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Chicago Bears Q&A: How will the Roquan Smith situation be resolved? Would Will Fuller be a good fit at WR?

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Chicago Bears Q&Amp;A: How Will The Roquan Smith Situation Be Resolved? Would Will Fuller Be A Good Fit At Wr?
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The Chicago Bears open the preseason in three days against the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field. Linebacker Roquan Smith won’t be in uniform as he continues his hold-in — now with a trade request.

Smith’s situation, naturally, is the top question in Brad Biggs’ weekly Bears mailbag.

How will the Roquan Smith situation be resolved? — Stan K., Cedarburg, Wis.

My crystal ball is in the shop getting a tune-up for the regular season, so I can’t use it to answer this question. I will say that as often as a trade request results in an actual trade, there are just as many instances — probably more — when a trade request is simply a tactic in a protracted negotiation. If I had to venture a guess, I think the Bears will wind up reaching an extension agreement with Smith.

Trading Smith right now would be especially difficult. In a more typical situation in which a player requests a trade, the team might grant the player and his agent permission to seek one. That would involve the agent calling other teams and saying: “Hey, the Bears are willing to trade my client. I think they are seeking roughly (fill in the blank) in terms of compensation. What would you be willing to pay my client in a new contract?” Interested teams then could negotiate a contract with the agent, and that could lead to a trade being completed.

If you’re looking for an example of such a trade around this time of year, go back to July 2011 when the Bears traded tight end Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, received permission to shop for a trade and sent a mass email to the other 31 teams, writing: “The Bears have granted me permission to seek a trade for Greg Olsen. Please let me know if interested. Sounds like the Bears will be very reasonable on the compensation in return for Greg.”

That kind of scenario becomes more complex for Smith, who is operating without an agent. It also doesn’t sound like the Bears are interested in granting Smith permission to seek a trade, which his camp would require to have any contact with other teams.

“Right now, my intentions are to sign Roquan to this team,” general manager Ryan Poles said after practice Tuesday. “And we’re going to take it day by day. At the end of the day we’ve got to do what’s best for this organization. But my intentions are to make sure Roquan Smith’s on this team.”

Smith clearly is miffed with the status of negotiations, and it’s apparent the sides are not near a deal. If the Bears were willing to make Smith one of the top-paid linebackers in the NFL, my hunch is he already would be signed and on the practice field, not on the physically unable to perform list.

As I have written previously, I can see both sides of this situation. From Smith’s perspective, he has played excellent football for four seasons and feels it is time to get the security that comes with a second contract. If Poles wants to see Smith play a new position in a new scheme for a new coaching staff before he commits top-of-the-market money to a player he inherited, I can understand that as well.

I called an executive with another team. He has nothing to do with the Smith situation, but I wanted to pick his brain about the Bears’ dilemma.

“He’s a good stack linebacker,” he told me. “He’s not a top-five linebacker for me. Not right now anyway. If I was the GM or coach, I would say: ‘We want you on this football team. We think you have a bright future on this team. But we have to see you play in this defense first before we start talking about a contract. If you go out there and make plays and you become Shaquille Leonard, we’re going to pay you. This is a new team. New system. New way of doing things. We can’t give you money based on where someone else drafted you and for what you did on tape in another system.’

“My top five stack linebackers? Shaq Leonard, Fred Warner, Demario Davis, Micah Parsons and I still love Lavonte David. I thought De’Vondre Campbell was better than Roquan last year. He made more plays. Better player? I don’t know. Roquan has better traits (than Campbell), and that’s what you get into. In terms of the traits perspective, Roquan is the guy everyone in the NFL is looking for off the ball. He is a three-down player. He has coverage traits. You can scheme him as a blitzer and he’s got ridiculous pursuit speed. He’s got every trait you want. The thing you wonder about … is he a game changer? He might be in this scheme. He hasn’t played in it yet.”

After Smith’s statement to NFL Media on Tuesday morning, maybe the sides will take a little break and re-engage in the near future. I’m positive Poles would like to keep negotiations private. Smith has made his point. He’s unhappy with the team’s offers. Will the Bears reshape a contract proposal to close the gap? We’ll have to wait and see.

Keep in mind that not only is Smith under contract for this season, the Bears could use the franchise tag on him in 2023. That provides the team with leverage in negotiations. At some point Smith will have to end his “hold-in” because he can’t afford not to play in regular-season games.

Even without the crystal ball, I think a deal gets done, but the only certainties right now are Smith is irked and Poles is holding brief, impromptu Q&As he would like to avoid.

I have a question about training camp. How does any coach get a handle on how well the team is playing when all the practices are the Bears practicing against each other? If Justin Fields throws several picks during the practice, does that mean the defense is playing great or Fields and his receivers are having an off day? Conversely, if the offense, and Fields in particular, have great days and multiple deep hits, does that mean the offense is rocking and the defense is weak? How do coaches, outside of preseason game competition, evaluate a team when the success of one side means failure for the other? — David K.

Good question. I think the coaches are looking for tempo, the energy level of practice and execution within the structure of the scheme. That tells the staff if the offense or defense is playing well in practice. A guy making a play in practice — for the defense or the offense — is what it is. You want to see it happen on both sides of the ball, and you want to see them make plays within the structure of the offense or defense using the techniques that the new staff has drilled and coached.

When you go through training camp, there will be offensive days and defensive days that stand out. What the coaches want to see is progression and whether players are improving within the structure and using what they are taught. That’s how the coaching staff judges development and progress.

