Rams remain unbeaten


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Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, left, celebrates with defensive tackle Michael Brockers (90) during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, left, celebrates with defensive tackle Michael Brockers (90) during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)


Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley II (30) runs past San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster (56) to score a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Also pictured at left is Rams center John Sullivan (65). (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)


Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, top, sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)


Donald dominates in Rams 39-10 victory over 49ers

By JOSH DUBOW

AP Pro Football Writer

Monday, October 22

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Aaron Donald ripped the ball out of Matt Breida’s hands to set up one touchdown. He harassed C.J. Beathard with four sacks and several other hits that helped shut down San Francisco’s offense.

Donald’s dominance helped improve Los Angeles to 7-0 for the first time since 1985 with a 39-10 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and showed that the defense can play as big a role in the success as the Rams’ high-powered offense.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that’s been like him in the NFL,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “He’s in a class of his own. At the end of the day, he’s still an NFL player and our job is to block him. He was really impactful today.”

That’s an understatement.

Donald used his brute strength to set up one of Todd Gurley’s three touchdowns with his fumble recovery in the first half for the Rams and got a couple of his sacks by just pushing offensive linemen into Beathard and knocking him down.

After recording no sacks in his first three games following a training camp holdout, Donald now has eight in the past four games, showing why he earned that $135 million, six-year contract this summer.

“You feel him and he did a great job affecting and influencing the game in a variety of ways,” coach Sean McVay said. “He was great against the run, did a good job of being able to get to Beathard on a handful of occasions. But, our defense overall, Aaron was a big part of that.”

Donald had plenty of help on defense with Cory Littleton getting two sacks and a blocked punt for a safety ; Troy Hill and John Johnson III intercepting passes; and Samson Ebukam getting an early strip sack that Trevon Young recovered.

“One of the best defensive performances I’ve been around,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. “It seemed like every time we sat down we got back up and went on the field. … It was just a lot of fun to watch.”

Here are some other takeaways from the game:

GURLEY’S DAY

Gurley ran for 63 yards, caught four passes for 23 and had his third three-touchdown game of the season. His 14 TDs this season tie Priest Holmes (2002, ‘04) for the most through seven games in the Super Bowl era. His most memorable score was his last one when Goff somehow found him through traffic on a cross-field screen pass and Gurley broke a tackle from Reuben Foster and raced in for the 12-yard score .

“It didn’t play out quite the way we wanted it to,” Goff said. “That’s just me and him trying to make a play. He’s a great player, try to get him the ball and he made it work.”

TURN IT OVER

It’s hard to determine whether the 49ers are worse at creating turnovers or committing them. San Francisco ranks last in the league with three takeaways through seven games — tied for the fewest at this point in the season since the 1970 merger — and has committed the most with 18. The Niners have committed 14 turnovers since their last takeaway on Sept. 30 against the Chargers. Beathard has thrown seven interceptions and lost three fumbles in four starts.

“It’s inexcusable,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It’s impossible to win in this league when you turn the ball over like we are and you when don’t get any.”

LOOKING AHEAD

The Rams barely had time to celebrate this victory before fielding questions about what comes next. Los Angeles is starting a tough four-week stretch that starts with a home game against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay next week, followed by a trip to New Orleans to face Drew Brees and the Saints, a home game against Seattle, then a game in Mexico City against Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City.

“I think we just have to keep building off of today’s game,” cornerback Troy Hill said. “It’s one of those things that we’ve been waiting for, and so now we just have to keep on stringing it together.”

BREIDA’S HEALTH

Breida has shown good sparks as the team’s main running back with 445 yards rushing and an NFL-best 6.5 yards per carry. But the second-year back has struggled to stay healthy as he has been hampered by shoulder, knee and ankle injuries. He was limited to five carries against the Rams after rolling his ankle but might need some time off to fully heal.

“I tried to keep on playing,” he said. “I have to be smart and not hurt my team at the same time. If I can’t go out there and go 100 percent, I have to let the guys that can do it.”

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Cousins, Vikings look to improve, even after blowout of Jets

By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.

AP Pro Football Writer

Monday, October 22

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Kirk Cousins was happy with the victory, of course — a road win against a team Minnesota had never beaten away from home.

