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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Almost half of Blake Bortles’ 11 incompletions in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 44-7 victory over Baltimore last Sunday were on purpose and coach Doug Marrone was almost as pleased with that as he was Bortles’ four touchdown passes.

Bortles threw the ball away five times, which is something Marrone and offensive coordinator have been trying to get him to do instead of taking a chance with a risky throw. It looks like Bortles has finally bought in completely in his fourth season.

“He didn’t really force anything,” Marrone said. “He had about five throwaways [and] … I think those were all really good decisions for us. Rather than try to force the ball in, which you might make one, you may not. I think there was a lot of smart play on his part.”

Bortles admitted Wednesday that those were decisions he might not have made in 2015 and 2016, and his interception numbers bear that out. Bortles threw 34 interceptions in those seasons — tied for the most in the NFL with Philip Rivers — and said he gambled too much.

“I’ve always kind of had the mindset of I think I can kind of throw it anywhere and I’ll try anything,” Bortles said. “That obviously hasn’t gone well the past couple years so there was no reason for me not to buy in and believe 100 percent in what Nathaniel was coaching and teaching me.

It’s part of playing quarterback. It’s part of helping your team win football game and it’s something that I’ve got to continue to do in order to help us win.”

Easing back on the gambling is a natural part of his development, Bortles said. The fewer mistakes he makes the better the team’s chances of winning, especially now that the Jaguars’ defense is one of the best in the NFL: It ranks third in total defense, first in pass defense, and already has forced eight turnovers.

“I think that’s something that kind of comes along with maturing as a football player and being around [offensive coordinator] Nathaniel [Hackett] and understanding the offense and the system,” Bortles said. “More so than anything it’s making sure we end every possession with a kick, whether it’s a field goal, extra point or a punt. And not turning the ball over.

“It all kind of goes back to the way our defense has been playing. If we don’t turn the ball over we’re going to have a chance to win a lot of football games and a lot of that is on my shoulders to control it.”

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PITTSBURGH — Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva blames himself for the image of him standing away from teammates during Sunday’s national anthem, saying he unintentionally separated himself in the moments leading up to the game.
Feeling the need to see the flag during the anthem, Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who toured several times in Afghanistan, asked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if he could stand in front of the tunnel to get a vantage point. Roethlisberger agreed, and Villanueva found himself too far out while trying to gauge where the flags were. He contemplated turning back, but the anthem had already started at that point. Only the team captains knew about this last-second attempt.

“When everybody sees the image of me by myself, everybody thinks the team, the Steelers, are not behind me, and that’s absolutely wrong,” Villanueva said. “I made Coach [Mike] Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only. I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only.”

Villanueva got positioned for the anthem’s start at 12:57 p.m. ET, then turned around to “signal everybody else to come in so they wouldn’t leave me alone,” he said. But Villanueva saw a flag from a previous celebration passing by the tunnel, and the players were unable to exit. Walking back to his teammates “would have looked extremely bad,” Villanueva said.

Villanueva called the “national anthem ordeal … out of control” because of the way it portrayed him as an outcast and the team as not supporting the anthem. Villanueva said he understands why teammates would be frustrated with him. ESPN reported that many Steelers were surprised and confused by Villanueva’s isolation since he had said in Saturday’s players-only meeting he didn’t want to bring attention to himself.

“I see that picture of me standing by myself and I’m embarrassed to a degree because intentionally I left my teammates behind,” Villanueva said. “It wasn’t me stepping forward. I never planned to boycott. … At the end of the day, whether I want it or not, whether it was my intended plan or not, the reason I went out there by myself is the reason it’s causing all this distress.”
Villanueva will not stop standing for the anthem, and he said his teammates wanted to stand as well. Captains Roethlisberger and Cam Heyward said the team will be on the sideline during future anthem presentations.

“People die for the flag. There’s no way else to put it,” Villanueva said. “I wish I could stay at home. I wish we could all play Call of Duty and not have to go to war. But some men, some women sign up for this tough challenge and they have to do it for the flag. When I see a flag on the mission on the shoulder of a soldier, that reminds me that the guy’s with me … That’s what the flag means to me, that’s what the flag means to a lot of veterans. I think my teammates respected this thoroughly; it was just not communicated and the plan did not allow them the chance to go out and support me or maybe go back to the lab and sit five more hours before the game and figure out a plan.”

Villanueva’s place in the spotlight helped him learn more about a divisive issue that he believes shouldn’t be. People should realize taking a knee is not a direct protest of the flag or the anthem, said Villanueva, one of the first critics of Colin Kaepernick’s method of protest.

