like two years.”

That’s about when Berry was signed by the Steelers as a rookie punter. He played college at Eastern Kentucky and knows American football plenty well by now but admits that he has never seen anything quite like that.

“I think last year there was a game where someone did that. I think it was maybe offense though? I really wasn’t too sure of the situation with the turnovers and how it all worked,” Berry said.

It was hard to know who had possession, what should be called or what would be called. In the end-of-half pantheon of strange football events, this was the James Harrison Super Bowl XLIII play gone completely mad.

“I really don’t know too well,” Berry said, laughing. “I really just read all the kicking-play rules.”

The illegal bat was called right away — and correctly. That much we knew. As a matter of record, the 10-yard batting penalty was assessed from the 20-yard line, as if it was a touchback. But the referees initially ruled that the half was over. The Bears and Steelers headed to the locker room, even though the play was still under review.

A few minutes later, the call was reversed. Naturally. The strangest play you’ll see this season couldn’t have ended that quickly.

“They did explain the review, but I still lack a little clarity there,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “I was told by an official that the half was over, and that’s why we took our team off the field. … I am sure I’m going to get clarity at some point.”

“It was an awkward play, and [the referees] did the best they could there.”

This time, the batting penalty was assessed at the Pittsburgh 1, and half the distance meant the Bears would have an untimed down to try to score before the half. They had been leading 14-7. They were prepared to see that lead dwindle if the field goal was good. Amazingly, a touchdown there and the Bears (7.5-point underdogs) would have taken a 14-point halftime lead.

“I am pretty sure even the refs had to open the rulebook on that one,” McDonald said.

So the Bears offense lined up to go for it on 1st-and-goal inside the 1 … and LT Charles Leno false started. The karma gods had struck down. No way in heck was Cooper’s brutal effort going to be fully rewarded on this day.

The Bears settled for a field goal and a 17-7 halftime lead. Seldom will you see a game tilt and twist as many times on one play (technically, two plays) that lasted about six real-time minutes to completely sort out.

“It definitely got the guys hammed up a bit,” Berry said.

But the Steelers couldn’t convert that hustle into a win. They cut into the 10-point deficit and forced overtime but lost it when the Bears drove 74 yards on four runs in overtime in a 23-17 Chicago win.

In the end, that weird end-of-half play was a six-point swing for the Bears. It was big but could have been even bigger. Both teams also felt a strange sense of disappointment and excitement in what unfolded. Steelers players spoke more of McDonald’s hustle than the block and the net result. Cooper appeared disappointed and embarrassed at what happened, even though his team came out with the win.

But we’ll have to dig deeper. Has there ever been a play like this in football history? The Bears stopped a field goal on one end and kicked another on the other end. Not often you have two straight field-goal attempts on consecutive plays by different teams in a game a mere five game seconds apart.

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CHICAGO — The best play, worst play and most hilarious play of the afternoon came together in one weird package, at the end of the first half of the Pittsburgh Steelers-Chicago Bears game Sunday.

It was an unseasonably hot day at Soldier Field, 89 degrees before kickoff. The pre-game signs of solidarity by the Steelers (not taking the field for the national anthem) and Bears (players’ arms locked while standing) made this a rare setting before the game even kicked off. And the Bears eventually beating the Steelers in overtime strangely felt like the third-most interesting storyline of the day.

That’s partly because of what happened late in the second quarter. The game took a turn for the utterly absurd on what appeared to be the final play of the half. Even that ended up not being the case after the mess was sorted out several minutes later.

Steelers kicker Chris Boswell lined up for a 35-yard field-goal try that would have cut the Bears’ lead from 14-7 to 14-10 in the waning seconds. But the attempt was blocked by Bears CB Sherrick McManis, who was allowed to get by Steelers TE Xavier Grimble without even a paw on him.

“I missed. I couldn’t get off [the snap],” Grimble said. “A bad miss by me. Huge play. That’s on me. It feels terrible.”

McManis screamed off the right edge and batted the ball right into the hands of the Bears’ Marcus Cooper, who had nothing but green in front of him.

“As a wing, you never want to hear the double thud,” said Steelers TE Vance McDonald. “I was coming from the other side. So my job is to just stop the bleeding if something really bad happens.”

Little did McDonald know he would be part of one of the strangest plays of his career. You thought that turn was odd enough? What happened next defied explanation.

Cooper raced toward the end zone with no blocking help but an unimpeded path to a touchdown. He had been running full speed but appeared to gear down a bit at the Pittsburgh 15-yard line.

At that point, two Steelers — McDonald, followed by FG holder Jordan Berry — were about five yards behind Cooper. (McManis had a chance to block McDonald very early in the play but appeared to fear getting flagged for a block in the back.)

“I thought: No way are we catching him unless something weird happens,” said Steelers OL Matt Feiler, who was blocking on the right side on the play.

But then, the unthinkable: Cooper stopped. He stopped running entirely. The clock had hit zero 25 yards ago, and he was just not running any longer at about the Pittsburgh 2-yard line. It’s not that Cooper ran out of gas … he just turned off the engine, stuck it in neutral and idled the car.

After the game, Cooper said he thought he already had scored. McDonald — who started the play on his own 20-yard line — came racing in, followed by Berry, and just swiped at the ball, which came loose.

“I didn’t really know what Coop was thinking,” McDonald said. “I played with him in San Francisco. He’s going to be looking at that one and wishing he had it back, for sure.”

Cooper looked completely confused by what was happening. Berry also appeared not to know what was happening. He swatted the ball out of the back of the Steelers’ end zone.

It should be noted that Berry is Australian. Upon being approached after the game, he said, “Oh wow, I haven’t been interviewed in like two years.”

That’s about when Berry was signed by the Steelers as a rookie punter. He played college at Eastern Kentucky and knows American football plenty well by now but admits that he has never seen anything quite like that.

“I think last year there was a game where someone did that. I think it was maybe offense though? I really wasn’t too sure of the situation with the turnovers and how it all worked,” Berry said.

It was hard to know who had possession, what should be called or what would be called. In the end-of-half pantheon of strange football events, this was the James Harrison Super Bowl XLIII play gone completely mad.

“I really don’t know too well,” Berry said, laughing. “I really just read all the kicking-play rules.”

The illegal bat was called right away — and correctly. That much we knew. As a matter of record, the 10-yard batting penalty was assessed from the 20-yard line, as if it was a touchback. But the referees initially ruled that the half was over. The Bears and Steelers headed to the locker room, even though the play was still under review.

A few minutes later, the call was reversed. Naturally. The strangest play you’ll see this season couldn’t have ended that quickly.

“They did explain the review, but I still lack a little clarity there,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “I was told by an official that the half was over, and that’s why we took our team off the field. … I am sure I’m going to get clarity at some point.”

“It was an awkward play, and [the referees] did the best they could there.”

This time, the batting penalty was assessed at the Pittsburgh 1, and half the distance meant the Bears would have an untimed down to try to score before the half. They had been leading 14-7. They were prepared to see that lead dwindle if the field goal was good. Amazingly, a touchdown there and the Bears (7.5-point underdogs) would have taken a 14-point halftime lead.

“I am pretty sure even the refs had to open the rulebook on that one,” McDonald said.

So the Bears offense lined up to go for it on 1st-and-goal inside the 1 … and LT Charles Leno false started. The karma gods had struck down. No way in heck was Cooper’s brutal effort going to be fully rewarded on this day.

The Bears settled for a field goal and a 17-7 halftime lead. Seldom will you see a game tilt and twist as many times on one play (technically, two plays) that lasted about six real-time minutes to completely sort out.

“It definitely got the guys hammed up a bit,” Berry said.

But the Steelers couldn’t convert that hustle into a win. They cut into the 10-point deficit and forced overtime but lost it when the Bears drove 74 yards on four runs in overtime in a 23-17 Chicago win.

In the end, that weird end-of-half play was a six-point swing for the Bears. It was big but could have been even bigger. Both teams also felt a strange sense of disappointment and excitement in what unfolded. Steelers players spoke more of McDonald’s hustle than the block and the net result. Cooper appeared disappointed and embarrassed at what happened, even though his team came out with the win.

But we’ll have to dig deeper. Has there ever been a play like this in football history? The Bears stopped a field goal on one end and kicked another on the other end. Not often you have two straight field-goal attempts on consecutive plays by different teams in a game a mere five game seconds apart.

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CHICAGO — One team chose to stand and lock arms during the national anthem. One decided to wait in the tunnel and not even take the field during it. These were two different, but unified, responses by two teams that felt they were the target of the president's remarks.

President Donald Trump went after NFL players who fail to stand during the anthem, saying that their jobs should be on the line for kneeling during the anthem. Trump added that he wished NFL owners would pull any "son of a bitch" off the field who attempted that.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears took different approaches to those words prior to their Week 3 game at Soldier Field. Not one player from either team knelt. From the words of the players following their game Sunday, the players wanted to change the narrative. Whatever they were going to do as a response, they were going to do it together, they said, to a man.

The Steelers met Saturday night as players following a team meeting to discuss what Trump said and what their response would be. That's when it was decided they would not be on the field for the anthem.

"We talked about it," Steelers DL Cam Heyward said. "We didn’t want to disrespect anyone on the team. We wanted everybody to get heard. We wanted to show solidarity."

Added OG Ramon Foster, "It was either all or nothing. If we go out there and decide to lock arms, and someone drops to a knee, then it’s not being done collectively. If we stay in the tunnel together, then we’re all in this together. Why show a chink in the armor when we don’t have to?"

One Steelers player, LT Alejandro Villanueva, stood just outside the edge of the tunnel near the field while his 52 teammates were right behind him — both metaphysically and in their support. Villanueva has a unique background, by football-player standards: He is a major in the United States Army, serving as an Army Ranger. He was decorated with a Bronze Star for his valor in duty.

The Steelers might have opted as a team to remain off the field, but they were more than happy to support Villanueva as he watched the flag during the anthem.

"Man, we respect him so much," Steelers CB Joe Haden said. "He’s coming from a whole different place than any of us. We respect everything he does and he’s going through. We are a team, so we are behind him 100 percent."

For the Bears, OG Kyle Long said, the same principle was at the heart of their decision to stand, arms locked.

“We’re a team," Long said. "We’ve been together since April. We love each other. We’re empathetic toward each other’s issues. This team does a great job putting ourselves in other’s shoes. It’s not something that’s hush-hush. We talk about it in the locker room. We have guys who are open about how they feel, and we have guys who are respectful about other people’s opinions.

"I feel like today that we showed we’re a cohesive unit and that’s what we wanted to convey today. We didn’t want to show any disrespect toward the military, the flag. But there are obviously issues that are going on in our country. I think we did the right thing today, and moving forward, we’re just trying to make this place a better world to live in.”

Foster said he and other Steelers players were shocked that the president would use such hateful words toward him and his brothers, indicating that he views his teammates — and all NFL players — as a big family. He felt the team had to make some kind of statement that Trump's words were not going to break them or their collective spirit.

"When you call a group of guys that decide to do something — their constitutional right, freedom of speech — an SOB? And that we should be fired? What would you do?" he asked rhetorically. "That wasn’t even a black or white thing. It was a [disrespect] thing."

Trump further lashed out by doubling down on Twitter over the weekend:

"If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect....

"...our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!"

Several NFL owners responded with support for their players. A few of the statements issued by team owners, presidents and even, in the case of the Seattle Seahawks, their head coach, used pointed language against Trump — whether or not they called him by name.

Will the players' demonstrations backfire? We might not know the effect of this week in the NFL for some time and whether observers will respond negatively. Foster said the players are willing to take the risk of that happening.

"We’ll see five years from now it viewership is cut in half," he said. "Who knows?"

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said he had no part in the team's actions before kickoff. He stood on an eerily bare sideline while his players waited in the tunnel. Tomlin stood up for them then, just as he did after the game when asked about it.

"This was placed upon us by circumstance," Tomlin said. "I heard rumblings of guys talking during the course of [Saturday] and my contention was that we not allow politics to divide us. We are football players and a football team.

"If anything needed to be done, I asked those guys to discuss it and whatever they discussed, we have 100 percent participation or we do nothing. They discussed it for an appropriate length of time. They couldn't come to an understanding, so they chose to remove themselves from it."

As for what's next? How race relations improve? What the players can do to help? That's the tricky part. The Steelers know they won some observers over Sunday. They also likely made some other folks very mad. A snapshot of society today, just magnified — and amplified — quite a bit. This isn't just a football thing, naturally.

"We gave everybody this," Foster said. "I don’t know what is after this. That’s what happens. Guys say, ‘do something,’ and if you don’t do something you’re just a rich jock. What happens? What do you guys say? That’s my question to you. It shouldn’t be just on us."

Steelers TE Vance McDonald spent last season with in San Francisco with the 49ers in what was Ground Zero for much of this debate. Colin Kaepernick took a knee during a preseason game in August, and more than 13 months later, the debate is hotter than it ever has been.

McDonald says he understands the reality of seeking equality — not only the collateral damage that can happen along the way but also that it's likely impossible. But it's the kind of cause he's willing to fight for, side by side with his teammates.

"Everyone is searching for equality and you’re never going to find it," McDonald said. "It’s a really unique thing. I am just glad that guys take the initiative and take the stance on the platform that they’re given. That’s what makes the world so special. Just going about it the right way."

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Here are Arthur Arkush's five early takeaways following one of the NFL's more compelling noon slates in recent memory.

1. Deshaun Watson was great in his first-ever trip to Foxboro. Tom Brady is the greatest of all time, which he reminded us of yet again with a masterpiece five-touchdown display, including a 25-yard game-winner to Brandin Cooks with 23 seconds remaining. Patriots 36, Texans 33.

Late in the fourth quarter, it appeared Watson (22-of-33 for 301 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT and 90.6 rating; 8-41 rushing) would become the first rookie quarterback to defeat a Bill Belichick Patriots 'D' in Foxboro. He was calm and collected and had made one big play after the next for Bill O'Brien, who tinkered his offense with moving pockets and quick throws to maximize Watson's strengths.

But Houston left too much time for Brady when it settled for a field goal and five-point lead with 2:28 remaining. One play after converting a third-and-18 to Danny Amendola to extend an eight-play, 75-yard drive, Brady tossed his eighth regular-season touchdown to win a game within the final minute,

Brady was hit — a lot — by Houston, which tallied five sacks and six QB hits. The Patriots' run game was virtually nonexistent. But the quarterback kept bouncing back up and connecting downfield with newcomer Brandin Cooks, who had his best game as a Patriot (5-131-2), Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan.

Yes, there are plenty of new questions that need answering regarding a Patriots 'D' that's allowed 75 combined points in two home games and permitted three consecutive 300-yard passing days. But the immediate spotlight undoubtedly belongs on Brady, who, in his age-40 campaign, is on pace to throw for 5,824 passing yards and 42 touchdowns.

2. The Eagles went from holding a 14-0 fourth-quarter lead to needing a 61-yard Jake Elliott field goal as time expired to stun the Giants, 27-24, and improve to 2-1. Elliott, the fifth-round pick by Cincinnati, was signed off the Bengals practice squad two weeks ago to replace injured Caleb Sturgis.

Philadelphia needed the heroics of Elliott, who set a franchise record with his clutch boomer, after a Landon Collins strip of Zach Ertz positioned Odell Beckham for his second highlight reel touchdown catch of the fourth quarter. Indeed, Jim Schwartz's 'D' surrendered all 24 points in the final fifteen minutes and missed Pro Bowl DT Fletcher Cox, who suffered an early calf injury and didn't return. But it picked off Eli Manning twice and was the beneficiary of an out-of-left field three-headed backfield monster (39-193-2) that helped Philadelphia to a massive time of possession advantage (37:32-to-22:38).

That's likely the main takeaway for Doug Pederson — the unearthing of a run game that takes heat off Carson Wentz and a new-look receiving corps still finding its footing — whose aggressiveness on fourth down gave the offense a needed lift against a tough Giants 'D.'

3. Just as the Giants offense came to life and appeared to spur a road upset, Ben McAdoo's club had its heart ripped out by Elliott in falling to 0-3. Eli Manning (35-of-47 for 366 yards and three touchdowns) tossed two picks but also made some great throws and wasn't sacked after the primetime debacle in Detroit on Monday.

But Manning having to attempt 47 throws speaks both to New York's still-absent run game and a defense showing chinks in the armor after last year's dominance vs. the run. New York has surrendered an average of 153.3 rushing yards at 4.5 yards a pop — a far cry from 88.6 and 3.6, respectively, a year ago.

The Giants' 'D' is spending too much time on the field because of the offense's inability to sustain drives, and 2016 first-round CB Eli Apple is wilting with an increasingly large target on his back. Carson Wentz's plan was to attack Apple repeatedly downfield, and although the completions were few and far between, Apple committed two pass interference penalties totaling 77 yards and both leading to Eagles touchdowns.

4. The Lions' defense notched three more interceptions, snapping Matt Ryan's streak of 309 pick-less attempts in resounding fashion. But on a day of stunning finishes, perhaps none topped what looked like it would be Matthew Stafford completing his 30th fourth-quarter/overtime comeback on a touchdown to Golden Tate in the final seconds that was overturned by replay.

On a penalty-filled series by both clubs in the final minute, Stafford hit Tate on a would-be scoring slant with eight ticks left. But replay confirmed Tate was touched down at the one-half yard line and, after a 10-second runoff, the game ended abruptly.

Despite Ryan's miscues, the Falcons again reached 30 points in large part because of a big effort from Devonta Freeman and the run game and solid sudden-change 'D' (three points allowed off two interceptions that weren't returned for a score).

The Falcons offense wasn't as disjointed as it was in the opener, nor as electrifying as it was Sunday night vs. the Packers, but Atlanta is 3-0, with the defense surviving at the shadow of its goal line on the game's final play for the second time in three weeks.

Detroit can at least find solace amid its shock in an immensely improved defensive opportunism. Teryl Austin's unit totaled 10 interceptions and 14 takeaways last season, none coming in the final five games. Through three 2017 contests, it's generated seven picks and eight turnovers overall.

But the Lions wrestled defeat from the jaws of victory on a day their rivals in Minnesota blew out Tampa Bay and Chicago stunned Pittsburgh.

5. Another week, another sloppy Cam Newton outing and potentially disastrous injury for the Panthers offense. One week after losing Greg Olsen to a broken foot and again playing without C Ryan Kalil, Carolina was unable to overcome three interceptions by Newton (45.8 rating) and Kelvin Benjamin's early exit with a left knee injury in a 34-13 home defeat to the Saints.

Benjamin's leg bent awkwardly backwards in the first half, after which Newton couldn't get anything consistently with Panthers pass catchers not named Christian McCaffrey (9-101 receiving) against what had been a hapless Saints 'D' through two weeks.

Newton said it's "gut check" time for the 2-1 Panthers and vowed to improve with trips to New England and Detroit, respectively, over the next two weeks. If Benjamin is sidelined for any amount of time, it's hard to foresee whom Newton can lean on to make the necessary improvements. But the obvious answer likely is the Panthers' other playmaking rookie, Curtis Samuel, who had just two catches for five yards, one week after debuting with 2-7 receiving.

As for the Saints, Drew Brees surely enjoyed being the beneficiary of a strong running game and an average starting field position at the New Orleans 38. Brees was his standard great self; the Saints' maligned 'D' building on this performance and creating a new standard when it visits Jay Cutler's Dolphins — who were nearly by the Jets — will determine whether New Orleans can turn a corner after an 0-2 start.

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THREE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

1. Sherrick McManis came flying off the edge to block Chris Boswell's field goal attempt with 5 seconds remaining in the first half. Bears corner Marcus Cooper scooped up the loose ball and appeared to have an easy touchdown. Then, inexplicably, he nearly came to a total stop at the 1-yard line, where Vance McDonald swatted the ball from Cooper's hands with the ball going out of the back of the end zone. The Bears were given an untimed down from the half-yard line, but had to settle for a Connor Barth field goal after a false start penalty on Charles Leno.

2. After going three-and-out to start the second half, the Bears defense managed to force a punt after Pittsburgh reached midfield only to have Jordan Howard fumble and give the ball back to the Steelers in the red zone. Le'Veon Bell eventually scored on a 1-yard run to cut the Bears' lead to 17-14.

3. In the end, Howard's big day was all that mattered for the Bears. After Tarik Cohen's game-winning touchdown was wiped out by a replay review that showed he stepped out at Pittsburgh's 37-yard line, Howard pulled out back-to-back runs of 19 and 18 yards to get the Bears into the end zone for the overtime win.

THREE THINGS THAT WORKED

1. The power run game. The Bears clearly wanted to re-establish Howard after a shaky start to the season for the second-year running back. Howard turned in his best game of the season so far with 138 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Most importantly, Howard's burst and vision – the combination that made him the league's second-leading rusher last year – were clearly visible.

2. The run defense. Continuing an early-season trend, the Bears again defended the run well. Linemen Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks once again did their job clogging up running lanes, and linebacker Danny Trevathan did a nice job filling in gaps. Bell did find the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown but the Bears limited him to 61 yards on 15 carries.

3. Kyle Fuller's pass defense. It wasn't a certainty that the former first-round pick would even make the Bears' roster coming out of training camp, but the cornerback continued his string of solid outings. Even with Prince Amukamara active, the Bears' coaching staff felt comfortable enough with Fuller to give him another start.

THREE THINGS THAT DIDN'T

1. Marcus Cooper's awareness. His boneheaded play at the end of the first half will surely get plenty of play on television, and rightfully so. But it wasn't Cooper's only mistake of the afternoon. The veteran corner was also flagged in the end zone for defensive holding on third down. The penalty extended Pittsburgh's drive and allowed the Steelers to cut the Bears' lead to 17-14. On a positive note, Cooper did have several passes defended, including knocking away a potential go-ahead touchdown to Martavis Bryant.

2. Mike Glennon's play. The win will likely take pressure off Glennon – at least temporarily – but the Bears' passing game was nearly nonexistent for a third-straight week. Glennon finished with 101 passing yards on 15 completions. He threw one interception, a badly thrown ball to tight end Zach Miller. It's true that Miller was late out of his break, but it didn't matter with Glennon's pass thrown low and behind his intended receiver.

3. Receivers getting separation. Glennon didn't connect with a receiver until Deonte Thompson hauled in a 9-yard reception with 5:56 left in regulation. You can chalk some of that up to playcalling and Glennon's tendency to check the ball down, but his wideouts didn't give him much to work with. Markus Wheaton's debut didn't bolster the downfield attack either. He finished with zero receptions on two targets.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The Bears have a quick turnaround with a Thursday night matchup in Green Bay. The Packers have won 12 of the last 15 meetings between the rivals dating back to the start of the 2010 season.

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Since President Donald Trump on Friday night called for NFL owners to fire protesting players and fans to boycott games in which protests occur, many owners have issued statements rejecting Trump and supporting their players.

Here are the full statements of every owner who's spoken in response to Trump's remarks.

Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who stood alongside his players with their arms interlocked during the anthem Sunday at Wembley Stadium before Jacksovnille and Baltimore kicked off in the first game of the 2017 International series: "It was a privilege to stand on the sidelines with the Jacksonville Jaguars today for the playing of the U.S. national anthem at Wembley Stadium. I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem.

"Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms — race, faith, our views and our goals. We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder. That’s why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation.”

Said Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who's previously and publicly supported Trump: “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement Sunday morning. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger.