But the star quarterback knows the Vikings’ offense can be even better.

Cousins threw two touchdown passes, Latavius Murray ran for two scores, and the Vikings pulled away in the second half to beat the New York Jets 37-17 on Sunday for their third straight victory.

“Any time you score 37 points on the road, you’re doing something right,” Cousins said. “But there are times where it wasn’t good enough. We are so grateful for defense and special teams today because it gave us the opportunity to go out and score points.”

The Vikings (4-2-1) intercepted Jets rookie Sam Darnold three times and also recovered a fumbled snap to help lift them to their first road win against the Jets after losing the first five meetings away from home.

“We did some good things, but there are a lot of things we can work on,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “We were not moving the ball enough and there were a lot of plays I want back, but it’s always good to get a win.”

Minnesota couldn’t get much going consistently on offense, mostly because of going 2 of 15 on third downs.

In his first game against the Jets (3-4) since spurning their massive offer in free agency, Cousins was far from spectacular, but made some big plays late. With the game still hanging in the balance and the Vikings facing fourth-and-8 from the 34, Cousins connected with Aldrick Robinson for a TD to seal it.

“We had so many opportunities to put that game away earlier in the game, and didn’t do it,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We have to overcome ourselves on some of those things.”

Cousins, 25 of 40 for 241 yards, opted to turn down New York’s three-year, $90 million deal in the offseason and instead chose to go to Minnesota, which signed him to a deal worth $6 million less.

After Cousins’ decision, the Jets turned their attention to the draft, where they selected Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick.

As expected, Cousins was the target of criticism of Jets fans and New York-area media.

“I never read it, so I don’t even have any knowledge to process it or incorporate it into my approach,” Cousins said. “I believe ignorance is bliss and I try to stay as ignorant as possible.”

Here are some other things to know about the Vikings’ win over the Jets:

SAM STRUGGLES

In their first meeting, Cousins came out on top — while Darnold had arguably his worst game on a cold, windy day .

The rookie was 17 of 42 for 206 yards with a TD pass to Chris Herndon and a TD run, but was intercepted three times as New York’s two-game winning streak ended.

After going 6 of 9 for 87 yards and a touchdown with a 135.0 quarterback rating in the opening quarter, Darnold finished with the three INTs and a dismal 34.4 rating.

“I’ve just got to find completions,” Darnold said. “That’s really it. And, we’ve got to do a better job executing.”

THIELEN STILL DEALIN’

Thielen became the fifth player in NFL history to get at least 100 yards receiving in seven consecutive games, catching nine passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.

He reached the milestone with a 21-yard catch in the fourth quarter. He joined Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (eight, 2012), Denver’s Demaryius Thomas (seven, 2014), Dallas’ Michael Irvin (seven, 1995) and Houston’s Charley Hennigan (seven, 1961) to accomplish the feat.

He and Hennigan are the only players to do so in his team’s first seven games to open the season.

“Stats don’t necessarily say how good you played,” Thielen said. “I’m looking forward to looking at the film and making sure I continue to get better.”

THIRD-DOWN TERRORS

Both the Vikings and Jets will need to improve in third-down situations after this one.

Minnesota was 2 of 15, while New York was 2 of 13.

The Vikings’ first conversion didn’t come until midway through the third quarter on Thielen’s 13-yard catch after being 0 for 8 up to that point. The Jets’ first conversion came late in the third on Darnold’s 6-yard run on third-and-5.

HURTING

Jets running back Bilal Powell (neck) and safety Doug Middleton (chest/shoulder) left with injuries and were scheduled to undergo tests.

New York could be severely short-handed at safety. Middleton was starting in place of Marcus Maye, who’s sidelined with a broken thumb. That leaves only Jamal Adams and Terrence Brooks as healthy players at the position.

Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes left with a sprained ankle, but Zimmer said, “I don’t think it’s a big deal.” Same for linebacker Anthony Barr, who injured a hamstring.

WHOOPS

Jets receiver Robby Anderson apologized for tossing the ball at an official late in the fourth quarter after an incompletion, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty — and a possible fine from the NFL later in the week.

“It was just frustration and wanting to make a play and us losing a pretty tough game,” Anderson said, adding that he didn’t intend to hit the official with the ball. “It wasn’t anything malicious. It was just a reaction.”

