FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and his teammates have some ground rules leading up to Sunday night's home game against the Atlanta Falcons, a rematch of Super Bowl LI.

“We’ve been given really high strict rules that we are not allowed to talk about that game, so you’re not really going to get any information from anyone about that,” he said.

Rob GronkowskiAP Photo/Seth WenigHaving missed the 2016 postseason due to injury, Rob Gronkowski doesn't see Sunday's visit from the Falcons the same way many of his Patriots teammates might.

Those orders, handed down by coach Bill Belichick, apply even to those who didn’t play in the game, such as Gronkowski. Not that Gronkowski would want to look back at that time anyway. He was coming off back surgery, and it naturally pained him to be relegated to injured reserve and miss the Super Bowl this past February.

As for this season, he said simply, “It feels great to be back playing.”

It shows.

Gronkowski is coming off a two-touchdown game in Sunday’s 24-17 victory over the New York Jets, which was his 15th career game with multiple receiving touchdowns, tying Randy Moss for the Patriots' franchise record. Gronkowski was ribbed by Belichick for having “twinkle toes” after high-stepping into the end zone on one of the TDs.

Gronkowski looked refreshed after missing the team’s Week 5 win over the Buccaneers because of a thigh injury. Belichick also noted how Gronkowski was at the point of attack as a blocker on Dion Lewis' 1-yard touchdown run.

While the Patriots’ offense has been struggling to consistently string together successful plays, and has failed to close out victories in the fourth quarter in two straight weeks, it’s hard to imagine that Gronkowski (26 catches for 401 yards, four touchdowns) could do much more to help the cause this season. If there is one play that highlights his value to the offense more than any other, his 25-yard, second-quarter catch on Sunday qualifies.

The Patriots trailed 14-0 at the time and were backed up on their own 10-yard line when the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski ran up the right seam and was covered tightly by Jets linebacker Darron Lee. The ball was delivered anyway, and Gronkowski's knack for reaching up and snaring an accurate delivery from quarterback Tom Brady was on full display, ultimately leading to the team’s first touchdown.

“He’s got a big catch radius, so usually you’ve just got to get it somewhere near him and he’s got the ability to up and catch it,” Brady said. “You can usually find a pretty good place to throw it when he’s running the field. So he’s a big target, runs well, and has great hands.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn has stressed to his defenders the importance of being able to “defend through the hands” against Gronkowski. But even then, that isn’t always good enough to slow down the Gronkowski-Brady connection.

“The other part, as strong as Rob is and the length, it’s really where they place the ball with Brady,” Quinn said. “Much like a good pitcher who knows location, I really admire that about Tom’s career, throwing away from the leverage of the defender. All good quarterbacks have that trait and he’s certainly one of the very best at it.

“If the linebacker’s in the right coverage or right position, they’re willing to put it in a spot that’s really hard to defend. So for us, when you’re playing man-to-man, or even if you’re zone which turns into a man, you better be ready to go play through the hands. The big catch radius he has makes it challenging. How do you match up and how do you play so you don’t get into those spots is a real big factor.”

It is a factor the Falcons didn’t have to contend with in Super Bowl LI, but it figures to be a focal point Sunday night.

“When he gets going it’s great for everybody, so it’s been great having him in there this year,” Brady said. “He’s worked really hard and I love playing with him. We’ve got a great rapport. He’s obviously a guy that’s super-consistent when he’s been out there for us, and he’s really playing that same role this year.”

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Inspired by his trip to the East Coast to meet with NFL owners on Tuesday, Los Angeles Chargers left tackle Russell Okung believes the league will make the most out of this chance to address social injustice in the United States.

"Yesterday's meeting was really about dialogue and communication," Okung said. "I think the NFL has an amazing opportunity to lead very well into some territory that we've never actually been before. And I think if we do this the right way, and if the fellas are willing to open up in the right way -- or at least have the conversations that need to be had -- we can take this momentum and do something that can be a catalyst for our communities moving forward."

Russell OkungRich Graessle/Icon SportswireAfter a meeting with NFL owners, Chargers offensive lineman Russell Okung said he thinks "we can take this momentum and do something that can be a catalyst for our communities moving forward."

