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NFL’s Saturday Testing Reveals Cluster of Positive Tests from NJ Lab

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The NFL has suffered its first major testing issue of 2020 training camp, as the league announced a number of positive tests on Sunday from one of the league’s partner labs in New Jersey, but put out a press release that suggests it does not necessarily believe the results.

“Saturday’s daily COVID testing returned several positives tests from each of the clubs serviced by the same laboratory in New Jersey,” the league’s statement read. “We are working with our testing partner, BioReference, to investigate these results, while the clubs work to confirm or rule out the positive tests. Clubs are taking immediate precautionary measures as outlined in the NFL-NFLPA’s health and safety protocols to include contact tracing, isolation of individuals and temporarily adjusting the schedule, where appropriate.  The other laboratories used for NFL testing have not had similar results.”

The Steelers have not announced any recent positive tests and have not placed any players on the COVID-19 Reserve List since the beginning of training camp, but head coach Mike Tomlin said that some players were held out of practice on Saturday while dealing with testing protocols.

“We had a number of guys that we held out of work or that missed work today because they’re held up in COVID proceedings or procedures,” Tomlin said. “No one to mention at this time in terms of being on the COVID list, but they are in the procedure. We’re going to exercise all precaution like we normally do and we’re going to adhere to the procedure to the fullest.”

The most notable players with otherwise unexcused absences on Saturday were starting running back James Conner and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Both players were in attendance at Heinz Field, but did not practice. It’s unclear if a testing-related issue is the reason for them not practicing.

Lions quarterback Matt Stafford was placed on the COVID-19 Reserve List with what was later determined to be a false positive earlier this month, but the league has not had a widespread testing issue since returning to live practices on July 28.

UPDATE: Steelers GM Kevin Colbert released a statement later on Sunday saying that the team had held six players out of Saturday’s practice, but they are all expected to return to their field on Monday.

Colbert: 6 Steelers in COVID Protocol, Expected to Practice Monday

NFL

Titans LT Taylor Lewan Suffers Torn ACL

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The Tennessee Titans will be without left tackle Taylor Lewan when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 25 after he suffered a torn ACL during Sunday’s overtime win over the Houston Texans.

Lewan confirmed the news Monday morning, committing to “handle this rehab like a Pro and come back better than ever.”

Losing Lewan is major blow to a fantastic Tennessee rushing attack that boast the NFL’s leading rusher in running back Derrick Henry, who exploded for 212 yards and two touchdowns Sunday.

While the injury will certainly affect the Titans run game, it could have an even more dramatic impact on their pass protection as they prepare to face the Steelers, who lead the league with 24 sacks. Tennessee has only allowed six sacks this season, which is tied for the fewest in the NFL.

Pittsburgh and Tennessee are the only remaining undefeated teams in the AFC, adding greater stakes to a matchup that was originally scheduled for Week Four, but postponed because of the Titans’ recent COVID-19 outbreak.

Selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Titans out of Michigan, Lewan is a three-time Pro Bowler.

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Around the NFL: Titans Set Up Battle of 5-0 Teams; Colts Complete Historic Comeback Over Bengals,

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Welcome to Around the NFL, where Cale Berger of Steelers Now will recap early-week action and take a look ahead at some of the most important matchups from the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective. 

AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND

Tennessee Titans 42 Houston Texans 36 (OT)

The Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers were supposed to meet as 3-0 unbeaten teams back in Week 4, but a COVID-19 outbreak shut down the Titans’ facility and had the game rescheduled to Week 7.

But that hiccup and unexpected early bye week hasn’t slowed the teams down at all. As the Steelers were dismantling the Cleveland Browns to improve to 5-0, the Titans escaped with an overtime win over the Houston Texans to set up a battle of unbeaten 5-0 squads.

The Titans jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but had to come back to force overtime. Ryan Tannehill completed eight of nine on the final Titans drive of regulation, the last a 7-yard scoring strike to A.J. Brown. In overtime, do-it-all back Derrick Henry took a pass 53 yards to set up his own game-winning score.

Earlier in the game, Henry did this.

He finished with 22 carries for 212 yards and two touchdowns and becomes the man that will keep the Steelers defense up at night as the 5-0 squads prepare to meet.

Indianapolis Colts 31 Cincinnati Bengals 27

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – OCTOBER 18: Cincinnati Bengals Quarterback Joe Burrow (9) throws the football in game action during a NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals on October 18, 2020, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by MSA/Icon Sportswire)

The 2020 NFL season has been the year of the comeback thus far, and the Colts added to that narrative against the Bengals on Sunday, erasing a 21-point deficit to top Cincinnati 31-27. This is the first season in league history in which at least one team has overcome a deficit of 16-or-more points and won in each of the first six weeks of the season.

The key to Indianapolis’ impressive comeback proved to be the wily veteran Philip Rivers, who passed for 371 touchdowns and three touchdowns in the win. Rivers became the sixth player to post 30 career games with at least 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes in NFL history, joining Drew Brees, Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Brady.

Opposite Rivers was the stellar rookie Joe Burrow, who bounced back against a stout Colts defense after a poor showing in Baltimore last week. Burrow threw for 313 yards, his fourth 300-yard passing over the last five games, but he failed to toss a touchdown and was picked off once. He did rush for a touchdown, as did running backs Joe Mixon Giovanni Bernard. Rookie wideout Tee Higgin was another one of the few bright spots on the day for the Bengals, as the former Clemson Tiger caught six passes for 125 yards.

Cincinnati will look to snap their losing skid in a rematch with the Browns next week. The banged-up Colts will get a much needed bye before travelling to Detroit.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38 Green Bay Packers 10

A game that many expected and hoped to be shootout Sunday evening between two legendary quarterbacks ended up being a one-sided drubbing thanks to the Tampa Bay defense and the game plan of coordinator Todd Bowles.

The Buccaneers orchestrated an exceptional strategy pressuring Aaron Rodgers and halting a Packers offense that came in averaging a league-high 38 points per game. Under constant duress Sunday, Rodgers was sacked four times and tossed two interceptions. It was the first time Rodgers tossed no touchdowns and threw multiple picks since Dec. 14, 2014 against Buffalo.

Although not overwhelming, Tom Brady was surgical for the Bucs, carving up Green Bay’s defense to the tune of 166 yards and two touchdowns. Brady was also finally able to connect tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught five passes for 78 yards and a score, his first as a Buccaneer. Brady and Gronkowski now have 91 touchdown connections over their careers, which surpassed Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates for the third-most touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver duo in NFL history.

Tampa was also dominant on the ground, as running back Ronald Jones II rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns. In comparison, Packers star Aaron Jones rushed for just 15 yards on ten carries with a score.

The Packers will get an opportunity to right the ship next week in Houston, while the Buccaneers will head west to face the Raiders on Sunday Night Football.

Chicago Bears 23 Carolina Panthers 16

The Panthers had no answers against the smothering Bears defense Sunday, as Chicago is 5-1 for the first time since 2012.

Carolina’s offense continues to struggle in the absence of injured star running back Christian McCaffery, with the Bears forcing three turnovers and putting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater through hell all afternoon. Chicago sacked him four times and intercepted him twice, as Bridgewater posted a quarterback rating of just 50.3, his lowest since Week Ten of 2018. Bears defensive end Khalil Mack accounted for one of those sacks and two tackles-for-loss.

While not a flashy day for the Bears offense, the unit did its job Sunday led by quarterback Nick Foles, who passed 198 yards and a touchdown with an interception. He also rushed for a score. The offense was never able to kickstart the run game otherwise, but they were efficient, scoring on five of their first eight drives of the game.

Chicago will look to keep their hot start rolling when they travel to face the Rams next week on Monday Night Football. Carolina attempts to get back on track at New Orleans in Week Seven.

MONDAY NIGHT PREVIEW

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills, Monday, 5:00 p.m., WPGH-TV

Before it became the first half of a tantalizing Monday night double header, Week Six’s monster matchup between the Chiefs and Bills was supposed to be played on Thursday night. The game had to be moved to Monday after last week’s Buffalo-Tennessee was played as one of the few Tuesday games in NFL history.

Monday’s early evening face off will pit two of the NFL brightest, young star quarterbacks against each other in the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen. Both signal callers are off to tremendous starts this season with remarkably similar stats. Allen is second in the league with 14 touchdown passes, while Mahomes is third with 13. Allen is also second in the league in passing yards, Mahomes is fourth. Mahomes has thrown only a single interception. Allen has tossed only three.

With both quarterbacks performing at such high levels, Monday’s matchup could be decided by the defenses, and Kansas City has the edge against the pass. The Chiefs have allowed just seven passing scores this year, and intercepted six passes, which is tied for the third-most in the league.

Buffalo’s best option could be to turn to the run game with Allen and running back Devin Singletary. Allen has 20 rushing touchdowns over the last three season, while Singletary is averaging 109.2 scrimmage yards over his last five home games. The Chiefs are 30th in the NFL in rush defense and have allowed five yards-per-carry.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

Atlanta Falcons 40 Minnesota Vikings 23

Denver Broncos 18 New England Patriots 12

New York Giants 20 Washington 19

Baltimore Ravens 30 Philadelphia Eagles 28

Pittsburgh Steelers 38 Cleveland Browns 7

Detroit Lions 34 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Miami Dolphins 24 New York Jets 0

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

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Around the NFL: Mouthwatering Quarterback Duels Abound in Week 6

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Welcome to Around the NFL, where Cale Berger of Steelers Now will recap early-week action and take a look ahead at some of the most important matchups from the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective. 

AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND

Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m., WPGH-TV

Once the dust settles on Steelers-Browns, Pittsburgh football fans can flip over to FOX and catch a duel between two of the best passers in NFL history when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers visit Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Brady has the second-most touchdown passes in league history at 553. Rodgers is seventh with 377 scores. Brady is also second in career passing yards, while Rodgers owns the highest passer rating ever.

Rodgers has been exceptional to start the season, and he appears to be clicking with head coach Matt LaFleur in their second year together. After tossing 26 touchdowns all of 2019, Rodgers has already thrown 13 through just four games. The Packers averaged 23.5 points per game last season, but they are averaging an astonishing 38 points per game in 2020. Green Bay is also averaging 1.4 more yards per play, and they are the only team in the league without a turnover.

After a slow start to his Buccaneers, Brady has begun to hit his stride over the last three games, passing for eight touchdowns and just one interception. The six-time Super Bowl champ has had success in five career games against Green Bay, throwing for ten scores and just three picks. Brady has also build a rapport with wideout Mike Evans, who has found the endzone in every game this season.

Packers-Buccaneers is shaping up to be a shootout for the ages, in what could be our last chance to see Brady and Rodgers faceoff before they both inevitably end up in Canton.

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts, 1:00 p.m., WPGH-TV

After a disastrous showing against the Ravens last week, it will not get any easier for Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow as he faces a stingy Colts defense as Lucas Oil Stadium.

Burrow had a rough day at the office last week in Baltimore, completing 19 of 30 passes for 183 yards and an interception. He was also sacked seven times and lost a fumble. Burrow’s performance snapped a streak of three-straight 300 yards games, which was an NFL record for a rookie.

The Indianapolis defense has been stellar to start the year. The Colts are the best pass defense in the league, and have picked off a league-high nine passes. Their are no slouches against the run either, ranked fourth in yards allowed and giving just a single score on the ground, tied with New England for the best in the league. They are also allowing just 4.7 yards per play, which is also the best in the NFL.

Sunday’s matchup is the second game of a five-week gauntlet for Cincinnati that ends on Nov. 15 at Pittsburgh. If Burrow and the Bengals want to prevent their season from spiraling further down the drain, their rookie quarterback will have to carry them to an upset victory over one of the AFC’s juggernauts.

Chicago Bears at Carolina Panthers, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional

In a season of uncertainty, two of the biggest surprises through five weeks have been the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers. The Bears are off to their first 4-1 start since 2010, while the Panthers are riding a three-game win streak.

After a career renaissance in relief with the Saints last season, Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has picked right where he left off, passing for six touchdowns and 1,460 yards, the sixth-most in the league through five weeks. Bridgewater has a 4-1 record against the Bears over his career, his most against any team. He has tossed nine touchdowns and just three interceptions over those five career games.

Across the line, the Bears’ defense is one of the NFL’s stingiest, allowing just four touchdown passes, the fewest in the league. They are led by star defensive end Khalil Mack, who’s 14 games with 2+ sacks are the fourth-most in the league since 2014. In his only career game against Carolina back in 2016, Mack recorded a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pick-six.

Not only is the Panthers offense sixth in the league in yardage, but they are also one of the league’s best teams at limiting turnovers with just five on the year. To extend their winning streak, Carolina will have to continue protecting the football and find a way to smother Mack’s game-breaking ability.

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills, Monday, 5:00 p.m., WPGH-TV

Before it became the first half of a tantalizing Monday night double header, Week Six’s monster matchup between the Chiefs and Bills was supposed to be played on Thursday night. The game had to be moved to Monday after last week’s Buffalo-Tennessee was played as one of the few Tuesday games in NFL history.

Monday’s early evening face off will pit two of the NFL brightest, young star quarterbacks against each other in the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen. Both signal callers are off to tremendous starts this season with remarkably similar stats. Allen is second in the league with 14 touchdown passes, while Mahomes is third with 13. Allen is also second in the league in passing yards, Mahomes is fourth. Mahomes has thrown only a single interception. Allen has tossed only three.

With both quarterbacks performing at such high levels, Monday’s matchup could be decided by the defenses, and Kansas City has the edge against the pass. The Chiefs have allowed just seven passing scores this year, and intercepted six passes, which is tied for the third-most in the league.

Buffalo’s best option could be to turn to the run game with Allen and running back Devin Singletary. Allen has 20 rushing touchdowns over the last three season, while Singletary is averaging 109.2 scrimmage yards over his last five home games. The Chiefs are 30th in the NFL in rush defense and have allowed five yards-per-carry.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional

Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional

Denver Broncos at New England Patriots, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional

Washington at New York Giants, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional

Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV

Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins, 4:05 p.m., CBS Regional

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

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