Strong as steel: Amid heartbreak, Steelers rout Browns
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
Monday, October 29
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Tomlin’s heart was heavy when he went to work on Sunday morning. The Steelers coach wasn’t alone.
All of Pittsburgh felt broken after 11 innocent people were killed in a shooting at a synagogue that Tomlin estimated is “800 yards” from his home. But true to its steely reputation, the city — and the Steelers — stayed strong.
“I’m a member of the Squirrel Hill community personally,” Tomlin said after Pittsburgh’s 33-18 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. “Words cannot express how we feel as members of the community. I’m not going to make this about me or about us. We’re just glad we are here to serve our community if we can in some small way.”
Tomlin had addressed his players about the shooting on Saturday night, hours after a gunman walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue during services and killed eight men and three women ranging in age from 54 to 97. The dead included Cecil and David Rosenthal, whose sister, Michele, is the Steelers’ former community relations director.
The deaths hit home for a team as connected to its fan base as any in the NFL.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he was overcome with emotion on his drive to Heinz Field, during pregame warmups and when the stadium observed a moment of silence before kickoff.
“It was crazy tough and especially of Michele and the closeness that we have with her,” said Roethlisberger, who threw a pair of touchdown passes to Antonio Brown. “Coach always talked about when you step inside the white lines everything else has to kind of go away, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. I told the guys during the post-team prayer, we’re thankful for a victory, but we also understand there are bigger things, there is life.
“I am glad we can give people maybe three hours of a break of not thinking about it all the time. That is what sports does sometimes — it helps you to heal. It’s over, people are going to enjoy this, but reality still sets in for a lot of people.”
James Conner rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns for the Steelers (4-2-1), who looked so vulnerable earlier this season when they tied Cleveland in the opener.
But with Conner making Le’Veon Bell’s messy contract holdout less impactful every game behind an offensive line backing up praise about Conner, the Steelers appear to be the class of the AFC North again.
For Conner, who played college ball at Pitt and won his own battled with cancer, Sunday’s win went deeper than just being the 15th in a row at Heinz Field over the rival Browns.
“Today was much bigger than a game of football,” said Conner, who scored on runs of 12 and 22 yards. “Our city took a hit, and our hearts are with all of the victims and their families.”
The Browns lost their 25th straight road game, 20th in a row under embattled coach Hue Jackson.
While Jackson’s days appear numbered, there are also rumblings about offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s future.
Jackson caused an uproar last week following a loss at Tampa Bay when he pledged to “dive” in and help Cleveland’s struggling offense. Well, the Browns were still plagued by many of the same problems and Jackson continues to insist he and Haley are not at odds.
Still, there’s drama.
“There’s nothing wrong with my relationship with Haley,” Jackson said. “I said what I said last week, and obviously, it had legs, but I never said I wanted to take away play calling. I said I wanted to help. That’s it. The only thing that’s going on is we need to get better. We need to coach better.”
Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield won’t forget his introduction to the Steelers.
Mayfield threw two touchdown passes — the second with 6 seconds left — and had some nice moments in his fifth career start. But he was under pressure all day, took some hard shots, and it seems as if the Browns aren’t doing enough to cater the offense to his strengths.
Mayfield looked beaten as he left the podium and slowly headed toward the bus for the 2 ½-hour bus ride back to Ohio. He joined a long list of Browns QBs to take their lumps in Pittsburgh.
“I’ve seen better days,” said Mayfield, who finished 22 of 36 for 180 yards. “But that’s the nature of playing a good team. They’re physical.”
Brown finished with six catches for 74 yards, just another day at the office for arguably the game’s best receiver. Brown has caught a TD pass in five straight games and he and Roethlisberger have connected on 67 career TDs, tying them with Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne for the seventh most by a QB-WR tandem in league history.
Roethlisberger was unaware the Steelers are 8-0 when Brown has a completion of 40 yards or more.
“Really,” Big Ben said. “Let’s throw it deep every single play and see what happens.”
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D.J. Moore latest playmaker to emerge for balanced Panthers
By ELI PACHECO
Monday, October 29
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — It was D.J. Moore’s turn to be a young standout for the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers’ first-round draft pick from Maryland had a team-high five receptions for 90 yards and also gained 39 yards on electrifying runs on back-to-back plays, including a 28-yard dash around right end that proved to be Carolina’s biggest run of the day, in a dominating 36-21 win against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
Each week it seems to be a different young player — either on offense or defense — who steps up and produces for coach Ron Rivera’s team.
