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Odell Beckham Jr. may return punts in Los Angeles Rams debut on MNF, sources say

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The Los Angeles Rams have discussed using Odell Beckham Jr. as an occasional punt returner Monday night as part of a package of plays designed for the star wide receiver, sources tell ESPN.

Beckham, who joined Los Angeles on an incentive-laden deal this past Thursday, is expected to make his Rams debut Monday night against the division rival 49ers, sources told ESPN.

Beckham was used as a punt returner early in his career with the Giants, but he has returned only one punt return since 2019 in his two-plus seasons with the Browns.

Star receiver Cooper Kupp sometimes bas been the Rams’ “safe” punt returner, fielding punts deep in their own territory. Beckham could be used there, as well as in other spots, and Monday night will be the first glimpse of whether the Rams decide to deploy the idea.

The possibility of returning punts was one of the ideas the Rams have pondered since signing Beckham to a one-year, $4.5 million deal that is heavy on team-driven postseason incentives.

The Rams joined the free-agent bidding for Beckham this past Tuesday, once he cleared waivers after being released by the Browns. Sources tell ESPN that the Rams felt they had a strong chance to land Beckham after head coach Sean McVay had a long and direct conversation with the receiver about how he would be used in Los Angeles.

Beckham made it clear that he had three things he was looking for: a good coach, a good quarterback and a team that would win this season.

The Packers, Chiefs, Saints and Seahawks showed varying levels of interest, but the Rams fit all the criteria and also could offer Beckham something no other franchise could — Los Angeles as a location.

From there, the conversation between McVay and Beckham was the first of several discussions that the three-time Pro Bowler would have with members of the Rams organization over the next two days. He also spoke with his friends Von Miller and Jalen Ramsey, with each player pitching the merits of playing in Los Angeles to Beckham.

Beckham and the Rams ultimately agreed to a deal that includes the following details:

• A $750,000 base salary for the remainder of this season.

• A $500,000 signing bonus.

• A $500,000 incentive if the Rams win a wild-card game or have a bye, with Beckham being on the team’s active list and playing at least one play.

• A $750,000 incentive if the Rams win a divisional playoff game and Beckham is active and plays at least one play in the game.

• A $750,000 incentive if the Rams win the NFC Championship Game and Beckham is active and plays at least one play in the game.

• A $500,000 incentive for being on the Super Bowl roster and another $500,000 if the Rams win the Super Bowl.

One of the only holdups, according to sources, came when the sides discussed what jersey number Beckham would wear. Beckham discussed wearing Nos. 1, 3 and 13, but there were issues with each.

No. 1 was the jersey worn by former Rams receiver DeSean Jackson, who was waived earlier this month. No. 3 also was attractive to Beckham, but the number belongs to injured Rams running back Cam Akers for next season, and Beckham and the Rams would like their relationship to go beyond this year.

The No. 13 currently is worn by Rams backup quarterback John Wolford, so the Rams settled on Beckham wearing No. 3 for the remainder of this season, with the idea that he could switch to No. 13 in 2022 if he re-signs with Los Angeles.

The Rams plan to attempt to re-sign both Beckham and Miller, who is in the final year of his contract, in the offseason, sources told ESPN.

Although they added Beckham and Miller to make a Super Bowl run this season, the Rams see their relationships with both players potentially lasting beyond 2021, according to sources. Los Angeles also would receive compensatory draft picks if either player leaves in free agency.

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Short-handed Pittsburgh Steelers will take on Cincinnati Bengals without cornerback Joe Haden

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers placed two players on the injured reserve list Saturday, and downgraded another to out for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers ruled out cornerback Joe Haden, downgraded from questionable with a mid-foot sprain, and they put tight end Eric Ebron and center/guard J.C. Hassenauer on IR.

Ebron injured a knee last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, apparently during his fourth-quarter touchdown. He is expected to miss extended time with surgery, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler earlier this week.

Ebron was a co-starter along with rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth. He has had a reduced role this season with just 12 catches for 84 yards and a receiving touchdown as well as a rushing TD.

Hassenauer, who was starting in place of guard Kevin Dotson, injured a pectoral muscle early in the loss to the Chargers. Tackle Joe Haeg replaced Hassenauer a week ago, but the Steelers are likely to turn to B.J. Finney, a veteran interior offensive lineman, to replace him in the long term.

With both Dotson and Hassenauer now on IR, the Steelers signed practice squad offensive lineman John Leglue to the active roster.

The team also elevated defensive lineman Daniel Archibong and wide receiver Anthony Miller ahead of Sunday’s game, and signed kicker Sam Sloman to the practice squad.

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Tennessee Titans place wide receiver A.J. Brown on injured reserve

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The Tennessee Titans placed wide receiver A.J. Brown on injured reserve on Saturday ahead of their matchup with the New England Patriots.

Brown suffered chest, rib and hand injuries during last week’s 22-13 loss to the Houston Texans. He played 40 offensive snaps and finished with five receptions for 48 yards on nine targets.

“Walking by faith as always. GOD makes no mistakes,” Brown posted on social media after the news broke that is headed for IR.

Brown will now be out for the next three weeks. The earliest that Brown will be able to return is when Tennessee faces the San Francisco 49ers on Dec 23 on Thursday night football.

In 10 games, Brown has 46 receptions for 615 yards and three touchdowns. He also missed Tennessee’s Week 4 loss to the New York Jets because of a knee injury.

The Titans signed veteran free agent receiver Golden Tate to their practice squad last Tuesday. But they did not elevate him to the active roster after he practiced with the team on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

The Titans will likely turn to rookie Dez Fitzpatrick to start in place of Brown. Tennessee utilized the COVID elevation to make receiver Cody Hollister available to them on Sunday against the Patriots.

Hollister joins Fitzpatrick, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Chester Rogers as the wide receivers that will be available for quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Sunday.

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Mike Vrabel, Bill Belichick set for Round 3 as the Tennessee Titans travel to the New England Patriots – Tennessee Titans Blog

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel calmly stood on the sideline as his team was clung to a 14-13 lead in the AFC wild-card game against the New England Patriots two seasons ago.

With just under six minutes left, Titans punter Brett Kern assumed his position to field the snap, but it didn’t come as the final seconds ticked off of the play clock. The Titans got a delay of game penalty.

The clock then started running and linebacker Wesley Woodyard drew a false start penalty, thus wasting more time. Before the Titans could commit another delay of game, the Patriots went offside and wasted even more time.

The television cameras portrayed a visibly irritated Bill Belichick spewing expletives at the officials. An additional minute bled off the clock before Kern punted the football.

Vrabel, who played eight seasons for Belichick with the Patriots, outfoxed his former coach to seal a 20-13 win, thus ending New England’s season.

That game was the only time Vrabel faced off with Belichick other than a 34-10 win for the Titans in 2018.

The tradition and history is not going to win or lose the game for anybody,” Vrabel said of his former team ahead of another matchup against them. “I think we all know where the banners are and the success that organization has had over the last 20 years.

“What will win or lose [Sunday’s] game is playing sound, fundamental football, taking care of the football, penalties, playing with great technique.”

However, Vrabel downplayed any idea of him going against Belichick when asked about the coaching matchup.

“Bill and I won’t be squaring off to determine this game,” Vrabel said. “This game will be won, like it always is, by the players.”

Belichick and the Patriots (7-4) will look to get their first win against a Vrabel-led Titans (8-3) team Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

“Mike’s done a great job at Tennessee,” Belichick said in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI. “I have always had a lot of respect for Mike, and certainly had a ton of respect for him when he was a position coach and as a head coach, for sure. It will be a big challenge. Tennessee is obviously a good football team, one of the best teams in the league. Other than when we play him, I’m rooting for him. But not this week.”

Tennessee was tied for the best record in the NFL and had the best record in the AFC entering last Sunday’s game before losing to the Houston Texans, who had the worst record in the conference.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, the Titans’ loss to the Texans was the latest into the season a team with the outright worst record in a conference has beaten the team with the outright best record in that conference. The prior latest was in Week 7 of the 1979 season when the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Five turnovers proved to be the ultimate equalizer in what was supposed to be a lopsided matchup. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill‘s first of four interceptions occurred in the red zone and was returned to the Titans’ 6-yard line. Chester Rogers had a punt bounce off of his foot that was downed at Tennessee’s 5-yard line. The turnovers resulted in 10 points.

Although the Patriots have forced 13 turnovers during their five-game winning streak — which is now the longest in the NFL after the Titans lost — and the Titans’ five turnovers cost them Sunday, Belichick doesn’t expect Vrabel’s Titans to be as careless.

“They turned the ball over against the Texans, which is hard to count on,” Belichick said. “That’s not what they do, so I don’t think we’ll get that. It’s a typical Mike team – they’re tough, they’re physical, they make you beat them, they don’t make many mistakes. They know what they’re doing. They’re sound. They’re a good fundamental team.”

The Titans experienced a similar surge in turnovers when they had 11 takeaways during their six-game winning streak which was ended by Houston.

The two coaches offered up scouting reports on each other’s teams on Monday. It’s no coincidence they mentioned similar attributes.

“They are turning the football over,” Vrabel said. “Guys understand where to create turnovers at and they are good on the edges. Guys play with great technique up front. They are running the football and marrying that with the play-action game. Receivers all block, they are all selfless, they all understand that their effort is going to help whichever back they have in the game at the time run the football. The quarterback is accurate.”

“Tough, physical team,” Belichick said. “They tackle well. The backs and receivers run hard with the ball. The quarterback’s athletic. They’re sound in the kicking game. We’re going to have to play a good football game in all three phases.”

Going back to New England is special for Vrabel. Of course, he’ll enjoy returning to Gillette Stadium. But it’ll also be a chance to spend time with his son, Tyler, who plays offensive line for nearby Boston College.

“Coaching in this league and being involved in the National Football League is special,” Vrabel said. “The opportunity to get to coach this football team, to get to travel to other stadiums, certainly this one, having spent eight years there. Tyler’s going to be there since he is going to school there. I think it will be cool.”

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