Lamar Miller tells fantasy owners to stay tuned

The Miami Dolphins have been nothing short of a disappointment this season -- on both sides of the ball. 

The defense has recorded just one sack in four games, while no other team in the league has less than five. On offense, they've rushed for just 69 yards per game, which is second-worst in the NFL.

Lamar Miller is entering the final year of his contract and is out to prove he can be a workhorse back, but he's only carried it 37 times for 131 yards. Needless to say, that won't get it done by any means, but a coaching change could prove to help Miller.

Dan Campbell is the interim head coach after the team fired Joe Philbin, and he brought in Al Saunders to be an offensive consultant to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Miller seems to be happy about the changes, as he's telling concerned fantasy owners and fans to "stay tune" on Twitter.

Does that mean Miller is in line for more carries? It's possible, but nothing is certain. And if he does carry the ball more, it won't be until next Sunday with the Dolphins currently on their bye. As Miller said, stay tuned, folks.

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Duke Johnson: Al Golden kept team focused during hot seat talk

Miami fans have been paying money to fly a "Fire Al Golden" banner above the Hurricanes' games, even making arrangements to get the message in the sky during a road game at Cincinnati.

Al Golden's future has been a talking point this week with the Florida State game coming up on Saturday night in Tallahassee. When asked for a review of Golden as a coach, recent Hurricane great Duke Johnson said Golden always kept the team focused on the things they could control.

"It was amazing. I know I enjoyed my experience," Johnson told "Even though people was calling for his job game in and game out, he did a good job of making sure we were prepared game in and game out and we were focused on what really matters -- the opponent that we played that Saturday night, or Thursday night, or whenever that game would be."

Johnson is Miami's all-time leading rusher, a native of the area and one of Al Golden's favorite players during his time with the Hurricanes. To hear Johnson support Golden is not surprising, but the situation he described -- "people calling for his job" -- matches the current state of affairs for the 2015 team.

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Andre Johnson emerges in return to Houston

HOUSTON — He wouldn’t say much this week, but that’s not unusual. Andre Johnson is not a verbose man. He speaks softly, never raising his voice, never hinting at his mood. Hear him talk and you’d never be able to tell if he’s just finished with 15 catches for 225 yards and three touchdowns … or if he’d had no catches and dropped three passes.

The Indianapolis Colts’ most expensive offseason addition was the invisible man through four games. He looked old, looked slow, looked like he was never open.

Then he went home to Houston and started playing like Andre Johnson again.

The 34-year-old wide receiver was the sparkplug the Colts desperately sought – and needed – in Thursday night’s 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans, which by no coincidence came on the night Johnson played his first game in NRG Stadium wearing a visiting team’s jersey. He spent 12 years in this city but left in March, the franchise’s all-time greatest player and the victim of a messy divorce from the only NFL team he’s ever known.

In case you forgot, Houston, this guy can still play.

“Probably up there," Johnson said when asked where this ranked among the games he's played at NRG Stadium. "This is the team you played for for 12 seasons and you come back and get a win against them and it’s pretty big.”

He put together a better 60 minutes of football than his four previous games combined, finishing with six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns, not to mention his finest night as a Colt – by far.

The perpetually quiet Johnson needn’t say much Thursday night.

His play did plenty of talking.

“Four weeks – that’s a preseason," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "Everyone knows Andre Johnson can play. The dude’s for real. We knew that. That’s never wavered for us. Again, I think it’s like fantasy football sends people into panic mode. He’s a great player, has been for a long time and still is.”

For the second straight week, it was Veteran’s Day for the Colts. Johnson led the way, but don’t discount the contributions from the 40-year-old Hasselbeck – 18-for-29 for 213 yards and two touchdowns – and 32-year-old running back Frank Gore – 22 carries for 98 yards and a touchdown.

On this night, age was just a number. Those three were the team’s best players on offense.

Throughout his monthlong slump, Johnson has sounded like the 12-year vet he is. He pleaded for patience, saying time and again he knew precisely what he got himself into when he signed with the Colts during free agency. He was a weapon joining an offense loaded with weapons – he wouldn’t be the featured target like he was for more than a decade in Houston. And he was fine with that. He never complained. He kept working, quietly, the way Johnson’s always worked.