In a column last week, you quoted Matt Eberflus as saying it “creates more gaps in the running game when you have that lead back in there.” I wasn’t sure exactly what this meant. Why does having the extra player “create more gaps”? Don’t the players have to cover the same number of gaps regardless? Can you explain? — Tom S., Chicago

Let’s say, for example, the Bears run power or lead through the C gap. With a fullback on the field, the offense is getting an extra player to the second level and it creates another gap because now the defense needs two linebackers (or one and a safety) attacking the back. One has to hammer the back and the other has to spill the play. In essence, the fullback creates leverage advantages for the offense and a plus-one number through the gap leading to the second level. I hope that makes sense.

What do you expect from Equanimeous St. Brown, seeing that he is doing great in training camp? — @dabearsprod

I am interested to see what St. Brown can do and wrote back in the spring that he was an intriguing addition because of his size (6-foot-5, 214 pounds), speed, catch radius and previous experience with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. St. Brown needed to get acclimated to a new team and new teammates, but he was able to get up to speed probably faster than others because of his time with Getsy in Green Bay.

I think St. Brown is intriguing, but I have no idea what to expect. He needs to remain healthy — injuries hampered him at times with the Packers — and be consistent. We should keep in mind the Packers were in serious need of wide receivers entering this offseason and didn’t keep St. Brown, who began last season on the practice squad. I’m also not sure anyone involved in the passing game has been “doing great in training camp.”

If St. Brown is healthy, he has the potential to be a big-play threat. That’s something he has yet to do in his career. A fresh start elsewhere was probably the best thing for him. Like a lot of other players on the roster, this is a prove-it season for St. Brown, who signed a one-year, $965,000 contract.

Wouldn’t Will Fuller be a perfect fit for the Bears, especially considering how the wide receiver group has been thinned out by injuries? — Harold, Beverly

There have been many questions about the possibility of the Bears adding the free agent and former first-round pick of the Houston Texans. If the Bears needed a vertical stretch player in the offense, that would make more sense to me. I think Darnell Mooney is that player in this offense and is still an ascending player. If there were an accomplished, big-body possession receiver on the market, that might be a better fit.

Adding Fuller would give the Bears more explosive-play ability, but he has major availability concerns. He missed 15 games last season after suffering a broken thumb. He served a six-game suspension in 2020 for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Before that, a torn ACL and broken collarbone sidelined him.

The Bears have been hit with injuries in camp, but N’Keal Harry (left ankle) and David Moore, who was carted off the field Tuesday at Soldier Field, were not locks to make this roster. Rookie Velus Jones Jr. remains sidelined with an undisclosed injury, but coach Matt Eberflus has maintained it’s not a long-term concern.

Are any of the Bears rookies in danger of not making the roster? Haven’t heard much about Elijah Hicks in training camp. — @drew0131

I’m assuming you mean rookie draft picks and not just rookies in general. I don’t know if “danger” is a good word to use here either. General manager Ryan Poles wheeled and dealed his way into having 11 draft picks. Eight of those picks came in the final 94 selections. It’s a little unrealistic to believe all 11 draftees will be on the 53-man roster in Week 1, especially when you consider the Bears used four of those late picks on offensive linemen. I would guess they will keep nine offensive linemen, and having nearly half of them be rookies is unlikely.

That doesn’t mean the Bears don’t believe their draft picks have a chance to compete and develop, and most or all who get released could be offered a spot on the practice squad. In terms of Hicks, the former Cal safety has looked solid. He moves well and has taken advantage of his opportunities after an undisclosed injury sidelined him for the entirety of the offseason program. Let’s see how he looks in the preseason and what roles he could play on special teams.

Who do you think will be starting opening day for the secondary? — @kobebeardown

Good question. Jaylon Johnson is a clear starter at cornerback, and Eddie Jackson and rookie Jaquan Brisker appear locked in at safety. Questions remain as to how the team will deploy second-round pick Kyler Gordon, who has worked on the outside and at nickel corner when he has been on the field during training camp. Gordon has been sidelined of late, but considering coach Matt Eberflus hasn’t provided an explanation for his absence, we’re led to believe it’s not something that will linger. It should be noted Gordon was sidelined for a good portion of the offseason program, but there’s no question he has flashed when he has participated this summer.

The coaching staff has used Kindle Vildor with the starters on the outside when Gordon has been at nickel. Complicating things is that a good handful of cornerbacks have been out recently. Gordon, Vildor, Thomas Graham, Duke Shelley and Tavon Young were all missing recently. Young is an experienced slot cornerback, but he has a lot of injury history. Graham likely will get to show what he can do in the slot when he’s healthy. Gordon definitely will be in the starting mix — it’s just a question of where and who else the coaches choose. Right now, Vildor might be the best guess.

Any word on who the next defensive tackle is behind Justin Jones? I’m hearing a lot about edge defenders looking solid in camp and Jones looking good, but has anyone else stood out? — Andre C.

Good observation regarding Jones. He has done a nice job of getting into the backfield on a regular basis. He needs to do that in the season because the three technique is the motor that makes a Tampa-2 scheme run.

Mario Edwards Jr. looks like the top reserve at that position, and as you might recall from when Tommie Harris played for the Bears, they will need to rotate regularly. Edwards, 28, has some scheme versatility and I think he will be OK getting reps here. He had a solid season for the Bears in 2020, when he had four sacks, seven quarterback hits and six tackles for a loss. That earned him a three-year, $11.66 million contract.

Edwards didn’t play to that level last season, but this is a tough position to fill and I think he will be good enough in a rotation. The Bears likely will want to find some front-line help for the defensive line in the next offseason.

Who has been the best linebacker in Roquan Smith’s absence? — @bsolesky

Nicholas Morrow looks like he will be a really good fit for this defense. He moves well and plays with range, and watching him on the practice field, it’s clear why the Las Vegas Raiders felt their nickel defense took a hit when Morrow was lost to an injury last season. He should be a solid three-down player.

Joe Thomas has stood out as well, showing a real nose for the ball. While Matt Adams, who played for Matt Eberflus with the Indianapolis Colts, probably is the leader in the clubhouse to start on the strong side, Thomas clearly has the ability and versatility to back up multiple positions. He’s a core special teams player and has been effective with expanded reps as Smith sits out.

“I heard Nick (Morrow) mention the other day in his conference the reason why Matt’s here is because he understands the defense, because he plays with high tempo, because he’s physical,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “And then Thomas, he stands out because he’s leading the group in turnovers. We keep track of how many guys have intercepted the ball, how many balls you’ve knocked out, how many scoop and scores, and he’s leading the group. So those two guys are standouts right now.”

Are the injuries in camp part of football or happening because of a tougher camp run by a rookie coach? — @gucasliogito

I don’t think so. When 90 guys are playing football — especially in pads — injuries will happen. Some years there are more, some years not as many. I’d also point out that Matt Eberflus’ camp is not quite like the team experienced under Lovie Smith or Dick Jauron in a different era with different practice rules in the collective bargaining agreement. Eberflus is pushing the players, no question, and says he doesn’t believe they can “live soft and play hard.” Reality is they don’t have a high number of serious injuries to front-line players at this point.

How has Trenton Gill looked? — @cartortus

The rookie punter from North Carolina State looks to have a strong leg, and the Bears clearly believe in him because there is no competition for the job on the roster. Gill probably understands he’s competing for a role every day, though, because that might be the most easily changed position for any team. I want to see how he performs in live preseason action.

Will N’Keal Harry still make the team injured? — @kapgunzz89

Good question. That probably depends on how the Bears feel about the wide receivers they have at the end of the preseason and what they thought of Harry before he went down with the high left ankle sprain. I did not view him as a lock to make the roster when the Bears traded a 2024 seventh-round pick to the New England Patriots for him. Keep in mind the Bears would have to carry him on the initial 53-man roster if they want to then shift him to injured reserve and bring him back when he’s healthy. If they placed him on IR before roster cuts, he would not be eligible to be designated to return.

How do you think the starting offensive line will look on Saturday? — Double D, Chicago

Based on what we have seen most recently in camp, it sure looks like the coaching staff is eager to see what rookie fifth-round pick Braxton Jones can do at left tackle. He has been getting the bulk of the work with the ones with Cody Whitehair alongside him at left guard, Sam Mustipher at center, Michael Schofield at right guard and Riley Reiff at right tackle.

We’ll have to see how many front-line defensive players the Kansas City Chiefs have on the field, but Saturday’s game should offer a glimpse of what this group can do. I’m also interested to see how Teven Jenkins performs, assuming he gets some action, most likely at right tackle. Keep an eye on Larry Borom, too, because he could push for a starting spot with a strong showing.

How long do you believe Matt Eberflus will leave starters in against the Chiefs? — Soroush K., Naperville

Coaches generally keep that kind of information close to the vest, mostly because I think they have a range in mind. For the sake of discussion, let’s say Eberflus is thinking about 12 to 15 snaps for his starters. Well, if the offense takes seven plays to go roughly 70 yards and score on its first possession, that’s a great point to end their day. Pull out the first unit after a productive drive.

Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell said he wants to play his starters about one quarter Monday. New York Jets coach Robert Saleh talked about a series or two for his front-line guys. Back in 2018, the Bears had five preseason games with the Hall of Fame Game, and coach Matt Nagy, in his first season, pretty much kept starters out of that game. In the regular first week of the preseason, quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the starting offensive line got 10 snaps.

More coaches have gone away from playing starters, especially veterans, in the preseason. We’ll see what Eberflus does Saturday and then how his strategy evolves in future years.

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Za’Darius Smith, Vikings defense step up when needed to get past Lions

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Za’darius Smith, Vikings Defense Step Up When Needed To Get Past Lions
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With two minutes left in Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium, Vikings edge rusher Za’Darius Smith was down on the turf with an injury and his team was potentially in trouble.

The Vikings trailed Detroit 24-21 with timeouts remaining. The Lions needed one first down to end the game.

Smith finally got up after suffering what he later said was a lower-body injury. And he insisted on staying in for what would be a 28-24 victory.

“I went down for a second, but I couldn’t come out of the game,” Smith said. “I had to stay in there because it was a big situation. Two-minute situation, and they needed me the most. … My adrenaline was pumping.”

With the Lions facing third-and-14 at the Minnesota 46, they ran the ball and Jamaal Williams gained 10 yards to the 36. Surprisingly, on fourth-and-4, they elected to try a 54-yard field goal rather than go for a first down.

Austin Seibert missed the field-goal attempt, setting the stage for Kirk Cousins’ 28-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn with 45 seconds remaining. Then Smith returned to the field to help stop a last-ditch Detroit drive.

