By JOHN WAWROW, STEVE REED, TOM WITHERS, LARRY LAGE, DAVE SKRETTA AND DENNIS WASZAK JR.
The Associated Press
Saturday, October 6, 2018
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. CHARLOTTE, N.C. CLEVELAND DETROIT KANSAS CITY EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The high-powered Patrick Mahomes and a perfect Kansas City squad welcome one of the NFL's stingiest defensive units in the Jags; The Browns and rookie pivot Baker Mayfield face another towering test when the Ravens land in Cleveland; and the Titans look to continue their quiet win streak in western New York against the Bills, The Associated Press reports TITANS AT BILLS Confident and rosy-eyed as Josh Allen may be, the Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback understands he was going to take his fair share of lumps this season.
Allen needed only to refer to the struggles Titans starter Marcus Mariota had in going 3-9 as a rookie in 2015.
"Sometimes you need to make those mistakes and you need to learn by trial and error, so that's what I'm doing now," Allen said, when asked about Mariota, as the Bills (1-3) get set to play host to Tennessee (3-1) on Sunday.
"We're getting better. I'm learning, I'm growing with every opportunity I get."
It might not look that way yet for Allen, whose inconsistencies have been apparent since taking over midway through a 47-3 season-opening loss at Baltimore.
After taking one step forward in a 27-6 win at Minnesota, the seventh player selected in the NFL draft took several backward in being sacked seven times during a three-turnover outing (two interceptions and a fumble) in a 22-0 loss at Green Bay last weekend.
The 22-year-old remains undeterred by the steep learning curve he faces while overseeing an offence with a patchwork line, a sputtering ground game and a mostly unproven group of receivers.
"It doesn't scare me," Allen said. "I know where I want to be, and I've got a long way to improve, a long way to grow. And I'm looking forward to the entire process."
Mariota might not be a finished product 31/2 years since being selected with the No. 2 pick. And yet he's overcome the challenges of working under his third head coach, Mike Vrabel, and third offensive co-ordinator, Matt LaFleur, to have the Titans off to their best start since 2013 while coming off a season in which he led Tennessee to its first playoff victory in 14 years.
He earned his fourth AFC offensive player of the week honour on Wednesday after rallying the Titans from a 17-3 third-quarter deficit for a 26-23 overtime win over the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
GIANTS AT PANTHERS Wide receiver Torrey Smith chuckled at the notion that safety Eric Reid's return to the NFL this week might be a distraction for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday when they play host to the New York Giants.
Smith said Reid's position on racial injustice hasn't been an issue in the locker room, adding that "no one cares" if he kneels or not during the national anthem.
He said Reid's new teammates are more eager to see what he does on the field rather than what he does before the game.
"It's not like he's out there and coach calls 'Cover 3' and he's going to take a knee and let a guy run by him. If that was the issue, it would be a problem," Smith said with a laugh. "But that's not the way it works. Eric knows what is best for Eric and we all know what he is fighting for."
Reid, who knelt alongside Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco during the national anthem to bring attention to racial and social injustice, hasn't said if he will demonstrate on Sunday in his first game since filing a collusion grievance against the NFL alleging that teams wouldn't sign him because of his protesting.
Regardless of Reid's beliefs, the Panthers (2-1) are excited to have the 2013 Pro Bowler, who is expected to start at safety after Da'Norris Searcy was placed on injured reserve last week with a concussion.
Cam Newton said the Panthers "got a steal" when they signed the 26-year-old Reid.
"He's a great player," Newton said. "We've accepted him with open arms. We know he's going to be an impact player for us, and that's all I care about."
Reid, who is African-American, said after signing a one-year contract with Carolina that he plans to "continue to speak for my people" and use his platform to talk about injustice.
"I'm going to stand by him and none of that will be a distraction as far as us winning football games," Newton said. "What he does on the football field is going to impact this team. I know that." RAVENS AT BROWNS Baker Mayfield's first NFL start came inside Oakland's notorious Black Hole.
No. 2 will be against some nasty black birds.
It can only get easier after this.
The top overall pick in this year's NFL draft, Mayfield faces a major challenge in his first career home start on Sunday as the Browns play host to the Ravens. Baltimore's ravenous, second-ranked defence has not given up a touchdown in the second half this season and made Steelers star QB Ben Roethlisberger look lost last week.
Now they get a rookie to feast upon.
Mayfield knows what awaits him.
"Baltimore has obviously been historically a great defensive franchise," he said. "They trust what they are good at, and they are going to run it. They are playing well right now. I expect them to continue to do what they are good at and also throw a couple of wrinkles in there for me."
For the most part, Mayfield handled everything the Raiders threw his way a week ago in his first career start, a 45-42 loss in overtime. Showing some of the same poise and playmaking ability that made him a college star, Mayfield passed for 295 yards and two touchdowns. However, he committed four turnovers and the Browns (1-2-1) blew a 14-point lead in the second half and dropped to 2-33-1 in coach Hue Jackson's tenure.
Still, Mayfield, who came off the bench on Sept. 20 against the Jets and led the Browns to their first win since 2016, handled the adversity like a seasoned pro and converted a few more doubters into believers.
The Browns may have finally found their leader.