But on Thursday night, wearing Colts’ white instead of Texans’ blue, Johnson exploded. If he was trying to prove a point – that he’s not done just yet – consider it proven.

“A lot of people probably thought this was a ‘get back’ game for me or something like that. It was never like that," Johnson said. "I just wanted to use my role. I was involved a lot more today and I was able to go out and make the best of my opportunities. That’s the way I looked at it. I just wanted to do
what I needed to do to help the team win.”

It didn’t hurt that Hasselbeck's throws were on the money, or that the much-maligned offensive line put together its best effort of this young season. But take nothing away from Johnson. He came to play. He made a difference for the first time as a Colt.

“Anytime you’ve been somewhere for 12 seasons and you make a change, it’s challenging,” Johnson conceded this week. “But at the same time it’s an experience and I’m just rolling (with it). I don’t have any regrets on any decisions I’ve made.”

He rolled with it Thursday. By night’s end he’d moved up to sixth on the NFL’s all-time receiving chart, passing Isaac Bruce.

Most important was that Johnson got the win.

The longtime Texan left Houston with 1,012 catches for 13,597 yards and 64 touchdowns.

Before Thursday, he was the invisible man in Indianapolis. No more. Finally, Andre Johnson arrived as a Colt.

"Everybody knew the start that (No.) 81 had and not one word," coach Chuck Pagano said. "You guys know, you were in the locker room. You can see his personality, see his mannerisms, see his character, and not one time did he ever, and that’s why he’s a hall of famer. He’s a great player. He’s a great human being. He’s a great person. He’s a great teammate."

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Frank Gore puts miscues behind him, has best performance this season

HOUSTON – Frank Gore ran with authority and with a purpose against the Texans. He needed a big game following a couple of non-Gore-like efforts this season.

In Thursday’s 27-20 win over the Texans, the first-year Colt looked like the Gore of old -- tough to tackle and powering his way to a game-high 98 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

“I told myself, just be me,” Gore said. “I’m watching film last week. Every time I get stopped, that’s not me. I found myself pressing. I said I’m just going to sit back, be patient, have fun, and trust my linemen.

“And whenever we get an opportunity, to go get it. And today that’s what I did.”

And Gore ran like he did when he played for San Francisco, where he was selected to five Pro Bowls and is one of 11 NFL players with at least eight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Thursday was Gore’s best game of the season after being signed by Indianapolis as an unrestricted free agent in March.

Against a Texans’ defense that features J.J Watt, Gore averaged a solid 4.5 yards per carry without a fumble. He took handoffs from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who got another start with Andrew Luck inactive because of a right shoulder injury.

“He was unbelievable tonight,” offensive guard Joe Reitz said. “As Frank gets more and more comfortable with the offense, we’ll continue to see these special performances out of him. He’s the ultimate warrior and we love blocking for him, because we know we’re not going to block it right sometimes, and he’s still going to give us four or five yards.

“He’s a man’s man there, running the ball and that was a huge performance from Frank. I’m excited as the season goes on to watch him continue to grow with us.”
Gore’s longest run against the Texans was 20 yards.

At age 32, Gore’s performance, along with an offensive line that did not allow a sack, helped the Colts improve to 3-2 on the season and 3-0 in the AFC South. The Colts have won 16 straight division games.

Indianapolis rushed for only 110 yards, but they were yards that continued drives and led to scores. The Colts were running zone scheme and power scheme.
“They (were successful) but it wasn’t anything crazy,” Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing said. “They got the points they needed.”

Gore’s previous rushing high this season was 86 yards with two touchdowns against Tennessee. His previous high in carries was 17 against Jacksonville.

The Texans’ focus on stopping Gore paved the way for the Colts completing a third-down pass with 1:37 remaining in the game from Hasselback to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for 43 yards to Houston’s 37-yard line, sealing the win.

“I don’t feel like I have to make every play,” said Gore, who has rushed for more than 11,300 yards in his career.