Okung took a red-eye flight to New York to be one of 12 active NFL players from eight teams who met with commissioner Roger Goodell and 11 team owners to discuss topics regarding player protests during the national anthem.

NFL players and owners scheduled a follow-up meeting for Oct. 31 to continue discussions about how the league and players can work together to support causes and issues of importance to the players.

The meeting will also likely take place at league headquarters in New York. The expectation is that such meetings will continue for the foreseeable future.

Okung penned a letter to other NFL players on The Players' Tribune, published last Friday, with the goal of conquering "uncharted territory" by opening a line of communication and responding with "one voice" as players.

"It's important that we sort of came to a consensus as players in terms of unity," the 30-year-old said. "We had a strong showing of unity and solidarity in approaching the owners, and the dialogue we had was essential.

"These issues are all of our issues. They're not just the players' issues. They're the owners' issues as well, and these issues of social injustice should be important to them."

Okung said he was impressed by the efforts of Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who is donating a year's worth of game checks to boost educational equality.

"Honestly, I'm not surprised Chris Long would do something like that," Okung said. "He's an amazing individual, an amazing man. And he's committed to some of his brothers who may not look like him or come from the same background. I think a lot of people should take what he's doing and replicate it wherever they can.

"He's a guy that's giving over his resources and equipping our people in our communities effectively."

Tennessee TitansAP Photo/James Kenney"When you're able to bring awareness to some social issues, you give people a voice," said Marcus Mariota, second from left.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has watched some of his teammates protest social injustice and police brutality during the pregame national anthem, and he fully supports their attempts to seek change.

“It’s an opportunity for them to express their right. When you’re able to bring awareness to some social issues, you give people a voice," Mariota said Wednesday. "When it comes down to it, we’re at a point in our careers that we have a platform. If we’re able to use that in the right light, I think it can be something that’s very beneficial.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke at the NFL fall meetings Wednesday and said there has been no change in the policy that encourages, but doesn't require, players to stand during the playing of the anthem.

NFL players across the country, including Titans receiver Rishard Matthews, linebackers Brian Orakpo and Wesley Woodyard, defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and tight end Delanie Walker, have articulated a desire to use their platform to bring change in regard to racial inequality, criminal-justice reform, disrespect from the White House and other concerns.

Mariota said he would like to see changes in some of these areas as well, and he believes these protests create much-needed attention to the issues.

“Until there is actual evidence within the communities of some of these changes, it’s still good to be able to create some awareness to it," Mariota said. "Some of our guys in the locker room have done a great job of finding avenues to give back to our community and give back to people who need that voice. [I'm] very privileged to be a part of this locker room. I think these guys have done a great job of handling everything, and I look forward to seeing some changes in our community.”

Matthews, who has stayed off the field during the anthem over the past three weeks, has pledged to donate $75,000 to organizations working in oppressed communities.

Case Keenum's approach to weekly uncertainty helps him thrive

October, 18, 2017
Oct 18

Case KeenumBrace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports"Case is Case," coach Mike Zimmer said of Keenum. "He just does what he has to do to get ready."

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Not once this season has Case Keenum gone into a week of game prep as the announced starter.

Unlike in coaching, the "interim" tag is not as widely used with players. Effectively, Keenum has been the interim starter for the Minnesota Vikings in Sam Bradford's absence. The uncertainty caused by Bradford's knee injury put one giant question mark over the entire position group early on.

Coach Mike Zimmer has reiterated that if Bradford is healthy enough to play, the job is his. In all but one game, he hasn't been, but the Vikings haven't altered their course on how to manage the position between starters and backups.

The uncertainty Keenum faces on a week-to-week -- even daily -- basis is his new normal.

Even after leading Minnesota to three wins, Keenum still enters each week not fully knowing whether he'll take snaps with the first-team offense or slide into the backup role he was brought in for during the offseason. Even when it appeared relatively obvious that Bradford would not be ready to go (such as when he reinjured his left knee in Chicag0), Keenum has never officially been deemed the starter at the beginning of a week.

It's why he has repeatedly said he approaches each week as if he's going to start. That way the amount of work he gets in practice doesn't throw off his ability to get into a groove, and he doesn't subject himself to a rollercoaster of uncertainty.

"It's just trying to do everything you possibly can the same as if you are getting the reps," Keenum said. "I stand behind the play and get the same reps. I visualize the same reps. I go through the plan. I prepare to go practice as if I'm getting the same reps."

That mindset is apparent to his teammates, who haven't seen Keenum change his approach regardless of what his role will be in a given week.

"He knows the game plan better, probably, than some of the coaches because he's in there studying every morning," Adam Thielen said. "He's the first truck in the parking lot. I know that's cliché but it's the truth. He gives me crap when I get here before him because he doesn't like that too much. He wants to win. He doesn't really care how it's done, he doesn't really care who's playing. He's a competitive guy so when he's out there he wants to do whatever it takes to win."

Bradford was absent for a fourth straight practice when the Vikings began preparations for the Ravens. If he's unable to return this week, Keenum will start his fifth game this season.

After a 14-month hiatus, Teddy Bridgewater returned to practice on Wednesday. Minnesota will now have to find the balance between getting Keenum ready to lead the offense while preparing Bridgewater to see if he can play this season.

The way Keenum is handling that situation, which isn't a question the Vikings need to answer in the short term, is a positive attribute for the coaching staff. They never have to worry that he'll be ready to go when he's needed.

"Case is Case," Zimmer said. "He just does what he has to do to get ready. I get it, the fans and the media and everybody is so excited about Teddy being back. He's still got a ways to go. So, we need to just remember that. That he's still working, a work in progress. If and when the time comes, we'll get him in there and we'll go. For right now, it's business as usual."

The life of a backup quarterback is rooted in ambiguity. These players are stuck with the blame if they go in and can't perform and don't get the credit when the going is good and they're on the bench.

Keenum knows his role in this scenario and where he fits into the mix. This temporary situation has been drawn out throughout the first half of the season, but his attitude hasn't changed.

"I try to make every offense that I'm in my offense. Whether it's just knowing the intricacies of every little parts of routes, protections, run game checks … knowing guys and how they react, how they play, what they want to hear. Whether it's operating in the huddle, talking to the coaches. No matter what offense I'm in, I'm continually trying to master it. I always use the mindset -- never feel like I've arrived. I'm always striving for more. That's my mindset. I want more."

AP Photo/David Zalubowski"(He) looked tall, looked fast, he caught the ball well," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph of Jake Butt. "He's out of shape, but he's definitely getting better every day as far as football shape."

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There has been plenty of hand-wringing, both inside and outside the team facility, about how the Denver Broncos can punish opposing defenses more for stacking their coverages toward Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

The Broncos need Bennie Fowler, or one of the team's other receivers, or tight end A.J. Derby, or one of the other tight ends, or the running backs to consistently make more plays. That will only increase in importance in the coming weeks with Sanders out because of a right ankle injury he suffered in Sunday night's loss to the New York Giants.

On Wednesday, the Broncos got a glimpse of some help that could be on the way. Rookie tight end Jake Butt practiced with the team for the first time since he was selected in the fifth round of the April draft.

"[He] looked tall, looked fast, he caught the ball well," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph. "He's out of shape, but he's definitely getting better every day as far as football shape."

Butt suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in his last college game at Michigan -- the Orange Bowl against Florida State this past December. As a result, a player many teams believed was either a late first-round or second-round pick was still on the board when the Broncos' fifth-round pick (145th overall) came up.

The Broncos quickly selected the Mackey Award winner (given to the nation's best tight end) and set Butt on a course of injury rehab with the hope he could return somewhere in the middle weeks of the season. By league rules, because Butt had not practiced with the team in training camp or during the regular season until Wednesday, the Broncos have a 21-day window to decide if they want to move Butt to the active roster.

They can move him to the roster at any point during the 21 days if they feel they've seen enough of his work in practice to believe his surgically repaired knee is ready for him to play.

"When he's ready, he can come up," Joseph said.

"It was good," Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian said of Butt's first practice. "I had to give him a hard time every now and then, his first time being out there."

Before his injury, Butt was considered by many personal executives in the league to be the best receiver/blocker combination at the position in the draft. He had 51 and 46 catches in his last two seasons at Michigan, and did so with the kind of size (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) and detailed route-running that would benefit the Broncos offense.