“It was great,” Smith said. “Just to know that my brothers are behind me. I’m just glad we won the game.”

Smith was hopeful that his injury wasn’t serious and went to get it checked out. Head coach Kevin O’Connell said Smith gutting it out at the end typified the play of Minnesota’s defense.

“He’s going to give it everything he’s got,” O’Connell said. “So we got tough guys. We got guys that love playing for one another.”

The Vikings gave up 416 yards of total offense, with Jared Goff throwing for 277 yards and Williams running for 87. But the defense made the plays down the stretch when needed.

Trailing 24-21, the Vikings stopped Williams for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 30 with 3:30 left in the game. And then they stopped two more Detroit drives.

“It’s wasn’t pretty at first, but we came together,” edge rusher Danielle Hunter said. “We knew what we had to do. We knew what plays we were going to have to make at the end of the game, and we came together and we pulled through.”

For most of the game, the Vikings’ defense was frustrated. En route to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, the Lions converted all three of their fourth-down attempts on the drives for their first two touchdowns. The big one on their first drive was Goff completing a 30-yard pass on fourth-and-5 to Amon-Ra St. Brown to the Minnesota 2.

For the game, the Lions were 4 of 6 on fourth-down conversions. Afterward, Lions coach Dan Campbell said he “should have” gone for it on the fourth-down play before Seibert’s missed field goal.

“Honestly, they kept going for it on fourth down,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “I didn’t know whether it was third down or fourth down. We were just out there grinding.”

The Vikings persevered despite playing without star safety Harrison Smith, who was out with a concussion and replaced by Josh Metellus. Goff took advantage of Smith’s absence at times, but his final pass of the game, a desperation heave from the 50, was intercepted by Metellus at the Vikings 5 with 9 seconds left.

“I had to make a play, and I did,” Metellus said.

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Chris Perkins: Dolphins’ defense making winning plays, having fun and keeping big picture in mind

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Ravens Q&Amp;A: Olb Daelin Hayes On Learning From A Frustrating Rookie Season, Reuniting With Kyle Hamilton, The Importance Of Community Service And More
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After all the Miami Dolphins’ defensive excitement of the day — stopping the Buffalo Bills at the Dolphins’ 2-yard line with 2:36 remaining while clinging to a 21-17 lead, stopping the Bills again in the fourth quarter, this time while clinging to a 21-19 lead in the final 1:25, and getting a strip-sack that led to a Dolphins touchdown that tied the game at 7 — veteran defensive tackle John Jenkins hoped one message came through loud and clear after the Dolphins’ emotional 21-19 victory over Buffalo.

“I feel like we’re having fun,” he said. “I hope everybody can see that.”

We can see that. We can also see this defense is good, really good.

But they’re nowhere close to making the type of statement they want to make this season.

“We’ve got big goals this year,” defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said.

Buffalo entered Sunday’s game averaging 36 points. It finished with 17 fewer than its average.

Credit the Dolphins’ game-changing defense.

But Jenkins’ sentiment went deeper when he spoke of the defense having fun. The Dolphins’ defensive fun stems from being effective players, a close-knit unit, and a group that lives in some weird utopian society. He continued.

“I hope everybody can see no man is bigger than the other,” Jenkins said. “Everybody, when their name and number is called, will respond. We’re interchangeable.”

It’s a crazy contention, almost illogical, but through three games Jenkins might be right.

This Dolphins defense is good, it’s deep, and people do their jobs with the utmost professionalism.

Consider the fourth-quarter goal-line stand.

Buffalo (2-1), trailing, 21-17 with 3:14 remaining, had five shots from the Dolphins’ 6-yard line or closer — one from the 6-yard line, three from the 2-yard line, and one from the 1-yard line — and couldn’t punch it in for the go-ahead touchdown.

The Dolphins (3-0) had defenders at all three levels — defensive line, linebacker and secondary — make plays during yet another gutsy goal-line stand (remember Baltimore?).

This Dolphins defense makes plays and has fun, and they don’t care what outsiders think of their performances.

“We weren’t trying to listen to the outside noise,” cornerback Nik Needham said. “They were the big, bad Bills. And putting up a lot of points. We were trying to lock in as a unit. We weren’t worried about them, just worried about ourselves.”

Granted, convincing someone that Needham can make plays just as well as All Pro cornerback Xavien Howard is tough, almost impossible. It stretches the boundaries of NFL reality. But look at the evidence.

While Howard was shadowing Stefon Diggs, Buffalo’s All Pro wide receiver, Needham and his fellow defensive backs (Kader Kohou, Eric Rowe, Keion Crossen, Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones) were holding Buffalo’s other receivers in check, and that’s not easy when strapping quarterback Josh Allen is back there slinging the ball all over the yard.

Buffalo ran an exhausting 90 plays offensively, which means the Dolphins defense was on that hot, humid Hard Rock Stadium field for 90 plays. The time of possession edge was in the Bills’ favor, 40:40 to 19:20.

No worries.

While Allen finished 42 of 63 for 400 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, the Bills only scored two touchdowns, both coming in the first half. Diggs (seven receptions, 74 yards) was largely kept in check as were his wide receiver buddies Isaiah McKenzie (seven receptions, 76 yards, one touchdown), Gabe Davis (three receptions, 37 yards). Running back Devin Singletary was Buffalo’s leading receiver with seven receptions for 78 yards.

The Dolphins defense punished Allen, recording four sacks and 10 quarterback hits.

