Thu Oct 17 2:10pm ET
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Pro Football Writer
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passes under pressure from the New York Giants in the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are still rolling right along with a high-powered offense and a stingy defense that has their record blemish-free.
The New York Jets look a bit different, though, from the team Bill Belichick's bunch beat 30-14 less than a month ago. And, it all starts at quarterback.
Luke Falk was under center then, making his first NFL start and looking overwhelmed and overmatched. Sam Darnold is back this time around, fully recovered from mononucleosis and coming off one of the best performances of his young career.
''He's a big, strong kid that can stand in the pocket and he's hard to tackle,'' Belichick said. ''He's not an easy guy to bring down. He's big, he can see and find guys under pressure.''
Darnold showed no signs of rust after missing three games because of his illness, going 23 of 32 for 338 yards and two TDs with an INT in a 24-22 win over Dallas and being selected the AFC's offensive player of the week.
It was a big boost for what had been a badly struggling Jets offense. Darnold's day was highlighted by his 92-yard touchdown throw to Robby Anderson, the longest offensive play in the NFL this season and the second-longest in franchise history.
Now, Darnold and the Jets hope to use that momentum to get something going against the Patriots' top-ranked defense at MetLife Stadium in a prime-time showdown.
''You've got to continue to grind,'' Darnold said. ''We know that after a good win, you've got to come right back in here because we got a tough one Monday night against the Pats. We know what our job is, we've just got to come in and get back to work.''
The Patriots are off to a 6-0 start for the fourth time in team history, with a chance to get to 7-0 for just the third time. They also have a chance to sweep the two-game regular-season series against the Jets for the fourth straight year.
Brady is 28-6 against the Jets in the regular season, including seven straight wins. He's also 16-7 in Monday night games, including 2-0 against New York. Meanwhile, Belichick is 18-8 on Monday nights - but just 9-7 in those games on the road.
''Monday night is always a high-energy game,'' Belichick said. ''We'll point to that and know it's always tough down there in New York. So, we need to have a good week here and be ready to go.''
Here are some other things to know for the latest Patriots-Jets showdown:
BEEN A WHILE
The Jets and Patriots play on a Monday night for the eighth time, and New York leads those matchups 4-3.
The previous time the AFC East rivals squared off on ''Monday Night Football'' was in 2010, when New England cruised to a 45-3 victory.
It's also the first time the Patriots are playing a Monday night game on the road against the Jets since 2005, when they won 31-21.
The Patriots entered Week 7 allowing a league-low eight points per game. One of the reasons is how stingy their defense has been on third down.
New England has held teams to an NFL-low 10 of 73 (13.7 percent) conversion rate in those situations. The fewest third downs allowed in a 16-game season is 49 by the 1991 New Orleans Saints.
In their Week 3 win over the Jets, the Patriots did not allow a third-down conversion, which is something New England has accomplished five times since 2000. Only five teams have not allowed a third down twice in the same season - the Packers (2005), Eagles (2009), Giants (2010), Dolphins (2011) and Saints (2018).
Le'Veon Bell hasn't had a breakout-type game for the Jets, but the fluid quarterback situation certainly hasn't helped.
With Darnold back and the offensive line improving the past few weeks, the star running back could start seeing some more opportunities to make plays. He has 256 yards rushing and a TD on 85 carries for a 3.0 average, and 28 catches for 169 yards and a score.
''Hopefully we can open it up a little bit for him,'' coach Adam Gase said. ''We've seen a lot of loaded boxes, he's had a lot of tough runs. He's made the most of what he's had and probably gotten us more than what we should have.''
WELCOME BACK, WATSON
Tight end Ben Watson is back for another stint with the Patriots and it's right on time for an offense looking for some stability and more production from the position.
The 38-year-old Watson was re-signed by New England on Wednesday, less than a week after being released. Belichick left the door open for Watson to return, saying he was cut simply because there wasn't an available roster spot once he returned from serving a four-game suspension for a positive banned substance test following last season.