The Broncos have struggled at times to get the ball to Thomas and Sanders, given how much double coverage defenses have directed at both. And Denver hasn't always gotten other receivers involved enough or had those other receivers force the issue enough to cause defenses to change their ways.

Butt could offer some help in that regard. Joseph said Butt could be moved to the roster this week if the Broncos wanted, but he would be unlikely to play against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday. It remains a possibility that he could play against the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 30 or the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 5.

"He hasn't played football in a long time, so getting him into football shape is the key," Joseph said. "So probably not this week, to be honest, but moving forward, it could be any day."

videoSANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The night before sitting down with 11 active players, 11 NFL owners, commissioner Roger Goodell and representatives from the NFL Players Association on Tuesday morning, San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid met with Colin Kaepernick in New York.

Although Reid has said he has been in regular communication with Kaepernick, it's the first time he'd been able to see him since before the season started -- and it came only 24 hours after news broke that Kaepernick had filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement against NFL owners alleging collusion.

"He seemed like he was in a good place," Reid said of Kaepernick. "I don't want to talk too much about that out of respect for his case. But he's in good spirits."

One of the first things Reid noted when asked how Kaepernick was doing was how he looks physically. Reid said Kaepernick clearly looked like he'd been spending time in the weight room.

Kaepernick spent a big chunk of last season working to put weight back on after shoulder, thumb and knee surgeries prevented him from working out and left him well short of his traditional playing weight of 225 to 230 pounds. But Reid indicated that's no longer a problem for Kaepernick, who has not received an offer from a team since he opted out of his contract in March.

"He's doing well, working out, he's swole," Reid said. "He was joking with me because his arms got big, so he told me I have to get my curl game right. He looks good."

Aside from the usual catching up, Reid and Kaepernick also spent some time discussing issues Reid wanted to highlight in the meetings with NFL owners.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesEric Reid says that future conversations with the NFL should include Colin Kaepernick.

"He had some ideas," Reid said. "A couple of the things that we discussed were his idea, things that we talked about last year when we started this. It's cool to see how it kind of comes full circle to give those ideas in the meeting with the owners."

While reports indicate the NFLPA asked Kaepernick to attend the meetings along with Reid and the other players, Reid said Kaepernick didn't go because he had not received an invitation directly from the league.

"From my understanding, he wasn't invited by the NFL, so he didn't want to show up and be out of place," Reid said.

Reid, however, came away from those meetings feeling the owners had a better understanding of the social justice issues some players have been protesting, as well as ensuring the narrative remains centered on those issues.

"I think it went well," Reid said. "It was a start, had a lot of good conversation, and I think we're on the path to what Colin and I were looking for when we first started protesting. The NFL has agreed to commit to a long-term plan and use their platform to continue to raise awareness around the issues that affect our country and help us feel like we don't need to protest. So we're [going in] the right direction."

Reid said Kaepernick's name came up during the roughly four-hour meeting when he talked about how everything started and traced the timeline of the protests back to last year. Reid's hope is that Kaepernick will be involved in future meetings, given his role in starting these conversations.

"I hope so," Reid said. "A lot of guys in that meeting, they've done work in the community before we started protesting, but Colin is instrumental because he started the protest. So I think he has a special place in this, so hopefully he does get a chance to go to the meetings in the future."

Reid was the first player to join Kaepernick's protest of racial inequality during the national anthem last year. He first knelt alongside Kaepernick before the final preseason game against the Chargers. Reid knelt with Kaepernick for all of the 2016 season, then said he planned to stand for the anthem this season.

That plan lasted through the first two preseason games before the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, caused Reid to rethink his position and resume kneeling. He knelt for the final two preseason games and has through each of the first six games this season.

Although encouraged by what he heard in New York, Reid said the plan is to continue the protest until conversation turns to action.

"It doesn't change our plans just yet," Reid said. "Like I said, it's a great starting point. Nothing is set in stone yet, so nothing is going to change on my part moving forward until we get more concrete plans and to where I feel like I don't need to protest anymore because the NFL is providing a better platform."

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets linebacker Demario Davis, one of 13 players who met with team owners Tuesday to discuss social issues, said Wednesday that player protests during the national anthem could end soon.

