Patriots

Bills seeking revenge on Gronk? Big Ben questions fairness

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Bills seeking revenge on Gronk? Big Ben questions fairness

Rob Gronkowski's late hit on Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White and his subsequent one-game suspension has drawn plenty of reaction around the NFL. Two of the most pointed responses have come from White himself and from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. 

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White, who was in the concussion protocol after the Gronk hit but was a limited participant at Bills practice Wednesday, texted ESPN analyst Ryan Clark - like White, a former LSU cornerback - with the message that might mean Gronk should be careful in the Bills-Pats rematch on Christmas Eve at Gillette Stadium.

“He said the whole hood want ’em, you know what I mean? The whole hood want Gronk, for sure,” Clark told Ryen Russillo on ESPN Radio. “I mean, that’s the exact text: ‘The whole hood want ’em.'...They want to put their hands on him,” Clark said of the Bills.

Clark said he texted White that the Bills should have come to White's defense after the hit.

"I texted him, I thought they should have jumped [Gronk]," Clark said. "That was my initial thought, that teammates should have come to his defense,” Clark said. “In some way, his teammates should have let Gronkowski know how dirty and how out of bounds that play was. So I was kind of disappointed in that.”

Clark, a former Steeler who like other NFL cornerbacks has had his hands full trying to cover Gronkowski on the field, decried what he sees as a double-standard when it comes to the way the Patriots tight end is treated.

“The same thing that allows him the big, jolly frat guy persona that he portrays that allows him to do some of the things in the offseason that are non-Patriot-like that we laugh at, is the same thing that now people are going to use to not vilify him or not judge him in the way that he should be judged for such a terrible decision that put somebody else’s career and livelihood in jeopardy,” Clark said.

Another Steeler talking about Gronk was Roethlisberger, who told reporters on Wednesday that it wasn't fair that JuJu Smith-Schuster, his Pittsburgh teammate, got the same one-game suspension as the Patriots tight end for his hit on the Bengals' Vontez Burfict. 

"I don't like to compare players and suspensions, things like that, but if you look at what Gronk did and what JuJu did and they got the same suspension -- I don't know if that's necessarily fair," Roethlisberger said "But that's above all of our pay grades.

"I didn't think it was warranted," Roethlisberger said. "I thought a fine, a pretty steep fine, something like that. But, you know, I thought what happened -- the play that happened -- happened in the context of a football play. It wasn't away from the ball, wasn't a hit on a kicker, a defenseless player, it was a guy getting ready to make a tackle, a much bigger football player. Obviously, we don't like the taunting, the standing over him, things like that."

Gronkowski will return from his suspension just in time join the Patriots when they face the Steelers in Pittsburgh Dec. 17 with the No. 1 seed in the AFC likely on the line. 

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Foles throws 4 TDs, Eagles get first-round bye

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Foles throws 4 TDs, Eagles get first-round bye

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Nick Foles replaced the injured Carson Wentz, and nothing really changed for the Philadelphia Eagles.

They got four touchdown passes from their quarterback, like they did a week ago, and won again to secure a first-round playoff bye.

Another ho-hum day for the best team in the NFC and NFC East champions.

Foles hit four different receivers on touchdown passes ranging from 3 to 13 yards in his first start, and the Eagles (12-2) rallied from an early 14-point deficit to defeat the surprising New York Giants 34-29 on Sunday.

"I thought he played well," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Foles. "There are some things he would like to do over. Every game is going be that way. I thought he handled himself extremely well, a lot of poise. He did a nice job."

There was speculation the Eagles would rely on their running game this week against the Giants (2-12) to give Foles time to adjust to the offense. Pederson ruled that out.

"With him coming out and saying he's not changing anything, it says a lot about his confidence in me and his confidence in the players in the offense," said Foles, who completed 24 of 38 passes for 237 yards and no interceptions.

Foles clearly is no Wentz. He is more a pocket passer, and there were times in the game when Wentz clearly would have been scrambling for a first down. Foles carried twice for zero yards.

The Eagles made a late stand on first-and-goal in the final minute in edging the Giants for the second time this season, spoiling a three-touchdown, season-high 434-yard passing game by Eli Manning.

"We know what he's capable of and that showed today," Giants interim coach Steve Spagnuolo said after Manning's ninth 400-yard game.

Manning, who threw for 366 yards earlier this year against the Eagles, said the Giants had a good game plan.

"We got the ball out quickly, playing fast with some tempo stuff," said the 36-year-old who finished 37 of 57. "I think that confused them a little bit."

Foles hit Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton and Nelson Agholor on scoring passes ranging from 3 to 13 yards in filling in for Wentz, who tore an ACL last week and was lost for the season after a brilliant year.

The Eagles also got two field goals from Jake Elliott and three blocked kicks from their special teams, foiling an extra point, a punt and field goal. The block on the punt set up a touchdown.

Philadelphia will play its final two regular-season game at home and then wait for the conference semifinal.

"It's obviously something great," Foles said of the bye. "I was fortunate to be a part of it last year in Kansas City. We still have a lot of work to do this season. The big thing is you let your body recover."

Manning hit Tavarres King on two touchdowns and Sterling Shepard on one. Orleans Darkwa scored on a short run and Aldrick Rosas kicked a 28-yard field goal.

Manning drove the Giants from their 25 with 3:56 to play to the Eagles 9 with about a minute to go. A 2-yard loss on a pass to Shepard, an incompletion in the end zone and 5-yard run by Shane Vereen got New York to the Philadelphia 6 with 48 seconds to play. Right tackle Bobby Hart had a procedure penalty on fourth down, putting the ball at the 11.

Manning then threw a pass to Evan Engram at the back of the end zone that was high and incomplete. The Giants complained bitterly after the play that Eagles safety Corey Graham held the rookie tight end's left arm and should have been called for pass interference.

"I definitely thought it was defensive pass interference," Engram said. "Fourth down. It was really obvious, but no call."

The Giants led 23-21 at the half and the Eagles took the lead for good in the third quarter on a 28-yard field goal by Elliott and a 10-yard TD catch by Agholor .

Leading 20-6, mistakes by Manning and special teams got the Eagles back in the game in a less than three-minute span in the second quarter.

A 37-yard interception return by Ronald Darby to the Giants 18 set up Foles' second touchdown pass, a 10-yarder to Ertz, cutting New York's lead to 20-14. Kamu Grugier-Hill blocked Brad Wing's punt on the Giants' next series. Foles found a wide-open Burton on a 13-yard pass to give the Eagles a 21-20 lead.

Rosas had a go-ahead 28-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in the half for a 23-21 lead.

BLOCKS

The last time a team had a hat trick of blocked kicks was the Buffalo Bills against New England on Nov. 24, 1991.

UP NEXT

Eagles: host Oakland on Dec. 25.

Giants: at Arizona on Sunday.

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Jaguars thump Texans 45-7 for 1st playoff berth since 2007

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Jaguars thump Texans 45-7 for 1st playoff berth since 2007

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan waited until the final few minutes to start celebrating.

Had he uncorked the champagne when the game was essentially over, Khan would have been drinking by halftime.

Blake Bortles threw three touchdowns passes , including two to seldom-used backup Jaydon Mickens, and the Jaguars clinched a playoff spot with a 45-7 drubbing of AFC South rival Houston on Sunday. Jacksonville's seventh victory in its last eight games locked up the franchise's first postseason berth since 2007.

"It's a story of perseverance," Khan said .

Once the NFL's poster child for futility and a punchline for potential relocation, the Jaguars (10-4) are now one of the league's top turnarounds.

The injury-riddled Texans (4-10) have dropped four in a row and seven of eight.

"They can smell the playoffs," Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. "You can tell that by the way they played. That's what you play for: playoff football. You play this game to win the ultimate goal. When you don't get there, what you did is not good."

Bortles finished with a season-high 326 yards and the best QB rating (143.8) of his career. He did it without receivers Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee.

With Robinson (knee) on injured reserve, Hurns (ankle) inactive and Lee (ankle) in the locker room, Mickens and rookie Keelan Cole stepped up. Mickens caught four passes for 61 yards and two scores . Cole had seven receptions for a career-high 186 yards and a TD.

Mickens disclosed earlier this week that he slept in his car outside the facility at night to save money, not knowing how long he would remain in town.

Now, he and teammates will be getting playoff checks.

"It's kind of cool that we solidified our spot," Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "Now we can get over the giddiness of it. ... It's cool to be where we are, but we're not done yet."

That's a huge change for Jacksonville, which was an NFL-worst 22-74 over the previous six years and widely considered more of a laughingstock than a postseason contender.

Khan fired coach Gus Bradley one year ago Sunday, following a close loss at Houston. Khan hired Tom Coughlin to oversee football decisions and made interim Doug Marrone the head coach. Coughlin and Marrone added several key players and changed the culture with a grueling offseason and training camp.

The Jags got off to an up-and-down start, but have hit their stride down the stretch.

Bortles has been better than expected of late, with seven touchdown passes and no turnovers the last three games.

"Blake's killing it," Jackson said. "I'm just glad he's been able to turn it around. I'm glad he's doing what we knew he could do, and I'm glad he's proving to himself that he can do it. He chose one hell of a year to pick it up."

With Bortles picking apart Houston's secondary, the Jaguars didn't even need running back Leonard Fournette. The rookie was inactive because of a sore right quadriceps muscle.

Jacksonville's defense, which has been the glue all season, was dominant again. The unit held Houston to 186 yards.

The Jags led 31-0 at the break, their largest halftime lead in team history.

"It was very satisfying," defensive tackle Calais Campbell said.

EMBARRASSING LOSS

The Texans looked lost in every aspect. They did little on offense outside Hopkins' 25-yard TD catch against Jalen Ramsey and did even less to slow down Jacksonville.

T.J. Yates, making his first start since 2015, was mostly ineffective in place of Tom Savage (concussion). Yates completed 12 of 31 passes for 128 yards, with the TD and an interception.

"It's embarrassing, and you never want to get beat like that," said linebacker/defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who also called Bortles "trash" in the locker room. "It's embarrassing for the whole organization."

QUESTIONABLE CALL

The Texans could have run out the clock trailing 24-0 late in the first half, but with 53 seconds remaining and three timeouts, coach Bill O'Brien decided to try to get something going. Yates threw an interception, and the Jaguars scored three plays later.

"I just felt we had to try and make a move," O'Brien said. "The issue is you can't run it. You have to throw it. We did, and it didn't work out."

INJURIES

Texans: Center Nick Martin (ankle) and right guard Jeff Allen (concussion) left in the second half. Linebacker Benardrick McKinney injured a shoulder making a touchdown-saving tackle on a punt return.

Jaguars: Lee injured his right ankle in the first quarter and was later ruled out. Ramsey (groin), defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (hamstring) and safety Peyton Thompson(foot) left the game but later returned.

UP NEXT

Texans: Host Pittsburgh next Monday in the team's home finale.

Jaguars: Play at San Francisco on Sunday.