With starting wide receiver Torrey Smith out with a knee injury, Moore took advantage of a chance to produce just as running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receiver Curtis Samuel, cornerback Donte Jackson and Nigerian-born defensive end Efe Obada have done in previous games.
“D.J. is such an exceptional talent and dynamic player with the ball in his hands. We have to find ways to get the ball in his hands,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “From running the football to toss sweeps to chucking the ball down-field, he’s ready for it.”
Moore, who had a 51-yard TD catch earlier this season, has an opportunity to build off his big game next week against Tampa Bay, which entered the weekend allowing a league-high 328 yards passing per game.
“We knew they were going to be aggressive, but we knew we just had to go out there and execute the game plan,” said Moore, who estimated he split reps during the week with fellow receiver Curtis Samuel. “We had a good game plan going in for third downs, and we didn’t want to get backed up so we could keep attacking.”
Things we learned from Carolina’s win over Baltimore on Sunday:
KEEPING CAM CLEAN
Turns out this Panthers offensive line might not be too bad after all, even after losing starting offensive tackles Matt Kalil and Daryl Williams earlier this season to injuries.
Newton praised his patchwork offensive line for how well they’ve been playing. He’s been sacked only five times in the last five games.
“For a bunch of guys who were labeled as undesirables or misfits, they sure are doing a good job,” said Newton, who wasn’t sacked on Sunday and threw for two touchdowns and ran for another .
Joe Flacco’s pace for a career year took a turn at Carolina.
Flacco entered the game with only four interceptions and 11 touchdown passes in seven games, but Carolina picked him off twice and Flacco threw one touchdown pass before giving way to Lamar Jackson in the fourth quarter.
Flacco drove Baltimore to a 7-0 lead on the team’s first possession. After that Flacco and the offense sputtered while Carolina moved the ball at will. The result: A second straight loss and Flacco’s season-low 56.8 passer rating.
“Even that drive, it was tough,” Flacco said. “They made everything tough today and they made us go the long, hard way. . We only took a couple of little shots here and there, and weren’t able to get any real chunk yardage out of anything.”
Baltimore has home divisional games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati with a bye in between to figure things out.
“We are not in the most ideal situation possible, but we still have eight games left,” Flacco said. “I feel like we have the opportunity to play really good football. We just have to make sure to keep the focus on that.”
Some good news for the Ravens was that rookie first-round draft pick Hayden Hurst started to emerge. Plagued by a foot injury early in the season, Hurst came in with one catch for 7 yards. But he hauled in a 26-yard score from Jackson with 1:02 to play.
“Hopefully, the first of many,” said Hurst, fighting for reps in a scheme that leans heavily on tight end. He’s third on the depth chart among four on Baltimore’s roster.
Wide receiver Willie Snead IV led the team with 54 yards receiving, but got flagged for two offensive pass interference penalties on the same drive. “I’m just playing my game,” Snead said. “I’ve always been doing that. I’m not going to change it.”
Christian McCaffrey had the luck of the bounce on his side on Sunday. Ravens defensive back Eric Weddle deflected a pass near the goal line and McCaffrey leaped over a defender to catch a first-half touchdown. It was one of many balls that seemed to bounce Carolina’s way. Moore had a 28-yard run after dropping a pitchout from Cam Newton when the ball bounced right back in his arms.
NFC SOUTH RACE
Yes, it’s still two months away — and much can happen — but the NFC South seems destined to come down to two head-to-head games between the Saints and the Panthers in the final three weeks of the season. The Panthers host the Saints on Dec. 17, then visit New Orleans in the season finale on Dec. 30
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ICYMI in NFL Week 8: Jaguars falling apart, on and off field
By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Pro Football Writer
Monday, October 29
Whether it’s a quartet of players getting arrested for failing to pay a tab at a British nightclub or a locker-room spat or a four-game losing streak, things couldn’t get much worse for the Jacksonville Jaguars at the moment — on the field or off it.
A club that reached the AFC championship game last season and seemed to cement its status as a contender by beating the New England Patriots in Week 2 last month is now in total disarray.
“It’s a good week for a bye,” was the way coach Doug Marrone put it Sunday after the Jaguars dropped to 3-5 and tied for last in the AFC South with a 24-18 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Wembley Stadium.
Yes, a break now gives him a chance to try to save the season.
But there’s little reason to think that’s even possible at this point.
Quarterback Blake Bortles’ playoff competence sure now seems as if it were the mirage many suspected, and while he got off to start again after being yanked midgame a week ago, he led Jacksonville’s offense to only one touchdown and four field goals against Philadelphia.
The defense is dealing with injuries and inconsistencies and a sudden inability to tackle.
A week ago, after a 20-7 loss to the Houston Texans, Calais Campbell was seen holding back fellow defensive end Yannick Ngakoue in the locker room, fallout from some postgame shouting and finger-pointing.
The Jaguars are averaging just 11.5 points per game during the current slide.
Their opponents? More than twice that, 28.5.
“We’ve got a lot to do,” Marrone acknowledged, “in a lot of different areas.”
That includes out-on-the-town discipline and internal team harmony.
Out into the wee hours of Saturday morning in London, safety Barry Church and three teammates were detained, although not charged, by the Metropolitan Police over their bar bill.
Church called the whole thing “a misunderstanding.”
Bortles said it had no effect on the team’s showing Sunday.
Marrone, though, conceded: “A lot of things that you do during the week have an impact.”
In case you missed it, here are other top topics after the NFL season’s eighth Sunday:
If the recent moves are any indication, Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline could more closely resemble what happens in baseball than the usual football humdrum. Some of the very worst clubs, such as the Arizona Cardinals (2-6 after edging San Francisco 18-15), should consider the example set by the New York Giants (1-7 after losing to Washington 20-13). The Giants sent away two defenders last week and could do something else, even if Eli Manning declared Sunday he wants to stay. What could Patrick Peterson bring in return for the Cards? Maybe Tampa Bay (3-4 after a 37-34 loss to Cincinnati) should think about getting something for Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick or DeSean Jackson. We already know Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders (1-7 after being beaten 42-28 by the Colts) are willing to deal, so perhaps benched safety Karl Joseph will follow the same path already taken by Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper.
HALFWAY TO 16-0
Todd Gurley and the Los Angeles Rams are halfway to 16-0 after a comeback victory over the Green Bay Packers. Gurley accounted for 195 yards — 114 on 25 carries, and another 81 on six catches — and a TD, but he also was smart enough to know when not to tack on another score. On his way to the end zone, Gurley let himself get tackled, so the Rams could run out the clock as they improved to 8-0 by beating Aaron Rodgers and Co. 29-27 after trailing 10-0. But what about all those folks out there who could have used the fantasy points? “Man, forget fantasy. Forget Vegas,” Gurley said. “We got the win, so that’s all that matters.”
Patrick Mahomes just keeps putting up numbers, and his Kansas City Chiefs just keep on winning. Mahomes is only the third QB in NFL history to throw for at least 300 yards in seven consecutive games during a season, and only the fourth with four TD tosses in each of three games in a row. The other trio? Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Not too shabby. After leading KC past Denver 30-23, Mahomes is already up to 26 TD passes this season for the Chiefs, who are 7-1.
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles and freelancer Zac Boyer in London contributed to this report.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
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Cora-nation! Rookie manager leads Red Sox to championship
By BEN WALKER
AP Baseball Writer
Monday, October 29
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hard to believe now, all these wins later, but the Alex Cora Era in Boston began with a loss. A brutal one, in fact.
Opening day at Tropicana Field in late March, none of his late moves worked out as the bullpen blew a big lead in a 6-4 setback.
No fan in New England would admit it now — still, chances are some had already started to wonder whether he was the right guy for the Red Sox.
“It’s baseball,” Cora reassured that afternoon. “We know it’s going to happen. … I guess get it out of the way right away.”
Yep, guess so.
A calming presence in a boiling sports cauldron, Cora capped off one of the greatest runs by a first-year skipper in leading Boston to the World Series championship.
His Cora-nation came Sunday night, when the Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in Game 5.
The victory set off celebrations all over.
While throngs of Red Sox fans chanted “Cor-a! Cor-a!” from the seats and so many more reveled across the country, all of Puerto Rico certainly cheered its native son from Caguas.
Cora became the first manager from the island to guide a team to a championship. It came more than a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico — when Cora negotiated his contract last October, he asked the Red Sox to help his people with relief efforts, and the team eagerly pitched in.
Moments after hoisting the championship trophy, Cora made one more request.
