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Darnold shines, nearly delivers Jets another victory

Sat Dec 15 9:47pm ET
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Pro Football Writer

Players: Andre Roberts, Demaryius Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Robby Anderson, Ka'imi Fairbairn, Elijah McGuire, Deshaun Watson, Sam Darnold

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, back, sacks New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold during the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)


New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) avoids a hit from Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) during the second half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)


New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) runs with the ball as Houston Texans defensive end D.J. Reader (98) tries to stop him during the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)


New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) tries to avoid a sack from Houston Texans nose tackle Brandon Dunn during the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Sam Darnold nearly pulled off another one.

Six days after leading the New York Jets to the first fourth-quarter comeback victory of his young career, the rookie quarterback almost did it again - falling just shy in a 29-22 loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday night.

''To go out there against a good Texans team, it would've been awesome to be able to get that win,'' Darnold said, ''but we just came up short.''

Things looked promising after Darnold and the Jets (4-10) took their first lead of the game on Elijah McGuire's 2-yard touchdown run with just 5 minutes left.

The No. 3 overall pick made plays with his arm and legs during the impressive 15-play, 73-yard go-ahead drive as he converted three third-down plays and a fourth-down opportunity.

''He played a gritty ballgame,'' coach Todd Bowles said. ''He played tough and made some throws.''

On third-and-10 from the 19, Darnold took off for 14 yards - and a holding call on Aaron Colvin put the ball on the 2. After Darnold was stopped for no gain on a quarterback draw, he handed the ball to McGuire who pushed up the middle - surrounded by a surging mass of blockers who helped shove him all the way into the end zone for the score.

It set off a wild celebration by the Jets.

But Deshaun Watson and the Texans - whose nine-game winning streak was snapped by Indianapolis last Sunday - weren't going down for the second straight game. Watson threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins with 2:15 left, lifting Houston to the victory.

''We've just got to finish the game,'' Darnold said.

A holding call on cornerback Morris Claiborne on third down prolonged the Texans' winning drive, and Watson completed passes of 20 and 3 yards to Demaryius Thomas and 7 yards to Hopkins to get to New York's 14.

''This is how I feed my family,'' Claiborne said of the penalty call. ''When you make calls like that, you mess that up for me.''

Watson then found Hopkins streaking down the left sideline and launched a pass that the receiver somehow came down with despite being tightly covered by Claiborne.

''The holding call hurt us, obviously,'' Bowles said. ''That got them down the field and the guy made a heck of a catch at the end. Mo had him covered great. He's a great receiver and he made a heck of a play.''

Darnold and the Jets had two more chances to pull off a stunner.

On fourth-and-14 from the New York 21, Robby Anderson couldn't come down with Darnold's throw - and the Jets turned it over on downs.

''It was just a little bit of bad judgment by me,'' Anderson said. ''I came a little bit too much under it and it hit right off my fingertips.''

Moments later, Ka'imi Fairbairn's 40-yard field goal - his fifth kick of the game - made it 29-22 with 54 seconds left.

Darnold and the offense came out again with 75 yards between them and a tying touchdown. But after two incompletions and a sack, Darnold faced a fourth-and-18. He threw a short pass to McGuire, who gained 16 yards - 2 short of a first down, sealing the game.

''It's frustrating to lose the ballgame,'' Bowles said. ''We could've finished it a bunch of different ways. Whether it's offense or defense, we didn't finish it. The penalties cost us at the end.''

Darnold's overall performance, however, was a glaring bright spot for the Jets - who have had few things to feel good about this season.

He was 24 of 38 for 253 yards and touchdown passes to Anderson and Andre Roberts , and also ran six times for 35 yards in arguably his best game of the season. That would mark two straight solid outings for Darnold, who missed three games with a strained foot before returning against Buffalo last Sunday.

''He's just comfortable,'' Bowles said. ''He's just playing his game. He's not trying to be perfect. He's just trying to play football. He's just enjoying playing football. That comes with game by game, having success.

''You sit out a while, you get to step back and you come back and you learn a little bit. It looks like he's learned quite a bit.''

Darnold's teammates are also noticing a more confident playmaking quarterback on the field.

''He played phenomenally,'' safety Jamal Adams said. ''He's a bad man and the future is bright for him.''

The overall outlook for the Jets appears uncertain with Bowles likely to be looking for a new job when the season ends, and general manager Mike Maccagnan not a lock to return.

But one thing New York might be able to count on is the fact it has a young quarterback who is progressing each week.

''Yeah, I mean, I feel comfortable getting experience and I feel like I'm seeing the field a lot better,'' Darnold said. ''I feel like our whole offense is really starting to click a lot better, getting in and out. But, it comes down to wins and losses. We want to get out there and win the game. That's the whole point of playing, you want to win.''

