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Aaron Rodgers urged Packers fans to relax. Maybe they will after this one — the 700th regular-season victory in team history.

Rodgers threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns(Josh McCown Love Jersey), and Green Bay shook off one of its worst offensive performances in years with a 38-17 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon.

The Packers (2-2) scored on their first six possessions to build a 38-17 lead. They racked up 358 yards after being held to 223, their lowest total since 2008, a week earlier in a 19-7 loss at Detroit.

They intercepted Jay Cutler twice in the third quarter to pull away from the Bears (2-2). That gave Green Bay five straight wins at Soldier Field, including the NFC title game four years ago and a playoffs-or-bust finale for both teams last season.

Rodgers called on Packers fans to take a deep breath during the week, and he gave them reason to exhale with this performance.

“I just wanted to remind everybody that it’s a long season, and at some point, we’re going to get this thing figured out,” Rodgers said.

He had all the answers in this one, which allowed Green Bay to join the Bears (732) as the only teams with at least 700 regular-season wins.

Rodgers posted a 151.2 rating for the game, completing 22 of 28 passes, and had all the time he needed with five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen sitting out because of an illness.

He threw two touchdown passes each to Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, and a fifth got called back by a penalty. That happened early in the third when a scrambling Rodgers got hit by at least one defender while unleashing an awkward, wobbly 34-yard pass that somehow connected with Davante Adams in the end zone.

Cobb had seven catches for 113 yards. Nelson had 10 receptions for 108 yards, and the Packers came away with the win despite allowing 496 yards.

The offenses were so effective — or the defenses struggled so badly — that neither team punted. That happened only once before in a regular-season NFL game, 22 years ago.

“Interesting,” Nelson said. “Obviously, turnovers were a big thing. It’s fun, especially when you’re putting up points and having a good time.”

The Bears basically matched Green Bay score for score before Cutler threw those interceptions. He wound up passing for 256 yards and two TDs but fell to 1-10 lifetime against Green Bay, counting the postseason.

Matt Forte ran for 122 yards on 23 carries. Martellus Bennett had nine catches for a career-high 134 yards, but Chicago came up short after back-to-back wins at San Francisco and the New York Jets.

“I thought we were playing well, I thought we were moving the ball well,” Cutler said. “We were changing it up. I thought (coach Marc Trestman) called a really good game. We just had some unfortunate things happen to us that kind of derailed us, and they didn’t.”

Mason Crosby kicked a 53-yard field goal on the opening possession of the second half to extend the Packers’ lead to 24-17, and things unraveled for the Bears after that.

Chicago had the ball on the Green Bay 24 when Cutler hit cornerback Tramon Williams in the chest with a pass. The ball ricocheted to Clay Matthews, who returned it 45 yards. That led to an 11-yard scoring pass from Rodgers to Nelson, making it 31-17.

Another interception set up another TD for the Packers. This time, Brandon Marshall went long when Cutler expected him to cut back toward the quarterback.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown said Thursday that it isn’t likely he’ll need surgery on his injured right thumb.

There had been speculation that surgery might be necessary and that McCown could miss an extended period of time. He said that probably is not the case(Jeff Tedford Elite Jersey).

“We take this thing day by day and, obviously, if it was that pressing of a need, I would have probably already had that done,” McCown said. “We’re very optimistic with being able to get healthy and move forward.”

McCown said the injury is being dealt with through therapy, and he’s focused on regaining strength in the thumb.

He would not definitively say he’s out for Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Bucs have sent out plenty of indications McCown will miss at least one start and that Mike Glennon will get the nod in his place.

McCown talked at length about helping Glennon prepare for the start.

“For me, it’s always about the team first and foremost,” McCown said. “When you experience an injury or something like that, what’s the next thing you can do to help the team? (A) is to get healthy and get yourself back on the field, and (B) is to be an extra set of eyes and a voice in your room to help that position.

“With me and Mike, it’s no different. We’ll work that way, and for me it’s to help Mike be as prepared as he can be. We want that room to be great. We want that room to function at a high level.”

McCown sounded like he’s resigned to being almost like a coach to Glennon in the short term.

“I just believe that every person in the organization has to bring value to your job,” McCown said. “You have to try and find a way that you can help us every week win football games. It’s been as tough a three weeks for me as I’ve had in my career just from a disappointment standpoint. But it’s not my makeup to sit and sulk. We have 13 games left. There’s a lot of football left to play.”

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The Jeff Tedford era in Tampa Bay will remain on hiatus.

The Buccaneers offensive coordinator is taking an indefinite leave, the team announced Tuesday. The reason for Tedford’s leave is because his medical condition has not improved, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported(Aaron Rodgers Packers Jersey), according to two sources informed of the situation.

Tedford has missed time early this season due to a heart procedure. He has only been a partial participant in leading the Bucs’ offense through three games and hasn’t been able to call plays.

Tedford underwent a coronary angioplasty prior to the season and had two stents placed in an artery near his heart. He tried coming back too soon, per Rapoport. The team wants to afford Tedford time to rest and get completely healthy.

Tampa quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo has been heavily involved in game-planning and in the quarterback’s ear during the games. His role will grow with Tedford out, according to Rapoport.

Billed as an innovator who tutored several NFL quarterbacks while at Cal, Tedford’s effect on an offense that has crumbled early in the season remains unknown.

The Bucs’ troubles were on display in last Thursday’s debacle in Atlanta, where a porous offensive line and shoddy quarterback play short-circuited any offensive hope.

Lovie Smith cooed about Tedford’s prowess when announcing his handpicked choice to lead the offense. We still don’t have enough information to even refute Smith’s assessment.

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Is there a trend developing?

The Green Bay Packers are off to a 1-1 start in the new season(Quarterback Peyton Manning Jersey).

Last year, they finished 8-8-1.

Counting their last 22 games, they’re one under the .500 mark at 10-11-1.

An experienced executive in personnel for a National Football League team thinks there is.

In an extended interview last week, the personnel man assigned a grade to each of the Packers’ 60 players for the Journal Sentinel and broke down the roster position-by-position. Selected because of his level of expertise and success in the NFL, he has studied the Packers this summer, this September and for years before that.

After presenting his findings, the scout was asked to add it up and assess where the Packers would be at the end of the season.

He sees them finishing .500 once again with a record of 8-8.

Our personnel man declined to make overall comments about the Packers, preferring to let his grades and positional remarks do that for him.

He did say the Packers, with several key players among the eight on injured reserve, were a team with “bad” depth.

Getting Bryan Bulaga back at right tackle and then keeping him there was critically important to the Packers’ drive for a fourth straight NFC North Division championship, according to the scout.

“(Derek) Sherrod is just a guy,” he said. “They have no depth in the offensive line.”

When the Packers won the North last year at 8-7-1, it was the first time in 30 years the division known as the NFC Central before 2002 was captured by a team without a double-digit victory total.

Our scout said 10-6 should be good enough to take it this year. All four teams are off to 1-1 starts.

For someone like me, who pegged the Packers for a 12-4 finish before the 36-16 defeat in Seattle, it was surprising not only to see the Lions open as a 1-point favorite Sunday over the Packers but then to have the line climb to 2.

Excluding games missed by Aaron Rodgers at the end of 2011 and Thanksgiving Day 2013, the Lions haven’t been favored over the Packers since Mike McCarthy was coaching his third game in September 2006.

With Brett Favre and Rodgers at quarterback, Green Bay had been favored over Detroit for 13 games in a row.

Clearly, the linemakers in Nevada and elsewhere see almost no difference between the Packers and Lions, who haven’t won the division in 21 years.

“This weekend’s game will be the matrix of the whole year for Green Bay,” the scout said. “That will tell it all. It will give you a great barometer where they are within the division.”

His preseason pick to win the NFC North was Minnesota. Despite posting a last-place record of 5-10-1, the Vikings finished with the most total points late last December in the all-North team selected by divisional scouts for the Journal Sentinel.

“I think they’re better than people think,” the scout said. “Their Achilles is the quarterback (Matt Cassel). But now that changes everything.”

He was referring to the child abuse scandal 10 days ago that led to the banishment of running back Adrian Peterson.

