Patriots

INTERCONFERENCE: Howard's 19-yard TD in o.t. lifts Bears over Steelers, 23-17

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INTERCONFERENCE: Howard's 19-yard TD in o.t. lifts Bears over Steelers, 23-17

CHICAGO - Jordan Howard pushed through the pain in his right shoulder to give the Bears the lift they needed.

Howard scored on a 19-yard run in overtime to lead Chicago to a 23-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

Howard's winning score came two plays after rookie Tarik Cohen broke off an electric run for what appeared to be a 73-yard game-winning touchdown . But he was ruled out at the Pittsburgh 37. Howard took over from there and got a big assist as he ran along the left side. Deonte Thompson might have grabbed Pittsburgh's Artie Burns while pushing him out of bounds. But no flag was thrown, and the Bears (1-2) came away with a surprising victory.

"You always dream about stuff like that but it never happens so it was real crazy," Howard said. "Definitely, it was a very wacky game but through everything that happened we found a way to win."

Howard came up clutching his right shoulder - which has bothered him since the opener - several times and wasn't sure he would make it through this game.

He wound up with 138 of Chicago's 220 yards rushing and two touchdown runs. It was just what the Bears needed with quarterback Mike Glennon delivering another lackluster performance.

The Steelers (2-1) stayed off the sideline for the national anthem in the wake of President Donald Trump's comments that players who kneel in protest should be fired. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva - an Army veteran - stood near the tunnel with his hand over his heart.

Once the game ended, they found themselves in a familiar spot - losing to a lesser team and losing in Chicago, where they are 1-13 against the Bears.

The Steelers have had at least one head-scratching loss every year going back to 2012.

Last year, Pittsburgh fell 34-3 to Philadelphia, which finished with a losing record. In 2015, the Steelers were surging toward a playoff spot, when they lost late in the season to a Baltimore team that went 5-11.

Despite the victory, Glennon did nothing to stop the calls in Chicago for No. 2 overall draft pick Mitchell Trubisky, throwing for just 101 yards with a touchdown and interception.

Marcus Cooper committed an inexplicable fumble after the Bears blocked a field goal in the closing seconds of the half. With a clear path to the end zone, he slowed down and had the ball poked away at the 1.

But the Bears won for just the first time in nine September games over three seasons under coach John Fox.

Ben Roethlisberger blamed himself for Pittsburgh's loss.

"I think I was off today," he said after throwing for 235 yards and a touchdown. "For whatever reason, I did not make all the throws I normally would and make the plays I normally should."

Antonio Brown had 110 yards receiving and a touchdown. And Le'Veon Bell ran for 61 yards and a TD for Pittsburgh.

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What happened Sunday in Jacksonville won't happen again

What happened Sunday in Jacksonville won't happen again

Sunday was bad. Really bad. Did it signal a sea change in the AFC -- an AFsea change, if you will?

Probably not. 

Here's the logic: As you've probably been reminded roughly 7,000 times since the Jaguars wrapped up their 31-20 win over the Patriots Sunday evening, Bill Belichick teams get better over the course of the year. They have at least one bad early season loss, then the defense gets better over time to the point where it's good enough in the Super Bowl, provided you don't sit the star cornerback. 

For as troubling as Sunday looked, you can be confident enough in that improvement happening again to the point where the defense will look a heck of a lot better if and when these teams meet in the playoffs. 

What you can't be as confident in is that Blake Bortles will do that again. 

Bortles is fine. He's not great, and that gets him a lot of attention because a lot of other parts of that team are. On Sunday, the only time the Patriots touched him was when they seemingly put a gold jacket on him at the end of the first half. When all was said and done, the fifth-year QB had gone for 377 yards with four touchdowns and a pick. 

There are a lot of takeaways you can have from that game, most of which are probably about the defense being pretty bad right now. "Oh shoot, Blake Bortles is actually awesome!" isn't one of them. That's because he's been in the league long enough for him to establish what he is. Unless there's some sort of Eli Manning phenomenon going on here -- which should still bewilder people to this day -- Patriots fans should still feel pretty confident against the Jaguars, for now. 

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The "pretty" and the "for now" are important there because this is a team that still almost beat you once without Bortles being great. He was good in that AFC Championship -- 23 of 36 for 293 with a touchdown and no picks -- but his impact on that contest would fall under the "didn't lose the game for them, but wasn't exactly dominant" category. 

And that's common enough. Even with how important the quarterback position is, you need to be truly horrible to actually be incapable of winning on a good team. "Meh" QBs have won, and Bortles is more "meh" than horrible. 

As for the "for now," if that team is ever above average at quarterback while adding weapons and maintaining what they are on defense, they'd seemingly be favorites in a conference that's looking for someone to establish themselves as the Patriots wind down. If this group doesn't prove to be a flash in the pan and adds the necessary pieces, it's plausible that they could become the class of the AFC. 

But they're not there yet, at least as it relates to this season. Because Tom Brady's still there and the Patriots defense will get better. It always does because that's what Bill Belichick teams do. 

If we're going to look at the history there, we've also got to look at the history everywhere else. To expect Bortles to become the player he was Sunday would be a leap. Here's betting New England's defense will be better the next time these teams see each other, and the mythical figure that torched them Sunday will be nowhere to be seen. 

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Belichick still won't say Gordon trade is finished

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Belichick still won't say Gordon trade is finished

The Patriots have announced the trade, and even pieced together an Instagram post of Tom Brady throwing to Josh Gordon. The Browns have announced the trade.

But none of that, apparently, is good enough for Bill Belichick:

And hypothetical questions on today's conference call about possibly bringing aboard a player with Gordon's baggage, and how that would work? Nope, not going there either.

At least offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had a little something to say about a trade that everyone except Belichick acknowledges has been completed: