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NFL has a London calling
The Associated Press

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Saturday, October 20, 2018 – Page S10

TAMPA; LAKE FOREST, ILL. ; INDIANAPOLIS; JACKSONVILLE, FLA. ; PHILADELPHIA -- The Titans and the Chargers face off in England; the reeling Bucs face a revitalized Browns squad; Brady looks to maintain his unbeaten record against the Bears; veteran kicker Vinatieri eyes Andersen's points record; the Jags aim to be more careful with the ball against the Texans; and the Eagles look for a repeat of last October's win over the Panthers, The Associated Press reports TITANS AT CHARGERS IN LONDON The Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Chargers have made the trip abroad to London for Sunday's game with their seasons going in opposite directions on offence.

The Chargers (4-2) are on a three-game winning streak with one of the more well-balanced offences in the league, while the Tians (3-3) have dropped two straight and haven't scored a touchdown the past two weeks.

Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota said there is plenty of urgency going into the game, while also trying not to push too hard.

"It's finding the happy medium. When it comes down to it, it's just making plays," he said. "When you're out here in practice, it's getting comfortable with the game plan, making sure that everybody knows the little details. From there, it's just the process."

If the Titans are going to be successful on Sunday, they needs to commit to keeping Mariota upright and also recommitting to the run game. Mariota was sacked 11 times in last Sunday's 21-0 loss to Baltimore. The performance was surprising because the Titans had their top six offensive linemen back, including both tackles who've missed time because of injuries, and they had allowed only nine sacks combined over the first five games.

One step toward taking pressure off Mariota would be finding a way to get running back Derrick Henry more involved. Henry came into this season having led the Titans with 744 yards rushing last season despite starting only two games, and he ran for 156 yards in their playoff victory last January. But the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner had a season-low seven carries for 21 yards in last week's loss. Henry could be very helpful against a Chargers defence that is giving up 4.2 yards per carry.

Los Angeles has been firing on all cylinders offensively. Quarterback Philip Rivers has a 115.1 passer rating, which leads the AFC and is second in the NFL.

A key to Rivers' hot start is that he has been sacked only seven times. Running back Melvin Gordon has rushed for more than 100 yards in two of the past three weeks and is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

BUCCANEERS AT BROWNS There was a time when teams with defensive woes similar to those of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could count on the Cleveland Browns for relief.

Not anymore.

A little over a month into the NFL season, the Browns (2-3-1) have already surpassed their win total for the past two years combined, heightening expectations for what they might be capable of accomplishing with Baker Mayfield at quarterback.

The reeling Bucs (2-3), who've lost three straight and are allowing a league-high 34.6 points a game, certainly aren't in position to assume anything other than they could have their hands full when they face the No. 1 overall draft pick on Sunday.

"The work that he's put on film - you can see why he was picked where he was picked," coach Dirk Koetter said.

"This guy's going to be a really good quarterback in this league," Koetter added.

"He can spin it. He can move around. He makes good decisions. He gets the ball out on time. He's tough. He makes plays outside of the pocket, both as a thrower and as a runner. He's impressive so far."

That's not encouraging news for a Tampa Bay defence that's 31st in yards allowed (439.8) and dead last in passing (355.6).

The Bucs, who fired defensive co-ordinator Mike Smith and replaced him with linebackers coach Mark Duffner on the heels of consecutive losses to Pittsburgh, Chicago and Atlanta, have allowed 30 or more points in four of five games.

Opponents have scored 40-plus twice.

Duffner isn't promising a quick fix. Improving an inconsistent pass rush will be a challenge against Cleveland if Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy and end Vinny Curry can't play because of injuries that kept them from practising this week.

"I believe our approach has always been we play defence as aggressively as we possibly can. That doesn't mean necessarily all blitz or pressure," Duffner said, not shedding much light on his philosophy.

BEARS AT PATRIOTS Tom Brady has five Super Bowl championships, three NFL MVP awards and more victories than any quarterback in a career spanning nearly two decades. One thing he doesn't have: a loss to the Bears.

Not that he wants one.

Brady looks to remain unbeaten against them when the New England Patriots visit Chicago on Sunday. The Bears are 0-4 and one of five teams never to beat him, along with Atlanta (5-0), Dallas (4-0), Minnesota (4-0) and Tampa Bay (4-0). And he isn't slowing down at 41 years old.

"I admire his competitiveness and just following his journey and what he's had to overcome to be able to get where he's at," Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. "It's very admirable and doing it this long this well over a long period of time is pretty incredible."

Brady already had more victories than any quarterback when the Patriots (4-2) beat the Kansas City Chiefs 43-40 last week. That made him the first with 200 regular-season wins.

Brady came through , passing for 340 yards and a touchdown while running for another score. He also helped set up Stephen Gostkowski's 28-yard winning field goal, and the Patriots amassed season highs in points and yards (500).

The Bears (3-2) lost 31-28 in overtime at Miami after winning three in a row. They remained in sole possession of the NFC North lead, though star pass rusher Khalil Mack injured his right ankle.

Trubisky threw for 316 yards, three TDs and an interception last week. He has 670 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception over the past two games.