Before that, the scout viewed Minnesota as much improved in terms of personnel, defensive coaching (Mike Zimmer) and offensive coaching (Norv Turner).

Everyone can make their own judgment of Rodgers’ absence last season for just short of eight games.

What’s fact is the Packers were 16-6 in 22 games immediately preceding their current stretch of 10-11-1 in 22 games. From mid-2010 to late 2012, they won at an .804 clip (37-9).

When asked to evaluate Green Bay’s new-look defense, our scout said he questioned its ability to stop the run. He concluded by saying the Packers had better score a lot of points this season.

Here is a position-by-position look at the Packers through the eyes of our personnel man:

WIDE RECEIVERS

“They’re solid football players who know their roles but have enough skill within their defined position to excel. They have uncertainty after Davante Adams, who is No. 3. The speed is good, not great. They’re smart football players. The smarts could make them exceptional.”

TIGHT ENDS

“Richard Rodgers is sure-handed with the ability to make the tough catch. (Brandon) Bostick gives you a chance to stretch the field. Ryan Taylor is just a special-teams guy. (Andrew) Quarless can block and he can catch. There’s not a real threat. Overall, I’d give the group a Green with the arrow up only because of Rodgers’ ability to catch the ball. I like him more than Bostick because you know what you’ve got.”

OFFENSIVE LINE

“The group is very solid because of the two guards and the left tackle is proven and will develop even more than he did last year. They’re in concert with each other. They understand the process of playing as five. That’s a credit to the line coach (James Campen). The centers are try-hard, smart, tough guys that have above-average abilities to be really good. I think they’re both better than (Evan) Dietrich-Smith. Sherrod scares the (expletive) out of me. He whiffs. He’s not the same guy that he was. (Garth) Gerhart has developed there. He’s solid. I think Lane Taylor stinks.”

QUARTERBACKS

“I think the first guy (Rodgers) is a rock star. He can do everything you want. He’s the guy. He is awesome. I’m not going to say he’s the best. The others are just guys. They’re interchangeable parts depending on what the coaching staff wants to do in terms of developing and what their comfort level is. I’d play (Matt) Flynn second on the basis of his game-day ability to play. (Scott) Tolzien is an athlete. He is smart. At the end of the day Ted (Thompson) should have used that position to develop a young (quarterback). He hasn’t done that. I don’t think Tolzien would have been claimed. Maybe now he’d be somewhere but he’s just a guy….As the backup you have to have dynamic. You have to have a relationship with the starter. You also have to be smart enough and savvy enough to get a team out of a game for two or three weeks. Flynn can do that.”

RUNNING BACKS

“The No.1 (Eddie Lacy) is a determined, large guy with power and strength. He fits the Mike McCarthy offense to perfection when he decides to run the football and mix it in with play-action. The quarterback and the running back work hand-in-hand. James Starks, at the end of the day, when (expletive) gets tough, can you trust him? Is he going to play with a nick? DuJuan Harris is a little guy with a chip on his shoulder. I like him. (John) Kuhn’s time has passed. That (position) is a strength for them.”

DEFENSIVE LINE

“Weak. Who mans up? The only guys in that bunch that may man up are (Josh) Boyd and (Mike) Daniels. The rest of them are shoulda, coulda, wouldas. Meaning they may or they may not. With Boyd and Daniels you know what you get every day. Their deficiency is their lack of length and size. At best, Daniels would be a Red. He’ll never be a Blue. I love his temperament. But at the end of the day reality sets in. Datone Jones has length. He doesn’t have size. He’s just a guy. He’s got to earn it. I thought (Letroy) Guion was good in Minnesota but I never thought he was great. (B.J.) Raji has soft temperament. I think his loss was big in the run game. (Mike) Pennel has a lot of up side. I can’t make an assessment of (Khyri) Thornton.”