"I think Baker Mayfield is this generation's Brett Favre or John Elway, if you will," Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. "This guy knows where he wants to go with the ball, and he's very accurate, has a quick release. He's really playing well.
"Obviously, he's playing well because they scored 42 points last week against Oakland, and they are the top 5 of scoring offence. So, I think he's done a nice job filling in, and it seems like they have more rhythm with him as a rookie, every play he's in there." PACKERS AT LIONS The Detroit Lions seem to need a win over Green Bay to stop Matt Patricia's first season from being a flop.
Week 5 may seem a little early for an NFL team to be desperate, but not in Detroit.
The Lions (1-3) were embarrassed in a 48-17 loss to the New York Jets, who haven't won since the opener and appear to be one of the league's worst teams.
The Lions did earn an impressive win over New England in Week 3, but the lone victory is sandwiched between comebacks that fell short at San Francisco and Dallas.
Detroit, which hasn't won a division title since 1993, can get a boost of confidence and go into a bye week on a high if it can beat the Packers (2-1-1) for a third straight time.
"It would be huge, because if you win this one, you get to enjoy this one for a little bit longer and you got a break to enjoy," Detroit receiver Golden Tate said. "If you lose this, you're thinking about it until you're back on the field.
"Besides that, it's a divisional game. I like to think it counts as two. A win for us and a loss for them, that's a two-game swing in my mind."
Unlike last year's season sweep, though, the Lions will have to face two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers. He was injured for the 2017 match-ups.
"One of the best ways to get into the playoffs is to win your division games, and this is our first opportunity," Detroit safety Glover Quin said.
"If we get a win here, we'll have two wins just like Green Bay. Minnesota has one. Chicago has three wins, but no one is running away with it right now." JAGUARS AT CHIEFS Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone has seen enough in five games of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to compare him with some of the best to ever play the position. Or more accurately, an amalgamation of the best to ever play it.
Think the arm strength of Brett Favre and the accuracy of Tom Brady. The poise of Aaron Rodgers, the gritty gamesmanship of Ben Roethlisberger and the intelligence of Peyton Manning.
"You are talking," Marrone said, "about someone that is a combination of a lot of the greatest players that have ever played that position with the way he is playing."
Now, the question is whether the NFL's best defence can slow him down.
The Jaguars (3-1) head to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday to face Mahomes and the Chiefs' high-flying offence in what is arguably the game of the week.
Jacksonville's only loss came by a field goal to the Titans, while the Chiefs (4-0) are coming off a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback win in Denver.
And whereas the Jaguars are allowing a paltry 259 yards per game and top the league in scoring defence, the Chiefs are putting up 410 yards and an NFL-best 36 points a game.
Much of that is attributable to Mahomes, who is averaging close to 300 yards passing. He has already thrown 14 touchdown passes without an interception and his ability to make plays when everything breaks down - such as that audacious left-handed pass against the Broncos - has turned him into an early MVP front-runner.
"He gives you challenges every which way," Marrone said, "whether you put him in the pocket [or not]. He can make every throw. He makes quick decisions. You get him out of the pocket and he can extend plays. He is athletic enough to run and run for a long way and take it to the house. He has great command and he has great weapons around him and an outstanding offensive line.
"Right now, offensively, what you're seeing is that it's kind of unbelievable," Marrone said, "which is going to be a great challenge. We have our hands full." BRONCOS AT JETS Von Miller acknowledges he's no draft guru and is far from any kind of expert when it comes to quarterbacks. Well, except for sacking them, of course.
But the Denver Broncos' star linebacker knew there was something special about Sam Darnold long before the New York Jets made him the No. 3 overall pick.
"I don't know nothing about drafting a quarterback or anything like that, but I thought he was the No. 1 pick, for sure," Miller said. "I thought he was the best offensive player in the draft."
The Jets sure thought so, even if the teams ahead of them took guys on offence ahead of Darnold. Cleveland made quarterback Baker Mayfield the No. 1 overall pick, while the Giants went with running back Saquon Barkley with the next selection.
The Jets pounced on Darnold when their turn came up and Miller can't blame them.
"Baker Mayfield was the No. 1 pick, and rightfully so," Miller said. "But in my opinion, watching everything, from a pass rusher's point of view, I just felt like [Darnold] was the No. 1 pick in the draft. He wasn't the No. 1 pick, but he's definitely playing like it."
Well, not quite. But Miller will get a chance for an up-close evaluation on Sunday when the Broncos (2-2) travel to MetLife Stadium to take on Darnold's Jets (1-3). Darnold had a terrific NFL debut with two touchdown throws in New York's win at Detroit, but has struggled a bit in the three games since - all losses - along with the rest of the Jets' offence. He has just two TD passes in that span and four interceptions, although he didn't toss one last Sunday at Jacksonville.
"As a team, I feel like we are really close, and for me personally, I feel like I'm just on the edge," Darnold said. "I've just got to continue to find completions, hit my guys deep when they're there. It'll come, it's just a timing thing. It's going to click one of these games, I know it is."
This might be a tough week to get things going, though. Especially while facing a defence led by Miller, who has four sacks and two forced fumbles this season.
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota
Then-49er safety Eric Reid is now a Panther
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield
Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold