The Associated Press
Saturday, September 22, 2018
DAVE CAMPBELL MINNEAPOLIS VIKINGS VS. BILLS Kirk Cousins delivered for the Minnesota Vikings the type of performance expected from, and demanded by, his big contract.
Passing for 219 yards and three touchdowns over the fourth quarter and overtime at Green Bay, Cousins guided the Vikings back from a 13-point deficit to forge a tie with the Packers, despite an interception and many other mistakes by the rest of the team.
Given this was his first NFC North game and first on the road against Minnesota's primary rival, there was a statement made that afternoon at Lambeau Field.
"I've seen Kirk do those things before, so it just solidified what type of leader he is," offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. "You're never out of the game."
The Vikings (1-0-1) are fifth in the NFL in total yards, entering Sunday against winless Buffalo. Cousins, however, was quick to point out the Vikings had only seven points through three quarters at Green Bay.
"We'd love to be more explosive throughout the game as opposed to more concentrated to late in the game," Cousins said. "We want to be an offence that can strike at any time, but also be a threat from the first quarter all the way through the last."
The Bills have a long way to go to get there, having handed their quarterback job to rookie Josh Allen during their blowout loss at Baltimore in the opener. The seventh overall pick in the draft showed some progress last week, but with an unsettled offensive line and a lack of game-breaking receivers, this season figures to be a steep learning curve for Allen.
"All these trials and tribulations that I'm going to go through my rookie year," he said, "are only going to help in the long run."
The Bills were outscored 75-9 over their first six quarters until making modest improvement in the second half last week. What changed? Well, coach Sean McDermott took over the play-calling duty from defensive co-ordinator Leslie Frazier, his longtime friend and mentor. They will collaborate now.
GREG BEACHAM LOS ANGELES RAMS VS. CHARGERS During the NFL's 21-year absence from Los Angeles, the area's professional football fans survived just fine. They watched the best game of each week on television, and they rooted for their favourite teams from afar. Or more likely, they just went to the beach.
Now that the Rams have returned and the Chargers have arrived to saturate the second-largest U.S.
metro area with a home game nearly every weekend, Los Angeles fans have a wealth of football at their doors.
What L.A. doesn't have is a true local rivalry - not yet, and maybe not ever.
The Chargers (1-1) and the Rams (2-0) will meet on the Coliseum field Sunday for the first time since their relocations. The players and coaches on both sides agree that any attempt to portray this Week 3 schedule quirk as a fight for the city's heart would be a cheesy ploy of marketing or motivation.
"I'm glad L.A. has got two teams, but it doesn't matter," Rams cornerback Marcus Peters said.
"Come on. They're in the AFC. We're in the NFC."
Although they'll be roommates in a multibilliondollar Inglewood stadium complex in 2020, Los Angeles's two franchises are divided by conference alignment, a lack of history - even the 150 kilometres of freeway traffic between their training bases in Thousand Oaks and Costa Mesa.
They're unlikely to meet much more often than once every four seasons under NFL scheduling policies. As the 49ers and Raiders can attest, that's not a recipe for a rivalry, even if the teams also schedule an annual preseason meeting.
"It's hard to have a true rivalry [with] a team once every four years," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "I think, as players in the locker room, we see it as a fight for game No. 3. You know, find a way to get to 2-1. So it's something I guess both teams are obviously getting used to, with both being in the same area. But I don't sense that they're becoming a huge rival, because you're not going to see them twice a year. You're not going to see them every year."
So don't expect a crackling derby atmosphere at the Coliseum. Instead, expect a high-level game between two potential Super Bowl contenders.
ROB MAADDI PHILADELPHIA EAGLES VS. COLTS Carson Wentz has been waiting for this moment since he tore up his knee last December.
No. 11 will be back under centre for the Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) against the Indianapolis Colts (1-1) on Sunday after watching his teammates win the Super Bowl without him in February, and missing the first two games this season.
"It's been a long time coming," Wentz said. "It's been quite the grind of an off-season. There's a lot of excitement, a lot of ... anxiety over when it was going to be that time, and almost relief finally being cleared to get back out there."
Nick Foles, the Super Bowl MVP in Philadelphia's 41-33 win over New England, returns to the sideline to make way for Wentz, who finished third in NFL MVP voting after setting a single-season franchise record with 33 touchdown passes and helping the Eagles go from 7-9 to 13-3.
Wentz will wear a brace on his left knee - he tore his ACL and LCL in Week 14 diving into the end zone on a scramble. He doesn't plan to change the way he plays, but understands the importance of avoiding hits.
"I feel extremely confident moving around, on the run," he said. "Even last year, I never said I'm a running quarterback. I never want to be. But I'll find ways to extend time in the pocket and make plays down the field. I don't think that's ever going anywhere."
Eagles coach Doug Pederson isn't going to alter his game plan or his philosophy to accommodate a quarterback returning from injury, even if it's the face of the franchise.
"I'm not going to coach scared. I'm not going to coach paranoid," Pederson said. "I'm not going to go in thinking, 'Oh no, we can't do this, we can't do that.' We just have to continue to go play and I [have] to coach that way. That's where the confidence with the team comes, by doing that." BOB BAUM GLENDALE, ARIZ.
CARDINALS VS. BEARS Now the 2018 Chicago Bears will find out how they handle success.