LINEBACKERS

“They’ve got a whole bunch of guys that are talented but they’ve got to prove it. Inside, I think they’re soft. The starters are just guys. I mean, they’re taking space. They’ve got backups that would probably make as many plays as the starters. Brad Jones is soft and he can’t run. A.J. (Hawk), that’s all he is is steady. If I wanted to go down the seam I’d go after A.J. I like (Sam) Barrington. There’s a little bit of future there. I like his temperament. They need to get faster at inside linebacker. Right now they’re slow. (Jamari) Lattimore is just a guy. (Carl) Bradford has eyes and instincts. He has to be inside. They’ll be good outside but they can’t be great. There’s nothing better than having a great athlete with a chip on his shoulder. (Clay) Matthews has got it. (Julius) Peppers is an athlete. People got to take notice of him and that frees up (Matthews). I don’t see big (impact) out of Peppers but I still think it was a good signing. (Nick) Perry is power. He’s just a guy. It won’t happen. (Mike) Neal is developing. Neal is all right. He’s multi-functional. (Jayrone) Elliott is better than (Andy) Mulumba. Elliott is a developmental prospect. If you got a good coach you can develop him.

SECONDARY

“The secondary is a Green-plus. The corners are good, the safeties are growing. They have to feel each other out. Depending on the nickel corner they could be good or bad. The money for (Sam) Shields was fair. They had to pay the market. He’ll always be a Purple-plus. (Tramon) Williams is descending. He gets by. I like (Casey) Hayward and (Davon) House. House is long, learning and he’s starting to make plays. Green Bay has a big decision to make on House. When Hayward plays he’s good. I think the field is too big for him (Demetri Goodson). Basketball guys that make the transition to football, even though he played football, it’s too big for him. This will be Morgan Burnett’s redemption year. Ha Ha (Clinton-Dix) is the real deal. So far, so good. He’s just got to grow through his pains. Micah Hyde is an efficient safety. His tackling is OK at safety. Burnett is consistent. The money they gave him was fair. (Sean) Richardson has improved.

SPECIALISTS

“Each one is really consistent at what they do. All you can ask for is consistency. (Tim) Masthay is good inside the 20.”

COLOR CODES

Last week, an experienced executive in personnel for a National Football League team provided this color-coded rating of the 52 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster and the eight players on injured reserve. He has watched tape of the Packers throughout the exhibition season and the first two regular-season games. Players were evaluated primarily on positional value rather than special-teams value.

Each player was assigned a color code, which is standard in NFL pro personnel departments. Teams, however, use different colors to mean different things. Blue and red are used by most teams for the top two categories.

The beauty of scouting is no two scouts ever see a player in completely the same light. Sometimes their evaluations of the same player can be significantly different. While encouraging independent thinking, most organizations then try to work toward a consensus on players.

This is how the scout defined his color categories:

BLUE: Pro Bowl player.

RED: Above-average starter with a chance to be exceptional.

PURPLE: Starter you can win with.

GREEN: Lower-tier starter, or a backup with a chance to improve.

YELLOW: Below-average backup; needs to be replaced.

WHITE: Incomplete; insufficient information to grade.

BROWN: Reject.

PACKERS BREAKDOWN

The scout used a plus sign (+) to indicate that a player was ascending within that category and a minus sign (-) to indicate that a player was descending within that category.

Here are his grades:

BLUE (1): QB Aaron Rodgers.

RED (2): LB Clay Matthews, WR Jordy Nelson.

PURPLE (15): TE Brandon Bostick, T Bryan Bulaga, WR Randall Cobb, K Mason Crosby, DE Mike Daniels, LS Brett Goode, CB Casey Hayward, RB Eddie Lacy (+), G T.J. Lang, P Tim Masthay, LB Julius Peppers, TE Richard Rodgers (+), CB Sam Shields (+), G Josh Sitton (+), CB Tramon Williams.

GREEN (27): WR Davante Adams (+), T David Bakhtiari (+), T Don Barclay (-), LB Sam Barrington, DE Josh Boyd, WR Jarrett Boykin, S Morgan Burnett (+), CB Jarrett Bush (Yellow for cornerback, Purple for special teams), S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, LB Jayrone Elliott, C Garth Gerhart (+), NT Letroy Guion (+), RB DuJuan Harris (+), LB A.J. Hawk (-), CB Davon House (+), S Micah Hyde (+), WR Jeff Janis (+), DE Datone Jones, C Corey Linsley (+), LB Mike Neal, NT Mike Pennel, LB Nick Perry, TE Andrew Quarless, NT B.J. Raji (+), S Sean Richardson, RB James Starks (+), C JC Tretter (+).

YELLOW (9): LB Carl Bradford, QB Matt Flynn, LB Brad Jones (-), FB John Kuhn (-), LB Jamari Lattimore, LB Andy Mulumba, LB Nate Palmer, TE Ryan Taylor (-), QB Scott Tolzien (-).

WHITE (3): WR Jared Abbrederis (+), T Aaron Adams, DE Khyri Thornton.

BROWN (3): CB Demetri Goodson, T Derek Sherrod, G Lane Taylor.

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As they approach a Super Bowl rematch in Seattle that isn’t really a second chance at a Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos find themselves trying to find the right balance between past and present.

Between remembering the sting and embarrassment of a 35-point loss on the league’s biggest stage, and simply moving on to try to create another opportunity to make it right(Paul Worrilow Women Jersey).

“Yeah, you don’t forget what happened and also, you set the standard by playing against the Super Bowl (winners),” said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. “They’ve earned the right to talk how they talk and we’ll just speak with our pads and show up on Sunday. Obviously we still have a bad taste in our mouths from the Super Bowl, but it’s a new season and we want to get back to that point and obviously win it. But playing against the team that won the Super Bowl and actually having a chance at a rematch really will show how far we came as a team and if we improved or not.”

Sunday will be the Broncos’ first regular-season trip to Seattle, a former division foe from 1978-2001. Everybody knows the numbers: The Seahawks have gone 18-1 in their last 19 regular-season home games and the last time these two teams met in a game that counted, the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII by 35 points.

And in the social media world, a team that loses the Super Bowl by 35 points somehow doesn’t finish second. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said “people don’t see you as a team that was a runner-up because of what happened.”

The Broncos have lived with being called soft, intimidated and unable to play to the moment in the title game. That’s all fodder to wind a team up.

Asked if he had ever been more excited to play in a regular-season game, Knighton said; “No. No I haven’t been this excited … Saturday, when we get on that plane, a lot of guys’ adrenaline will start boosting. It’ll be a hostile environment and that’s just the way we like it — with our back against the walls.”

But it’s also, for both the Broncos Seahawks, Week 3 of a season with plenty of miles to go before another shot at the postseason. In that vein Broncos head coach John Fox has tried to emphasize, at least publicly, Sunday’s game is indeed the kind of stage any Super Bowl hopeful would want to be on, but not the end-all, be-all of the new season.

Quarterback Peyton Manning even took a far simpler approach.

“Yeah, I think naturally you’re motivated anytime you play a team that beat you last year,’’ Manning said. “But being motivated, or being mad doesn’t mean anything if you don’t go out there and execute and do your job … so I still think you have to try to simplify it in some ways and try to find a way to protect the ball, score some touchdowns in the red zone and stay out of a lot of third-and-longs. I think if you don’t do those things, it’s tough to be a good football team.”

So, whatever errors the Broncos made this past February, the opportunity that was lost, it’s all a part of history’s stew. Almost half of the players currently on the Broncos’ roster weren’t with the team in MetLife Stadium, and the team will likely start at least seven players on defense Sunday who didn’t even play in the Super Bowl, so how it all turns out this time around will depend on how the current Broncos seize the day.

“I think we’ve got to caution ourselves from trying to make this a revenge for the Super Bowl game,’’ said tight end Julius Thomas. “This is the 2014 season, but we’re still playing a very tough opponent — probably what a lot of people consider one of the better teams in this league. When you’re going up against a playoff team three weeks in a row, you’ve got to keep on making a statement to everybody else in the league about what type of team we’re going to be this year.”

“You’ve got to stay in your (playbook) and just work on your fundamentals and get better each week and watch your opponent as much as possible without getting riled up and feeding into all the talk — you know, the bulletin board stuff, all the quotes they got,’’ Knighton said. “But we just keep it simple.”

