Wed Nov 27 5:59pm ET
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left, celebrates his touchdown pass to wide receiver N'Keal Harry, right, in the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick takes questions from reporters before an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
HOUSTON (AP) New England coach Bill Belichick has had plenty of success against his former assistants turned head coaches.
That includes Texans coach Bill O'Brien, who is 0-4 in his career against his old boss entering Sunday night's game against the Patriots (10-1). O'Brien was asked about his lack of success against Belichick since taking over in Houston in 2014.
''Obviously we've struggled against the Patriots in past years, but this is a different year,'' he said. ''Every year's different. Our team's different, their team's a little bit different, and we just have to go out there on Sunday night and we've got to play a clean game. We've got to play hard, we've got to be competitive for 60 minutes and see what happens.''
The Texans (7-4) have always had a tough time against New England and are 1-8 in the series with their only win coming on Jan. 3, 2010.
O'Brien worked in New England from 2007-11 before leaving to take over at Penn State. He said it's difficult to put into words what working with Belichick meant to his career.
''I learned a lot,'' he said. ''I learned a lot about game planning and personnel and strategy. That was a very important time for me in my coaching career. It was probably a place where I learned the most.''
Houston's first two meetings against New England with O'Brien in charge were blowouts with the Patriots outscoring the Texans 54-6. Their past two games, which have both come with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, have been much more competitive with both of those games being decided by a touchdown or less.
Belichick raved about Watson and the challenges he presents and said that even if there are only a few seconds left ''any game's a long way from being over if he has his hands on the ball.'' Watson thrives in prime-time games and has 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions in seven night games in his career.
''Deshaun's a very talented player, certainly one of the top players in the league at his position that we've faced,'' Belichick said. ''Does a great job on the deep ball, has very good touch and accuracy, is a good decision maker, obviously very athletic kid that can do a lot.''
He'll face perhaps his biggest challenge this season against a New England defense which is allowing the second-fewest yards in the NFL and whose 20 interceptions lead the league. Belichick believes his defense will be tested by the Texans because of the many playmakers they have surrounding Watson, including DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Kenny Stills and Carlos Hyde.
He recalled Watson's work in Houston's season opener against New Orleans, where the Texans took the lead late before losing on a last-second field goal.
''The two-minute situation against New Orleans, they're down by six points with less than a minute to go and they go 75 (yards) in 14 seconds,'' he said. ''That's the kind of explosive offense that, as a coach, scares you to death.''
The Patriots are the lone AFC team that can clinch a playoff berth this week.
The easiest path is with a victory combined with a loss or tie by Pittsburgh or Oakland.
New England can also lock up a berth with a tie and combination of losses by Oakland and Pittsburgh, Oakland and Indianapolis or Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. Pittsburgh, Oakland and Indianapolis all play earlier in the day on Sunday, so the Patriots will know exactly which scenario is in play by game time.
Fuller has been unstoppable in his past two games at home. The fourth-year receiver, who has struggled with injuries, is healthy now and has piled up 357 yards with three touchdowns in his past two games in Houston.
Fuller said that he wants to ''strike fear'' in defensive backs he lines up against and notices how it impacts those players when he grabs long receptions.
''You can just tell in their body language as the game goes on that they're a little scared,'' he said.
Fuller, who is averaging 14.4 yards a reception, has 590 yards receiving despite missing three games with a hamstring injury.
''He's made chunk plays for us, touchdowns, and he's a great player,'' O'Brien said. ''And when we get him as a part of our offense it really helps us, and it opens up a lot of different things.''
New England has had to make several adjustments on offense this season with key players spending time on injured reserve.
One of the biggest losses was at fullback, when starter James Develin went on IR prior to Week 4 with a neck injury. Rookie Jakob Johnson started three games in Develin's place before he also went on IR with a shoulder injury following the Patriots' Week 6 victory over the Giants.
The Patriots have gotten creative since then, using linebacker Elandon Roberts as needed to block out of the backfield.
Belichick called a block Roberts had late in New England's win over Dallas to help free Sony Michel for a 12-yard run ''one of the best blocks we've had all year.''
''He's been willing to do whatever he can to help the team win, and he's certainly helped us in that four-minute offense last week,'' Belichick said. ''He's worked hard at it and gotten better at it, so if we get into those situations and we need somebody that can do that, I think he's shown that he's capable of it.''