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Chargers expect injured RB Gordon to return after bye week

By ZAC BOYER

Associated Press

Monday, October 22

LONDON (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers believe running back Melvin Gordon will be able to return after the bye week from a hamstring injury that kept him out of their game against the Tennessee Titans.

Even without Gordon, the Chargers edged the Titans 20-19 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Gordon, who entered the weekend third in the league with 466 rushing yards, was added to the injury report on Saturday. He was held out of practice a day earlier after the Chargers crossed the Atlantic for what coach Anthony Lynn said was a precautionary measure.

The running back warmed up before the game, but Lynn decided that he wasn’t ready for a full workload against Tennessee and hopes to have him back when Los Angeles travels to face the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 4.

“Obviously, we’re better with Melvin Gordon, but I just felt like I had to protect him today because I don’t want this to be a lingering thing,” Lynn said. “I want to get him back for Seattle and he’s got a bye week off. He’ll be rehabbing and getting healthy, and hopefully, we’ll have a full-speed Melvin back in a couple weeks.”

The Chargers handed a first career start to second-year running back Austin Ekeler, who finished with 42 yards on 12 carries and also caught five passes for 26 yards.

Gordon ran for 132 yards and three touchdowns in the road win against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 14 and had surpassed 100 rushing yards in two of his last three games.

Behind Gordon, Los Angeles had the league’s fifth-ranked rushing offense at 137.3 yards per game but was held to just 47 yards on the ground by Tennessee’s 26th-ranked run defense.

“Frustrated,” Gordon said after the win. “I’ll be back next game.”

Here’s what else we learned in the Chargers’ victory:

PLAYING TO WIN

Titans coach Mike Vrabel said he will continue to coach aggressively after the go-ahead 2-point conversion failed with 31 seconds remaining.

Vrabel has made several aggressive play calls since being hired as the Titans’ coach before this season and acknowledged that the decision to go for it was inspired in part by the team’s two-game losing streak.

“I’m just trying to do what’s best for the team,” Vrabel said. “I’m trying to find a way to win a football game and haven’t done a very good job the last three weeks.”

The Titans only allowed quarterback Marcus Mariota to be sacked twice after he was dropped 11 times in the 21-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the previous game, and Derrick Henry scored Tennessee’s first touchdown since the closing minutes of the road loss to the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 7.

“Getting in the end zone was a huge step forward for us, but obviously, it’s all for nothing if you don’t win the game,” left tackle Taylor Lewan said.

EYES ON THE PRIZE

Quarterback Philip Rivers said that the victory, which moved the Chargers to 5-2 this season, will galvanize the team as it prepares to chase down the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.

The Chargers have reached the playoffs just once in the last eight seasons and narrowly missed out last year after finishing 9-7.

“Everybody enjoys winning, but (this team enjoys) winning together,” Rivers said. “It’s as excited as I’ve seen a locker room postgame in a while — just the energy. It’s hard to win in this league.”

SHARPER IMAGE

Titans wide receiver Tajae Sharpe could return from the bye week with a greater role in the offense after catching seven passes for a career-high 101 yards, including five for 75 yards on third down, on Sunday.

“The more you perform and you make players, the more opportunities come your way,” Vrabel said. “Being able to convert third downs in this league is critical, and so Tajae has been a great asset for us to convert those.”

Sharpe, in his third year out of UMass, missed all of last season with a foot injury. He had not caught seven passes in a game since his debut on Sept. 11, 2016, when he had 76 yards in a 25-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

Except for 1 kick, Saints, Ravens are evenly matched

By DAVID GINSBURG

AP Sports Writer

Monday, October 22

BALTIMORE (AP) — In a matchup between the league’s highest-scoring offense and top-ranked defense, the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens played to a near draw.

New Orleans didn’t come close to matching its average of 36 points, and the Baltimore defense finally wilted in the second half — thanks to the stellar play of Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

At the end of New Orleans’ 24-23 victory, players from both teams had plenty reason to feel good about how they performed.

Everyone except Justin Tucker.

Tucker was 222 for 222 on conversion kicks until he shanked one to the right with 24 seconds remaining and overtime seemingly waiting for these two evenly matched teams.

“I can’t tell you exactly what happened,” Tucker said, “but at the end of the day I feel like I cost us the game.”

The missed kick gave Brees his first career victory over the Ravens, the only team he had not defeated. He joins Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to beat every club.

Brees threw his 500th TD pass to help the Saints (5-1) extend their winning streak to five. Manning, Favre, Tom Brady and now Brees are the only members of the 500 club.

Joe Flacco went 23 for 39 for 279 yards for Baltimore (4-3) and fashioned a wonderful late drive to put the Ravens just an extra point away from overtime.

Some other things to know about the Saints-Ravens game:

THE FOURTH ESTATE

Coach Sean Payton had the Saints go for it on fourth down four times during a 20-play game-opening drive, the lone unsuccessful attempt coming on the final try, when a fumble by Taysom Hill was recovered by the Ravens’ Michael Pierce at the Baltimore 6-yard line.

New Orleans was 4 for 5 on fourth-down conversions for the day, something Brees said set the tone early for the kind of offensive game they wanted to play.

“It gives you a lot of confidence, you know?” Brees said. “Feeling like he’s putting the ball in our hands to make the play and he’s got plays he likes. That makes us feel like we’re playing to win, not just playing.”

BROWN DELIVERS

Ravens receiver John Brown bounced back from two uneventful games with seven catches for 134 yards and the potential game-tying score with 24 seconds left.

Brown signed with Baltimore as a free agent in March after playing four years in Arizona. He leads the Ravens in yards receiving and touchdown catches (4).

“It was good just to be able to make the plays. The opportunity came to me,” Brown said. “You can take all those yards back, the touchdown back. I’d rather get the win.”

A DIFFERENT LOOK

Brees is a pure passer, so teams know what to expect from him. But Payton continues to integrate Taysom Hill, a second-year man out of Brigham Young, into the offense to give opponents a different look.

So far, the ploy has paid dividends.

“He made some big plays,” Payton said of Hill, who rushed three times for 12 yards. “He had a toss and he kept the ball. Look, he does so many different things. He’s a football player. When the game is over and it’s a grass field, his uniform is dirty.”

JACKSON’S SIX

Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson scored his first NFL touchdown and gave the Ravens the lead when he carried the ball into the end zone with four seconds remaining in the first half.

“It was amazing. I’m in touchdown heaven, or football heaven, whatever you want to call it,” he said. “Man, I’m taking this ball right to the sideline and keeping it.”

Jackson was the second of Baltimore’s two first round draft picks this year. The Heisman Trophy winner in 2016 has appeared in every game but had not contributed a scoring play.

HOLD THAT LINE

With Josh LeRibeus subbing for Andrus Peat (head injury) at left guard and reserve tackle Jermon Bushrod inactive following the death of his infant daughter, the Saints knew they’d have to get a cohesive effort from the offensive line to prevent Baltimore’s barrage of blitzes.

Well, Terrell Suggs’ sack of Brees in the fourth quarter was the lone blemish on an otherwise spotless day of protection. And that came with LeRibeus missing time due to an ankle injury.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFL wants players to play with a free mind

By ROB MAADDI

AP Pro Football Writer

Wednesday, October 17

NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL doesn’t want players worrying about getting flagged or fined.

“You gotta play,” NFL football operations chief Troy Vincent said Tuesday at the league’s fall meetings. “You hope that no player is thinking about a rule. We want them to play (with a) free mind where you’re just free and you play.”

Chiefs rookie linebacker Breeland Speaks said he didn’t take Tom Brady down because he was concerned about a roughing-the-passer penalty in the fourth quarter of Kansas City’s 43-40 loss at New England on Sunday night. Brady eluded Speaks and ran 4 yards for a touchdown to give the Patriots the lead.

“We watched that video and watched that play and Tom did what we’ve seen Tom do a thousand times,” Vincent said.

“He stepped up in the pocket and the defender didn’t make a play or didn’t create a sack, but you don’t want any player thinking about a penalty or being fined but you hope that he would make that adjustment on some of the things we’ve put in place and that’s not just for his opponent’s protection but for his as well.”

Overall, roughing-the-passer calls are down since the competition committee clarified to game officials the techniques used in such hits during a conference call last month. There were 34 roughing calls through the first three weeks and 19 in the three weeks since the call.

Vincent said the league didn’t advise officials to cut down on the calls, but emphasized to them making sure they see it clearly.

“If you don’t see the complete play, don’t call it,” Vincent said. “That was a directive from the competition committee. That was always the point of emphasis but after the (conference) call and after watching the video, the committee and our coaches (said): ‘If you don’t see the complete play, we ask that you leave the penalty in your pocket.’”

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was penalized three times in the first three weeks for roughing the passer, including two of which that appeared to be normal tackles. Matthews suggested the league has gone soft and argued that defensive players no longer know what constitutes a legal hit.

Dolphins defensive end William Hayes tore his right ACL trying to avoid landing on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

“Every time we emphasized a call, you see more calls in the preseason and first (few) weeks and then you see an adjustment, and a leveling out of calls,” said Atlanta Falcons CEO Rich McKay, the head of the league’s competition committee. “We’re not going to apologize for trying to protect players we think are in a vulnerable state.”

Some other things we learned on the first day of the NFL’s fall meetings:

MORE FINES THAN FLAGS: There have been only six penalties for illegal use of the helmet, but Vincent said between 10-12 players have been fined for such hits and almost 70 warning letters have been issued to players about using the crown of their helmet to initiate a hit.

“We told officials if they don’t see all three elements of it, we can fine it on Monday and we’ll get the conducted corrected,” McKay said. “I think the players have adjusted, the officials have adjusted and I know the coaches have adjusted.”

CONCUSSIONS DOWN: Concussions in preseason were down from 91 to 79, a 13 percent decline. Concussions on kickoffs were zero in the preseason, down from three. Concussions in practices were down from 23 to 9. Jeff Miller, the league’s executive vice president of health and safety initiatives, credits a reduction plan the NFL put into place last year, improvements in helmets in part spurred by the league ratings of helmets and banning of some, rules changes such as the “helmet rule” and the kickoff rules, and the education of players.

“We’re certainly optimistic about the results,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s medical director. “We’ll continue with more in-depth analyses of concussions.”

HELMET BAN: Miller said there were some 230 helmets players used in 2017 that ranked in the red area, meaning they were banned for new league players in 2018 and will be banned for every player next season. Through Week 3 of this season, about 40 were still in use that were grandfathered in.

He noted “it’s sometimes hard to make a change,” but added that players won’t have a choice after this season regarding those helmets.

ADVANTAGE, OFFENSE: Teams are scoring more than ever. The number of points (4,489), touchdowns (504) and touchdown passes (328) are the most in league history through six weeks.

McKay credited the performance of young quarterbacks and the emphasis on calling illegal contact and defensive holding penalties. Illegal contact penalties are up from 11 to 36. After six weeks in 2016, there were 30 such calls.

“We didn’t like the way it was going last year and it led to passing yardage going down,” McKay said. “As defenses get more aggressive and grab more, yards go down.”

Vincent said he expects scoring to “normalize” as teams see more film on the young quarterbacks and he noted weather conditions later in the season could make an impact.

“I believe some of the defenses and coordinators will adjust,” Vincent said. “Players are adjusting all the time and you just need game footage to see what people can and can’t do.”

PARITY IS GOOD: Games have been closer through the first six weeks. So far, 54 games have been decided by one score, tied for the most in league history at this point. There have been 28 games decided by three points or fewer, second-most at this point.

“Those are good stats for us because fans want to watch and attend close games,” McKay said.

AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, left, celebrates with defensive tackle Michael Brockers (90) during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/10/web1_121616788-40a8794523144e8fbb3c1f72e91dcda3.jpgLos Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, left, celebrates with defensive tackle Michael Brockers (90) during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley II (30) runs past San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster (56) to score a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Also pictured at left is Rams center John Sullivan (65). (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/10/web1_121616788-f0aaa2bb7d4e4031a003c5716aeb45ee.jpgLos Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley II (30) runs past San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster (56) to score a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Also pictured at left is Rams center John Sullivan (65). (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, top, sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/10/web1_121616788-77b4201d41a44e8783152bf84b4590a5.jpgLos Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, top, sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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