Circumstances changed when Matt LaCosse injured his knee during the Patriots' win over the Giants on Thursday.
Without Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots haven't gotten a ton of production in the pass game from their tight ends. LaCosse and Ryan Izzo have combined for only nine catches for 169 yards.
Michael Bennett will be missing from the Patriots' defensive huddle on Monday night.
The defensive end was suspended for what he said in a statement to ESPN was a ''philosophical disagreement'' with defensive line coach Bret Bielema. Bennett also offered an apology for any distraction it might have created.
Belichick declined to comment when asked about the suspension this week.
The Patriots traded for the 11-year veteran in March, but his usage has steadily decreased over New England's first six games. Bennett has started just once and played a season-low 11 snaps in the Patriots' win over the Giants in Week 6.
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who will be a free agent next month, wants to play another season and hopes he can remain with the Cowboys. However, Witten understands that he might have to go elsewhere if he wants to play in a 17th NFL season. The veteran tight end has met with new head coach Mike McCarthy and has talked with owners Jerry Jones and executive vice president Stephen Jones. Witten hauled in 63 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns in 2019 in his return from a one-year absence from the game. He's headed into his age-38 season, and while he can still give something to a team, he won't be anything more than a touchdown-dependent, low-end TE2 if he plays again in 2020 for the Cowboys or another squad.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will make an attempt to re-sign linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who led the NFL in 2019 with 19.5 sacks in his first year with the team. Barrett, who is scheduled to be a free agent in March, would be looking at potentially $20 million per season on the open market, so it won't be easy for the Buccaneers to retain him. If they choose to, Tampa could place the franchise tag on Barrett to ensure that he's around for at least one more season. In addition to the 19.5 sacks, the 27-year-old pass rusher had a career-high 58 tackles (45 solo), six forced fumbles and one interception. In his four seasons with Denver prior to 2019, Barrett had a combined 14 sacks.
An MRI exam taken on Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco (back) last week showed encouraging results, but his agent, Joe Linta, is seeking a second opinion from spine specialist Dr. Andrew Dossett. "Joe has every intention to play but not at the risk of his long-term health," Linta said Tuesday. Flacco went on season-ending Injured Reserve with a bulging disc in his neck after the team's eighth game of last season. The veteran QB has two years at $20.25 million and $24.25 million left on his contract, which will be way too high as a backup quarterback. The Broncos could either restructure Flacco's contract, trade him or release him. The 35-year-old would be Drew Lock's backup in Denver if he stays, and he'd be auditioning for a backup job on the open market as well, most likely.
The Atlanta Falcons signed kicker Younghoe Koo and punter Ryan Allen to one-year contract extensions on Tuesday. Koo, 25, played in the team's final eight games in 2019 after the club parted ways with veteran Matt Bryant. He made 23 of his 26 field-goal attempts and made 15 of his 16 extra points. Koo made his only field-goal try from 50-plus yards and was also pretty successful with onside kicks in the second half of the season. In an Atlanta offense that could easily bounce back in 2020, Koo could be a fantasy sleeper at the kicking position heading into drafts.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt expects to be in the team's plans for 2020 despite admitting that he would fail a drug test during a routine traffic stop. Hunt is a restricted free agent, so he's hoping Cleveland will place a first-round tender on him or try to sign him to a long-term deal. The 24-year-old was suspended for the first eight games last year for a domestic-violence incident, and he took a back seat to Nick Chubb in the ground game. However, he was used consistently as a passer out of the backfield with 37 catches for 285 yards and a touchdown through the air. If he returns, he'll continue to have RB3/flex appeal in PPR leagues behind Chubb.
The Seattle Seahawks are signing former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen to a one-year, $7 million deal on Tuesday, according to a source. The deal includes $5.5 million in guarantees. Olsen visited with the Bills and Redskins before making the decision to go to Seattle. Will Dissly ruptured his Achilles in 2019, Ed Dickson is a candidate to be released and Luke Willson (unrestricted) and Jacob Hollister (restricted) are free agents. Olsen, a three-time Pro Bowler in 13 NFL seasons, should be the team's primary pass-catching tight end and will have low-end TE1 value with quarterback Russell Wilson throwing him passes. He was the first tight end in history to have 1,000 yards receiving in three straight seasons from 2014-16, but the 34-year-old (35 in March) has dealt with injuries in recent seasons.