In a 20-7 loss to the Jets in Week 2, Gore lost a fumble just in front of the end zone. He’s put the miscues behind him.

With the Colts riding a three-game winning streak, Gore said he just needs to calm down and stop pressing.

“Just have fun,” Gore said. “Whenever my number is called, just help this team. I’m going to fight. That’s what happened today.

“The O-line did a great job. I was up to the challenge and we did a great job on the ground.”

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How Andre Johnson and Frank Gore reunited as Colts

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- It had been 14 years since they shared a national title at the University of Miami, and reconnecting, as it turns out, didn't take much for Frank Gore and Andre Johnson.

"It was really just a phone call," explains Johnson. "Two guys felt the same way about an organization, and they both made a decision to go try and get the job done."

The phone call -- which Gore placed to Johnson -- happened in March, just minutes after the Houston Texans announced they were releasing Johnson, ending his career there as the greatest offensive player in franchise history.

"It didn't really hit me until it was actually put out in the media," Johnson said. "Once that happened, I was just sitting in the house like, man ... what am I going to do? I had never been in that situation before."

Gore, meanwhile, knew exactly what Johnson was going through. Despite 49ers CEO Jed York promising to find a way to bring Gore back for 2015, the team opted to instead let their all-time rushing leader walk away a free agent. When reminded of his final game in San Francisco, Gore's easy-going smile fades.

"I cried coming off the field," he recalls. "They say they want you to be here, they want you to be here forever, they want you to retire [with them]." Gore shakes his head. "In your heart, you really know."

When Gore called Johnson that day, it was not to vent about his current situation. In fact, Gore had nearly made the move to Philadelphia to join head coach Chip Kelly. Kelly's other offseason moves, however -- which included the departures of running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and quarterback Nick Foles -- made Gore uneasy.

"I know Chip is a great coach, but you have to have the right guys on the field who have the respect in this league. Seeing the pieces moving around, I don't know if I want to do that."

Gore called Johnson again.

"I said man, 'What you going to do?' He said, 'I don't know, it just happened,'" laughs Gore. "He said, 'I got you bro, I'll keep you in the loop.'"

Gore made it easy for Johnson to keep him in the loop -- he kept calling. And calling. And calling.

"The next day he called back again, 'what's up, man? Like, you hear anything?'" Johnson recalls with a laugh. "So, the third time, we talked. I asked him, 'Be honest, what team you think can win a Super Bowl right now?' He said, 'I like the Colts.' So, in my mind when he said that I was like, that's my team."

This summer in Coral Gables, Florida, home to their alma mater, Johnson and Gore worked out together, preparing for the first time in their careers to play for a different team than the one that signed them over a decade ago. Now, teammates once again, they sit together in the Hurricanes' Athletic Hall of Fame room, a place where Johnson has already been inducted as one of the most dominating receivers in the school's history. They are surrounded by photos and mementos of past Miami greats -- Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Reggie Wayne ... the list of future NFL Hall of Famers in that room seems endless, which made for a difficult roster to join as an incoming freshman.

"When I first got [to Miami], I see these big guys I'm like man, I don't know. I think I made the wrong decision in my head," recalls Gore, who almost went to Ole Miss over Miami. His pride in his choice still shows, as he is dressed in a bright orange and green tank top -- U colors -- and zebra striped shorts. "I was like, 'I have to get better.' That helped me as a football player."

Johnson, who's patterned Jordan T-shirt shows off the numerous arm tattoos going up his biceps and down his forearms, agrees. "I had to go through the same thing. You had to earn your stripes, and you were going to be challenged as soon as you walked in the door. When you first go through it you wonder, is it really like this? Am I this far behind? But at the same time, it's just adjusting to that next level of football."

Johnson's willingness to join Gore in Indianapolis goes back further than the national championship season they shared at Miami; their friendship began long before that.

"Our high school teams were rivals, and my mom and his mom went to high school together," explained Johnson. "[My mom] was telling me about this kid, Frank Gore, that plays running back. I just kind of kept up with his career, and what he accomplished ... it was pretty amazing."

