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NFL notebook: Broncos coach Gary Kubiak returns from week hiatus

Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, back, laughs as he takes the stand to talk to reporters after the team's practice on Monday. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, back, laughs as he takes the stand to talk to reporters after the team's practice on Monday. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
Associated Press

Gary Kubiak bristled at the suggestion he might still be worn down after a week away from football.

“No, do I look weak?” the Denver Broncos coach said.

Well, truthfully, his voice was a little bit faint.

“That’s probably because I’ve been hollering a lot this morning,” Kubiak said. “But, no, I feel good. And I feel really good just getting out here and getting going again.”

Kubiak, 55, returned to work Monday, a week after his doctor ordered him to take time off after he suffered a complex migraine and was hospitalized overnight following Denver’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 9.

Kubiak certainly had plenty to howl about.

During his absence, the Broncos, led by special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, were beaten 21-13 by the San Diego Chargers, who snapped their 10-game losing streak in the AFC West and Denver’s NFL record 15-game divisional road winning streak.

The loss followed a familiar script: slow start, poor play up front, conservative calls.

“It was good just being able to have our leader back,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “He kind of lights a fire under everybody, get everybody going, coaches, players, everybody. So, it’s good to have that accountability back in the room.

“He just kept it straightforward with us, told us what we needed to do. We need to get it going in the right direction. I mean, that’s what you need to hear from your coach, especially after you lost two games like that,” Harris said. “He just pretty much told us the last two games just pretty much looked the exact same, so we need to change what we do.”

The Broncos host Houston on Monday night in Denver’s first game against former longtime backup QB Brock Osweiler and Kubiak’s first game against his former team.

Kubiak was coach of the Texans in 2013 when he had his first health scare, suffering a mini-stroke during halftime of a game against the Colts. He missed 10 days then and returned, to the coaching box at first.

He’s expected to be on the sideline Monday night.

Kubiak said his doctors in Denver and Houston have compared notes but he doesn’t believe the two medical incidents are related. He said his latest health scare was basically a warning sign that he needs to get more sleep.

“I feel really good,” Kubiak said. “I got too much rest, unfortunately. I didn’t want it. But I got it. I feel very good. … All my tests came back great. So, it’s good to be back to work. I really missed a few days there. It was really tough to watch, so I’m glad to be back.”

Kubiak watched the Broncos’ latest loss with his son, Klein, a Broncos scout, from his home in Denver.

“It’s tough. We’ve got to play better,” Kubiak said. “I told the players today, the last two games for us looked a lot alike, unfortunately.”

Roethlisberger undergoes knee surgery

The cartilage in Ben Roethlisberger’s aching left knee is repaired.

And while the Steelers are optimistic their franchise quarterback will return sooner rather than later after tweaking the knee in the second quarter of a miserable loss in Miami on Sunday, the odds of Roethlisberger being ready for a visit from Tom Brady and the Patriots six days removed from the operating table is remote.

Roethlisberger rested at home Monday after undergoing arthroscopic surgery and Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said the team is confident Roethlisberger won’t be out “long term.”

But Roethlisberger’s teammates began rallying around their backup now facing the most daunting task of his uneven career.

Your turn, Landry Jones. Again.

“I’m going to prepare like I’ve done in the past and we’ll see what happens,” Jones said.

Any chance Pittsburgh has of hanging in there against the surging Patriots depends on it. Taken in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, the former Oklahoma star has made two career starts, both last season.

The Steelers went 1-1 in those games, though the victory comes with an asterisk because he left early with an ankle injury and Roethlisberger came on to guide a blowout of Cleveland.

Jones was more effective in relief, leading Pittsburgh by Arizona and Oakland when injuries forced Roethlisberger and Michael Vick out of the lineup.

Given a full week to prepare for the Patriots, Jones believes offensive coordinator Todd Haley doesn’t have to make portions of the playbook off limits to thrive.

“I felt like I had it last year,” Jones said. “We didn’t change much as all of what we were doing. I expect it to be kind of the same this year.”

Browns safety Poyer still in hospital with lacerated kidney

Browns starting safety Jordan Poyer could be lost for the season after sustaining a lacerated kidney.

Poyer remains hospitalized in Nashville, Tennessee, with the serious injury, which came after he was blindsided on a vicious hit in the second quarter by Titans running back Antonio Andrews, who was flagged for a personal foul.

Browns coach Hue Jackson said he had several text messages with Poyer and that the 25-year-old is in good spirits.

Jackson does not know if Poyer will play again this season.

“He took a major hit,” Jackson said. “Obviously that’s going to take some time for him to heal from. I think obviously a kidney is a serious thing. I hope we can (get him back), but if we don’t I do understand that too because that’s something that’s very serious.”

Packers have injury concerns at cornerback

The Packers didn’t have much time to dwell on their lopsided loss to the Cowboys.

The focus quickly shifted from a brief review of the game film to getting ready to play the rival Bears on Thursday night.

“We can just flush this (loss) and move on,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “So it is a blessing in disguise, for sure.”

But the quick turnaround doesn’t give the Packers much time to figure out how to patch up their leaky secondary.

The defense could be minus its top three cornerbacks because of injuries.

“We have two stress points – the running back group (and) the corner group,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s going to take a while to sort through that.”

The Packers went into the Dallas game with Eddie Lacy as their only running back after James Starks suffered a knee injury early last week.

McCarthy said Starks underwent surgery, and added that the team’s medical staff feels the seventh-year pro will have a quick recovery.

Of greater uncertainty is what cornerbacks the Packers will have available to play against the Bears.

Veteran starter Sam Shields hasn’t been on the field since suffering a concussion in the Sept. 11 season opener.

McCarthy said Quinten Rollins, who had a groin injury in practice, will miss his second straight game.

And Damarious Randall reinjured his groin in the first half after rejoining the starting lineup following a one-game absence.

The Cowboys exploited what was left of Green Bay’s secondary, including young starting fill-in LaDarius Gunter, by racking up 424 yards.

“It’s hard when you don’t have guys like Sam Shields in the game,” safety Morgan Burnett said.

Kaepernick remains starting QB for 49ers

Colin Kaepernick showed flashes of the quarterback he used to be in his first start in nearly a year.

He used his athleticism to turn a possible safety into a 10-yard run , connected on a deep touchdown pass to Torrey Smith and scrambled when he had no open receivers for a 29-yard gain .

But far too often in the 45-16 loss at Buffalo, Kaepernick looked more like the quarterback who lost his starting job a year ago to Blaine Gabbert than the one who went to a Super Bowl and NFC title game in his first two years as starter.

Kaepernick completed just 13 of 29 passes for 187 yards and missed a handful of open receivers with off-target throws as the 49ers scored a season-low 16 points on the way to their first five-game losing streak in six years.

Despite all that, coach Chip Kelly said he saw enough bright spots to give Kaepernick another shot on Sunday against Tampa Bay.

“I think there are some things he did on Sunday that you can build upon,” Kelly said Monday. “For his first extended playing time since last year, I thought there were some real positives there that we need to continue to kind of try to build with him and get him going.”

After a promising start that included scores on three of his first four drives, including the 53-yard touchdown pass to Smith, Kaepernick generated very little against a Buffalo defense content to let him try to win from the pocket.

Kaepernick got worse as the day went on, completing just 5 of 18 passes for 52 yards in the second half and taking all three sacks as a close game got out of hand in the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t finish our drives,” Kaepernick said after the game. “A lot of those drives were finished with field goals. If we finished those with touchdowns, the outlook of the game is different and it plays out differently. So that is something that we need to be able to do is get sevens instead of threes.”

Kelly blamed a couple of dropped passes, a false start on third-and-short and the failure to convert a fourth-and-1 when the game was still close for those second-half struggles.

Kelly also praised Kaepernick’s ability to extend plays with his legs as most of his 66 yards rushing came on scrambles rather than designed runs. Kaepernick also did not commit any turnovers.

NFL prepares for London game at Twickenham Stadium

Twickenham Stadium has seen its share of tackles and tries, field goals and forward passes.

The NFL is about to bring some more, but with a twist.

A sporting event other than rugby will be held at the London venue for the first time in its 107-year history when it hosts a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants on Sunday.

After playing 15 games over 10 years at Wembley Stadium, the league is slightly broadening its international horizons, moving one of its annual international games to a different London location.

Forget about scrums and say hello to huddles. Keep an eye out for yellow flags, not yellow cards.

Even for those who have made the trek to Wembley, Sunday’s game will provide a different type of atmosphere. Think of it, in American terms, as Lambeau Field meets Wrigley Field.

“Twickenham is definitely a suburban, residential venue, and so it offers a very different experience for fans,” said Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president for international. “I think it’s going to be fascinating and interesting for our fans to give us feedback on how that experience will compare to what many of them will already have seen and known at Wembley.”

To prepare Twickenham for Sunday’s game, the NFL and the Rugby Football Union had to make a number of significant changes.

For one, with football rosters twice the size of their rugby counterparts, the existing locker rooms will be insufficient. The Rams, the designated home team, will dress in a temporary facility in the Twickenham gym, while the Giants will utilize an adjacent reception hall.

The coaching booths, located just above the access tunnels for rugby games, will be moved to the sixth level to provide coaches with an appropriate viewpoint. Those converted suites also will need to be fitted with replay and communications systems – something the NFL and RFU have been working to install.

Accommodations will also be needed for cheerleaders and the media, who will work from three sections in the southwest corner. Because of the stadium’s location, a detailed transportation plan is also needed for buses transporting players and team personnel to and from Twickenham.

Some of those changes will be noticeable to longtime Twickenham attendees. In addition to the goal posts, which were installed last Monday, and the field markings, to be painted later this week, the capacity of the stadium will be reduced from 82,000 to 75,000 for NFL games.

According to Charlotte Harwood, an RFU spokeswoman, that’s because views from the front several rows of the lower bowl rise just above field level and will be obstructed by players and coaches on the sidelines.

The goal, of course, is to make sure that any potential issues have been addressed by Sunday. Those attending the first games at Wembley – the Giants, coincidentally, played in the first game in London in 2007 – reported a number of hiccups that were ironed out in subsequent years.

Waller said the RFU’s experience hosting the semifinals and final of the Rugby World Cup in 2015, has eased a number of concerns about the venue.

“It’s an important event for them in the same way that it’s an important event for us,” Waller said. “They’re very focused on it being successful as well.”

Governor signs bill clearing way for NFL stadium in Vegas

Nevada’s governor signed a bill clearing the way for a Las Vegas stadium that could be home to the Raiders, although NFL owners still need to approve the team’s move from Oakland before Sin City becomes a football town.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and Raiders owner Mark Davis joined hardhat-wearing construction workers and mask-wearing Raiders fans for the ceremony at UNLV, whose football team would also use the 65,000-seat domed stadium. Cheerleaders shook pompoms and a marching band launched into “Viva Las Vegas” after Sandoval inked the deal.

“Las Vegas is ready for this. Nevada is ready for this,” Sandoval said in an interview afterward. “The best brand on the planet is coming together with one of the best brands in professional sports. It is truly one of those situations where 1+1(equals)3.”

Nevada lawmakers narrowly approved a deal in a special session last week that increases hotel taxes in the Las Vegas area to raise $750 million for a stadium and more than $400 million to expand and upgrade the Las Vegas Convention Center. In raw dollars, it’s the largest public contribution ever toward an NFL stadium, although the public’s share of the total costs – 39 percent – is on par with stadiums in other similarly sized cities.

Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is putting $650 million toward the project, while the Raiders and the NFL will kick in $500 million. Critics called the deal a “total scam,” saying it prioritizes the legacy project of one of the world’s richest men over Nevada’s school and mental health needs.

Any relocation needs approval from three-fourths of NFL team owners – a historically conservative bunch that has shied away from Las Vegas because of its legal sports betting. Davis said he’s not going to guess whether enough owners will jump on board.

Davis denied speculation that supporting the Las Vegas plan was a way to force Oakland, which is also trying to keep the team, to build it a stadium. He emphasized that he prefers to move his team to Las Vegas over Southern California, which is also an option.

“I made a commitment to the governor of Nevada,” he said after the ceremony. “I’ve never used another city as leverage.”

Beyond the Raiders, a stadium close to the Las Vegas Strip would be a boon for UNLV, which now plays at a field seven miles from campus. UNLV has been trying to break out from its reputation as a commuter school and elevate its academic and sports programs.

“We’re entering into a renaissance here for the university, and you could definitely feel that here today,” UNLV President Len Jessup said.

The deal faced headwinds in the Nevada Legislature, but it cleared that hurdle with persuasion from workers in the Laborers Union, who are eager for some of the 25,000 construction jobs expected to come from the stadium and convention center. The construction industry tanked during the recession, and it hasn’t fully rebounded.

“It means the world for our families,” said union organizer Kenneth McLin, who wore a hardhat and fluorescent shirt to the ceremony. “The stadium is going to be the hero for everybody.”

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