And, yeah, Buffalo rushed for 115 yards on 23 carries, averaging 5.0 yards per carry, but the Bills couldn’t punch it in when it counted, in the fourth quarter, which brings us back to Jenkins’ point.

The Dolphins defense makes plays.

In fact, lots of Dolphins defenders make plays.

Linebacker Jerome Baker (13 tackles, half a sack) and safety Holland (10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two passes defended) led the way statistically. But safety Jones (nine tackles) and linebacker Elandon Roberts (eight tackles) weren’t far behind. And Howard (six tackles), Needham (five tackles), rookie Kohou (five tackles) and linebacker Duke Riley (five tackles) were right behind them.

Linebacker Melvin Ingram had three tackles, two of them sacks. He also had a recovered fumble. Ogbah had four quarterback hits.

This trend of everyone making a contribution has been going on all season whether it’s a turnover, goal-line stand, third-down stop, first-down tackle for a loss, whatever. And it’ll probably keep going.

The defense doesn’t have a big head. They don’t consider themselves a No. 1 defense or anything of that sort.

“You can’t think that,” Needham said. “In the NFL it’s any given Sunday. We’ve got to lock back in.”

They must also keep having fun, and stay focused on the big picture, which isn’t just beating Buffalo.

“It’s big for us,” Ogbah said of the victory, “but we’ve got bigger goals. This is just a stepping stone.”

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Dave Hyde: Hallelujah, Miami Dolphins show in 21-19 win over Bills they’re a contender

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Dave Hyde: Hallelujah, Miami Dolphins Show In 21-19 Win Over Bills They’re A Contender
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“Can I get an, ‘Amen?’ “

Christian Wilkins was preaching late Sunday afternoon, brothers and sisters, but before he talked about this nastiest Miami Dolphins win, before he addressed the grittiest little goal-line stand or the glory of this 3-0 start, he asked something himself.

“Come on, can I get an, ‘Amen!’” the Dolphins defensive tackle asked again.

“Amen!” the assembled media said.

“Thank you,” Wilkins said.

Sunday’s 21-19 win over Buffalo, where the Dolphins practiced what they preached, probably deserves something more, too. Hallelujah? Lord have mercy?

For the first time in years — or decades depending how you frame — the Dolphins won the kind of game in the kind of scheduling stretch that says they belong in the conversation of contenders. That’s it. That’s the hallelujah moment.

They’ve now beaten New England, Baltimore and top-of-the-heap Buffalo in their first three games, and that’s as good a line-up as any team has put down thus far. They weren’t electric Sunday. They were just good enough against their most important measuring stick right now.

Buffalo had drives longer than some television mini-series. Fourteen plays. Twenty plays. And then the most important of all, a 17-play series late in the fourth quarter, where they had first-and-goal at the Miami 2-yard line and trailing 21-17.

“We made four plays,”’ Wilkins said.

Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen then got the ball again with 1:33 left and just needing a field goal thanks to a Dolphins punt that ricocheted off a Dolphins player into a safety. Most teams don’t survive Allen getting two cracks like that. Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer’s defense did.

“It was exhilarating, man,” safety Jevon Holland said.

So something has changed. This defense has grown up from the team that got dragged around the field at the end of last season in Tennessee. This team has changed, too, after losing seven straight games to Buffalo.

“It was special for everyone involved in that regard, as special as a Week 3 regular-season game can be,” first-year coach Mike McDaniel said. “I will say that much, but we know that we’re going to see them again. If they at all took us lightly at all, I promise you they won’t again, so we’re going to get their best shot. That’s a really, really, really good football team.”

Don’t kid yourself. Buffalo put up winning numbers Sunday: 90 plays to the Dolphins’ 39 plays; 497 total yards to the Dolphins’ 212 yards; 40 minutes and 40 seconds time of possession to the Dolphins’ 19:20. You’d take those numbers every Sunday and win most every game.

The Dolphins won Sunday. They made just enough big plays to take the day. Holland blitzing Allen into a fumble and Melvin Ingram recovering at the Buffalo 6-yard line to set up a touchdown? Tua Tagovailoa returning from injury for a 45-yard throw to Jaylen Waddle on third-and-22 to set up another touchdown?

“I was wishing and hoping I was open,” Waddle said.

Players were dropping especially on the Buffalo side, mostly from the heat. Buffalo lost 13 players from the start of the game, reinforcing that a Dolphins home game in September is the biggest home-field advantage in sports. Buffalo already had their entire secondary out with injuries, too.

The Dolphins lost players, too, and the day turned nasty as it went on. Allen was flagged for a personal foul late in the game. What happened?

“Just football stuff,” he said.

That was the entire day. Just football stuff. Allen is a beast, passing for 400 yards, running for 46 more and getting two chances in the final minutes to win the game — and not winning. There’s little doubt he’ll be waiting at the end of October when the Dolphins go to Orchard Park. And that’s good. It means this rivalry can mean something again.

“This is one game,” Allen said. “We’ll learn from this one tomorrow, take it on the chin and again prepare for next week.”

The Dolphins will learn, too. They’re believers. But then most Dolphins teams have been believers over the last couple of decades until results show them otherwise. This start suggests something different is happening.

They beat heavyweight Buffalo.

“A good win,” Tagovailoa said.

They’re 3-0.

“Three-and-oh is not our goal,” Wilkins said.

They’re first place in the AFC East.

“You don’t want to do yourself a disservice and fall short of your potential,” McDaniel said.

Yes, it’s September and there’s a long way to go. But when’s the last time you could say the Dolphins had to be mentioned among the contenders for anything but the No. 1 pick in the draft? When’s the last year you looked ahead at the good possibilities?

Can I get an, “Amen?”

“AMEN!”

Thank you.

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NFLPA investigating Dolphins’ handling of Tagovailoa’s return vs. Bills; Tua says it was back injury

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Nflpa Investigating Dolphins’ Handling Of Tagovailoa’s Return Vs. Bills; Tua Says It Was Back Injury
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Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa momentarily left the team’s 21-19 win over the Buffalo Bills late in the first half on Sunday before returning for the second half, and now the NFL Players Association is reportedly investigating if the team properly handled a concussion check.

The NFLPA initiated the investigation shortly after the Dolphins’ thriller against the Bills at Hard Rock Stadium went final, according to NFL Network.

The Dolphins declined to comment, but Tagovailoa and coach Mike McDaniel, after the game, said it was actually a back injury that caused the third-year signal-caller to miss the end of the first half. The team initially called it a head injury.

Tagovailoa was pushed by Bills linebacker Matt Milano after a pass he completed on the final play before the first half’s two-minute warning. Milano was flagged for roughing the passer.

The back of Tagovailoa’s head banged against the ground in a whiplash effect. Appearing woozy after getting up, Tagovailoa was walked off the field and into the locker room, under his own power, with trainers alongside him.

“I’m feeling good,” Tagovaila said. “Feels a lot better after a win.”

Tagovailoa said he got his legs stuck under someone on an earlier quarterback sneak and, amid the pushing, he felt his back was hyperextended. He said he stumbled after the Milano hit because his back locked up on him as he was getting up.

Said McDaniel: “When he hit his head on the ground, I assumed it was a head injury, but his legs got wobbly because his lower back was completely loose and, as he described it, he said his lower back was like Gumby or something.”

Tagovailoa added he did have to pass concussion protocol before he came out to the field for the second half. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater entered for Miami’s starting signal-caller to finish off the final series of the first half.

Tagovailoa’s best throw in his return was a 45-yard connection to Jaylen Waddle deep over the middle on third-and-22 that led to the go-ahead Chase Edmonds touchdown run.

“They ran quarters coverage, and they played really deep, so I tried to hold the field safety to Tyreek’s side,” said Tagovailoa, who finished 13 of 18 for 186 yards and a touchdown pass to River Cracraft, “and then I came back to Waddle, trusting that Waddle would beat his guys, which he did.

“It was uncomfortable going in. I guess you could say it was the adrenaline that was keeping me going with the throwing.”

Added McDaniel: “That’s a big play that I think Tua will always remember, that a lot of his teammates will because he was battling through, and that’s really hard.”

It’s the third consecutive time Tagovailoa has gotten hurt in a game against the Bills. In last year’s Week 2 meeting in Miami Gardens, an A.J. Epenesa hit sidelined Tagovailoa with fractured ribs and put him on short-term injured reserve to miss the ensuing three weeks. In the 2021 Oct. 31 game in Orchard Park, Tagovailoa finished the game but came away with a finger injury on his throwing hand that cost him the next one and a half games.

Tagovailoa’s availability will be a hot topic throughout the short week before a Thursday night game at the Cincinnati Bengals.

Armstead, Howard play

The Dolphins had left tackle Terron Armstead and cornerback Xavien Howard, who have six Pro Bowls between them, start in Sunday’s game after both entered questionable.

Meanwhile, the already-ailing Bills added safety Jordan Poyer to their inactives. Buffalo’s entire starting secondary of Poyer, fellow Pro Bowl safety Micah Hyde and cornerbacks Tre’Davious White (reserve/PUP) and Dane Jackson were out against the Dolphins.

The Bills had rookie cornerbacks Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam and backup safeties Jaquan Johnson and Damar Hamlin start.

Armstead played and made it through Sunday, holding up against All-Pro Bills edge rusher Von Miller despite missing the week of practice nursing a toe injury.

Howard, who was limited with a groin injury at Thursday and Friday practices after missing Wednesday’s session, largely drew the assignment of limiting Buffalo star receiver Stefon Diggs. Howard had six tackles and two pass deflections. Diggs finished with seven receptions for 74 yards.

Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. (ribs) was available for Miami after going in questionable, but he didn’t record a catch. The other Dolphin that entered questionable, defensive tackle Raekwon Davis (knee), was out Sunday. Miami started with a three-man defensive front that included Christian Wilkins, Zach Sieler and Emmanuel Ogbah. Cornerback Kader Kohou also got a start along with Nik Needham in the nickel formation.

Miami already had tight ends Hunter Long (ankle) and Cethan Carter (concussion protocol) listed as out entering Sunday.

Other Dolphins inactives were running back Myles Gaskin, quarterback Skylar Thompson and wide receiver Erik Ezukanma. The rookie signal-caller and wideout are healthy scratches for the third time in three weeks.

The Bils also had defensive tackles Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips and center Mitch Morse among inactives. Wide receiver Gabe Davis and tight end Dawson Knox, who entered questionable, played.

Little injured; players deal with heat

Greg Little, who has been playing right tackle for the injured Austin Jackson, twice made exits with a finger injury but returned both times.

Little first came off the field late in the first half, and Larnel Coleman entered for him at right tackle. Little tried to return early in the second half, but quickly exited again. That time, right guard Robert Hunt slid out to right tackle, with Robert Jones inserted at guard until Little went back in again.

A number of players were affected by the South Florida heat and humidity, especially in the second half, as the official game-day weather was 89 degrees with 63 percent humidity.

Howard was seen running into the locker room in the third quarter, dealing with cramps. Diggs, Bills tight end Dawson Knox and wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie were also dealing with heat issues in the second half.

Buffalo right tackle Spencer Brown was out due to heat illness as the Bills were already dealing with Morse, their starting center, out. His backup, Greg Van Roten, exited at one point, and right guard Ryan Bates left to be evaluated for a head injury in the third quarter.

Dolphins linebacker Elandon Roberts suffered a quadriceps injury. Bills wide receiver Jake Kumerow exited Sunday’s game with an ankle injury.

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With the Chicago Bears passing game malfunctioning, Roquan Smith and the defense take things into their own hands

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With The Chicago Bears Passing Game Malfunctioning, Roquan Smith And The Defense Take Things Into Their Own Hands
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An argument can be made that the most impressive throw by a Chicago Bears player Sunday came with 1 minute, 5 seconds remaining, a 40-yard bomb launched near Soldier Field’s south end zone.

The throw came from a linebacker — why not? — during a stoppage of play immediately after the game’s biggest moment.

With his adrenaline pumping after a clutch interception, Roquan Smith wound up and heaved the football deep into the seats, aware that his Bears were moments away from defeating the Houston Texans 23-20 on a walk-off, chip-shot field goal.

“I tried to stop him,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “That’s a game-winning pick. You’ve got to keep that!”

Smith, though, didn’t need the football as much as he needed an emotional release. So he let it fly.

“To all my supporters,” he said with a big smile. “I threw that to all of them. And (I was) saying ‘F you’ to all that don’t.”

Yes, Chicago, your majorly flawed but still feisty Bears are 2-1, outlasting the winless Texans in such a Bears-like way, with Smith and the defense nudging the struggling offense to the side and offering a “We’ve got this” reprieve in the fourth quarter.

The Bears’ game-winning “drive”: four plays, zero yards.

It was basically a three-snap sideways shuffle to set up Cairo Santos’ game-winning 30-yard kick as time expired. That came thanks to Smith’s interception of Davis Mills and an 18-yard return.

And Smith’s third-down pick came in part because defensive tackle Angelo Blackson did his job up front, getting his right hand on Mills’ pass to Rex Burkhead and allowing Smith to snatch the fluttering ball at the Texans 30.

“If you can’t get to the quarterback, get your hands up,” Blackson said. “It was an opportune time. Just perfect, man.”

Added Smith: If I had had a little more juice in me, I could have cribbed it. But I was just thankful to be able to get it and then let the fans enjoy the ball.”

We could talk until we’re blue in the face about how little meaning Sunday’s victory carries for the Bears’ big-picture aspirations. This was an ordinary home win over a bottom-tier opponent and loaded with troubling sloppiness, particularly as it relates to the feeble passing attack and ongoing struggles of second-year quarterback Justin Fields.

Fields threw two more interceptions and, for the third consecutive game, failed to reach 10 completions or 125 passing yards.

“I played like trash,” Fields said. “I played terrible.”

But on defense the Bears are convinced they are making valuable strides and establishing an identity as a unit capable of seizing big moments and winning games.

Smith’s pick was the Bears’ second takeaway, the other coming in the first half when Jackson snagged a Mills pass to Brandin Cooks in the end zone. That throw was deflected by cornerback Kindle Vildor and corralled by Jackson near the end line.

“It’s just flying around,” Jackson said. “That’s what happens. When you hustle and play with intensity, good things start to happen.”

Just as Smith’s interception set up the Bears for free points, Jackson’s thwarted a prime Texans scoring opportunity on a drive that started inside Bears territory after Fields’ first interception.

Equally significant, after Fields threw his second pick on the first play of the fourth quarter to set up the Texans inside the Bears 40 in a tie game, the defense quickly extinguished that threat.

Defensive tackle Justin Jones came up with an 8-yard sack of Mills on second down. Linebacker Nick Morrow followed by burying Pharaoh Brown for a loss of 5 on a tight end screen on the next snap.

The Texans punted.

“That was a huge moment,” Smith said. “We preach about that, about being able to bow our necks and earn our checks.”

Added Jones: “We’re jelling together right now, becoming one close-knit unit. We’re well on our way to playing in midseason form.”

Smith’s play was nothing short of energizing. After missing practice the entire week with a hip injury, he recorded a game-high 16 tackles, including two for a loss.

“I was focused all week on giving myself a shot to play in this game,” he said. “I still wasn’t all the way there. But, hey, halfway (there) is better than no way.”

Hard to argue.

After Smith’s play in a 27-10 Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers was justifiably scrutinized — even he acknowledged it was subpar — the veteran linebacker arose Sunday and spearheaded a strong defensive effort.

Late in the third quarter, on third-and-1 from the Bears 2, Smith shot into the Texans backfield to bury running back Dameon Pierce for a 3-yard loss. That was a pivotal stop. The Texans settled for a tying field goal instead of surging ahead.

Naturally, as Smith works toward earning his next contract and regroups after his tension-filled training camp “hold-in,” all of his contributions this season will be assessed in part with an eye on how they might affect his future and his bid to be paid as one of the league’s best defenders.

Sunday’s game-winning interception was the kind of game-changing contribution many want to see more consistently as Smith tries to establish himself as an elite linebacker.

“I just try to play the best ball that I can play,” Smith said. “That’s my goal each and every week. And if I make big plays, I make them. But I’m not going out there wishing for things. I play my game and if good things happen, they happen.”

More importantly, as the Bears continue working through a patience-testing troubleshooting process to awaken their passing offense, they are finding other ways to succeed and leaning on areas of strength. On Sunday, that meant a reliance on a bruising running attack led by Khalil Herbert, who stepped up in a big way after David Montgomery left the game with a right knee/ankle injury.

Herbert turned 20 carries into 157 yards and two touchdowns. Overall, the Bears churned out 281 rushing yards, their highest single-game total since 1984.

Then late in the game, the Bears again turned to their defense, relying on the unit’s best player to come through in a major way. Smith responded with that pick and his celebratory bomb into the seats.

“That was pretty sweet,” he said. “I wish I could have thrown it out of the stadium.”

It was an impressive toss nonetheless — and a fitting punctuation on the afternoon.

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Khalil Herbert — with David Montgomery injured and Justin Fields playing like self-proclaimed ‘trash’ — steps up big for Chicago Bears

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Khalil Herbert — With David Montgomery Injured And Justin Fields Playing Like Self-Proclaimed ‘Trash’ — Steps Up Big For Chicago Bears
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Khalil Herbert stood at his Soldier Field locker about a half an hour after the Chicago Bears squeaked out a 23-20 win over the Houston Texans and gave a one-word answer for how he felt.

“Sore,” he said with a smile.

But sore in the best way.

The second-year Bears running back rushed for a career-high 157 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries as the Bears piled up 281 yards on the ground. It was the Bears’ best rushing performance since 1984, according to the team, and a much-needed lift for an offense as the passing game continues to struggle under quarterback Justin Fields.

Herbert spent the first two games of the season as the second option to running back David Montgomery and totaled 13 carries for 83 yards. But on the Bears’ second drive, Montgomery’s right leg was caught awkwardly under a Texans defender, and he was out the remainder of the game with what the Bears announced as knee and ankle injuries.

Herbert didn’t miss a beat.

On the next play, Herbert rushed for eight yards. Two plays later, he broke for 11 yards. And one play after that, he scored on an 11-yard touchdown run, breaking to the left sideline before popping back in through a hole to speed to the end zone for a 10-0 Bears lead in the first quarter.

“What he did is special,” Bears right guard Lucas Patrick said. “Any back to run for that is special, but then to step up when one of our offensive leaders goes down, and to do that and say, ‘Don’t worry, I got us,’ it invigorates all of us. It inspires all of us to keep going, keep pushing. Even at the end, for him to get that huge run at the end, it’s like, ‘We’re going to get this.’”

Bears coach Matt Eberflus said the news is positive on Montgomery, whom he said is “day to day.” Herbert and Fields both said they talked to or texted with Montgomery, and the running back was doing well.

Herbert, who was a 2021 sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech, filled in for Montgomery over a four-game stretch last year and had 78 carries for 344 yards. So he has experience stepping up when needed.

“It’s really just making the most of my opportunities,” Herbert said. “I come in with that mindset every week, whether it’s one carry, 20 carries. Just try to make the most of that and make a play with what I get.”

On Sunday, Herbert’s performance included a 52-yard run to open the Bears’ first drive of the third quarter. Herbert credited the offensive line and fullback Khari Blasingame for opening a massive hole he darted through before fighting off cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. to get to the Texans’ 23-yard line.

“We were looking at the pictures on the sidelines — we could have drove a bus through there,” Herbert said. “It was a really big hole. It was my job to make the safety miss and I was able to do that.”

Four plays later, the Bears went ahead 20-17 on Herbert’s one-yard touchdown run, and the Bears went on to win on Cairo Santos’ 30-yard field goal as time expired.

Fields said Herbert’s performance wasn’t a surprise to his teammates, who know the work he puts in and the type of player he can be.

Fields contributed to the Bears’ big day on the ground with eight carries for 47 yards. Equanimeous St. Brown had two carries for 43 yards and rookie Trestan Ebner added seven carries for 23 yards. Montgomery had three carries for 11 yards before leaving.

The run game, two timely interceptions from the Bears defense and Santos’ three field goals helped the Bears keep pace with the Texans despite Fields completing just 8 of 17 passes for 106 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked five times for a loss of 24 yards. It was a poor follow-up to a week in which Bears coaches faced many questions about their lack of production in the passing game.

“Straight up I just played like — I want to say the A word, but I’m not going to do that,” Fields said. “But I just played like trash. I played terrible and really just got to be better.”

The development of Fields is widely considered Objective A in this season of reconstruction under new general manager Ryan Poles. So the Week 3 performance was obviously disappointing, with Fields pointing to the two interceptions to Texans safety Jalen Pitre as things that bothered him most.

But the effectiveness of Herbert and the run game — and the win — should help soften the edge as Fields addresses his mistakes this week in practice.

“When you’re working with a young quarterback in a new offense, the people around him have to be solid and have to be good,” Eberflus said. “The protection has to be good, the run game has to be good, the defense has to be really good, and special teams we’ve got to be awesome. You support that quarterback while he’s growing and while he’s going through this. There’s going to be good, and there’s going to be things he has to improve on. But that’s the whole football team.”

Herbert was happy to do his part.

“I told 32 (Montgomery) that was for him today,” Herbert said. “We held it down and did good today.”

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