The New Orleans Saints seem likely to give quarterback Taysom Hill, who will be a restricted free agent in March, at least a first- or second-round tender offer now that Drew Brees has announced he will return for at least one more season. Teddy Bridgewater is expected to have a big market in free agency and seems destined to leave town now that Brees is returning, so Hill would be in line as the heir apparent if Brees hangs up his cleats after the 2020 season. Hill attempted just six passes last year despite Brees missing time with injury, and it remains to be seen if they really believe he can be a franchise signal-caller in the long-term. He's a great Swiss Army knife for the Saints, but he probably won't have much fantasy appeal in redraft leagues next season unless Bridgewater leaves and Brees misses more games due to injury.
Houston Texans middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney (ankle) underwent arthroscopic ankle surgery, according to league sources. McKinney is expected to make a full recovery before next season. The 27-year-old just finished up his fifth season in the NFL with Houston and recorded 101 tackles (54 solo), one sack, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in 14 games played in 2019. He was a Pro Bowler in 2018 and has recorded 100-plus combined tackles in three of his five seasons in the league. McKinney has also missed just four games in five seasons, and he's an integral part of the middle of Houston's defense.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees announced that he will be returning for his 15th season as Saints quarterback. There was some uncertainty about whether Brees would retire this offseason, but his return was the widely expected result. This leaves Teddy Bridgewater very likely to become a free agent instead, where recent rumors say he may get $30 million a year offers. Brees should remain a solid fantasy option in all formats, although he has stated his willingness to give Taysom Hill more snaps under center.
Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr., whose name was thrown around before last year's draft and at the October trade deadline, thinks that the team will allow him to test the open market once he officially becomes a free agent next month. "If they want me back, then Ill be back," Harris said. The 30-year-old has become one of the better cover cornerbacks in the NFL after nine years in the league, earning four Pro Bowl nods and a first-team All-Pro selection in 2016. This past year, Harris had 56 tackles (44 solo), one interception and one forced fumble over a full season. With Denver's D looking to take a step forward in Year 2 under head coach Vic Fangio, losing Harris would be a big setback to the secondary.
The Arizona Cardinals agreed with left tackle D.J. Humphries on a three-year, $45 million deal on Monday, according to sources. Humphries will make $30 million over the first two years, and the deal includes $29 million guaranteed. The 26-year-old played in a full season in 2019 for the first time since going 24th overall in the first round in 2015. Humphries isn't the most talented left tackle in the league, but he'll bring stability at the position and help protect quarterback Kyler Murray's blind side moving forward.
Multiple teams expect New Orleans Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to have a strong free-agent market as a starting or bridge quarterback for a team in transition this offseason. Bridgewater is expected to sign with another team unless Drew Brees retires. The 27-year-old Louisville alumni played in nine games in 2019 and held his own with Brees missing time due to an injury, but he wasn't asked to be much more than a game manager. He hasn't been a starter in the NFL since 2015 with the Vikings, but Bridgewater could certainly become fantasy relevant at least as a high-end QB2 if he's starting elsewhere in 2020. How much upside he'll have will depend on where he lands.
The Carolina Panthers think that quarterback Cam Newton (foot) is likely to pass a physical and be cleared for some football activities in March, according to a source. However, they will still likely use caution with him in spring workouts if he remains on the team. Newton continues to rehab a surgically repaired Lisfranc injury to his left foot, one that kept him out for most of the 2019 season. But if Newton proves he's not past his injury, the Panthers could decide to move on from the 30-year-old. The former first overall pick in 2011 is a high-end QB1 for his ability to use his legs, but he may not run as much as he ages and is now an injury risk as more of a high-end QB2 leading up to the 2020 season. He might be even more unattractive to fantasy owners if he's playing somewhere other than Carolina next season, too.