"I do think we're very near a time where the protests will end and athletes and owners will be at the forefront of social change for our country in a positive manner," Davis said.

Davis spoke to reporters after practice, announcing that he'd give a statement but wouldn't take questions. Tackle Kelvin Beachum, who also attended the meeting, declined to say anything, referring reporters to the joint statement released by the NFL and NFL Players Association.

"I would say the talks were very productive," Davis said. "It's encouraging to me as an athlete to see so many athletes and owners so concerned about our country and pushing in the right direction. We have a tremendous platform in the NFL. To whom much is given, much is required. That's why we simply just can't play football.

"We have to help push our country in the right direction, and it's encouraging to see the owners and the athletes wanting to do that," he continued. "I think that we're working together very hard to do that. The thing I see is our owners and players have a tremendous love for our country. That's neat to see."

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Trevor Siemian won't get the 10 football seconds back that he'd like to, so he has to do the next best thing -- make sure he doesn't repeat them.

Siemian may have thrown for a career-best 376 yards Sunday night, but that total was more than out-weighed by the fact the Broncos had a clunky effort all around in a home loss to the previously winless New York Giants -- and by the fact Siemian's interception just before halftime, the one that Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins returned 43 yards for a touchdown, was the game-crushing play.

"Those are 10 seconds of my life I wish I had back, that whole sequence," Siemian said. "... Won't do it again."

After five games, the Broncos' offense as a whole, as well as Siemian as a second-year starter behind center, have had moments when the group has dominated. But there have also been moments -- too many in fact in the past three games, when the Broncos are 1-2 -- when the offense hasn't closed the deal in the scoring zone. The Broncos are 2-of-11 turning trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line into touchdowns, and Siemian has thrown four interceptions in the two losses combined.

Much like after the loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 3, Siemian said Sunday's lackluster work by the Broncos against the Giants offered another painful lesson about turnovers and the win-or-lose price tag on each of them.

Trevor SiemianJustin Edmonds/Getty ImagesQuarterback Trevor Siemian realizes that ball security is a top priority. "I understand with our team if I don't turn it over we're going to be in dang near every game," he said.

"You don't feel too great about the two picks, especially the pick-six," Siemian said. "But that's part of the job, right? Taking care of the ball and being aggressive with it when you have to be. That's what makes it so rewarding when you do things right. It was good tape for me to look at for sure."

In the big picture, the Broncos have to turn yardage into points. To move the ball without touchdowns is an exercise in frustration for them as well as the people who pay to watch them. It's early, but Siemian is on pace for a 4,000-yard passing season and the Broncos are 12th in the league in yards per game.

But then move over a couple columns in the statistical pile and they are 16th in scoring, with nine turnovers overall, and have put up 16, 16 and 10 points in their last three games, respectively.

"Taking care of the football is paramount," Siemian said. " ... I can't be doing that. I understand with our team if I don't turn it over we're going to be in dang near every game."

Broncos coach Vance Joseph was asked Wednesday about his confidence in Siemian and if it was as steadfast as it was before the start of the regular season. When Joseph announced Siemian had won the starting job for the second consecutive season, he said that barring injury Siemian would remain the quarterback this season.

He echoed those sentiments again after Wednesday's practice.

"Trevor's our quarterback, right now we're 3-2, as a team getting better," Joseph said. "Nothing's been perfect, no one's been perfect, including myself. Absolutely he's our quarterback."

Siemian is getting treatment this week for a left shoulder injury he suffered while trying to tackle Jenkins on the interception return Sunday night. He missed the Broncos' next possession in the game to close out the first half, but played in the second half.

"I'm fine," Siemian said. "Just a little sore."

DeMarco Murray misses practice with hamstring strain

October, 18, 2017
Oct 18

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Another week, another hamstring injury to watch. Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray missed practice Wednesday with a hamstring strain he suffered during Monday night's win over Indianapolis.

Murray was seen on the sideline with a large wrap on his right hamstring during Monday's game, but he took it off after a few minutes and continued to rotate in with Derrick Henry. Mularkey initially called it hamstring tightness, but it's now being discussed as a strain.

Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesDeMarco Murray was held out of practice on Wednesday with a strained hamstring.