Coming out of Dade County, Florida, both players had impressive high school careers. Johnson, coming from Miami Senior High School, was named first-team All-State and All-City, catching 31 passes for 908 yards and 15 touchdowns during his senior season. Gore, two years behind him at Coral Gables Senior High School, set a Dade County record for rushing yardage in a season in 2000 with 2,953 yards and 34 touchdowns. The two earned each other's respect almost immediately.

"He made it look so easy, you know?" recalls Gore of Johnson's high school days. "I just heard around the neighborhood how good of a guy he is and how hard of a worker he was. So, the night we played him, I stood up the whole game, to really see if he was the real deal. He just dominated. He could do [anything] on the field in high school."

Seventeen years after that game in Coral Gables, Gore and Johnson would board a plane to Indianapolis together, in hopes of signing with the Colts. Gore's process went quickly -- signing a three-year, $12 million deal. Johnson's deal didn't go so smoothly.

"I kind of got frustrated with the process," recalls Johnson. "Coach [Chuck Pagano] said, 'I'm not letting you leave until you sign the contract. ... Frank, you can go ahead and take the plane and go back home.'"

"I said no," said Gore. "I'm going to wait right here with him." Gore would wait in an outside hallway at the Colts facility for almost two hours while Johnson and his agent negotiated terms with the team. Finally, Johnson emerged, sporting a Colts baseball cap and a newly signed three-year, $21 million contract. Gore was ecstatic.

"He just took off running down the hall," remembers Johnson. "He jumped on me, gave me a big hug and we were just like, 'Let's go do it.'"

So far? It's been some frustration. The Colts aren't living up to preseason expectations, and both players have had ups and downs. But the two remain optimistic.
They've been around a long time, and it's a long season.

"Whenever you play any team sport you want to win trophies. You want to be known for winning the Super Bowl," explains Gore. "Knowing [Andre], watching him in high school, being at UM and knowing what he did in the NFL, it'd be a real blessing to finish our career with a trophy."

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Shane Larkin has a nice game in start

Shane Larkin stepped up in a start against the Pistons on Thursday, scoring 17 points, five rebounds, five assists and two 3-pointers in 27 minutes.

Jarrett Jack didn't play to give Larkin some heavy burn. He was in the news this offseason because Phil Jackson took some shots at Larkin, but the former Knick and Mav got it going. He should be ahead of Ryan Boatright for the backup point guard minutes. Boatright had no points in 11 minutes.

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Jon Jay make NLDS roster

While Jay is only hitting .210 with seven extra-base hits during this injury-impacted season, his postseason history offers reason for optimism. He hit .483 in last year’s playoffs.

“It’s a good feeling,” Jay said. “It’s my fifth year of being on the roster. I’m excited for that. I’m looking forward to helping this team win.”

Signs point toward Jay and Pham backing up Heyward in center. Heyward has only played two complete games in center for the Cardinals this season, and he didn’t start testing the waters there during a game until Aug. 16, after Grichuk got hurt. Grichuk is now slotted for a corner outfield position, so he is not asked to throw from the deepest section of stadiums. Heyward seems to be fine with the change.

“I have played some center,” he said. “For me, it’s putting all the experience together. Six years at this level. You understand the fundamental things you need to do that are going to make your job that much easier in the outfield. At the end of the day, that’s what you have to trust.

“I’ve even played center in the playoffs, (with the Atlanta Braves) in 2013, so, for me, it’s not that foreign. It’s having a great understanding of how to read hitters, an idea of your pitching staff and what they are going to do with certain counts, things like that. I don’t have any worries or any concerns. I’m going to have fun.”

Pham said it’s wait-and-see when it comes to how he will be used.

He’s happy to be here. That doesn’t mean he’s ready to rest.

“I still feel like I’m working on something,” Pham said. “More specifically for next year, this offseason, that’s going to elevate my game to another level. It’s just, with this game, you are constantly trying to better yourself, so you can continue to stick here, and produce here.”

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Saints release safety Kenny Phillips

The New Orleans Saints have released veteran safety Kenny Phillips, according to the NFL transaction wire.

Phillips, who started three games for the Saints this season, is likely being released to make room for punter Brandon Fields, who will fill in for an injured Thomas Morstead.

Morstead strained his quad against the Cowboys, according to coach Sean Payton. If the injury isn't long-term, the Saints will likely keep two punters on the roster until he is healthy.

Phillips' release is also good news for safety Jairus Byrd, who returned in a limited capacity against the Cowboys after being out a year with a knee injury. It's a sign that Byrd is likely ready to resume his full role this weekend against the Eagles.

Phillips was released following training camp while the Saints played an numbers game with their roster, but returned Week 2 after starting free safety Rafael Bush went on injured reserve. Phillips filled in as the starter until Byrd was ready to return in Week 4. 

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Devin Hester goes on IR/designated for return with toe problem

The Falcons are off to a 4-0 start without one of the best return men the NFL has known, so what’s another eight weeks?

The Falcons announced that returner Devin Hester will be placed on injured reserve/designated for return, after a lingering turf toe injury failed to get better.

The move will keep Hester off the practice field for at least six weeks, and he’ll be eligible to return for their Week 13 trip to Tampa Bay.

“We have decided to place Devin on short-term IR,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We have been trying to treat his toe injury the best we could, and he has been doing everything in his power to get back on the field, but at this point we think this is the best plan of action. We are confident this time will let Devin get healthy and be a big contributor to this team once he is back on the field.”

The Falcons also signed safety Charles Godfrey and tight end Tony Moeaki, and released tight end Mickey Shuler.

Hester contributed on offense for the Falcons last year, with 38 catches for 504 yards and two touchdowns. But most importantly, he led the league in punt return average (13.3 yards per return), as well as combined kick/punt return yardage (1,368).

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Thurston Armbrister answers call

He was thrust into the lineup on Sunday at Indianapolis when Paul Posluszny went out with a high ankle sprain.

Armbrister played 38 snaps, called the defense and also handled the blitzes that were in the game plan for Posluszny.

The Jaguars lost the game 16-13 in overtime.

“There was a lot of pressure on me,’’ Armbrister said. “At first, I was kind of nervous, but I realized what I came here for and that the coaches had a lot of trust in me to put me in there in charge of the defense.’’

He had to make the defensive calls to get the players in the right position and said although he made a few rookie mistakes, it was “nothing catastrophic.’’

Armbrister will be starting Sunday in Tampa Bay if Posluszny can’t go, but Bradley said he there is hope Posluszny didn’t suffer a “traditional’’ high ankle sprain.

A traditional high ankle sprain involves tearing or damage of the ligaments connecting the tibia to the fibula and usually sidelines a player for six to seven weeks.

Of Armbrister’s debut, coach Gus Bradley said, “There was a first third-down I think he got out-leveraged to the flat and they ended up getting 14-15 yards, but I thought he settled down.

“The big thing was run fits,’’ Bradley said. “Just a few assignment errors, but he’ll learn from that. I thought overall for getting thrown in like he did he did a pretty good job,’’ he said.

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Calais Campbell's 11-tackle game termed 'lights out' by Cardinals' Arians

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell drew rave reviews for his performance in Sunday's loss to the St. Louis Rams.

"I’m not sure I’ve seen a defensive tackle dominate a game like I saw Calais Campbell," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said per Arizona Sports. "I mean he had 11 tackles and completely controlled the line of scrimmage. To me, maybe his best game as a pro."

Arizona coach Bruce Arians was equally effusive in his praise of the 6-foot-8, 300-pound Campbell, who registered 43.5 sacks over his previous seven seasons with the Cardinals. 

"(He) was lights out," said Arians, who labeled the effort by Campbell "as dominating a performance as you could ask for a defensive lineman."

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Antrel Rolle: 'There's no timetable for when I'll return'

The loss of Antrel Rolle could prove a significant one for the Bears.

As for how long they'll be without one of their starting safeties, it sounds like we'll just have to wait and see.

"There's no timetable for when I'll return," Rolle told CSN's Pat Boyle on Tuesday night's edition of The Antrel Rolle Show. "Just going to start grinding, day in and day out, and try to make the best of it."

The good news is that the injury isn't more serious. Rolle said that when the play happened, he was concerned that his ankle was facing in the opposite direction. That wasn't the case, and Rolle is confident he'll be back soon.

"Very fortunate, could've been a lot worse," he said. "It kind of happened in slow motion for me. I felt the pressure on my leg. Going down, collapsing to my knee, I knew I couldn't sustain that pressure. So I was able to twist and turn my body a little bit. I took a pretty good pounding, but ... it's just an ankle injury. I'll bounce back in no time.

"I didn't think along those lines, but I did think my ankle was faced the opposite way. I was scared to look down to see what my ankle was looking like. Once I saw it straight, I was like, 'OK, good.'"

Check out more from The Antrel Rolle Show in the videos below.

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Julio Jones Helping Leonard Hankerson

Julio Jones has, without a doubt, made a substantial impact in each of Atlanta’s last four games. This was obvious during the first three weeks of 2015, when he tallied 34 catches, 440 receiving yards and four touchdowns to go along with early MVP consideration. And, though he finished with just 38 total yards against Houston, Jones’ mere presence helped the Falcons score 49 points—a season-high.

For evidence of this, look no further than Leonard Hankerson’s production.

Hankerson, who enjoyed a lot of single coverage versus the Texans, amassed six grabs for 106 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. 55 of those yards came on a single reception, which likely wouldn't have resulted in a substantial gain if not for the attention placed on Jones. Because Houston’s free safety shifted outside to help cover No. 11 off the snap, he put himself out of position to track down Hankerson.

Houston finally brought him down at the six yard line. Devonta Freeman scored on the next play.

“Julio, he’s a great player. Him just being out there, he helps out all of us,” said Hankerson. “Just to be able to make some plays, help this team out—it feels good. You can’t act like (Jones) isn’t there. The type of player he is, the defensive coordinators, they dream about him. So you have to call a defense that’s going to double-team him. And that helps out everybody.”

Hankerson has quietly gotten off to a great start in Atlanta and, a few drops notwithstanding, has been a reliable No. 2 WR. Matt Ryanicon-article-link’s enjoyed throwing to the University of Miami graduate and has a 116.4 passer rating when targeting him.

“For sure, he’s one of the guys that we count on,” Quinn said about Hankerson, who’s on pace to finish the regular season with 941 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. “That catching radius that he has is one of the things that sets him apart. I think he runs really good routes.

“He’s a tough cover for us. Anytime there’s going to be some extra attention sent over to another guy on our team sometimes the benefit will come back towards him. I think all of those things are a big part of why he’s doing so well.”

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Andre Johnson prepares to return to Houston

Aside for the continuing drama over Andrew Luck's health, perhaps the biggest storyline for the Colts entering Thursday night's game against the Texans is wide receiver Andre Johnson's return to Houston.

Johnson, who spent 12 standout seasons with the Texans before being released in March, signed with Indianapolis during free agency. He is Houston's all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns caught. 

"I know what I did when I played there for 12 seasons and the people who were there at the games know what I did and the people who work in the organization know what I did," Johnson told reporters Tuesday, per ESPN's Tania Ganguli. "They have a right to their own opinions. That’s all that matters. If they boo me, they still deep down in their heart know what kind of guy I was, know what kind of guy I was on the field, know what kind of guy I was in the community. They have a right to their own opinions. We’ll see what happens."

The 34-year-old Johnson, who was the Texans' first-round pick in 2003, said his departure from Houston was prompted by the team.

"When you spend your whole career with one team, you kind of feel like you’ll end your career there," Johnson said. "It didn’t happen, but that’s the nature of this business and you just move on from it."

The seven-time Pro Bowler has seven receptions for 51 yards through the Colts' first four games.

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Shenise Johnson continues to surprise for Fever

Those who know Shenise Johnson might tell you they saw it coming. They saw potential in the girl they called “Moe-Moe,” the college woman who so desperately wanted to become great, the first-round draft pick who was so ambitious.

It’s never as inevitable as all that, though. The teenager was once kicked off the team. The college freshman was not in shape and not that skilled. The young pro chafed under a subordinate role.