After a close loss to Green Bay, the Bears got a nice win over Seattle. This Sunday, they face an Arizona team that's been outscored 58-6 in the Cardinals' first 0-2 start since 2005. It's a game Chicago is supposed to win, maybe even dominate.
"Just like last week when it was coming off a difficult loss, now the team is feeling good in the fact that we got a win," coach Matt Nagy said. "Sometimes, when you have that, with bad teams, complacency sinks in. That's not what we want. We want our guys to continue to stay hungry, to realize how important it is to stack wins on top of each other."
Arizona, under first-year coach Steve Wilks, is at the bottom of the league offensively and near the bottom defensively.
To try to boost an offence that got past midfield once - on the next-to-last play of the game - in last week's 34-0 drubbing by the Rams in Los Angeles, Wilks and offensive co-ordinator Mike McCoy say they've scaled down the game plan, simplified things. They also say they want to get the ball to David Johnson more often.
While Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has been inconsistent, Arizona's Sam Bradford has been mostly bad, struggling with his accuracy, usually a strength in his game.
"Sam is known to be able to put the ball where it needs to be," Wilks said. "Regardless of why, we need to try to make sure we correct that moving forward. Is it the line? Is it just him? Is it the receivers?
Again, everybody has a hand in it. Everybody's working on their craft, trying to correct it."
Now, Bradford, Johnson and the rest of the beleaguered offence must deal with Khalil Mack, who has two strip sacks and returned an interception for a touchdown in his two games since joining the Bears.
"You just turn the film on, you can see it," Wilks said. "He's doing some great things: a sack/fumble, interceptions for touchdowns, you name it. So, you've got to make sure you try to slow him down, neutralize him a little bit." STEPHEN WHYNO LANDOVER, MD.
WASHINGTON VS. PACKERS Adrian Peterson has played against Aaron Rodgers more than a dozen times and knows not to be surprised by anything.
So when the prolific quarterback led the Green Bay Packers to a comeback victory in Week 1 and played well on an injured left knee in Week 2, it was par for the course.
"You see him hobbling around last week and how effortless he was making plays," Peterson said.
"That's one thing I learned: When you've got Aaron Rodgers on your team, you've always got a chance to win a game."
Peterson and Rodgers meet on an NFL field for the 15th time on Sunday. While Rodgers is showing he can still produce at less than 100-per-cent health, Peterson is now 33 and with Washington, which has its sights set on containing Green Bay's offence in the hopes of bouncing back from a bad loss to Indianapolis.
"You've got to prepare every day like it's a championship game," Washington safety D.J. Swearinger said. "You've got to give [Rodgers] different looks on defence, you've got to confuse him and you've got to send pressure at him. That's the only way you beat the greatest - by moving him off the spot and switching up the looks."
Rodgers's ability to keep plays alive and ad-lib when options aren't there are things that make him one of the NFL's best. Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of Rodgers: "You don't want anyone to be injured, but that'll help a little bit because one of the strengths of his game is his ability to create off schedule."
Neither Packers coach Mike McCarthy nor Rodgers will say how injured the 34-year-old is. Rodgers said his knee was still sore, even as he continues to play through the pain.
"It's just going to be something you've got to deal with for a while," Rodgers said. "Take it week by week.
One way to limit Rodgers and the Packers (1-0-1) is by holding onto the ball, something Washington (1-1) struggled with against the Colts when they went 5-of-15 on third down.
TIM BOOTH SEATTLE SEAHAWKS VS. COWBOYS Whether it was his first two stops in the NFL, his time in college at Southern California or his first eight seasons in charge in Seattle, Pete Carroll has never started a season with three consecutive losses.
That's 12 seasons in the pros and nine in college during which Carroll has been able to avoid a disastrous start to a new campaign. And it's what the Seahawks will be trying to avoid Sunday when they host the Dallas Cowboys.
"There's only a couple of undefeated teams in the NFC right now and let's hang with that. Let's hang with them," Carroll said. "I don't want to get behind that number right now, so we've got to get a win."
What he and other Seahawks call a roster reset has struggled to get started. Seattle's offence has looked inept at times, its quarterback confused and its defence vulnerable. The Seahawks understand the rarity of dropping to 0-3 and still being able to turn around the trajectory of the season.
"I'm not going to give you a cliche. You don't want to be 0-3," Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
Dallas is still trying to solve all of its issues, but at least has a victory after knocking off the Giants at home last week. The Cowboys' defence was exceptional, holding rookie Saquon Barkley and New York's run game to 35 yards on the ground, and sacked quarterback Eli Manning six times. The Cowboys are second in the NFL with nine sacks through two weeks, and now face the offence that's surrendered a league-high 12 sacks so far, six in each game.
"We've continued to try to build the talent level on our front seven and try to create competitive situations where guys are fighting for roster spots and fighting for playing time and, hopefully, when they get out there, that competition brings out the best in them," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "Obviously, those can be very impactful plays."
The Cowboys are 5-2 in September road games since 2014, one of those losses coming in the opener against Carolina. Seattle hasn't lost a home game in September under Carroll, going 13-0 since 2010.
Minnesota Vikings pivot Kirk Cousins
Los Angeles Rams cornerback Marcus Peters
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy
Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll
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