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Glance at the NFL statistics this week and you’ll see Atlanta Falcons inside linebacker Paul Worrilow atop the league with 29 combined tackles.

It would appear to be a significant accomplishment for a second-year player who came to the Falcons as an undrafted free agent out of Delaware. But the only number Worrilow sees is four: He’s counted four missed tackles for himself through the first two games(Mark Ingram Elite Jersey).

One was during Sunday’s 24-10 loss at Cincinnati, when Worrilow and strong safety William Moore both missed a chance to corral Bengals running back Jeremy Hill on a checkdown from quarterback Andy Dalton. A 3-yard gain suddenly became an 18-yard explosive play with Hill’s 15 yards after the catch.

“It was just a poor tackle attempt, thinking that you were going to be able to take a shot at a guy,” Worrilow explained. “Obviously, we both whiffed. That’s something that I usually don’t do. I usually try to just secure the tackle and get the guy down. … That’s one that sticks out that you’ll never do again.”

Another against the Bengals occurred when Worrilow couldn’t get off a block in time to wrap up Giovani Bernard on a fourth-quarter run.

“There was a penalty on the play, and it came back,” Worrilow said. “The play might not count on the stat sheet, but that’s one of those that plays over and over in your mind as you’re preparing for the next game.”

Worrilow deserves plenty of credit for not being content with his play. He could have been somewhat comfortable following a solid rookie season, during which he led the Falcons in tackles with 127 and had back-to-back 19-tackle efforts against Carolina and Seattle. Instead, he never became consumed by those gaudy numbers after his team finish the season 4-12.

Falcons coach Mike Smith appreciates Worrilow’s self-criticism and willingness to strive for perfection.

“I think the guys that are really truly driven, it’s not about what they did well, it’s about what they can improve on,” Smith said. “Paul is that way. He’s a guy who is hypercritical of his play. And when you are hypercritical, I think it’s a good trait to have as a football player.

“Is he too critical? Absolutely not. I like that. He’s a guy that studies the game extremely hard. For a second-year player, I think he’s light years ahead of other people that I’ve been around in terms of his understanding of the game.”

Worrilow needs to be a sure tackler Thursday night against Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers boast a rather elusive running back in Bobby Rainey, who is coming off a 144-yard rushing outing against St. Louis. Rainey rushed for a career-high 163 yards and scored three touchdowns in a 41-28 win over the Falcons last season.

“He’s definitely a guy you have to wrap up,” Worrilow said of Rainey. “A lot of times I see they (Rainey and Doug Martin) take on the contact and they’re going forward for 3, 4 more yards. Like you always teach, wrapping up and not diving is something that’s going to be big.”

Worrilow will try his best to do his part. His teammates have to follow suit.

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The Cleveland Browns mounted a furious 85-yard drive to stun the New Orleans Saints 26-24 on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Browns (1-2) broke an eight-game losing streak in home openers, while the Saints (0-2) lost their first two game for the first time since the 2012 “bounty” season in which coach Sean Payton was suspended(New England Patriots Jersey).

The Saints forced the Browns to start their last drive from their own 4-yard line with less than three minutes to play, but quarterback Brian Hoyer led a 14-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a 29-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.

The start of the drive was aided by a Saints offsides penalty. Junior Galette recorded a sack, the Saints’ first of the game, forcing a fourth-and-6 that Hoyer converted.

The Browns dominated the first quarter and forced a critical turnover in the second, although the Saints ultimately won most statistical categories.

The Saints were plagued by poor field position and went three-and-out on their first two drives. Meanwhile, Hoyer took advantage of the Saints’ shaky secondary play to give the Browns to a 10-0 lead.

The Saints finally got moving in the second quarter on a seven-play, 73-yard drive in the second quarter that ended with a 27-yard field goal by Shayne Graham.

The only turnover of the game was a costly one. Saints quarterback Drew Brees missed tight end Jimmy Graham on a route over the middle. Tashaun Gipson intercepted the pass and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown to give the Browns a 16-3 lead.  But the extra point failed when the Browns mishandled the snap.

The Saints scored a critical touchdown before halftime to close the gap. Brees capped a 13-play, 85-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham.