There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful."

Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk: "I am proud to stand with our players and support them in their work on and off the football field. I completely agree with Commissioner Goodell that we are better off as a nation when we are unified and pulling together. I have seen that kind of attitude first-hand in Tennessee and across our country in the many benevolent and public-spirited efforts of our NFL players, often without any public recognition.

Our players make public contributions day-in and day-out and when I hear anyone making disparaging remarks about them, I know it has to be the result of not knowing what they bring to our communities or what they have accomplished.”

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti: "We recognize our players' influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That's democracy in its highest form."

Lions chairman Martha Firestone Ford: “Our game has long provided a powerful platform for dialogue and positive change in many communities throughout our nation.

“Thanks primarily to our players, the NFL also has been a unifying force in our country and impactful change has and hopefully will continue to be the result of peaceful expression, done so in order to highlight social injustices of all kind.

“Negative and disrespectful comments suggesting otherwise are contrary to the founding principles of our country, and we do not support those comments or opinions.”

Dolphins owner Steven Ross: “Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness. We need to seek to understand each other and have civil discourse instead of condemnation and sound bites. I know our players who kneeled for the anthem and these are smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone.

"They wanted to start a conversation and are making a difference in our community, including working with law enforcement to bring people together. We all can benefit from learning, listening and respecting each other. Sports is a common denominator in our world. We all have the responsibility to use this platform to promote understanding, respect and equality.”

Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam: “We view our organization, our league and our players as great unifiers of people. Our players, just like so many others across our league, have been honest and thoughtful with their attempt to bring awareness to the issues of inequality and social injustice. We were incredibly moved by the meaningful and powerful dialogue they initiated within our organization when they spoke of their intent to unify and not be disrespectful while using familiar and important terms like one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

"Their intent is to create positive and unifying change and that was demonstrated well by the unity they led prior to our home opener. They have continued to prove this dedication to unite diverse members of our community throughout this past month by establishing direct conversation with the Cleveland Police Department and creating a plan to work together in our neighborhoods. We are also proud of their many other significant efforts in our city throughout the year that are done quietly to improve the lives of others.

“We must not let misguided, uninformed and divisive comments from the President or anyone else deter us from our efforts to unify. Our stance in support of the liberties of peaceful, personal expression afforded to our players and all Americans will remain strong, and we will continue to encourage our players to respectfully use their earned platform to inspire positive change in our nation and throughout society.”

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From players, coaches, executives and even owners interlocking arms to one team's decision to remain in the locker room and another opting to wear t-shirts saying "I'm with Kap" to one singer kneeling at the conclusion of his own national anthem, the NFL delivered a unified message Sunday following President Donald Trump's divisive calls throughout the weekend for teams to fire protesting players and fans to boycott games where protests occur.

Virtually every member of the Giants and Eagles stood with their arms interlocked during the anthem in Philadelphia. Many owners, including Jacksonville's Shad Khan, Minnesota's Zygi Wilf and Philadelphia's Jeffrey Lurie stood side by side and with their arms interlocked with their players.

Steelers players opted to remain in the tunnel while Mike Tomlin and a few team officials stood on an eerily empty visitor's sideline, while the Bears stood with arms interlocked on the other side of the field.

Many Dolphins players in pre-game warmups donned "I'm with Kap" t-shirts, a nod to former 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, the trailblazer who first protested the anthem last season to raise awareness regarding social inequality and police brutality.

At Ford Field in Detroit, singer Rico Lavelle knelt and raised a fist as he belted out the final lyrics, "o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Trump said at rally on Friday NFL owners should fire the "sons of b----s" who protest and doubled down on Twitter Sunday with his pleas for fans to boycott games.

NFL owners, commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith have responded with statements rejecting Trump's divisiveness and supporting the players. It's clear on Sunday that the President's attempt at dividing players and coaches has resulted in the exact opposite: the league has demonstrated a united front.

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Friday night, Donald Trump encouraged NFL owners to fire players who protest during the national anthem.

Sunday morning, in the first of what’s expected be many on-field responses by NFL personnel to Trump’s remarks, Jaguars owner Shad Khan stood with his players with their arms interlocked on the sideline.

Additionally, huge numbers of Jaguars and Ravens both kneeled and stood with their arms locked in solidarity or hands on each other’s shoulders to symbolize unity following Trump’s divisive remarks.

Trump doubled down on his remarks Sunday morning on Twitter: “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag and Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!

“… NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”

After the NFL and NFLPA released statements in response to Twitter and commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith met Saturday night to discuss how to handle Sunday’s protests according to ESPN, several owners have released their own statements.

“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement Sunday morning. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger.

There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful."

Said Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk: "I am proud to stand with our players and support them in their work on and off the football field. I completely agree with Commissioner Goodell that we are better off as a nation when we are unified and pulling together. I have seen that kind of attitude first-hand in Tennessee and across our country in the many benevolent and public-spirited efforts of our NFL players, often without any public recognition.

Our players make public contributions day-in and day-out and when I hear anyone making disparaging remarks about them, I know it has to be the result of not knowing what they bring to our communities or what they have accomplished.”

Steve Bisciotti, whose Ravens are playing the Jaguars in at London's Wembley Stadium, released a statement shortly after kickoff: "We recognize our players' influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That's democracy in its highest form."

      

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President Donald Trump, speaking at a rally for Alabama senate candidate Luther Strange on Friday, said he would like to see players who protest the national anthem fired by NFL owners.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say “Get that son of a b**** off the field right now. He is fired.”

Trump also encouraged fans to stop watching games if they see players protesting.

“When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem — the only thing you could do better is if you see it, even it’s one player, leave the stadium,” he said. “I guaranteed things will stop.”

Continued Trump: “Luther and I and everyone in this arena tonight are unified by the same great American values. We’re proud of our country. We respect our flag.”

Trump previously criticized Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the anthem last season to protest social inequality and police brutality. Kaepernick’s protests — whether or not they’re part of the reason he remains unemployed today — sparked a firestorm of controversy and emboldened many other NFL players to continue protesting this season.

The NFLPA released a statement in response to Trump’s comments: “Whether or not [commissioner] Roger [Goodell] and the owners will speak for themselves about their views on player rights and their commitment to player safety remains to be seen. This union, however, will not back down when it protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks.”

Goodell, via spokesman Brian McCarthy, issued its own statement Saturday morning: “The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”  

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Each week Hub Arkush will choose 3 top matchups, and give you his pick for that game. This week features Jaguars/Ravens, Browns/Colts, and Texans/Patriots.

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CHICAGO – If the Chicago Bears team that faced the Atlanta Falcons in the season opener shows up to play Pittsburgh on Sunday, it can upset the Steelers.

If it’s the team we saw in Tampa last week, spend the day on your “honey do” list because the football could get ugly.

There is some good news for the Bears going in, as it appears guard Kyle Long, wide receiver Markus Wheaton and cornerback Prince Amukamara will all be making their season debuts.

Unfortunately, Nick Kwiatkoski definitely won’t go at inside linebacker, and guards Josh Sitton and Tom Compton will be doubtful and questionable, respectively.

If Sitton and Compton are ready, this will be the best version of the Bears we’ve seen yet.

The Bears' problems will start with the Steelers' big three – quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown – who are among the best in the league at their positions, and will be exacerbated by one of the best offensive lines in football, featuring All Pros Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro at center and guard, Pro Bowler Ramon Foster at the other guard and one of the biggest players in the league, 6-foot-9, 320-pound Alejandro Villanueva, at left tackle.

Like the Bears, the Steelers have a few injury concerns. One break the Bears will catch is Pro Bowl right tackle Marcus Gilbert will be unable to go, and there is a noticeable drop-off to backups Chris Hubbard and Jerald Hawkins.

Bell is off to a slow start after sitting out the preseason in a contract dispute and reporting Sept. 1.

He did, however, get 27 carries and four receptions Sunday vs. Minnesota, and you have to hope this isn’t the week he breaks out.

Roethlisberger has been known to struggle on the road, and he is for the most part a stationary target in the pocket who can have trouble with big pass rushes.

If the Bears' front seven can bring consistent pressure with a potential soft spot at right tackle to attack, there could be an advantage.

If the Bears can’t create pressure, they’re in big trouble because as good as Brown is, 6-4, 211-pound Martavis Bryant is back on the other side and can be even scarier. The Steelers have great depth at receiver, too, with Eli Rogers, Justin Hunter, rookie Juju Schuster-Smith and Darius Heyward-Bey.

It’s a good day for the Bears to have Amukamara, Kyle Fuller and Marcus Cooper all available, and it will be interesting to see how they are used, as Fuller has played well enough in relief of Amukamara to stay in the starting lineup.

As good as Pittburgh's offense can be, the Steelers are 29th running the ball and 32nd in average gain per rush through two weeks, but they are 11th passing and 10th in average gain per pass.

On defense, five technique Cameron Heyward (son of former Bears fullback Greg “Ironhead” Heyward), linebackers Ryan Shazier and Bud DuPree and safety Sean Davis are the players the Bears have to focus on taking away.

First-round pick and younger brother of J.J., T.J. Watt, who was the star of the Steelers' Week 1 victory at Cleveland, will be out with a groin problem.

The Steelers have been rebuilding this group for several seasons, and at 2-0 they are eighth against the run, fourth against the pass, second in QB sack percentage and third in points allowed playing the shaky offenses of Cleveland and the Vikings without Sam Bradford.

Pittsburgh has only two takeaways in two games but has turned the ball over only once.

There is no question the Steelers are the better team here and worthy of being a touchdown favorite, but if quarterback Mike Glennon takes care of the football and the Bears' front seven can win the battle at the line of scrimmage, the Bears will have a chance to surprise.

• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at harkush@profootballweekly.com, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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Join Arthur Arkush in cracking the second of his two Week 3 six-packs, with items on Cam Newton and the Panthers; the Vikings without Sam Bradford; the Falcons' and Lions' running backs; and two clubs dealing with early adversity, Dallas and Arizona, meeting Monday night.

Sunday, when the Saints visit Carolina, marks Cam Newton’s 101st real NFL game, but his first without All-Pro TE Greg Olsen.

Nearly 22 percent of Newton’s career 23,643 passing yards and 1,854 completions come with Olsen, who’ll miss extended time with a broken foot, on the receiving end.

And Newton wasn’t playing well with Olsen on the field. The 2015 MVP has just 399 passing yards and two touchdowns to one interception, though Carolina is to 2-0.

Newton, recall, missed the offseason and most of camp while recovering from shoulder surgery following a horrible 2016 regression. It was invaluable time to gel with “point guards” Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, who were brought into create more easy “layups” for Newton.

Newton missed a layup Sunday vs. Buffalo that would’ve resulted in McCaffrey’s first NFL touchdown, but the quarterback’s still-pedestrian completion percentage (59.6) is up more than a point from his career average (58.4) and barely off his MVP accuracy rate.

Far more important to his fantasy owners is Newton’s running, and as expected, it’s already way down from his MVP season and even slightly below the rate amid his 2016 struggles.

Newton averaged 8-39-.63 rushing in 2015 and 6-23-33 last season, and he’s at 5-15 so far in 2017. Only in ’14, when he missed Week 1 due to injury, did Newton start slower as a runner.

But will Newton owners get the rushing boost they’ll likely require for him to return to the QB1 ranks? He’ll again be without five-time Pro Bowl C Ryan Kalil, whose absence Sunday coincided with Newton being sacked six times by Buffalo after the Niners failed to get to him.

Fortunately for Newton and the Panthers, the Saints have proven through two weeks that their defense cures more offensive ills than penicillin. McCaffrey, already on pace for 72-576 receiving on 96 targets, gets a fantasy boost with Olsen down. So too does Kelvin Benjamin, who dropped his first would-be touchdown a week ago and hasn’t yet picked up where he left off in a dominant preseason.