Player Notes
Le'Veon Bell Feb 21 10:40pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers impending free-agent running back Le'Veon Bell's trainer responded to "ridiculous" speculation about Bell's shape by pointing out that he is feeling better in February than guys who played in 2018. "Hes going to be the same Le'Veon Bell only better, quicker and faster," Bell's trainer said. Bell sat out all of the 2018 season while refusing to sign his franchise tender, but some teams might still be wary of that fact that he's already run the ball 1,229 times in five seasons in the league. Bell is still young, though, and he's one of the most versatile running backs in the game. He should remain firmly in the high-end RB1 picture no matter where he signs.

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Ben Roethlisberger Feb 21 2:10pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said he supports quarterback Ben Roethlisberger 100 percent as the team's unquestioned leader amid criticism from disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown. "I have no problem with him. He can call me out and thats fine. What he does I totally respect because Ive seen him too many times win games for us and come through in situations," Colbert said. Owner Art Rooney also said last month that they plan to sign Big Ben, 37, to a contract extension. Roethlisberger led the NFL in yards (5,129) and had a career-high 34 touchdowns, so he wasn't as washed up as most fantasy owners thought before the season. He'll still be in play as a QB1 next season, but losing Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown -- two of the best playmakers in football -- will surely hurt his overall ceiling.

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Carlos Hyde Feb 21 1:10pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Carlos Hyde is likely to be cut this offseason, as Hays Carlyon projects there's an 80 percent chance of that happening. The Jags would save $4.75 million if they were to release him. Hyde didn't do much at all after the team gave up a fifth-round pick for him in the middle of last season to serve as insurance for the injured Leonard Fournette. The 28-year-old ran 58 times for 189 yards (3.3 yards per carry) and no touchdowns in eight games. He could land a job on the open market, but Hyde is unlikely to receive a prominent role anywhere else.

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Antonio Callaway Feb 21 1:00pm ET

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Antonio Callaway had his marijuana charge dropped on Thursday, according to his lawyer Kevin Spellacy. Callaway pleaded guilty to speeding on Oct. 14 in a hearing on Jan. 25. He paid $911 in fines and court costs and received one year of monitored probation for driving with a suspended license. The team's fourth-round pick last year must be on his best behavior to avoid a suspension from the league, however. The 22-year-old caught 43 passes for 586 yards and led the team with five touchdowns in his first year. If he can stay out of further trouble, Callaway should take the next step as the team's deep threat in an offense that is only getting better.

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LeGarrette Blount Feb 20 10:30pm ET

The Detroit Lions are not expected to re-sign impending unrestricted free-agent running back LeGarrette Blount this offseason. Tight ends Levine Toilolo and Luke Willson and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois are also expected to hit the open market. The 32-year-old Blount had 154 carries for only 418 yards (career-low 2.7 yards per carry) and five touchdowns in his only season in Detroit. He had a whopping 18 touchdowns with the Patriots in 2016, but that was an outlier season for the former Oregon Duck, as he never topped six scores in any other year. He doesn't have much left at this point in his career and is strictly a short-yardage, goal-line back.

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Thurston Armbrister Feb 20 5:23pm ET

Arizona Cardinals LB Thurston Armbrister was waived Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Hayden Hurst Feb 20 5:20pm ET

Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst (foot), who was the 25th overall pick in last year's draft, said an X-ray showed he is now 100 percent after he had a screw removed from his foot. Hurst went down with a stress fracture in August and played in 12 games in his rookie season, catching only 13 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams will be free agents, so Hurst and 2018 third-round pick Mark Andrews could compete for playing time in 2019. Hurst is only 25 and has pass-catching upside, but he's still probably only an asset in dynasty/keeper leagues to begin next season. He could become a waiver wire pickup if he sees considerable playing time and proves he's healthy.

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Le'Veon Bell Feb 20 5:00pm ET

There is word on the street that Pittsburgh Steelers impending free-agent running back Le'Veon Bell is up to around 260 pounds after holding out for all of 2018. His playing weight is listed as 225 pounds. Bell may have lost a lot of that extra baggage now, but the Jets and other teams may be concerned about what kind of shape he's in. There's also concern about how much the 27-year-old has left in the tank after his 1,635 touches in five seasons. Bell is believed to be looking for a deal that nets him $48 million in the first three years of his next deal. He is arguably the best dual-threat running back in the last decade and should still be an RB1 in his new home.

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Le'Veon Bell Feb 20 4:43pm ET

Free-agent RB Le'Veon Bell (Steelers) reportedly weighed around 260 pounds during his year off from football. The Jets are fairly concerned about the shape Bell is in after he played at 225 pounds in 2017. New York is considered to be one of the front-runners to sign Bell this offseason. Despite the weight issue, the Jets will add him for the right price. The Jets currently boast the second largest salary cap heading into the offseason behind the Indianapolis Colts.

Fantasy Spin: Running back will be even more of a need if Isaiah Crowell is not retained. Bell would make a nice fit in green and white but is an RB1 candidate wherever he lands, assuming the weight won't be a big issue.

David Mayo Feb 20 3:33pm ET

Carolina Panthers LB David Mayo (hernia) recently underwent surgery for a sports hernia, according to The Athletic's Joe Person. Mayo is rehabilitating and is expected to make a full recovery.

Landon Collins Feb 20 3:23pm ET

New York Giants impending free-agent SS Landon Collins is expected to be pursued by the Indianapolis Colts in free agency, according to The Herald Bulletin's George Bremer.

Dion Sims Feb 20 3:10pm ET

The Chicago Bears are expected to release tight end Dion Sims, according to a source. He was due $6 million in 2019, so he'll become a salary cap casualty. The 28-year-old played in just 22 games in his two years in Chicago and caught only 17 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown over that span. Sims is mainly a blocking tight end and won't have a huge market for his services this offseason.

From RotoBaller

Dion Sims Feb 20 2:43pm ET

Chicago Bears impending free-agent TE Dion Sims is expected to be released, according to a source. Cutting Sims saves the Bears $6 million in salary cap space.

Landon Collins Feb 20 2:23pm ET

New York Giants impending free-agent SS Landon Collins cleared out his locker and said goodbye to teammates Wednesday, Feb. 20, indicating he does not expect to return to the Giants this year.

Jaelen Strong Feb 20 2:13pm ET

Free-agent WR Jaelen Strong (Jaguars) was signed to an undisclosed deal by the Cleveland Browns Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Le'Veon Bell Feb 20 1:43pm ET

Updating an ongoing saga, Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell will not be the recipient of the transition tag, according to general manager Kevin Colbert, Wednesday, Feb. 20. Bell will hit the open market in March.

Fantasy Spin: This isn't a big surprise. Gamers will have to wait to see where he ends up to get a true valuation, but Bell will remain in the RB1 ranks, albeit with risk, for 2019.

Todd Gurley Feb 20 1:20pm ET

Los Angeles Rams running back C.J. Anderson said Todd Gurley's knee injury was worse than the team originally thought when they signed Anderson to take over for Gurley for the final two regular season games. "Yeah, he'd never really tell me. It was tough. I would say sprained knee," Anderson said. "Obviously, it's the same knee injury he's had before in his career." Head coach Sean McVay and the Rams were calling it knee inflammation. Gurley has taken a pounding and no player in the league has had more touches than him since the start of 2017. He had just 14 carries in the conference championship and Super Bowl combined, so something was clearly not right with the star back. Gurley has gone over 1,000 yards on the ground in three of his four seasons and had 21 total touchdowns in 2018, making him the league's premiere running back. Despite ending the year hobbled in the playoffs, Gurley is a no-brainer first overall fantasy selection in 2019.

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Antonio Brown Feb 20 1:20pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the team will attempt to trade wide receiver Antonio Brown this offseason, but they will not give him away. If the trade doesn't benefit the Steelers, they will not trade him. Both sides are ready to move on, but the Steelers are unlikely to get a ton for the star wideout. Brown has rubbed many in the organization the wrong way despite putting up six straight seasons of 1,000 yards and 100-plus catches. While he's still the cream of the receiving crop, Brown is heading into his age-31 season and will likely do so in a whole new offense. He'll remain a high-end WR1, but Brown will come with more risk than ever before.

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Le'Veon Bell Feb 20 1:10pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the team will not place the franchise or transition tag on running back Le'Veon Bell. "LeVeon is still a great player. We cant afford to use any other type of tags. LeVeon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year," Colbert said. Bell held out for the entire 2018 season after the Steelers placed the franchise tag on him. He'll be free to sign any other club next month and is not expected back in Pittsburgh. The versatile back has 1,000-yard seasons in three of his five years in the NFL and is also one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league. He's likely to remain a strong RB1 wherever he goes next, but his upside will depend on the offense that he's in.

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Adam Thielen Feb 20 12:30pm ET

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen's agent, Blake Baratz, thinks his client and two-time Pro Bowler could reach an extension with the team this offseason. Thielen signed a four-year deal worth $19.246 million in 2017 that will pay him around $8 million in 2019. He has outplayed his contract after setting career highs in catches (113), yards (1,373) and touchdowns (nine). Thielen just keeps improving season after season and has become a strong WR2 in point-per-reception leagues. It helps that he'll be working with quarterback Kirk Cousins again in 2019.

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