“Next thing I’m going to ask ownership is if we can take the trophy to my island,” he said. “That would be great.”
Cora again turned Dodger Stadium into his personal party room. A year ago, he celebrated at the park as Houston’s bench coach after the Astros beat Los Angeles in Game 7. This time, he was front and center when Boston lifted the shiny gold trophy.
“It’s funny, because when they announced it, we were flying to LA last year between the Championship Series and the World Series, and ironic enough we win it here. So it goes full circle,” he said.
Cora became the fifth manager to win the crown in his first season, joining Bob Brenly (Arizona, 2001), Ralph Houk (Yankees, 1961), Eddie Dyer (Cardinals, 1946) and Bucky Harris (Washington Senators, 1924).
Called A.C. by his players, Cora has an unassuming presence. He often wears a gray hoodie in the dugout — the one he wore for Game 5 is headed to the Hall of Fame — and he doesn’t raise his voice. Except to yell at umpires, that is.
Shouting at his own team?
“No, no, I don’t,” he said before Game 5. “I talk to them and I try to stay in tune with them. If I have something to tell them, I just sit with them. Very casual. Very casual.”
“I try to do it that way. It feels right. It feels right,” he said. “I never had a manager that was like rah, rah, screaming at guys. They always had good conversations, and I learned from them and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
The result, said shortstop Xander Bogaerts, is Cora’s influence is “all positive, no negative stuff going on.”
His dugout demeanor is boosted by a combination of analytical aptitude and people approach.
“Coralytics” is what it’s called by his agent, Scott Boras.
Cora was hired after John Farrell, who led the Red Sox to the 2013 title, was fired following two straight early exits in the AL playoffs.
“Alex was the manager that fit for us. He was really good in so many ways,” Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said before Game 5. “He knew Boston. I think he excels in dealing with the media, which in Boston is a bigger job than some other places. It can be cumbersome for a lot of people, and I’m not saying it’s not for him at times, but it’s part of the process and he handles it easily.”
Cora was chosen over about a half-dozen candidates that included former managers Brad Ausmus and Ron Gardenhire.
“It was a clear-cut choice that he was our guy,” Dombrowski said.
After the opening loss, Boston won 17 of its next 18 games and was on its way.
Cora steered the Red Sox to a team-record 108 wins in the regular season, then Boston topped the 100-win Yankees and Astros in the playoffs. Along the way, it seemed Cora could do no wrong.
Brock Holt hit for the first postseason cycle when Cora gave him his only start of the Division Series against New York. Cora masterfully managed a bullpen that many questioned before October, then avoided burning it out by leaning on hard-throwing starter Nathan Eovaldi in key spots. And Cora helped coax a breakout postseason from World Series Game 5 winner David Price.
“A.C. told us from the first day in spring training we could do it,” AL MVP favorite Mookie Betts said. “We believed in ourselves, we believed in him and we went out and executed.”
The clinching win at Houston came on the day Cora turned 43, and his players sang happy birthday to him in the clubhouse.
“More than anything, he’s just brought consistency,” ace Chris Sale recently said. “He’s the same guy in the first inning as he is in the ninth inning of a 10-1 ballgame or 3-3 ballgame. I think that’s the overall thing as players that we take from him.
“Ninth inning, bases loaded, one out of a one-run ballgame, and he’s sitting there eating seeds, doing the same thing as a 10-1 ballgame in the fourth inning. And I think that goes very well with us as players, when if he’s not panicking, why should we?” Sale said.
Cora grew up playing ball with his older brother, Joey, a former big league infielder. Alex spent 14 years in the majors, batting .243 as an infielder with six teams.
He got to the plate one time in Boston’s sweep of the 2007 World Series, putting down a sacrifice bunt for a team led by David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Manny Ramirez.
“Offensively, we did a lot of good things. And then the bench, it was amazing, they had the best utility guy in the bigs in 2007,” Cora said with a playful grin Sunday. “That guy was great.”
With the season over, Cora can enjoy spending more time with his twin 15-month-old boys and older daughter. He can do that free from any criticism that comes with such a high-pressure job, too, although he doesn’t stress over it.
“I really don’t care if they second-guess me. I prepare. We prepare as a group, and you make decisions,” he said after Game 1. “And honestly when I’m done here, I shower, I get in that car, I might get a text and say, “Go to the pharmacy and get some diapers for the kids.”
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