"I think he's done a good job of getting ball to the players that are open or in space and letting them be playmakers," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "He has a lot of them. That's the quarterback's job is to deliver the ball to the playmakers and let them go. I think he's done a good job of that. He's a tough kid, which I respect. That's what we would ask our quarterbacks to do, to make plays to help our team win, to get the ball to the players that are open and in space. It's not about stats." COLTS AT BILLS Adam Vinatieri is preparing for Sunday's game just like all the others.

He figures if the same, simple routine helped him earn four Super Bowl rings, 226 victories and become the best clutch kicker in NFL history, it should be good enough to help him break the league's career scoring record.

The 23-year veteran needs 10 points to break Morten Andersen's record (2,544) - though you wouldn't even know it from Vinatieri's unflappable demeanour. He's so focused on ending Indy's four-game losing streak, he hasn't bothered contemplating a celebration.

"I'm not an overly charismatic guy when it comes to certain things like that. I don't have a dance or a celebration or any of that stuff lined up," he said.

"The crazy thing is it usually happens in the middle of a game and I try to stay super focused in, not wanting to be a distraction to team."

So far, he's stuck to the plan.

When he broke Andersen's career field goals mark in a Sept. 30 loss to Houston, Vinatieri's teammates looked more excited than the traditionally stoic kicker. And whenever the next record falls - against Buffalo (2-4) this weekend, next week at Oakland or sometime after Indy's bye on Nov. 4 - those who know Vinatieri best say he's earned the right to do his own thing.

"We probably don't appreciate him enough," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "The most impressive thing is his approach, his humility, how he prepares. He's great. I certainly feel fortunate to play with him and it's one of the things I look forward to telling my kids and grandkids about."

For the first nine seasons of Vinatieri's career, Buffalo faced him twice a season as an AFC East rival. In fact, two of Vinatieri's 27 game-winning field goals came against the Bills and his postseason prowess helped turn a young soccer player, Stephen Hauschka , into a fan of the Patriots, Vinatieri and kicking.

"His picture was in my dorm room, a signed photo of him kicking in the snow game and it's still in my parent's house in my old room," said Haushcka, Buffalo's kicker.

JAGUARS AT TEXANS Of all the things that went right for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, turnovers were at the top of the list.

The Jaguars took care of the ball, especially in the postseason, and ranked second in the league with 33 takeaways. They finished the regular season at plus-10 in turnover margin, tied for fifth in the NFL.

They're nowhere close to that these days.

The Jaguars (3-3) have been careless with the ball through six games and have done considerably less to create fumbles and interceptions.

The result: Jacksonville sits next to last in turnover margin, a minus-9 ratio that was a key part of consecutive blowout road losses to Kansas City and Dallas.

Finding a way to end the trend Sunday against Houston (3-3) could be the difference between first place in the AFC South and a three-game losing streak.

"We're definitely not helping ourselves out by any means," quarterback Blake Bortles said. "We are getting unlucky. Not only are we not helping ourselves, but we are also getting some bad bounces, and that is part of it.

"We will start creating our own good fortune, and I think with that we will start getting some breaks and some bounces will go our way as well."

The Jaguars could use some better fortune, especially since they are without their top two left tackles, their top two tight ends, two of their top three running backs and their leading receiver from a year ago. The rash of injuries has hampered the offence so much that it failed to score in the first half of the past two games.

And the usually stout defence has done little, if anything, to pick up the slack. The unit allowed a combined 802 yards, 63 points and 49 first downs against the Chiefs and Cowboys.

"We haven't lost our confidence," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "I think it's a reality check. We understand who we are. We know who we are. I think a lot of us are leaning on the accolades.

EAGLES AT PANTHERS The Philadelphia Eagles made a statement last October when they beat Carolina on the road in Week 6.

They're trying to do it again this season, this time at home.

Despite winning the Super Bowl, the Eagles (3-3) are back in prove-it mode after a so-so start. The Panthers (3-2) are also looking to establish themselves as playoff contenders when they play in Philadelphia on Sunday.

"We were fortunate enough to come away way with a victory on the road," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said about a 28-23 win in a game on Oct.

12, 2017. "This year, it's no different. Two good football teams. Two aggressive style defences. So it's going to have to be a complete game if we expect to win. It's going to be a really good test for us to see where we are in Week 7."

Both teams were 4-1 when they met last time.

The Eagles already have matched their loss total from last season, but they're coming off a dominating 34-13 win against the Giants on Oct. 11. The Panthers lost at Washington 23-17.

"There's no reason to panic," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "We're just going to keep working hard and trying to improve."

Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith was a starter for the Eagles last season and caught a touchdown pass on a flea flicker in the NFC championship game against Minnesota. He said he has no hard feelings about being traded to Carolina after only one season in Philadelphia. Pederson praised Smith's leadership ability.

"He's a great leader. Great man, first of all," Pederson said. "He brings explosiveness, he can still run, he can still get open."

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Cam Newton is difficult to tackle when he runs the ball. He has 208 yards rushing and a team-high three TDs on the ground.

"We have to make sure we do our job," Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said.

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said Newton is "more of a power running back than half the running backs they have."

Associated Graphic

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry

Buccaneers defensive co-ordinator Mark Duffner

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson

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