At this point, the injury appears minor, but the trend is a little troubling. Murray suffered a hamstring injury early in August during training camp that caused him to miss a couple of weeks. He had a tweak of that injury in Week 2 vs the Jaguars, which caused him to miss two practices but no games. Now, it's the hamstring again.

If Murray can't play Sunday vs. the Browns, Henry, the second man in the Titans' backfield tandem, will get a heavier load. Henry had 40 snaps and 20 touches last week to Murray's 38 snaps and 16 touches. Mularkey expects the duo to have a balanced split in terms of workload for the rest of the season.

The Titans have a bye week following Sunday's game against the Browns, which should be a benefit to their players dealing with minor injuries. Early portions of this short week have been spent on recovery.

Starting outside linebacker Derrick Morgan did not practice with an abdominal strain. He's day-to-day, but Mularkey said he wasn't concerned. Second-round pick Kevin Dodd, who has been inactive in all but one game this season, would likely be active to back up Brian Orakpo and Erik Walden, if Morgan can't go.

Corey Davis and Johnathan Cyprien already have been ruled out for Sunday against Cleveland.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Griff Whalen Stephen Lew/Icon SportswireThe Ravens cut receiver Griff Whalen at the end of the preseason.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are expected to sign Griff Whalen on Thursday to help their banged-up wide receivers, according to a source.

The Ravens' top three receivers are on the injury report. Mike Wallace (back) and Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) were limited Wednesday and Breshad Perriman (concussion) didn't practice.

Maclin, who wore a red jersey signifying no contact during practice, didn't play Sunday and is taking the injury day by day.

"Hopefully, this Sunday is a different situation," Maclin said.

Asked how close he was to playing on Sunday, Maclin said, "I'm not going to get into all of that. I wanted to play, and we came to the conclusion that me playing probably wasn’t the smartest thing."

With Maclin sidelined Sunday, the Ravens dropped a season-high five passes (two of which turned into interceptions).

The only healthy receivers on the roster are: Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore and Chris Matthews. They've combined to make 15 catches for 129 yards and no touchdowns.

The Ravens' expected signing of Whalen was first reported by the NFL Network. Whalen was released by Baltimore in the final major cutdown before the regular season after he had four catches for 32 yards in the preseason.

PITTSBURGH -- By missing training camp, Le'Veon Bell was not present for the league officiating seminar that explained the new celebration rules.

And it cost the Pittsburgh Steelers running back 15 yards Sunday in Kansas City, where he used the goalpost pad as a punching bag after a 3-yard score.

Only the football can be a prop.

Le'Veon BellPeter Aiken/Getty ImagesLe'Veon Bell missed the officiating seminar in which he would have learned the goal post as a celebration prop is a no-no.

“I guess I wasn’t fully aware of that. Now I am," Bell said. "So I just won’t use the goalpost next time. Maybe I’ll use the JuJu [dance]."

The Steelers will take a 15-yard loss when Bell is putting up 191 of his own, earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. But Bell said he was told on the sideline after the touchdown that only the football can be a prop. Then, he remembered Jimmy Graham used to get flagged for dunking on the goal post and "put two and two together."

“That was just kind of a spur of the moment right [thing] there," Bell said of the celebration. "I did plan something [else], but I had forgotten once I scored. But I had seen the goalpost and I had been doing a lot of boxing, so I just kind of boxed the goalpost. That’s the first thing that came in my head."

The Steelers' defense didn't allow a score on the following drive, to the relief of Bell, who's preparing for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict injured Bell's knee with a sideline hit in 2015, and Bell said Wednesday that it wasn't just Burfict who was targeting him that year.

"I expect them to go out there and play hard. It’s going to be what it is," Bell said. "He’s a great football player. I’m going to go out there and treat him with respect. ... I'll go out there and protect myself at all times."

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and tight end Cameron Brate made history Sunday when they became the first Harvard players to connect on a touchdown pass in the NFL. The ball is still sitting in Fitzpatrick’s locker, but it will soon be headed up to Boston.

“We’re sending the ball to our college coach [Tim Murphy], so he’s going to love that,” said Brate, who, along with Fitzpatrick, are two of six Harvard alums playing in the NFL this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Fitzpatrick stepped into the game in the second quarter, replacing injured starter Jameis Winston. Fitzpatrick and Brate hooked up for a 10-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals to make it 31-12. The play -- or really the desire to make history together -- had actually been in the works for a while.