“I’ve learned that I don’t know what it’s like to be from Dade County, I don’t know what it’s like to be from Oakland,” Villanueva said. “I can’t tell you I know what my teammates have gone through, so I’m not going to pretend like I have the righteous sort of voice to tell you that you should stand up for the national anthem. It’s protected by our constitution and our country. It’s the freedom of speech. People felt, based on the comments the president made, they had to go out and protect and support Colin Kaepernick, and that’s completely in their right. But it was not something we were trying to do with the Steelers. We were trying to be unified.”

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Three of the players whose names appeared on an August memo seeking a push from the NFL into social activism struck an amicable but businesslike tone Thursday, saying there was no bigger platform from which to achieve their goals.

Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins called it an “opportunity for us, being a sport that brings people together naturally to also use that ability to actually effectuate some real change.”

“One of the main things for us is changing the narrative and controlling the narrative,” said Jenkins, who joined Eagles receiver Torrey Smith and Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett in commenting a day after news broke of the memo, which outlined a series of goals it hoped to achieve in conjunction with the NFL, including designating November “a month of Unity” when individual teams would “engage and impact the community in their market.”

“I think one of the reasons you’ve seen players protesting is because there is no bigger platform than the NFL,” Jenkins said. “And to be able to use that exposure and educate people to what’s going on around the communities is huge. That can be even more amplified if the NFL actually steps in and helps aid that education to the public about what’s going on in these cities that NFL stadiums are in.”
Bennett said it “takes a lot for a business or an organization to get behind certain issues,” but that he felt he had the support of commissioner Roger Goodell “as a person and a player.”

“I’ve never had an issue with him,” Bennett said. “We’ve always had good conversations since I’ve known him.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, who was asked if there were any plans to make this upcoming November the “Month of Unity” as has been proposed, said the league continued to speak directly with the players but wouldn’t comment further.

“These conversations are private,” McCarthy said.

Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday night the letter was prepared shortly after Goodell spoke with several players who had protested on game day before the regular season kicked off.
“We haven’t gotten a reaction just yet,” Bennett said. “Hopefully we’ll have another meeting in the near future. Hopefully something comes out of it. But it’s just the thought of a lot of players coming together and having some ideas about how we can move forward and be able to impact the communities around the United States in cities that NFL teams are in, is just what it’s about.”

Earlier this month, Goodell and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie did agree to a “Listen and Learn” tour that gave them an up-close look at different parts of Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. The group met with police commissioner Richard Ross, former inmates and community advocates of criminal justice reform and observed several bail hearings at the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

“That came from those conversations,” Jenkins said. “That’s ongoing. We’re still working on the next steps. But obviously, there is at least interest to listen and see what players are doing and what’s going on in these communities around the NFL.”

The NFL stands to benefit from partnering up with the player movement, Smith explained. A lot of backlash the league faces is a result of people misunderstanding why some players are demonstrating during the singing of the national anthem prior to kickoff. Helping to educate the masses could lead to greater acceptance, Smith said.
“And guys are fighting for what’s right,” Smith said. “I think if it was something that put people in a bind, I would understand. I think it’s also important because the league catches a lot of heat for protests and things like that, so it’s important for people to know there’s work being done beyond the protest, just as it’s important for people to know that it’s not an anti-police or anti-military thing. It’s just about finding solutions to issues we’re having.”

Smith was asked if greater league involvement, in turn, would lead to fewer protests, as the issues they’re demonstrating for would be recognized.

“I can’t speak on that, but I know it would definitely go a long way towards it,” Smith said.

Former Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, who retired from the NFL in late August, was also named as a co-author of the memo.

Bennett, who said the memo’s writers hadn’t intended it to become public and that he wasn’t sure how it was leaked, described what the “Month of Unity” might entail.

“It would be like where people could wear different shirts about equality, including gender, race, different issues around the United States that we could bring awareness to pertaining to different communities around America,” Bennett said. “It would be like something like that, where you wear a shirt, you talk about it. It can bring awareness to different issues going on.”
Bennett also pointed to the NBA as a leader in fostering awareness of social issues.

“I think the NBA has done a great job of being able to continuously make money and play a great sport and still be socially aware,” Bennett said. “I think we have to be able to find that same balance in the NFL, be able to play great games, give the fans what they want, but also continuously be human beings and talk about the things that affect us on and off the court. And I think that’s what’s going to make us a unique league on top of all the great players that we have, is what kind of impact we can have in the community on top of what we do on the field.”

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CINCINNATI — Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron passionately defended Andy Dalton on Monday, imploring fans to show the starter their support despite Cincinnati’s 0-2 start and struggles on offense.

Dalton and the team were booed often during the first two games, and one fan threw something at the QB at the end of the Bengals’ Week 1 loss to the Ravens.
“I wish people in this city would back him and go with it,” McCarron said. “Listen, I think I’m a great quarterback, and I think he’s an unbelievable quarterback. I love him to death. But he’s our quarterback. Stop making it into something else. It’s not into something else. Ride with him. Trust the team. Trust the process. And trust what we are trying to do. And be a fan of who is playing.

“We are all part of a team. It’s not we are divided, it’s not that way. It’s tough for me, it really is. I love him. I love our relationship. Been with him for a long time now. It sucks for me to see. … I trust him every time he steps out there, and I think we are going to win every time he is under center. It’s part of football, though, you win some, lose some. That’s the way it goes.”

Through two games, Dalton has completed 50 percent of his passes for 394 yards, no touchdowns and a 47.2 quarterback rating that ranks 37 out of 41 quarterbacks. That has prompted some pundits to suggest a switch to McCarron, who filled in for an injured Dalton during the 2015 season, starting three regular-season games and the Bengals’ loss to the Steelers in the AFC wild-card round of the playoffs.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said last week that Dalton’s job is safe.

“Andy knows our relationship. I don’t think Andy has to ever worry,” McCarron said. “We don’t let those things get between me and him. It’s part of sports in general. It makes sports such a popular event. There is always somebody wanting this guy to play. He’s our quarterback. I wish people would — it sucks to see for me personally with my relationship with him, people booing him. It’s like, do you think he wants to have tipped balls that turn into interceptions? Has he worked his whole life for that? His whole week for that? No. He’s a normal human.”

Dalton said he hasn’t read any stories or reports about his play.

“There’s no reason to read anything because it doesn’t mean anything,” Dalton said. “People can come up with a headline all they want, but all that matters is what’s being said in this organization, on this team, and what happens in this locker room.”

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Oakland native Marshawn Lynch will play his first home game as a Raider on Sunday when the Jets visit.

Oakland native Marshawn Lynch will play his first home game as a Raider on Sunday when the Jets visit.

Returning from an abbreviated retirement, Marshawn Lynch was in vintage “Beast Mode” form last week in the Oakland Raiders’ opener, making the highlight shows by trucking 300-pound defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. Lynch didn’t resemble a 31-year-old running back who spent a year traveling the world and popping up in an occasional TV commercial.

“What’s funny is, I was just thinking that same thing,” New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams said Monday, laughing. “I was like, this is a guy who just retired and re-entered the league and he’s still one of the top running backs. It’s pretty amazing to see that. He’s a great running back.”

One week after getting slashed by Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy, the Jets must prepare for another formidable challenge. This will test them in a different way. Unlike McCoy, an elusive, east-west runner, Lynch is a downhill nightmare. For the Jets, it’s like going from a boxer to a brawler.

Lynch rushed for 76 yards in his Raiders debut, with 10 of his 18 carries coming in the fourth quarter of their 26-16 win over the Tennessee Titans. Sunday is the home opener, Lynch’s first game as a Raider in his hometown of Oakland. The Black Hole will be crazy — or, shall we say, crazier than usual.

A closer look at the Raiders:

THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE

QB Derek Carr. Memo to the Jets: This is the kind of player you need to find. Carr is a 26-year-old franchise quarterback who hasn’t reached his ceiling. He threw 81 touchdowns in his first three seasons, the fourth-most in history (behind Dan Marino, Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning). One of his best attributes is his ability to rally his team from behind. In 2016, he posted 15 touchdown passes and only one interception while trailing. He was rewarded with a five-year, $125 million contract extension.

WR Amari Cooper. The Jets didn’t face any big-time receivers last week; that changes in Oakland. Cooper is one of the top young wideouts in the sport, the first Raider since Jerry Rice (2001-2002) to reach 1,000 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. He runs terrific routes and makes a lot of yards after the catch. He’s coming off a subpar opener — only five catches on 12 targets.

WR Michael Crabtree. The Jets loved him in the 2009 draft. In fact, they were accused of tampering during his prolonged rookie holdout with the San Francisco 49ers, who apparently thought the Jets were trying to convince him to ask for a trade. The Niners eventually dropped the charges. Crabtree, who signed with the Raiders in 2015, is dangerous on third down. He and Cooper each reached the 1,000-yard mark in 2016, becoming only the third tandem in team history to accomplish that.
ONE PLAYER TO KNOW, DEFENSE

DE Khalil Mack. Two words: Game. Wrecker. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year might be best edge rusher in the game, having recorded a league-high 26 sacks over the last two years. Mack, who registered five quarterback pressures and two tackles for loss in the opener, will be a free agent in 2018. Relax, Jets fans, he’s not going anywhere. Another two words: Franchise. Tag.

ONE PLAYER TO KNOW, SPECIAL TEAMS

PK Giorgio Tavecchio. He was one of the best stories of Week 1. Previously cut three times by the Raiders, Tavecchio was promoted from the practice squad last week when Sebastian Janikowski was placed on injured reserve. Tavecchio became the first player in NFL history to make two 50-yard field goals in his debut — a couple of 52-yarders, to be exact.

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Cardinals running back David Johnson will seek a second opinion on the left wrist injury he suffered in Sunday’s 35-23 loss to the Detroit Lions, but the early prognosis is a dislocated wrist that will require surgery, coach Bruce Arians said Monday.

The Cardinals will know the full extent of Johnson’s injury by Tuesday afternoon.
If a second doctor confirms Johnson dislocated his wrist, he’ll go on injured reserve with a possible return. Arians wouldn’t put a timeline on Johnson’s return, but Arians mentioned rookie running back T.J. Logan, who will end up missing eight to 12 weeks with the same injury.

The Cardinals are signing running back D.J. Foster off the Patriots’ practice squad, a source confirmed to ESPN. Foster is a former Arizona State running back.

The news of Foster’s signing was first reported by NFL Network.

“It’s always a huge blow to lose a top player,” Arians said. “But it’s not the end of the world. We’ve got quality guys on our team. It’s an opportunity for somebody to step up. David Johnson became David Johnson because of somebody’s injury.”

Arians said Monday that Johnson suffered the injury on his 24-yard catch in the third quarter on Sunday. The coach had said after Sunday’s game that Johnson suffered the injury on his fumble on the only play of the next drive. Johnson went down after he was hit by three players on the reception. He writhed on the ground in pain, and according to game replays, team trainers examined Johnson’s lower midsection.

Johnson came off the field and said he could play, Arians said, but later couldn’t play and left the game.

The wrist injury, however, contributed to Johnson’s fumbling the ball on his next carry. On the replay, Johnson can be seen rolling his left wrist after the play.

Once Arians finds out the official diagnosis of Johnson’s injury, he’ll address the team’s depth at running back, saying he has “all the confidence” in the running backs on the roster.

“Andre [Ellington] looked very good. Kerwynn [Williams] was good,” Arians said. “Our young guys, we’ll see what we got and what’s available.”

Re-signing Chris Johnson, who was cut on Sept. 1, could be an option, Arians said.

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The Cincinnati Bengals are giving one of the centerpieces of their defense a new contract.

Vontaze Burfict signed a three-year contract extension with the Bengals on Thursday, the team announced. The extension pays out $38.68 million and includes a $3.3 million signing bonus, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Burfict also will receive an additional $7 million this season, Rapoport reported.
“Vontaze is still one of the young, emerging talents within the league,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement. “We have worked hard at training, developing and retaining talented players. It’s pleasing that Vontaze has made this commitment to be a part of the organization going forward. It was important to reach an extension before the start of the season and we look forward to having Vontaze back with the team in a few weeks.”

The extension comes amid a three-game suspension that will keep the standout linebacker off the field for the Bengals until October 1 against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4. His suspension, which stemmed from a hit he put on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman during a preseason game last month, was reduced from five to three games on appeal.

Burfict’s on-field value for the Bengals is significant. Over the last two seasons, the Bengals are 10-10 (18.8 points per game allowed) with Burfict and 3-8 (19.9 PPG against) without him, per NFL Research.

In 11 games last season, Burfict recorded 101 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. Over the course of his career, the sixth-year pro has recorded 502 tackles, seven sacks and five interceptions.

It’s the second contract extension Burfict has received from the Bengals since signing with the team as an undrafted rookie in 2012. In August 2014, he received a three-year extension and his new extension keeps him under contract through the 2020 season.

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DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins will not play their regular-season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday due to the threat of Hurricane Irma, the NFL announced Tuesday.
ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reports the game likely will be rescheduled for Nov. 19, when both teams have a bye week, according to league sources. The NFL has yet to announce an official decision.

“The league will continue to examine other options, including playing the game this Sunday at a neutral site or in Miami later this season, and will provide an update on that decision as soon as possible,” the league said in a statement.

The Bucs were made aware that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are neutral site options should the teams try to play this week, and that decision is expected to come Wednesday, sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

The Dolphins practiced Tuesday with the expectation that a game will be played this week. Several Miami players were vocal about wanting to play, regardless of the circumstances.
“Luckily for us, we started Monday, so we’re ready to go,” Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler said. “Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday we’re kind of open to anything. This team is young and flexible and they’re ready to rock.”

Hard Rock Stadium had approximately $500 million in renovations over the past two years. A big part of those renovations were to reinforce the stadium to withstand a Category 4 hurricane. Irma was upgraded Tuesday to a Category 5 hurricane.

Rescheduling the game in November would result in the Dolphins and Buccaneers playing 16 straight games, which is not ideal for either team.