The Saints turned to the running game amid the passing game’s early struggles and kept at it in the second half. In the Saints’ go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter, Mark Ingram ran four times for 36 yards, including runs of 13 and 15. Ingram had 11 carries for 83 yards on the game.

The Browns answered back in the third quarter with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a 9-yard touchdown by Terrance West. Starting in place of the injured Ben Tate, West carried 19 times for 68 yards on Sunday.

The Saints took the lead again with 12:12 left in the game when Mark Ingram rumbled in from 1 yard out.

Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel made his debut in the third quarter, handing off twice and throwing an incomplete pass.

In the second quarter, Brees passed John Elway for fourth on the NFL’s all-time passing list.

The Browns now have beat the Saints in four of the last five meetings. The lone exception was in 2006, the first Saints’ game for Brees and Payton.

The Saints are now 1-24 under Payton when trailing on the road at halftime.

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After forgetting to show up for the second half of its season opener at Miami last Sunday, New England is 0-1 for the first time since 2003.

Counting their season-ending loss in 2013, this means the Pats are on just their seventh two-game losing streak since 2003. The other six times they won their next outing, and five times, they covered the spread, according to the Odds Shark NFL database.

The Patriots will try to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2001 when they take on 1-0 Minnesota on Sunday afternoon at the Vikes’ temporary home at the outdoor University of Minnesota stadium.

Point spread: The Patriots opened as 4.5-point favorites, but the number was whittled down to three points by Patriot doubters; the total was 49. (Line updates and matchup report)

Odds Shark Computer Prediction: 30-18.9 Patriots

Why the Patriots can cover the spread

The Patriots opened this season by winning the first half in Miami last Sunday 20-10. Unfortunately, that game didn’t end at halftime, and New England got blanked 23-0 in the second half.

But that score is a little misleading, considering the Pats were within a field goal before the Dolphins scored twice in the last four minutes to pull away. That was last week, though, and New England is one of the best teams in the league at putting losses behind it and moving on.

Last year the Patriots lost four games and followed each loss with a win straight up and against the spread. This is a tiny spread for a superior team that needs to avoid an 0-2 start.

Why the Vikings can cover the spread

The Vikings opened the Mike Zimmer era with a solid 34-6 victory over the Rams in St. Louis, winning outright as three-point road dogs.

Minnesota outrushed the Rams 186-72, got an efficient performance from Matt Cassel at quarterback, showed quick-strike ability with Cordarrelle Patterson’s 67-yard touchdown run and iced the game with an interception return for a touchdown.

Coach Zim is already implementing a winning atmosphere with the Vikes. Including the preseason, Minnesota is now 5-0 SU, 4-1 ATS since he took charge. The Vikings are also 3-0 both SU and ATS the last three times they’ve been lined as home dogs.

Smart Pick

The Vikings looked good last week, but that was against the Rams, so enthusiasm should be tempered. The Patriots looked good for a half last week, and while they lost at Miami, they’re one of the best bounce-back teams in the league.

One of the most ill-advised things an NFL bettor can do is place a wager based upon what happened last week. Vikings backers can be encouraged but should be cautious(Josh Gordon Browns Jersey).

And Patriots backers shouldn’t be discouraged. The last time the Pats lost their season opener, they won the Super Bowl. Minnesota, of course, will still have the home crowd on its side Sunday, but rather than in that band box that was the Metrodome, TCF Bank Stadium is an outdoor venue where the sound can escape.

The pick here is with New England (one of the five top picks from the Odds Shark computer this week), giving the short spread on the road.

Trends

The Patriots are 5-1 ATS in ending two-game losing streaks over the past decade
Patriots 10-0 SU last 10 games vs. NFC North
Vikings 1-7 SU & ATS last eight games vs. AFC East

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Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would not hesitate to put Josh Gordon on the field Sunday for the Cleveland Browns — if a new drug policy agreement between the NFL and NFLPA makes that possibility a reality(Steve Smith Youth Jersey).

“If Josh is able to play this week, I’d like to get him out there,” Shanahan said Thursday. “I think he would help.”