“Fitz actually told me during the Bears game, when he came in at the end, ‘Hey, Cam, we have to get a Harvard-to-Harvard pass,’” Brate said. “They actually did call a pass, but he didn’t throw it to me. So once he got in the game on Sunday, I knew he was going to give me at least one ball. He had to.”

No one told them that it had never been done.

Ryan FitzpatrickJenna Laine/ESPNBucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick shows off the ball from the NFL's first Havard-to-Harvard touchdown pass on Sunday.

“I assumed it because I’m the only Harvard quarterback that’s ever completed a pass in the NFL, that it was probably the first Harvard-to-Harvard touchdown,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was happy. I was happy that it happened.”

Of the six active Harvard alums, Brate and Fitzpatrick are the only two on the same NFL team. The others are San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, Indianapolis Colts center Adam Redmond, Minnesota Vikings guard Nick Easton and Seattle Seahawks long snapper Tyler Ott. According to Pro Football Reference, there have been 38 players from Harvard in NFL history.

Fitzpatrick played for the Crimson from 2001 to 2004 and graduated with a degree in economics. So did Brate, who was on the Crimson junior varsity team as a freshman and played varsity from 2011 to 2013.

Fitzpatrick ranks second on Harvard’s career list for touchdowns, pass completions, passing yards and completion percentage, second to Neil Rose. Brate’s 18 touchdown catches are fourth in Crimson history.

“Harvard is proud of Ryan,” said Brate, who maintained a 3.5 grade point average while at the school. “He’s like a model Harvard student, whereas I skated in somehow. I was able to take the easy classes and get by. Ryan, he was the model. He’s on another level than I am.”

Brate said the hardest class he took at Harvard was a class called Econometrics, a mix of economics and statistics.

“That was probably the worst experience. It just made you feel really bad about yourself,” Brate said. “I did pass, luckily. I think I took that one ‘pass-fail’ knowing that I probably wasn’t going to get the best grade in it. ... It was a very humbling experience.”

Fitzpatrick said his hardest class was also an economics class.

"The talent level in the class around me was probably a little bit better than mine," said Fitzpatrick, who believes he got a B or a B- in the course.

As for the two coming up with their own special Harvard-to-Harvard mini-playbook, Fitzpatrick said that’s up to Brate. It also will depend on if Fitzpatrick plays this week. Winston is day-to-day with a sprained AC joint in the shoulder of his right (throwing) arm.

“I think the offense probably changed a little bit from when I was there to when he was there,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’ll probably have to title some of the plays he had because that was like 12 offenses ago for me.”

There’s also a secret handshake in the works, but Fitzpatrick has yet to teach his younger teammate how to solve the Rubik's Cube.

“Cam doesn’t have the patience for it,” Fitzpatrick said.

Brate argued, “He’s actually never approached me. What I think on this one -- conspiracy -- is that Ryan knows that I’m a pretty smart guy. He’s scared that if he teaches me, I’ll be better than him. He doesn’t want another guy in the locker room who is smarter than him.”video

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The connection between professional sports teams in Boston is well documented, and with Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward going down with a fractured ankle in the season-opener on Tuesday night, one of the New England Patriots' most recognizable players has reached out with his support.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman is enduring his own tough times at the moment, as he is out for the year suffering a torn right ACL in an Aug. 25 preseason game against the Lions. He recently had surgery.

Hayward's injury, just six minutes into his debut with the Celtics, sparked a flurry of reaction on special media. Kobe Bryant, among others, have sent messages to him.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- After he was cut by the Los Angeles Chargers and throughout the five workouts he attended since he was released just before the season began, Josh Lambo believed he’d get another shot to kick in the NFL.

He’s young, had a proven resume, and believes he’ll become even better as he gains more experience, so he expected to land on an NFL roster at some point this season.

“It’s my abilities,” Lambo said Wednesday after his first practice with the Jacksonville Jaguars. “I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m the second coming of kickers, but I had a good first two years and realistically I’ve been kicking for five years total -- three of those years, and this will be my third year, in the NFL. I still have a long way to go.