The Detroit Lions have talked with multiple teams about a potential trade for Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, according to sources. However, any team that trades for Slay must compensate the Lions and Slay with a new deal, and Detroit is determined to get fair value for Slay. The 29-year-old former second-round pick in 2013 has been to three straight Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2017 when he had a career-high eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed. He had 46 total tackles in 2019 (36 solo), two interceptions and one fumble recovery in his 14 games played. If the Lions trade Slay, they will certainly need to address the position in free agency or the draft.
The Miami Dolphins don't view Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as a slam-dunk pick with the fifth overall selection in this year's draft. On the flip side, the team has an increasingly positive view of Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert after he impressed at the Senior Bowl, according to sources familiar with the team's thinking. One source said the Dolphins are concerned about Tagovailoa's return from a fractured and dislocated hip he suffered last November, and his durability in the long-term. Ive been down there to see him. Tua is a great player. I just worry about his health, owner Stephen Ross said. The Dolphins like Herbert's size (6-foot-6, 237 pounds), his arm talent and his mobility. Miami could change their mind on Tagovailoa once they meet with him at the Combine, but he certainly shouldn't be considered a lock to be taken by the Dolphins at fifth overall.
The Cleveland Browns released tight end Demetrius Harris, cornerback T.J. Carrie, offensive guard Eric Kush and linebacker Adarius Taylor on Monday. Harris played in 15 games (six starts) in 2019 and caught 15 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Mostly known for his blocking prowess, Harris couldn't even take advantage when David Njoku was lost for most of the year due to an injury. The 28-year-old should land on his feet, but we wouldn't expect him to enter the 2020 season with much fantasy appeal, even as a backup tight end.
Tennessee Titans running back Dion Lewis could be a salary cap casualty this year. Lewis carries a $5.1 million salary for 2020, and the Titans can save $4 million if they cut him, with $1.1 million in dead money. He basically served in a change-of-pace role behind bell-cow Derrick Henry in 2019, carrying the ball only 54 times for 209 yards while adding 25 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. The 29-year-old was important on third downs and can help pass protect, but the Titans may decide to move to a younger and less expensive option in the draft. Other potential cap casualties include kicker Ryan Succop, veteran tight end Delanie Walker and outside linebacker/defensive end Cameron Wake.
Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed (concussion) remains in the concussion protocol six months after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit in the preseason. It was the seventh documented concussion of his career, and it caused him to miss all of the 2019 season. His future in the league and with Washington is up in the air. At this point, it seems likely that the Redskins will cut him to save $8.5 million in 2020. The 29-year-old has never played an entire season in the NFL because of injuries and has played in 19 games combined from 2017 to 2018. Even if Reed is playing somewhere this season, he'll be a high-risk, low-reward TE2.
The New York Jets won't cut running back Le'Veon Bell because of the $19 million in dead salary cap money if they do so, and because of his massive salary, a trade is remote as well. If they really wanted to trade Bell, they'd have to be willing to pay a portion of his 2020 salary, which is $13.5 million in total guarantees. And the Jets would probably only be able to get a Day 3 draft pick in return. After taking a year off in 2018, The 27-year-old (28 on Tuesday) looked slow and heavy in his first year in New York. Bell ran 245 times for only 789 yards (a career-low 3.2 yards per carry) and only three touchdowns. His receiving contributions help, but Bell's fantasy stock will obviously be down entering 2020 fall drafts. Consider him more of an RB2 with some upside if he comes into camp motivated to bounce back.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said he has "no hesitation" that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) will be ready for Week 1. "This guy is the ultimate competitor. He dropped the gauntlet down. He made the statement he's coming back," Tomlin said. Roethlisberger played in just two games last year before needing season-ending right elbow surgery. He should be ready to go this summer, barring any setbacks, but he'll be entering his age-38 season and will be an injury risk as a low-end QB1/high-end QB2. But don't sleep on Big Ben, as he threw for a career-high 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2018.