Kansas City Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy, who hasn't had a touch since Week 15 and who was inactive for the AFC Championship against the Titans, said he's not ready to retire after this season. "Nah, I'm not ready to retire, yet," McCoy said. "I still can play. So, I'm not going to retire yet, but that day is coming. That day is definitely coming." The 31-year-old has taken a back seat to running backs Damien Williams and rookie Darwin Thompson down the stretch, and he's unlikely to have much of a role, if any, in the Super Bowl against the 49ers. Shady has become more of a mentor in the running back room than an on-field performer for fantasy owners.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (shoulder) said that he's been playing through a torn labrum in his right shoulder since the start of the 2018 season. "So I dislocated my shoulder last year," Kittle said Sunday on the Pardon My Take podcast, "and my labrum is completely torn. So I don't get surgery on it -- [The protective sleeve] basically helps me, so it doesn't hurt all the time." He didn't miss any games in 2018 and set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,377. Kittle said there's "no chance" he has surgery in the future. The 26-year-old has been quiet in the postseason with four catches for 35 yards in two games, but the Niners haven't really needed him with their ground game humming. That could change in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs on Feb. 2.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt, who will be a free agent in March, emotionally admitted that he would fail a drug test to a police officer during a traffic stop recently. This was caught on video of the police officer's dash cam during the traffic stop. Hunt also admitted that the small amounts of marijuana found in the car were his, but the officer let Hunt off with just the speeding ticket. It remains to be seen if the NFL will consider a suspension for the 24-year-old from this incident. Hunt was released by the Chiefs during the 2018 season due to a domestic-violence incident, and he served a suspension before making his Browns debut in 2019. If he signs with another team this offseason and is given bell-cow duties in the backfield, Hunt could have RB1 upside.
The Los Angeles Chargers have "moved on from Philip Rivers," according to FOX Sports' Jay Glazer. Rivers is set to become a free agent in March, and the writing was on the wall when he recently moved his entire family from San Diego to Florida. Rivers will end a 16-year run with the Chargers, but it remains to be seen where he'll land on the free-agent market this offseason. The Buccaneers are a popular expected destination, but that'll only be if they move on from Jameis Winston. Rivers completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,615 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 2019 for a QB rating of 88.5. He might have a few more seasons left in him, but at 38 years old his arm strength is clearly deteriorating, and he'll probably be more of a QB2 in 2020, depending on where he winds up.
Baltimore Ravens defensive end Matthew Judon is a candidate to receive the team's franchise tag and could also be traded, according to league sources. The Ravens would like to bring Judon back in 2020, but they are also likely to listen to trade offers if another team shows interest. The Niners dealt a second-round pick to the Chiefs last year for defensive end Dee Ford, who then signed a five-year deal worth up to $87.5 million last March. The Chiefs also traded first- and third-round picks to the Seahawks last April for defensive end Frank Clark, who then signed a five-year, $105.5 million deal. Judon has emerged as a high-end pass rusher with at least seven sacks in each of the last three years. The 27-year-old had a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2019 and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox was credited with a 61-yard interception return for touchdown at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Indianapolis Colts TE Jack Doyle posted three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown on four targets for the AFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Pittsburgh Steelers DE T.J. Watt posted an 82-yard fumble return for touchdown in the fourth quarter for the AFC at the Pro Bowl in Orlando on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews ended up with a game-high nine receptions for an AFC-best 73 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark Jr. registered two grabs for 67 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter, for the AFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams ended up with a team-high six receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper finished with three grabs for 24 yards and a touchdown on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins completed 13-of-22 passes for 181 yards, two touchdowns and one interception at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26
New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas hauled in five receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown with a team-high eight targets at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars DE Calais Campbell had a solo tackle, a sack and a quarterback hit in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26, winning the Defensive Most Valuable Player award.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson completed 16-of-23 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, winning Offensive Most Valuable Player. He also ran twice for six yards in the 38-33 win.
Houston Texans impending free-agent TE Darren Fells is a player the Texans will try to re-sign this offseason, but he probably will receive interest from multiple teams in free agency.
Houston Texans impending free-agent QB AJ McCarron is a candidate to be re-signed this offseason, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop.
New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), who is six weeks removed from groin/abdominal surgery, said he is jogging "a little bit" and is on track to take part in "spring football." Mosley has also started a vegan diet after playing in just two games last season because of his injury in his first year in New York. The 27-year-old should be ready for a full training camp heading into the 2020 season, and he should give Gang Green a steadying presence in the middle of the field next season. Mosley recorded 100-plus tackles in four of his five seasons in Baltimore before signing with the Jets in free agency last offseason.
Former Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who did not play at all in 2019, plans to play in 2020 after intentionally taking the season off to rest his body and mind. Berry was cut by the Chiefs in 2018 and has only played in three games since 2016 due to injuries and a bout with cancer. The former first-round pick in 2010 has 14 career interceptions and five touchdowns and could provide a team with a veteran presence in the secondary in 2020. However, it remains to be seen if any team will take a chance on the veteran moving forward. Berry is unlikely to be an asset in IDP leagues if he gets picked up by a team.