“I have a lot of upside and I believe in myself and I have the right people that believe in me, so it’s just a matter of getting that call, and I was confident that it was going to come.”

Josh LamboJosh Lefkowitz/Getty ImagesJosh Lambo made 52 of 64 field goals in two seasons with the Chargers.

It did on Monday from the Jaguars. He flew into town from Chicago, took a physical, and signed a contract on Tuesday after the team released Jason Myers, who missed two 54-yard field goal attempts in the Jaguars’ 27-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday.

Lambo had worked out for the Jaguars in Week 2. It was one of the five workouts he had with NFL teams since the Chargers opted to go with Younghoe Koo instead of Lambo, who had made 26 of 32 field goals in each of the past two seasons.

“It happens to the best of everybody in this league,” Lambo said. “In order for someone to get a job, you have to beat somebody out and that’s going to happen to you as well. I’ve just been trying to stay positive. I’m surrounding myself with a really good support group. My family’s been awesome. My girlfriend’s been super supportive and stellar throughout this whole process.”

Like many NFL kickers, Lambo has a soccer background. However, he was one of the best goalkeepers in the country, good enough to be drafted by FC Dallas as an 18-year-old. Lambo also was a member of the under-17 and under-20 national teams.

Lambo never played in an MLS match and was eventually cut by FC Dallas in 2011. Though other MLS and NASL teams were interested, Lambo decided to try to earn a college scholarship as a kicker. After working out with Taylor Mehlhaff, a former NFL kicker who conducts private workouts and hosts kicking/punting camps around the country, Lambo ended up walking on at Texas A&M.

Lambo made 21 of 25 field goal attempts in three seasons with the Aggies and signed with the Chargers as an undrafted rookie in 2015.

He lost his job in September and said he’s going to use what he’s learned from that experience in Jacksonville.

“There’s always a little bit of pressure in the NFL because it’s a performance-driven job,” Lambo said. “... Whatever pressure you have, you put it on yourself. I think you can relieve that pressure by doing Monday through Saturday the right way. Getting released from the Chargers had made me kind of re-evaluate all that stuff, and I think it’s definitely going to make me a better player in the long run.”

Mike Zimmer, Vikings set realistic expectations for Teddy Bridgewater

October, 18, 2017
Oct 18

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Teddy Bridgewater’s return to Minnesota Vikings practice on Wednesday drew a larger media contingent than normal, with video, still cameras and iPhones capturing the quarterback’s first few moments in practice since dislocating his knee and tearing multiple ligaments, including his ACL, on Aug. 30, 2016.

The Vikings’ spirits are understandably heightened after witnessing the rehabilitation efforts Bridgewater put in for more than a year. He’s reached a major milestone by returning to practice, but the quarterback still has a way to go before he’ll be part of the team’s game plan.

Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer expressed a need to temper expectations before Bridgewater stepped on the field for the first time in 14 months. The overarching plan is to ease No. 5 in slowly with his practice reps without placing much focus on when he’ll be ready to make the next jump in his recovery.

“We still don’t know where it’s going to go, where that’s going to lead to,” Zimmer said. “I think everybody feels good for him because they know what kind of kid he is and how hard he’s worked. He’s probably not going to play this week, so we need to put the brakes on things a little bit.”

The Vikings are operating within a 21-day window to active Bridgewater off the physically unable to perform list and move him to the 53-man roster or injured reserve for the remainder of the season. That timetable opened on Monday when he was medically cleared to practice.

To determine whether he’s ready to play this season, Zimmer said Bridgewater needs to show movement and how he can protect himself and avoid defenders.

On Wednesday afternoon, Bridgewater was joined by Case Keenum and Kyle Sloter on the practice field. This is the fourth straight practice the Vikings have been without Sam Bradford.

Bridgewater won’t be ready to play until Week 10 at the earliest, assuming the Vikings use the entire 21-day window to determine his status for the rest of the year. In that time, Minnesota will put Bridgewater in various situations to determine how comfortable he is playing at game speed.

“We have to give him some plays,” Zimmer said. “I think some of it is he’s been in a very controlled environment for the last 14 months. Eventually we have to work him into some uncontrolled environments.”video