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Texans suffer without Cushing

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Texans suffer without Cushing

Before last week, the Houston Texans appeared to be the best team in the AFC.

That's no longer a foregone conclusion, and Sunday's game against the Ravens will determine which 5-1 team gets the nod.

While the Ravens struggled to hold on for a 31-29 win vs. the Dallas Cowboys in giving up a franchise-record 227 yards rushing at home, the Texans were embarrassed by the Green Bay Packers 42-24 at Reliant Stadium.

Is there anything to learn from what Green Bay did that can help Baltimore's chances?

"Everybody has them games where a team just has your number. Green Bay came in with a great plan and executed it," Ravens running back Ray Rice said. "That's not to say they won't show up ready to play on Sunday. … (Winning) this game puts us at the top and everybody else two or three games behind."

The Texans not only were coming off a short week after having played on a Monday night, but they were playing their first game without linebacker Brian Cushing who went down with a season-ending knee ligament tear.

While J.J. Watt gets a bulk of the attention, adjusting without Cushing probably factored into why Aaron Rodgers threw for six touchdowns as the Packers' offense dominated.

"He's such a huge presence. I felt like he anchored that defense because he got everything rolling. He covered just as good as he rushed," Rice said. "I'm good friends with him. I wish him a speedy recovery.

"The other linebackers -- no knock on them -- they're filling in great. I don't think you can replace a guy like Cushing right away because what (coordinator) Wade Phillips has done with that defense is essentially based around (Cushing) doing what he has to do."

Center Matt Birk points out that there's no shame in losing to Green Bay.

"Certainly they were at the top of their game. That's what it takes to beat this team. They're no fluke," Birk said of the Texans. "They're a great team. Being down at their place just adds to the challenge, adds to the degree of difficulty."

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Steelers players plunder Le'Veon Bell's locker a day after missed deadline

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Steelers players plunder Le'Veon Bell's locker a day after missed deadline

Le'Veon Bell decided not to return to the Steelers this season, and his former teammates have apparently decided they can have his belongings. 

The All-Pro running back didn't sign his $14.5 million franchise tag by Tuesday's deadline, and thus is ineligible to play this season.

Steelers player were seen plundering his locker Wednesday in front of reporters. Defensive end Bud Dupree went right for Bell's cleats, thanking him for the Jordan brand shoes and saying he wishes Bell success.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters he sent Bell his well-wishes, but got no response from his former backfield mate. 

It's unclear what Bell plans to do next, but it's crystal clear the Steelers have moved on, with his shoes in tow. 

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Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III prepared to start if hip injury sidelines Joe Flacco

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USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III prepared to start if hip injury sidelines Joe Flacco

Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has had his fair share of life changing moments. 

Winning the Heisman Trophy in 2016, being drafted by the Ravens in the first-round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and come Sunday, possibly his first NFL start.

With Joe Flacco nursing a hip injury suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 9, the 21-year-old could be leading the Ravens for a full 60 minutes against division rival Cincinnati Bengals in what could be a defining moment of their season.

"I'm just going into it like any other week," Jackson said Wednesday. "Just preparing for whatever."

While Jackson has appeared in all nine games going 7-for-12 for 87 passing yards and one touchdown, he is the only first-round quarterback out of the 2018 draft that has yet to start this season. 

When asked how he would feel if his name is called Sunday, Jackson said he would have butterflies at first but added once the ball is snapped, "it's on."

Through the Ravens' first half of the season, how and when Jackson is utilized at either quarterback or receiver, has lacked consistency. Add in the lack of highlight reel passes from him and many are concerned he's not ready for an NFL start. 

The fast style of NFL play compared to that of college football was something Jackson admittedly struggled with throughout the preseason. But with nine regular season games under his belt, Jackson feels that is the area where he's taken the biggest strides. 

"Calling the plays," Jackson said. "Before I'd have to ask coach a hundred times, 'say it again, say it again,' but now he says it one time to me. Don't get me wrong, sometimes if [the call] is long or whatever I have to ask [coach to] say it again, but other than that I'm getting better with that."

Head coach John Harbaugh offered no insight on who would be their starting quarterback on Sunday and it can be expected he'll keep hush up until the last moment. Flacco was not on the practice field during media availability Wednesday, either. 

But let's not forget the other veteran quarterback on their roster; Robert Griffin III

For the first time since 2009, the Ravens decided to keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster for this very reason.

After sitting out of football for a year, RGIII was given a second chance in Baltimore, but has been a gameday inactive since the start of the season. If the week progresses and neither Flacco or Jackson seem ready, it could be the comeback of the once Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

"That's my job. That's why they brought me here," Griffin III said Wednesday on if he feels prepared to possibly start. "They brought me here to be a pro. They brought me here to help this team if need be. I try to help the defense every week on scout team and then do those [reps], and if my number's called I'll be able to go out there and lead this team."

Both RGIII and Jackson said that it would be "awesome" if they were named the starting QB on Sunday, but that no matter who it ends up being they're all here for one another.

"I'm going to continue to help [Lamar] just like I have all season because we're about the Ravens here," Griffin III said. "It's not about individuals. We've got a pretty daunting task ahead with this Bengals team and then just with the rest of our schedule, so we've got to make sure we make the most of every opportunity."

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