About the only thing we can say for sure regarding which version of Newton shows up on Sunday is it’ll be without his most important lifeline.

2. Sam Bradford has already been ruled out at home in Week 3 vs. the Buccaneers. His career night 11 days ago feels like 11 years ago.

The excitement centered not just on Bradford but especially Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen coming out of the deconstruction of New Orleans quickly fizzled with Case Keenum at the helm in Week 2 vs. Pittsburgh.

So are Diggs and Thielen — WR1 and WR5 overall respectively in Week 1 — salvageable fantasy assets without Bradford, who’ll reportedly seek a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews on his bum knee?  

Based on Keenum’s Vikings debut, the answer is no. He needed a miraculous one-handed grab from Kyle Rudolph on his longest completion (27 yards) and a couple impressive plays from Diggs and Thielen to reach 167 yards on 37 attempts. And Laquon Treadwell, for reasons unbeknownst to us, attracted the same number of targets (6) as Diggs and Thielen.

The one safe play in this matchup is Dalvin Cook. He again got stronger as the game wore on, amassing 61 of his 64 rushing yards after intermission with Minnesota mostly trailing by two touchdowns. He had what looked like his first NFL touchdown, from 25 yards out, overturned on replay to prevent him from his second consecutive top-15 fantasy finish among backs.

3. We included the Falcons RB tandem that was held to 96 scrimmage yards and a score on 26 touches by Chicago in our Friday six-pack a week ago; getting Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to take flight was a key to a more successful second outing for Atlanta’s offense under Steve Sarkisian.

Well, after Freeman and Coleman exploded for 145 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns on 29 touches in Atlanta’s thrashing of Green Bay, they’re back in this space again. Why? Detroit’s first-round linebacker acquired for exactly this type of matchup — Jarrad Davis — is out with a concussion. Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow getting exposed by Eli Manning in coverage on backs and tight ends Monday night was about the only hiccup on the Lions’ excellent defensive showing. And the Lions have depth in their secondary that’s unmatched up front.

4. Freeman and Coleman aren’t the only interesting backs in this potential shootout with the week’s second-highest point total (50½). That’s right — there’s actual intrigue in a Lions backfield that’s gone 56 games since unleashing its last 100-yard rusher.

Ameer Abdullah flashed the speed and elusiveness Monday night vs. a stout Giants front that we’ve only seen rare glimpses of during his first two NFL seasons — the latter sabotaged after one week by a lisfranc injury. On a career-high 17 carries and 86 rushing yards, he looked fresh and shifty, not unlike the Tarik Cohen-Jordan Howard pairing that torched the Falcons ‘D’ in Week 1.

Ironically, despite their sensational speed along the second level, the Falcons continue to struggle defending receiving backs: their 19 receptions allowed is tied for the most in the NFL, and only three clubs have permitted more yards to opposing backs than Atlanta’s 143.

Skilled passing down back Theo Riddick (12 touches and 37 yards in Week 2 after 6-27-1 receiving in Week 1) may always cap Abdullah’s upside. Or we may see Jim Bob Cooter’s Week 2 run commitment behind an improving offensive line mimicked frequently this season. Either way, we like all four backs in this one.

5. It seems many have already completely soured on Arizona’s 2017 fantasy outlook, what with David Johnson’s injury and slow starts for Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. I’m not ready to ditch my Cardinals stock altogether just yet, though.

Arizona hasn’t capitalized for owners on what looked like a soft early slate, but Palmer improved in Week 2 by pushing the ball downfield (9.2 yards per attempt) to Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson more effectively than he did in the opener (5.2 YPA). The Cowboys’ personnel is almost entirely different, but Palmer tossed three touchdowns in 2014 against Rod Marinelli’s unit in a 28-17 Cardinals victory.

Thanks to Cardinals Wire for pointing us in the direction of Larry Fitzgerald’s Week 1 Next Gen speed — he was the sixth-fastest wideout in the league, at 19.74 MPH, barely behind his track star teammate, Nelson. Speed isn’t Fitzgerald’s game but it’s not a bad counter to those suggesting he’s washed because he’s had a few uncharacteristic drops and secured just nine of 19 targets for 95 yards without a touchdown.

Palmer improved versus a bad Colts secondary after failing against a Lions pass ‘D’ that might be a tad underrated. Dallas likely will be under-equipped at corner with No. 1 Nolan Carroll and rookie Chidobe Awuzie missing practice this week. Let’s see what the Cardinals do in primetime before penning their fantasy obituaries prior to October, cool?

6. There may not be a more scrutinized Week 3 performance ahead than the Cowboys’. That’s what happens when All-Pro RB Ezekiel Elliott not only gets shut down for the first time in the NFL but also becomes the distraction on the field he’s off of it. It’s the result of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten dropping Dak Prescott passes, of Prescott throwing two interceptions in a game for the first time and the NFL’s biggest bully of an offensive line getting punched in the mouth repeatedly by a Denver run ‘D’ that was subpar last season.

Of course, it’s also simply the nature of being the Cowboys. That their follow-up performance after getting blown out on the road comes in primetime against another talented team just two years removed from being one of the NFL’s best fuels the fascination of how they handled the week’s adversity.

There’s a chance this could be the last time we see Elliott for six games. It’s the first time in nearly three years we get to see Bryant vs. Patrick Peterson, and Prescott makes his debut against the Cardinals’ pressure ‘D.’

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The Kansas City Chiefs have a 2-0 record with two quality victories that have vaulted them into the NFL's upper class early in the season. Perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise for Andy Reid's team has been the play on the offensive side of the ball.

Big plays in the run game with rookie Kareem Hunt and in an Alex Smith-led vertical passing game have been terrific developments. They suddenly look like one of the more offensively dynamic teams in football right now.

But there's some firepower defensively, too, and there's one cog on that side of the ball that maybe is just now starting to get the national attention he deserves.

"Can we talk about 95 please?" one pro scout texted us this week.

That would be the uniform number for Chiefs DE Chris Jones, who was a one-man wrecking crew in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Jones logged three sacks, two forced fumbles and an athletic interception in the win and was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his work. Perhaps he's becoming more of a household name as we write this.

But it's also the way Jones has done it. The Chiefs still are managing his worload a bit, as he was on the field for only 32 of the 72 defensive snaps. That's 44 percent of the game he played, and Jones racked up more stats in that game than many 310-pound defensive linemen collect in an entire season. Jones was on the field for 48-of-81 snaps in the opener against the Patriots, bringing his two-week workload percentage to just over 52.

One reason why they're keeping him on a snap count is that Jones is coming off knee surgery that forced him to miss a big chunk of training camp as he worked his way back to health. It's possible that he starts logging 60 percent or more of the snaps in time, perhaps after the team's Week 10 bye. The Chiefs face a gauntlet of excellent offensive lines in the games leading up to that.

"Imagine what he does [later in the season]," the scout continued. "He's a scheme wrecker. He's going to be a problem."

It doesn't hurt that the Chiefs' next three opponents — the Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Redskins and Houston Texans — have had their share of offensive line concerns this season.

"Play him over the center, play him at the 5 [technique], it doesn't matter," the scout noted. "They have the depth to move him around a little and make him dangerous at any spot. Big guy who moves so well [and] plays with a lot of power."

Justin Houston is also off to a phenomenal start this season, and he has a chance to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate if he keeps it up. But if Jones keeps trending upward as he has, he too should get that same consideration. The Chiefs also expect to get Tamba Hali back at some point as well, so the front seven is looking like a potential powerhouse of a unit.

We hear that Jones has developed from his first to his second year in a number of ways, but so far the team has been very pleased at his snap-to-snap consistency and effort. There were times last season, as much as he flashed, that Jones still appeared to either wear down or take plays off.

Jones also was said to come out of college with some immaturity issues, which might have caused him to fall just out of Round 1. But he's now starting to realize, after just turning 23 in July, that he can be a dominant force — even with less than a full game's worth of snaps.

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The Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football podcast is back with our Week 3 game-by-game breakdown. Hosts Arthur Arkush, John Sahly and Kyle Nabors go over their favorite plays from Week 3. Plus we make our bold calls! 

Stick with Pro Football Weekly for all of your fantasy football needs.

Our podcast is sponsored by Lootcrate. Get great gamer/geek gear and more, and save $3 on your first box by using our promo code 'shaw' at  www.lootcrate.com/shaw.

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It might be a while before we get another game as exciting as the USC's 27-24 victory over Texas on Saturday night. The fourth quarter and overtime of that game was as good as it gets.

With only one matchup between teams in the top 30 slated this week, I thought I would outline some players to watch on TV this weekend.

If you want to see one of the better edge pass rushers who could be in the 2018 draft, check out Syracuse at LSU at 6 p.m. Central time Saturday on ESPN2. LSU’s Arden Key is tall, long and athletic, which is just what most NFL clubs want. Key missed the first two LSU games this season because of a shoulder injury, but played this past week and had a half-sack in limited reps. He should get more work this week, as he needs to be ready for tough SEC games.

LSU also has a pretty good running back to check out in junior Derrius Guice. If Guice enters the draft, he will be one of the first running backs selected. Through three games, Guice has run for 300 yards and four touchdowns. Although Guice doesn’t have the size of former teammate Leonard Fournette, he may be just as physical a runner.

Another top pass rusher to watch is North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb. It won’t be an easy game for Chubb, as NC State plays at Florida State at 11 a.m. Central on Saturday on ABC. Chubb is an ideal 4-3 defensive end, but he also has the athleticism to play on his feet in a 3-4.

Ohio State has it easy this week hosting UNLV. That means defensive end Tyquan Lewis could have a big day. Lewis has not lit it up so far this year the way many thought he would, so this game is an opportunity for him to get going in the right direction.

In the preseason, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph got nowhere near the publicity passers like Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen did, yet through three games he has outplayed them all. He has completed 72.3 percent of his passes for 1,135 yards, 11 touchdowns and only one interception in his first three games. Although he didn’t get the preseason publicity, he sure is getting it now and is currently one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy.

Oklahoma State also has a big time receiver in senior James Washington, who has a combination of size, speed and toughness. In three games, Washington has 13 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a whopping 28.2 yards per catch!

Oklahoma State hosts TCU Saturday afternoon on at 2:30 p.m. Central on ESPN. It is the only game between ranked teams this week.

Inside linebackers don’t often get the publicity they deserve by the draft analysts because it isn’t always a premium position come draft day. Still, they are an important part of any club's defense, and teams are always looking for good ones. One of the best in the country is Virginia’s Micah Kizer, who already has 36 tackles and 5 sacks in just three games. If you want to see Kiser, check him out at 7 p.m. Friday on ESPN2 versus Boise State.

Another top inside linebacker to watch is USC’s Cam Smith. Smith is a junior with size, strength, speed and instincts. While he doesn’t have the production numbers like Kiser, he isn’t far behind. USC plays at Cal at 2:30 p.m. Central on Saturday on ABC. While you’re watching Smith, don’t forget to look closely at QB Sam Darnold, who had some outstanding throws late in the game versus Texas. 

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears have a wide receiver problem, and the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t.

That is why Markus Wheaton — who will apparently make his Bears debut Sunday when the Steelers come to town — is a Bear and it is why Bears fans surveying the Steelers sideline on Sunday should be and probably will be green with envy.

Another new, and wounded, Bear who is also likely to debut in front of the home folks this week, cornerback Prince Amukamara, had this to say Thursday about Pittsburgh’s embarrassment of pass-catching riches.

“Those receivers, Martavis (Bryant) and Antonio (Brown), both amazing.

“I like to use the term that they’re both No. 1 guys on the outside.

“And JuJu (Smith Schuster) and No. 17 (Eli Rogers), they’re all good. No matter where a receiver lines up, it’s not going to be a down to take off.

“We’re always going to have to have our ‘A’ game.”

Amukamara may have given Bryant top billing, but Brown has had three straight All-Pro seasons and, along with Julio Jones, is one of the two best receivers in the game.

Bryant, on the other hand, is the main reason Wheaton is a Bear.

Although the Steelers had high hopes for Wheaton when they drafted him in the third round four seasons ago, at 6-4, 211 pounds, Bryant, originally a fourth-round pick, has 4.4 40 speed and the ability to compete with Brown and Jones for the title of the NFL’s best if he can overcome a list of off-the-field issues.

Wheaton can be very good but has not shown that high a ceiling, and injuries have derailed his career since the Steelers drafted him.

With Bryant returning from a yearlong suspension last season due to substance abuse problems, the Steelers were quite comfortable letting Wheaton try and get healthy elsewhere.

While it will be exciting to see what Wheaton can do Sunday and going forward, his story to date sadly seems to be the theme of a long running problem for the Bears at the position.

Dating back to the Bears' last Super Bowl appearance, following the 2006 season, the best they have have been able to do at the position has been Bernard Berrian, Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and fliers on Roy Williams and ex-Steeler Santonio Holmes after their best football was behind them.

Only Marshall and Jeffery paid any significant dividends on the field, but Marshall hurt the team off the field as much as he helped on it, and Jeffery spent a portion of his time in Chicago figuring out how to leave.

During that same time period, in addition to their current group, the Steelers have had potential Hall Of Famer Hines Ward, Holmes when he was winning a Super Bowl for them, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, Nate Washington and Jericho Cotchery.

For a decade, as good as the Steelers have been at wide receiver, the Bears have been that weak.

As outstanding as Ben Roethlisberger has been, his targets have been a huge part of it, and as disappointing as Jay Cutler was, his lack of weapons were always part of the problem.

To Bears fans upset and disappointed that Mike Glennon is struggling and Mitch Trubisky isn’t being given a chance yet, their paltry receiver group is a huge part of the problem.

When Big Ben has been banged up, Pittsburgh has won with guys like Charlie Batch and Landry Jones because of the strength of their receiving corps.

Le’Veon Bell is a great running back in part because the Steelers outstanding receiver group prohibits defenses from loading the box to stop him.

Jordan Howard can be a great running back, but he is struggling now because defenses can stack to stop him without worrying about where Bears receivers are.

All of that is why the Steelers are once again playing for bonus time in January, and the Bears are once again playing for their jobs.

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It's Thursday, which means Arthur Arkush is cracking his first of two Week 3 six-packs. So grab a cold one and keep reading for items on the Bengals, Browns, new-wave bell-cow backs, Buccaneers, Titans and Broncos.

1. Tossing a coordinator or coach over board in-season, like the Bengals did with Ken Zampese last week, often quickly creates a desirable splash. After their move from Greg Roman to Anthony Lynn in Week 3 last season, the Bills’ best player, LeSean McCoy, amassed three of his four highest 2016 rushing yardage totals over the next month as they went on a four-game winning streak.

When Bengals interim coordinator Bill Lazor's old boss Joe Philbin was ousted in Miami in 2015, the Dolphins' most explosive playmaker, Lamar Miller's followed with his two best games of the season, catalyzing Miami's most lopsided wins.

Who's the Bengals' best player? Of course it's A.J. Green (WR3), whose criticism of Zampese after the Pro Bowl wideout was targeted just three times following Houston's top two corners leaving last Thursday night with injury, was as pointed as anyone's.

Green has attracted 28 percent of the Bengals' overall target share, yet he's secured just more than half of the looks from Andy Dalton. What does that tell us? The focus of Lazor will be lasered to getting Dalton and Green clicking with quicker throws — which obviously also helps mask the Bengals' O-line and Dalton's proclivity for crippling under pressure.

It's possible — likely, even — rookie Joe Mixon (RB33) is already the Bengals' second-best player on offense. Zampese was one of infamous rookie shade thrower Marvin Lewis' longtime lieutenants. Lazor came from Miami, where he leaned heavily on rookies, Jarvis Landry (112 targets in 2014) and, when healthy, DeVante Parker (six targets per start, more than 56 percent of his yardage total in those four outings).

Add it all up and we've found our buy-low candidates in Week 3. If you can secure them before a visit to Green Bay and its still-reeling secondary and run 'D,' even better.

2. The man whom Zampese replaced last season, now-Browns coach Hue Jackson, likely isn't considering any rash coaching changes or ceding his play-calling responsibilities after an 0-2 start. But unlike some players whose public griping over a lack of touches is brushed off as selfishness, Isaiah Crowell (RB14) can point to Jackson's own offseason promise to affirm his complaint.

Jackson, recall, "beat himself up" in 2016 for not feeding Crowell, whose 4.8-yard rush average — more than two full yards above his current clip of 2.6 — ranked third among NFL backs with less than 200 carries. Crowell has just 27-70-0 rushing after two games, compared to 30-195-2 after also entering Week 3 winless last season.

Crowell is running for a new contract — something he thinks about, "during the game, after the game, before the game, right now, all the time," as he told local media this week. Our guess is he gets his best opportunity Sunday, when the Browns head to Indianapolis as 1 1/2-point road favorites without their No. 1 receiver. That could mean Duke Johnson — who out-snapped Crowell 39-32 in Week 2 — is back in the slot, and Crowell gets his wish against an improving Colts 'D.'

3. Crowell surely would love nothing more than to join 2017's new wave of old-fashioned three-down backs. Most of us expected Jay Ajayi (94.1 percent of offensive snaps), Ezekiel Elliott (84.8) and Le'Veon Bell (82.8) to pace this list after two games. Very few, though, foresaw Ty Montgomery (88) and Carlos Hyde (80.2) also being in the top five. Mike McCarthy has historically preferred a tandem, and Kyle Shanahan's record-breaking Falcons introduced the NFL's best one-two punch last season in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Unlike Hyde, with a dominant 7.0-yard rush average vs. stout Carolina and Seattle stop-units, Montgomery has thrived for owners namely on volume (39 touches on an NFL-high 139 snaps) and scores (3). And McCarthy suggested Wednesday he'll likely soon pull back Montgomery's reins, assuming Green Bay can find a better offensive rhythm than it has through two weeks. So Montgomery owners who insured their early investment with a late Jamaal Williams flier should enjoy their stud's success but don't cut bait on the rookie just yet.

With the help of football outsiders, here are Nos. 6-10 in playtime percentage among starting RBs: Melvin Gordon (79.5), Lamar Miller (77.9), LeSean McCoy (71.8), C.J. Anderson (71.2) and Dalvin Cook (67.2). The bookends of that list, Gordon and Cook, are the ones we'd expect could reside there by season's end. And Cook, particularly, has caught our eye through two games — one dominant outing vs. New Orleans and one underrated showing vs. Pittsburgh — en route to leading NFL backs with 30-plus carries with a 5.6-yard average.

4. Cook on Sunday should help us start to determine whether the Bucs' run 'D,' which rendered Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen completely ineffective (20 yards on 16 carries) in Week 2, is truly much improved. That's a huge key to Tampa's postseason aspirations, perhaps as big as any besides the Year 3 growth of Jameis Winston — which relates more directly to fantasy.

And another Viking, lockdown corner Xavier Rhodes, can help us gauge how much Winston has grown. Last week Rhodes took Antonio Brown out of the game in Pittsburgh's home debut, during which Ben Roethlisberger gladly shifted his attention to his other "No. 1," Martavis Bryant.

Can DeSean Jackson be to Winston what Bryant was to Big Ben? Evans attracted a game-high nine targets vs. the Bears, good for 7-93-1, whereas Jackson received seven chances against a defense missing its top corner. How Jackson fares against Trae Waynes/Terence Newman, and how much Winston looks in the direction of D-Jax and his tight ends will provide a solid early fantasy snapshot of the Bucs' new pecking order.

5. With DeMarco Murray (hamstring) on Thursday missing his second consecutive practice, Derrick Henry inched closer to his first-ever NFL start in which Murray isn't dressed. For owners with any stake in the Titans backfield, needless to say this is a huge deal. Mike Mularkey doesn't talk like a coach who'll let a Wally Pipp situation unfold in his backfield, but Henry has the talent to force his coach's hand, especially if he does it against the fearsome Seahawks.

Henry has turned 20 carries into 117 yards (5.8 a pop) and a touchdown. Murray has 69 rushing yards on 21 carries. Mularkey said Thursday he hopes to have Murray back at practice on Friday. We can't help but wonder whether the Seahawks are hoping for the same.

One more Titans note: their two unconventional garbage-time rushing touchdowns a week ago went to Delanie Walker and FB Jalston Fowler. Exotic, sure, but expected to be a regular occurrence? Of course not. If even one of those touchdowns went to Henry, like they did last season when he rounded into the team's formidable four-minute back, we're looking at a top-five RB1 last week. This is another definite buy-low candidate right now, boasting not just easily the highest ceiling of any club's backup but a higher one than many team's current starter.

6. In an offseason piece on the six most likely candidates to crash the QB1 party for the first time, we included Carson Wentz (No. 2), Alex Smith (No. 4) and Sam Bradford (No. 6). In Week 1 Smith was the QB1, Bradford was QB3 and Wentz was QB5. No, I'm not writing this to pat myself on the back; there's a long way to go, and when I toot my horn, it's way less subtle.

Rather, I'm calling myself out because No. 4 on the list was a Broncos quarterback — and not Trevor Siemian, who leads all NFL quarterbacks with seven total touchdowns and ranks second in fantasy behind only Smith.

Siemian heads Sunday to Buffalo, home of the ninth-stingiest defense vs. fantasy QBs and one yet to surrender a passing touchdown. Siemian isn't as athletic as Paxton Lynch, but he's more than halfway to his 2016 rushing total and already more than one-third of the way to his 2016 touchdown total.

He's playing good football. And despite our reluctance, still, in endorsing him as a QB1 this week, another eye-opening outing could earn just that with consecutive home games vs. the Raiders and Giants, respectively, in Weeks 4 and 5 before a trip to face the Chargers.

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Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was found to have advanced CTE, according to the family's lawyer, following a Boston University study.

Lawyer Jose Baez said Thursday that the study revealed Stage-3 CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which is normally associated with a man his late 60s, out of a possible four stages.

Hernandez committed suicide in his jail cell in April at the age of 28 following his 2015 conviction in the murder of Odin Lloyd.

Baez indicated that the Hernandez family intends to sue the NFL and the Patriots, on behalf of Hernandez's daughter. The University of Florida, where Hernandez played in college, also later could be added to the suit.

Boston University's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center is perhaps the leading research center for the disease, often found in people who have suffered repeated head trauma, such as football players. The degenerative brain disease currently only can be diagnosed post mortem, when brain tissue can be examined on a cellular level.

Experts on the disease say that CTE can lead to depression and memory loss, among other debilitating or disorienting effects. Several former NFL players have been found with evidence of CTE, including Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012.

Hernandez's family donated his brain to BU for study following his death. BU issued a graphic indicating that the study showed Hernandez suffered from “brain atrophy and large perforations.”

His conviction in the Lloyd case actually later was lifted because of an obscure Massachusetts law following his suicide. He previously had been serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the 2013 shooting.

Hernandez had been acquitted in a separate trial of the 2012 shootings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in Boston only days before his death.

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Eric Edholm and Arthur Arkush are back with your Week 3 primer, discussing the Dak and Zeke-led Cowboys' first bout of serious adversity and how they'll respond in Arizona. The guys single out a battle of 2-0 clubs in Atlanta visiting Detroit as perhaps the week's best matchup. Other topics include: getting more help for Carson Wentz, the Eagles and Saints going in opposite directions, what to expect when the Texans return to Foxboro and whether it's time to buy what the Broncos are selling.

Our podcast is sponsored by Lootcrate. Get great gamer/geek gear and more, and save $3 on your first box by using our promo code 'shaw' at  www.lootcrate.com/shaw.

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The Seattle Seahawks have their share of issues on offense, many of them centered around the team’s blocking. Although the unit improved slightly in its performance from Week 1 to 2, there is still a lot of room for an up grade there.

Also chief on their list of concerns is how TE Jimmy Graham has played this season. He’s off to a very slow start this season and currently is hobbled by an ankle injury. All signs point to the team moving on from the 30-year old in the offseason, when his contract expires.

But can the Seahawks get some production out of the talented tight end for the remainder of this season? That hope might also be in short supply, although we are told that Graham has made plays in practice and that the team is in no way assuming he can’t contribute in some meaningful way at some point. It’s just not entirely clear when that would be.

Graham had a rough Week 1 in the loss to the Green Bay Packers. He caught only three passes for 8 yards, dropping a would-be touchdown, and also missed a few blocks, both in pass protection and in the run game. On at least two instances in that game, his missed blocking assignments led to negative plays.

In Week 2, Graham (who did not start with the Seahawks opening in a two-back, three-wide formation) caught one pass for 1 yard on two targets against the San Francisco 49ers. He injured his ankle and left the game before catching the pass and ended up playing 53 of the team’s 83 offensive snaps, appearing to limp through some of them after the injury.

Most of Graham’s routes this season have been short. The dropped TD against the Packers was a rare vertical shot to the big-play receiver who made the Pro Bowl in 2016 in a 65-catch, 923-yard, six-TD season.

That’s what has been so disappointing: Although some have questioned how Graham fits in this offense, the Seahawks believed he was primed for more big production this year.

Graham has a chance to play in Week 3, although it could end up being a game-day decision. But the longer-term concern is whether Graham can help aid a passing game that has been stuck in neutral this season. The injury only compounds what has been a frustrating start to 2017.

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It doesn’t take a number of great sources to know that Roger Goodell isn’t Jerry Jones’ favorite Facebook friend right now, but it is tough to determine where a once-solid working relationship went so wrong.

The Way We Hear It, even those closest to Jones aren’t certain whether he’s really upset about how much money Goodell is making, or is he mad because Goodell has shown the audacity to treat one of his misbehaving players the same way he would treat a player on any other team?

In spite of denials from both sides of the story, it is well documented at this point that the NFL was ready to give Goodell a five-year extension on his contract — which expires in 2019 — until Jones stepped in and started participating with the compensation committee of which he is not a member.

While none of the actual numbers are available to the public, reports that Goodell has been paid as much as $200 million since the current collective bargaining agreement was reached in 2011 have Jones seething.

Other sources, however, tell me that what Jones is really upset about is the six-game suspension the commissioner handed his star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, just when Jones believed his Cowboys were ready to enjoy their first real postseason success since the owner forced Jimmy Johnson out of Texas in the mid ‘90s.

Yes, we know Jones won his third Super Bowl with Barry Switzer in 1995, but that was with Johnson’s team.

Left to his own devices, Jones and his Cowboys have made nine playoff appearances in the 21 seasons since that last Super Bowl —not really bad, by the way — but they are 3-9 in the playoffs since the Switzer Super Bowl and just 2-8 since 1996.

In many respects, Goodell can be viewed as the CEO of the NFL.

While the league is reported to be generating over $14 billion in revenue annually today, Jones’ team alone is valued at about $4.5 billion, and the total values of the 32 NFL franchises easily exceed $65 billion.

There is nothing unusual about a CEO of a $65 billion business, or even a $14 billion business making $30 million or $40 million a year these days, so what would be Jones’ gripe?

I’m also hearing from multiple sources that Jones first inserted himself into the compensation committees work on Goodell’s deal late last winter, a number of months before Goodell handed down Elliott’s six-game ban.

In the other corner . . . remember it was Jones who confronted NFL Special Counsel Lisa Friel in a hotel bar last fall with angry accusations about her work on the Elliott case, and it is alleged that Friel barred NFL investigator Kia Roberts – who was the only one to interview Elliott’s girlfriend and is said to have recommended against a suspension of Elliott – from testifying in Elliott’s hearing in front of Goodell.

Perhaps Jones is upset about Goodell’s compensation, perhaps he’s upset over the treatment of his star player or perhaps it’s both.

According to multiple sources, this much is clear.

Jerry Jones expects to get his way all the time, and the only person in the NFL with close to the power and influence Jones has amassed is Goodell.

The Way We Hear It, that may be the real reason Jones is taking on the commissioner on both fronts.

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The New York Giants are suffering from an offensive identity crisis, but the issues run deep throughout the team, we are told.

It goes beyond Odell Beckham’s gradual return to the field following injury. It's not just about the stagnant run game. It’s more than just poor offensive line play. At the heart of the matter might be the relationship between the coaching staff and some of the team’s key players, including franchise QB Eli Manning.

After Monday night’s loss to the Detroit Lions, Giants head coach Ben McAdoo did what a lot of coaches do following a disappointing performance, taking blame for what unfolded on the field.

“Put this game on me,” he said. “We talk about playing complete, complementary football. By no stretch of the imagination did we get that done [Monday]. We’ve got to do better. [We] dug ourselves into a hole. No one feels sorry for us. We’ve got to find a way to get better and get better in a hurry.”

He continued: “Just too many issues. We’ve got to play and feed off each other and we’re not doing that right now and I’ve got to find a way to make that work.”

But McAdoo also threw Manning under the bus, along with center Weston Richburg, who also is considered a team pillar by members of the staff and in the locker room. The Giants committed a delay of game penalty in the Lions loss at the Detroit 2-yard line that forced them to forgo going for it on 4th-and-goal, instead settling for a field goal.

“Sloppy quarterback play. Quarterback and the center need to be on the same page there,” McAdoo said after the game. “We’ve got to get the ball snapped. We have a veteran quarterback that has played a lot of football, we expect to get the ball snapped.”

The apolitical Manning took blame for his poor play in the game and said he either needed to get the ball snapped or get a timeout. But hearing his coach put the blame on him could not have gone over well. Manning’s first head coach, Tom Coughlin, might have been demanding of his former QB’s play, but it’s hard to remember him ever publicly calling out Manning in this fashion.

The Giants have a ton of issues offensively right now. We hear there has been griping about how McAdoo’s play-calling has not helped what has been a poor pass-blocking offensive line to date. There also have been calls from some for offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan to take over play-calling duties from McAdoo, although we don’t believe that’s imminent.

How the head coach manages this tough upcoming stretch, with the team sitting at 0-2 and facing a tough battle in Week 3 against a vicious Philadelphia Eagles pass rush, could go a long way toward determining McAdoo's standing with the team and his relationship with Manning, which might be solid now but could teeter off the rails if things aren’t properly fixed.

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Le’Veon Bell knows it’s coming soon enough. He didn’t sit out the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason program and turn down a contract worth $12 million annually to not land the big one he knows is coming his way.

“It’ll come,” Bell told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings. “I’m due for an explosion play.”

And here you assumed it was a payday Bell was waiting for. Well, they might go hand in hand.

Yes, big plays often lead to big money. Bell sure is counting on that. At the heart of the contractual standoff between the Steelers and their star running back (who returned to the team on Sept. 1 after a holdout) is determining his worth at a position where it’s increasingly tough to do so.

Reports suggest that Bell wants to be paid like the top running back in the NFL plus draw a salary that reflects his rare receiving ability. Bell caught 75 passes in 2016 — more than all but 24 wide receivers, five tight ends and one running back — and did so in only 12 games.

The NFL’s top backs earn about $8 million annually. No. 2 receivers pull in north of $4 million on average. That’s the math. Bell, who will be a free agent again in the spring, signed his $12.1 franchise-tag tender a few weeks ago. It would be hard to imagine him wanting less than that per year for a long-term deal.

But beyond his financial demands, there is far more distancing team and player right now. Let’s start with three of those preseason games he missed last season as a talking point, shall we?

“Anyone you give out that kind of money to, you have to count on every single week, every day,” a rival team’s general manager said of the Steelers’ dilemma. “Especially at that position. That’s what [Steelers GM] Kevin [Colbert] has to weigh right now. Can he count on a guy with multiple suspensions? That’s what he’s trying to figure out.”

The Steelers love Bell’s talent, which is a big reason why they placed the franchise tag on him this offseason. He’s one of the big three, along with QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown, who make the Steelers one of the most dangerous offensive teams in football.

But Bell also has missed 17 games over his four seasons because of injury or suspension — the first three games last season taken away via his second violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy after reportedly missing multiple drug tests. 

The other game Bell missed in 2016 came in Week 17, and the extra week of rest helped him be a monster the Steelers’ first two playoff games: 29 carries for 167 yards and two TDs against the Miami Dolphins, followed by 30 carries for 170 yards in a win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Then Bell was a shell of himself in the AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots, suffering a groin injury and tapping out after six carries in the Steelers’ blowout loss, 36-17, at Foxboro.

That game sums up Bell’s value to the Steelers: They can’t win the big ones without him, but they’re without him quite a bit, it seems. Bell has played in all 16 regular-season games only once in four years, during the 2014 season, but he missed the team’s playoff games both that year and in the following season. Hence the team’s reservations with opening the vault for him.

The whole thing is compounded by the fact that the Steelers already have invested heavily in Brown (five years, $73 million) and in an offensive line ($36.3 million to their top four blockers for 2018 alone) that helps make Bell look so good and allows his patented hesitation runs to be so effective.

Plus, the Steelers don’t know Roethlisberger’s future beyond this season. He said he needed to take time after the playoff loss to the Patriots to decide whether he wanted to play more, even as some have suggested he was playing the diva card when doing so.

Roethlisberger is back and off to a good start, but could this be his swan song?

“We’ve joked, is he becoming [Brett] Favre a little with his retirement stuff?” the GM said. “I honestly don’t know. I know the other guys in that class [Eli Manning and Philip Rivers], those teams are in the same boat. It’s probably a year-to-year deal with them also.

“They’ll have to plan for life after Ben. Just because you draft a QB or two, or have a good backup, doesn’t mean you’re fully ready for it. That’s why Bell has a little leverage on them there.”

Through two games this season, Bell has been ordinary. He was held to 32 rushing yards on 10 carries in the opener against the Cleveland Browns, looking rusty from his training-camp layoff, and to 87 yards on 27 carries in Week 2 against a good Minnesota Vikings front. Bell has seven catches for 19 yards in two games. His long run: 15 yards. Bell has yet to find the end zone on his 44 touches.

“It hasn’t happened yet. I almost had like three [against the Vikings],” he told the Post-Gazette. “I almost made one on a screen [and a] a run. They made the play. We’re two games in. We’ll watch the film and get ready for next week.”

This week's opponent, the Chicago Bears, have allowed 3.18 rushing yards per carry, good for 10th in the NFL, and have allowed only eight catches for 51 yards to opposing running backs so far. The Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers’ Week 4 opponent, have allowed 85.0 rush yards per game, good for 10th among teams that have played two games so far.

But the feeling around the league and in Pittsburgh is that Bell's reliability and availability might be bigger factors in contract negotiations than his production.

Sure, it won’t hurt if he gets going and puts up the monster numbers in 2017 we’ve become accustomed to seeing. After all, Bell is fifth in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage since entering the NFL in 2013 — 444 behind leader LeSean McCoy — despite playing 12 (or more) fewer games than the four men ahead of him on the list.

Instead, the Steelers must be sure that Bell’s multiple suspensions, occasional bouts of immaturity and his heavy workload (nearly 1,200 touches prior to his 25th birthday) are not major long-term concerns. That ultimately is going to determine whether he lands the bonanza deal he has been seeking.

The team already has bent over backward for another playmaker in WR Martavis Bryant, who was suspended for 2016, and couldn't afford to lose Bell for another substance abuse suspension, which could last 10 games, with Bell likely in Stage Three of the NFL's substance abuse policy. That punishment could be enacted with a positive test or another missed test, which is considered tantamount to dropping dirty under the league’s rules.

“I wouldn’t give in [to his demands],” the opposing GM said, “and I don’t think [Colbert] will. But if you lose Ben, you let Bell walk, who knows what could happen with [Bryant] … then you’re just left with Brown as your one soldier out there. That’s how tough this decision is when you boil it down.”

If Bell regains his 2016 form on the field and sheds his old skin off the field, the Steelers might have no choice. But one more slipup from him, or more injuries, and they may be compelled to move on. This clearly is one of the more fascinating dilemmas any team is facing with a star player this season.

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Should it really be as difficult as the majority of Bears Nation is finding it to be a Bears fan right now and avoid the temptation to write off the whole 2017 season with 15 weeks remaining?

Listen, Sunday in Tampa sucked, we get that, but was it a complete organizational failure that should have folks all over town calling for the heads of anyone and everyone in navy and orange?

The answer, of course, is no.

In the week following the Bears last-second loss to the Falcons on opening day, the general mood around town was one of pleasant surprise that the Bears were as competitive as they were against what appears to be the best team in the NFC.

Then a still-developing quarterback makes a couple bad throws, a rookie from an FCS school in just his second game on the big stage has a brain fart, a crew of backup receivers who may not even be that good drop some passes and suddenly fans all over town want everybody fired.

Have we learned anything at all from the Cubs and the White Sox?

Rebuilding doesn’t work that way, people, and that’s what the Chicago Bears are trying to do right now.

How many of you believed the Bears would be better than 0-4 to start the season after looking at the schedule?

Reasonable goals for this team this year are to win at least six games, maybe seven and find out whether Mike Glennon can play quarterback and just how high the ceiling is for Mitch Trubisky and begin the process of helping him reach it.

John Fox and company also need to do the same with Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Cody Whitehair, Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Leonard Floyd, Nick Kwiatkoski, Eddie Jackson and other young talent on the roster that is still more unknown than known.

The Bears also need to know if Dowell Loggains is the right guy to run an NFL offense.

I’m not making any predictions here, guys, and I’m pessimistic about some of this. But with the season now just 13 percent over, we’re not even close to having enough actual evidence to know where this is going, and those goals are all still very accessible.

Maybe I just need to take a cue from Fox, who, when asked if too much attention is being paid to how he’s developing Glennon and Trubisky, had this to say.

“Look, you’re in this long enough, too much is made about everything.

“It’s just what you sign up for and it’s just the way of the world in the NFL.”

I’m glad Fox gets it because it’s really starting to annoy me.

Glennon deserves a reasonable audition before he is quit on, and Trubisky deserves a chance to get comfortable and be put in a position to succeed before he is thrown to the wolves.

Fortunately, Fox believes his team is handling all the panic and negativity better than I am. Asked if he’s worried about his locker room’s response to all the doubters, he said, “No. Like I said, they know what they’re into. You know what I mean?

“They’re professionals. They sign up. We’re all compensated pretty well for it. Everybody understands that part of it.”

So what’s next for these mixed news Bears and all of you fans out there who insist on having the answers before we’ve sorted out all the questions?

Clearly, poor health is making these early-season tests more difficult, but a quarterback change won’t even be contemplated before Week 5, and hopefully later if Glennon plays better.

So lets see if the Falcons’ opponents or the Bucs’ show up over the next two weeks, if this club can get any healthier and if some of the kids start to move forward before we continue to panic over what we choose to believe rather than what we’re actually seeing.

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CHICAGO — With just two weeks completed in the 2017 NFL season, already there are a surprising number of NFL head coaches on the bubble, including some very big names.

Marvin Lewis is the second-longest tenured coach in the league, and right now, the Bengals' coach’s seat is probably the hottest.

He is joined on the endangered list by Chicago’s John Fox, the New York Jets' Todd Bowles and Cleveland’s Hue Jackson, all of whom were in tenuous spots before getting out to 0-2 starts. Indianapolis’ Chuck Pagano, New Orleans’ Sean Payton and Houston’s Bill O’Brien can be counted among that group as well.

O’Brien is the only one among them with a ’17 victory after his Texans stumbled through a 13-9 war of attrition with Lewis’ Bengals last Thursday night to get to 1-1. But the win was anything but cleansing or redemptive.

It is highly unusual for NFL head coaches to be fired early in season, but it happens — Mike Shanahan was fired just four games into his second season, 1989, with the Raiders — and a few of the guys on this list were actually projected to get the axe at the end of last season but survived to get another and perhaps last chance.

Lewis is clearly in the most jeopardy here and almost certainly would have been fired a year or even two ago if he worked for any owner in the league but Mike Brown.

The son of the legendary Paul Brown is notoriously stubborn and even more famously cheap.

Since he took over as Brown's head coach in 2003, Lewis has gone 118-105-3 (.522) in 14-plus seasons while guiding the Bengals to seven playoff appearances.

Many thought Lewis would be gone last year after his club famously imploded in a wild-card game in Pittsburgh to end the '15 season, running the Bengals' playoff record under Lewis to 0-7.

Lewis’ predilection for players with seemingly tortured souls, such as Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones, is also thought to be a liability for him when it comes to keeping his job.

Now, the Bengals have become the first team in NFL history to fail to score a touchdown in their first two home games, and rumors are buzzing around the NFL that that kind of futility will be impossible for Lewis to survive if his Bengals don’t turn things around soon.

Bowles’ Jets may be the worst team in the NFL — oh heck, let’s call it like it is, they are the worst team in the NFL — but that was predictable coming into the season.

How do you fire him in-season for doing what everybody expected?

Like Lewis, Fox (136-121) and Payton (100-72) have both passed the magic 100-win mark as NFL head coaches, which should get them the better part of the season to turn things around, but anything less than playoff runs seem likely to cost them their jobs at the end of the year.

With a first-year general manager in Chris Ballard evaluating things, and no Andrew Luck, Pagano is likely to get the benefit of the doubt for a while, and O’Brien’s defense is going to win him a few more games, so although both should fear Black Monday following the season, there is no drama on the immediate horizon.

That leaves the Browns' Jackson, and this is an interesting call. He is a coaching lifer with 12 stops in college and the NFL since 1987, and he lasted just one season as the head man in Oakland in 2011.

Like Bowles’ Jets, we knew the Browns would be bad, but there are rumblings now of disagreement between Jackson and Browns Executive Vice President Sashi Brown, which might spell trouble for Jackson.

Lewis is the strong front runner to be the first to go, but Jackson should not be contemplating any Cleveland real estate deals the next few weeks, either.

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Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date.

Rankings will change each week due to personnel changes, injuries and performance on the field, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out.

These are PFW’s Power Rankings following Week 2 as teams head into the third weekend of regular season games.

Rank/Team/Record/The Skinny

1. Falcons: 2-0

Don’t have an obvious weakness right now

2. Raiders: 2-0

OK, it was the Jets, but they sure did whoop ‘em

3. Chiefs: 2-0

Suddenly, Alex Smith has a lot of weapons

4. Patriots: 1-1

555 yards of offense vs. Saints answers that

5. Steelers: 2-0

Dominated Vikings on both sides of the ball

6. Packers: 1-1

Falcons have their number, but they’ll be OK

7. Broncos: 2-0

Cowboys looking for the truck that hit them

8. Seahawks: 1-1

Defense still great, but O-line a huge problem

9. Cowboys: 1-1

O-line still great, but defense is a growing concern

10. Titans: 1-1

Derrick Henry just might be the next big thing

11. Ravens: 2-0

Two great games vs. two awful teams

12. Vikings: 1-1

Now we know how valuable Bradford can be

13. Lions: 2-0

It’s the Stafford and Ziggy show

14. Texans: 1-1

Defense is back, but how close is Watson?

15. Panthers: 2-0

2-0 is nice, but all is not well with Newton

16. Dolphins: 1-0

Cutler pretty good in tough win over Chargers

17. Bucs: 1-0

Impressive debut aided by gift-giving Bears

18. Eagles: 1-1

Wentz looks great but needs help on the ground

19. Jaguars: 1-1

Looking more like Bortles is part of the problem

20. Cardinals: 1-1

A little ugly, Arians calling out Palmer in public

21. Washington: 1-1

39-229 rushing made them tough to beat in L.A.

22. Chargers: 0-2

Same old story: playing well, finding way to lose

23. Giants: 0-2

O-line is a mess, Eli paying the price

24. Rams: 1-1

Kid coach’s mentor takes him to school

25. Bills: 1-1

“D” gave Newton fits, but tough to win with 1 FG

26. Saints: 0-2

New defense, same old mess

27. Bears: 0-2

Glennon brought gifts for all his old teammates

28. 49ers: 0-2

They can compete but won’t win much

29. Colts: 0-2

Will climb with Luck back, but when will that be?

30. Bengals: 0-2

Offense has fallen and it can’t get up

31. Browns 0-2

Rookie QBs will cause you some pain

32. Jets: 0-2

No QBs is even worse

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Every Tuesday during the NFL season, Arthur Arkush shares his top nine waiver targets for fantasy football owners. This will focus exclusively on players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues, and this season there's a twist: we're sharing the top nine targets at each skill position, in addition to our top nine overall regardless of position.

9. Jaguars WR Allen Hurns: Hurns is on this list for the same reasons as Kearse: Jacksonville has to throw to someone, and unlike Kearse, Hurns has been a fantasy commodity before. He's sturdier than Marqise Lee, who attracted five more targets than Hurns in the first game without Allen Robinson, but failed to find the end zone, like Hurns did in garbage time. Remember, there are no style points in fantasy football, friends.

8. Ravens TE Ben Watson: Joe Flacco loves throwing to his tight ends about as much as he loves checkdowns and morphing into a different player in the postseason. Latest exhibit: Watson attracted eight targets vs. the Browns Sunday and translated them into eight grabs and 91 yards, including the longest pass play of the day. Watson, 36, is two years removed from a TE8 overall finish in New Orleans. No one is mistaking the Ravens passing game with the Saints' fantasy hotbed, but Watson's skills could easily be mistaken for Dennis Pitta's, Flacco's fallen buddy who led Baltimore with 121 targets and 88 grabs last season. In light of Week 2's rash of tight end injuries, owners could do worse than Watson.

7. Saints RB Alvin Kamara: The Saints are on the cusp of playing for next year. Yet, the immediate role Kamara carved out in a star-laden backfield out of the gate is telling — he's doubled Adrian Peterson's snaps (48 to 24) and his 13 targets, parlayed into 7-71 receiving, trail only Michael Thomas. Will he take a backseat when Willie Snead comes off the suspension list in Week 4? It's certainly possible, but not as likely as the defense is to continue being awful, setting up consistent game scripts in favor of the rookie and maybe the most explosive receiving option on the Saints roster.

6. Jets WR Jermaine Kearse: At the time he was dealt from Seattle, Kearse seemed like little more than a token alongside a second-rounder in exchange for Sheldon Richardson. Fast-forward a few weeks and Kearse is Josh McCown's favorite receiver, with 11-123-2 on 14 targets. The Jets' defense is miserable and should require McCown, for as long as he stays healthy, to throw a bunch, presumably in Kearse's way. He's a scoring threat, unlike Jeremy Kerley, and even has some big-game experience, not that the Jets will need that element soon.

5. Washington RB Chris Thompson: His career day — 106 scrimmage yards and two TDs on six chances — would've been much bigger if not for his dropping a would-be third touchdown on a quick slant from the Rams 25. Regardless, Thompson, who had 56 total yards and a touchdown on seven touches in Week 1, is clearly a comforting cog for Kirk Cousins and Jay Gruden amid a ton of offensive change. Remember, Washington extended his contract, set to expire at season's end, a few weeks ago with more than $4.5 million guaranteed. The club values his versatility and scheme familiarity, and his role could even expand if Rob Kelley's rib again impedes the starter.

4. Browns WR Rashard Higgins: Staying healthy and hustling pretty much puts one in the mix among Browns wideouts. And while Corey Coleman was breaking his hand for a second consecutive season and Kenny Britt was doing little more than collecting another large paycheck, Higgins was emerging as Cleveland's top receiving weapon Sunday in Baltimore. The 2016 fifth-rounder, in his first NFL start after being promoted from the practice squad, eclipsed his 16-game rookie production with 7-95 on 11 targets, all team highs and personal bests. It might not be flashy but Higgins should have staying power with Hue Jackson.

3. Eagles RB Darren Sproles: He led Philadelphia's backfield in snaps (50) for the second consecutive game and leads the Eagles backs in yards and efficiency. Of course, you're likely not adding Sproles for his running ability — it's a bonus he's being entrusted there and Carson Wentz told local media this week what a valuable safety valve the veteran is for the young QB. Sproles' receiving role, in which he's Carson Wentz's third-favorite option, is where he truly separates from the competition in a pass-first offense. And if Philly keeps moving the football, he'll start scoring, too; Sproles has at least four touchdowns in seven of eight seasons since 2008, which keeps him in the weekly FLEX role.

2. Cardinals WR J.J. Nelson: Is this small stick of dynamite poised to overtake Larry Fitzgerald as the go-to guy in Arizona's offense? That's slightly premature, though it's not by accident Nelson has exploded onto the scene as Carson Palmer's second-favorite target and most dependable gamebreaker after David Johnson's injury. Our Eric Edholm nailed it last week following Johnson's injury when he said Nelson might be the "secret factor." The third-year vet responded in Indy Sunday with perhaps his best game as a pro, with 5-120 receiving, including Arizona's only touchdown and a critical fourth quarter grab to set up the game-tying field goal. As John Brown toils between the inactive list and trainer's room, and Fitzgerald battles Father Time, it leaves Nelson keeps flashing.

1. Seahawks RB Chris Carson: The seventh-rounder makes his third consecutive appearance on our list but first as our lead dog. Why? Look at what he's quickly overcome: a messy backfield situation out of which he's emerged the leader and even messier offensive line behind which he churned out almost 100 yards vs. a tough Niners front. Anyone watching the situation closely, including some of Carson's teammates per a PFT report, has seen that he's been Seattle's most dynamic back since the offseason.

QBs

1. Jay Cutler

2. Trevor Siemian

3. Jared Goff

4. Sam Bradford

5. Tyrod Taylor

6. DeShone Kizer

7. Deshaun Watson

8. Josh McCown

9. Blake Bortles

RBs

1. Carson

2. Sproles

3. Thompson

4. Kamara

5. Rex Burkhead

6. Matt Forte

7. Samaje Perine

8. Jalen Richard

9. Jamaal Charles

WRs

1. Nelson

2. Higgins

3. Kearse

4. Hurns

5. Devin Funchess, Panthers

6. Tyler Lockett, Seahawks

7. Marqise Lee, Jaguars

8. John Ross, Bengals

9. Danny Amendola, Patriots

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The Miami Dolphins suspended LB Lawrence Timmons on Tuesday after he went AWOL prior to the Week 2 game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The team ruled Timmons inactive for the game and had filed a missing persons report on their linebacker after he failed to show for a team meeting on Saturday, the day prior to the game. Timmons reportedly later was found at the airport and was attempting to fly home.

The team signed Timmons, 31, to a two-year, $12 million deal in the offseason after spending all of his career previously with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The contract included a $5.5 million signing bonus and a total of $11 million guaranteed. The Dolphins could to go after some or all of that bonus money, depending on what the team decides to do with Timmons for the remainder of the season or beyond.

According to Article 4, Section 9 of the league’s CBA, NFL teams may try to recoup money from players who have breached their contracts. That includes “[a]ny player who willfully fails to report, practice or play with the result that the player’s ability to fully participate and contribute to the team is substantially undermined (for example, without limitation, holding out or leaving the squad absent a showing of extreme personal hardship) …”

Further, the CBA notes that players who commit a forfeitable breach for the first time “may be required to forfeit up to twenty-five percent (25%) of his Forfeitable Salary Allocations upon missing his first regular season game.”

The Dolphins have yet to take this course of action with Timmons, who was supposed to meet with team doctors on Monday. It’s not clear if that meeting happened as planned. Team sources have been extremely mum on Timmons’ situation, and head coach Adam Gase said after the game that he needed to “figure some things out before I talk about this.”

Timmons was the team’s starting linebacker all through the preseason and had started 101 consecutive games prior to Sunday.

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There was a time this offseason where it looked more likely than not that the New England Patriots would move on from CB Malcolm Butler.

Strange as that sounded at the time, there was a feeling that Butler’s desire for a new contract might preclude the team from meeting his financial demands — especially given that it shelled out big money to CB Stephon Gilmore and LB Dont’a Hightower and has a fascinating long-term QB situation that could handcuff the salary cap, at least for the 2018 season.

Although Butler remains with the Patriots, even after the Gilmore signing, we wonder what his future might be in New England. Could he be the next big-name defender shipped out of town?

The Patriots had a stunning 2016 calendar year. In March, they traded DE Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals prior to him hitting free agency. Last April, they waived former first-round DT Dominique Easley, getting nothing in return. Then in October, Bill Belichick signed off on a Jamie Collins trade to the Cleveland Browns.

Perhaps more stunning is that the Patriots fielded the NFL’s best scoring defense last season and won Super Bowl LI. Just another sign that Belichick isn’t afraid to make bold personnel moves and trust his instincts on when to move on from a talented player.

Butler started and played all 68 defensive snaps in the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1. But in the Week 2 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Butler appeared to be the Patriots’ de facto third corner, coming off the bench and playing 49-of-65 snaps.

But more telling than his playing time might have been Belichick’s words when asked about Butler in the days that followed. When asked about the roles of other defenders such as CBs Johnathan Jones and Eric Rowe, LBs Elandon Roberts and David Harris and DE Lawrence Guy, Belichick was more praiseworthy than not.

When Butler’s name came up from the media on Tuesday, however, Belichick said, "I don't think anyone's performance this season is really where it needs to be."

The coach similarly was vague about DT Alan Branch, who played a mere six defensive snaps against the Saints and appeared to struggle in a 42-snap performance in the Week 1 loss. Of Branch’s conditioning, Belichick said: "I wouldn't say that anybody's there. Maybe our specialists, I don't know."

Those could be Belichick’s way of motivating two players in Butler and Branch, who have played key roles in the Patriots’ two Super Bowl titles the past few seasons. Or they could be harbingers that the team might be set to move on from either or both.

Although Belichick fought to re-sign Branch this offseason, it would still be more shocking in the big picture to see the Patriots move on from Butler, given his age (27 years old), the value of his position and the role he has played on the team, often matching up against top wide receivers.

The Saints were the team most heavily interested in landing Butler this offseason, as the two teams are believed to have had multiple discussions about a deal. They consummated a swap of WR Brandin Cooks to New England, but that trade ultimately involved draft picks and not Butler.

Could those two teams re-stoke those discussions? Perhaps. The Saints might be ready for a roster overhaul following their 0-2 start, and S Kenny Vaccaro, RB Adrian Peterson and others on the roster have been rumored to be on the trade block. (The Saints, however, traded away their 2018 second-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers in the Alvin Kamara draft-weekend deal in April.)

Also don’t count out other teams potentially getting involved. Very quietly, the Houston Texans had discussions about Butler in-house this offseason, we were told, when his status was in limbo as a restricted free agent, and they now have lost starting CB Kevin Johnson for four to six weeks with injury after watching top cover man A.J. Bouye walk out the door this offseason.

Coincidentally, the Patriots play the Texans on Sunday. That timing certainly could have an effect on any deal involving them. But those teams clearly have a connection, with Texans head coach Bill O'Brien coming from New England's staff, and they know each other well. This will be the team's fourth meeting in the past year, counting their preseason matchup in August, and they conducted joint practices prior to that game.

Prior to the team's playoff matchup in January, O'Brien called Butler "one of the best cornerbacks in the league," praising his intelligence and strength.

We have not seen any indication that the Patriots dealing Butler midseason, a la Collins, can’t happen. Given the Patriots’ past mentality of turning the page on previous standouts, it most certainly can’t be ruled out.

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We have been through two weeks of the NFL season and things aren’t going the way many analysts thought the season would be.

In Week 1, we saw Kansas City manhandle the New England Patriots in the Thursday night opener and many were ready to write off the Pats and Tom Brady for the year. We all must remember that this is the Patriots we are talking about, who are led by one of the all-time great coaches in Bill Belichick and one of the all-time great quarterbacks in Brady. They weren’t going to be down for long.

In Week 2, the Pats went on the road to New Orleans and easily beat the Saints, 36-20. Brady has thrown for more than 700 yards and three touchdowns in two games. He doesn’t look like he is falling off a cliff.

Both Buffalo and Chicago had rookie quarterbacks who outplayed the veteran starters during the preseason, yet neither rookie has seen the field in the opening two weeks.

In Chicago, second overall pick Mitch Trubisky looked like a true franchise quarterback in the preseason and outplayed expectations. Starter Mike Glennon hasn’t been able to do a thing, yet the Bears coaching staff refuses to give the younger player a chance.

In Buffalo, starter Tyrod Taylor has also struggled and that has not only hurt the pass game but the run game as well. Opponents know that all they have to do is stop the run and keep Taylor in the pocket in order to beat the Bills. Rookie Nate Peterman from Pitt showed talent and unusual poise for such a young player during the preseason. He clearly sees the field better and is a good decision maker, yet the Bills want to keep him on the bench right now.

The New York Giants were a playoff team a year ago and were supposed to challenge for the NFC East this year. After two weeks the Giants are 0-2 and look in disarray. Eli Manning looks like an old quarterback, but in fairness he has an offensive line that can’t protect him. The defense to put it mildly is struggling. Next week the Giants play in Philly and very well could be 0-3. There will be no playoffs for the G-Men in 2017.

It seems like every year people write off the Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. Trust me, that’s foolish. Reid is one of the better coaches in the NFL and he always has his team ready to play. After two games, the Chiefs are 2-0 and the two teams they have beaten (New England, Philly) are probably playoff teams. Chiefs rookie running back Kareem Hunt from Toledo is the early favorite for rookie of the year. Right now the Chiefs are the class of the AFC West.

It’s been more than 20 years since the NFL had franchises in Los Angeles. Sunday, both teams played home games across from each other and the total attendance for the two games was 81,993 fans. The Rams drew 56,612 at the L.A. Coliseum, while the Chargers drew 25,381 at the StubHub Center. Saturday night at the Coliseum the USC-Texas Game drew 84,714 fans. This isn’t good for the NFL, the Chargers or the Rams.

The last time there were two NFL franchises in L.A., there was fan apathy and the league can’t afford for it to happen again. What’s needed, is both clubs have to become perennial playoff contenders or the seats will remain empty. Right now, the Rams under new coach Sean McVay look as if they are going in the right direction. The same can’t be said about the Chargers.

Jay Cutler came out of retirement and signed with the Miami Dolphins after an injury to quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Cutler of course had a history with Dolphins coach Adam Gase and was eager to come on board. While Cutler had his struggles in Chicago, he looked great in his first game as a Dolphin as they beat the Chargers 19-17. For the game, Cutler was 24-of-33 for 230 yards and a touchdown. He did not turn the ball over and was in complete command of the game. I have a strong feeling that this is going to be one of the feel-good stories of the 2017 NFL season.

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