Gordon was suspended Aug. 27 for failing an offseason drug test for marijuana. He hasn’t been with the team since. Sources have told ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano that the new drug policy could allow for Gordon’s suspension to be reduced to six to 10 games.

He tested positive for marijuana in early March, and his suspension was upheld on appeal. Gordon recently told ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill that he has not smoked marijuana since his college days, and he and his lawyers have attributed his positive test to secondhand smoke.

The league and the players’ union have been in talks all week about a new drug policy. Had the proposed agreement been in effect over the offseason, Gordon would not have been suspended.

Some reports have said a lifted suspension would apply only to those disciplined after testing positive in the 2014 league year, which began March 12. Gordon’s positive test is believed to have come a week or two earlier, meaning it took place in the 2013 league year.

The Browns have never cleared out Gordon’s locker, even though he was suspended.

Gordon broke a team record and led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards as a Pro Bowler last season.

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Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s always a big game, packed with emotion. But the matchup here Thursday night comes amid the continuing after-shocks that have rocked the Ravens and the NFL from the Ray Rice domestic violence case.

The NFL and the Ravens are on the defensive for their handling of the matter, which came to a head Monday when Baltimore released its star running back and the league suspended him indefinitely(Steve Smith Youth Jersey). The moves came hours after a video posted on TMZ.com showed Rice knocking his wife out inside an Atlantic City casino elevator in February.

But the NFL schedule moves on for a prime-time matchup of rivals from the AFC North.

For any teams, a short week of practice presents the challenge of getting over the aches and pains of the previous game and putting in a game plan. After facing a barrage of questions this week about Rice, the players are looking forward to Thursday night’s game.

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“I think it’s the best rivalry in football. Thursday can’t get here fast enough,” says Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. “I think they’re going to be excited, and we’re definitely going to be excited and motivated and ready to play.”

Do the Ravens close ranks and rise to the challenge?

In 2010, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the subject of a rape investigation in Georgia. He was never arrested and never charged. At the end of the investigation, the prosecutor said authorities did not have enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The NFL still suspended Roethlisberger for six games, later reduced to four after he underwent behavioral counseling. In four games with Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon subbing for Roethlisberger, the Steelers went 3-1.

Given his own suspension, Roethlisberger was asked this week about the Rice case.

“We pray for him and his wife and his family,” said Roethlisberger. “The biggest focus is the game on Thursday because that’s really all we can afford to deal with right now with such a short week. … That’s the most important thing for us now … what we can control.”

Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, a newcomer in Baltimore this season, says it’s a test of resilience.

“Football is part of who we are, and personally, things are going to unravel and things are going to happen. … You can’t allow tragedy to be who you are,” Smith said. “You have to be able to deal with it.”

Pittsburgh is 1-0 after a slim opening victory against the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens are 0-1 after losing their home opener to another division rival, the Cincinnati Bengals.

With the prospect of Baltimore falling into an 0-2 hole in the division, it remains to be seen who carries the load in the running game against Pittsburgh.

Against Cincinnati, starter Bernard Pierce had six carries for 14 yards before he was benched following a first-half fumble deep in his own territory. Seventh-year pro Justin Forsett took over and carried 11 times for 70 yards and a 13-yard touchdown.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh implied after the Cincinnati loss that he benched Pierce because of the fumble. He clarified that this week.

“It’s just that Justin was rolling. … You don’t lose faith in a player because of a bad play. … I have the utmost confidence in him,” Harbaugh said of Pierce.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin isn’t so sure about his run defense. Cleveland piled up 183 rushing yards against Pittsburgh.

“If you saw our run defense last week, you know that we have respect for anybody’s ability to run the football,” says Tomlin. “We have a lot of work to do in that regard.”

Last November during a loss to the Ravens in Baltimore, Tomlin said he accidentally got too close to the sideline during a long kickoff return by Jacoby Jones of the Ravens. Jones had to alter his route slightly and was tackled. Tomlin got a $100,000 league fine.

That incident came up this week, but not as much as it would have minus the Rice situation.My focus has been on the football game, in all honesty,” Harbaugh said, “and trying to be the best we can be Thursday night.”