Finally, the “Moe-train” is picking up speed and staying on track.

“I’ve been praying for this day, I have to say,” said her mother, Michelle Reeves.

Shenise Monet Johnson — the Moe-Moe comes from her middle name — has been perhaps the biggest surprise on an Indiana Fever team that has made a surprise run to the WNBA Finals. The best-of-five series against the Minnesota Lynx is tied 1-1 heading into Friday’s Game 3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (8 p.m., ESPN2).

Johnson’s fiery nature was manifested late in Game 2 when she ran into a hard screen, had to leave the game and slammed the scorer’s table. That action resulted in the Fever’s fourth technical foul of the Finals. In the locker room afterward, Johnson said she was OK.

Johnson, 24, a 5-11 guard, was acquired from the San Antonio Stars in a February trade for two draft picks. In the regular season, she was second on the Fever in scoring (10.9), rebounding (4.9), assists (2.4) and 3-point percentage (.413). She was second in voting for the league’s Most Improved Player.

In eight playoff games, she is averaging 11.8 points.

“I waited my whole life for this moment,” she said. “Being traded from a different team, you have a chip on your shoulder a little bit.”

She has been everything Fever executive Kelly Krauskopf thought she could be. Johnson is on a path to becoming an All-Star as soon as next season.

“And the other thing is, she is not even there yet,” Krauskopf said. “This girl can be really good. This is her first year in the WNBA to play at this level.”

Johnson was raised by a single mother in Rochester, N.Y. She was often cared for by older sister Shawntalae, also a basketball player. Johnson spent summers in Detroit with her father, Dan Johnson, a former college football player.

Johnson’s mother said her daughter was suspended from the team as an eighth-grader for involvement in a fight at school. From that moment, the mother said, Johnson stayed out of such trouble.

Johnson, in turn, said her mother has been an inspiration. Reeves worked all day and attended school at night in supporting Johnson and two siblings.

“Tenacity, determination … you never knew when she was tired,” Johnson said, “because she always had a smile on her face. I love her for that.”

Her maternal grandfather is Jerry McCullough, a bishop of Faith Temple Apostolic Church and a Rochester civil rights leader. Her grandmother is Maggie Davis McCullough, a co-pastor of that church. They are “the rock” behind the family, Johnson’s mother said.

The mother said Johnson was lazy about schoolwork until she understood where basketball could take her. She then earned “A’s and B’s overnight,” her mother said.

Johnson led Rush-Henrietta High School to three state championships, was a McDonald’s All American and New York’s 2008 Miss Basketball.

“She definitely could have been a ‘what if’ story, and thankfully she’s not,” said Steve Shepanski, her high school coach.

Johnson chose a college far from home, settling on Miami (Fla.), where she felt a connection to the coach, Katie Meier, and assistant Carolyn Kieger.

Kieger, now the Marquette head coach, was a guard at her alma mater and charged with developing backcourt players at Miami. Johnson was more power forward than guard when she took her talents to South Beach.  All she needed was to have her competitiveness channeled, Kieger said.

“She was a perfectionist in everything she did,” Kieger said. “As soon as that happened, we knew she was special.”

Kieger kept her on task: Show up at 7 a.m.  Work on ballhandling. Shoot more 3-pointers.

It was almost as if she were coaching a pro player already, Kieger recalled. The coach said she quit pushing Johnson after two years because the player was so demanding of herself.

“There’s a lot of people who make these goals. But their work habits don’t match up,” Kieger said.

After Johnson’s freshman year, she played for a USA Basketball team that won a gold medal in the under-19 World Championship. She averaged 19.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists as a junior, when she was Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, and had respective figures of 17.0/8.0/4.4 as a senior.

The Fever often scouted Johnson. Before they could draft her in 2012, she went as the No. 5 selection to San Antonio. Johnson averaged 11.0 points in her second year but saw minutes and productivity decline in her third year.

Given a second chance, the Fever acquired her. She has “found a rhythm in our system,” Fever coach Stephanie White said.

In her second WNBA chance, Johnson has become who everyone thought she would be. She reflected on calls, tweets and texts she has received from family, friends and mentors. Their message:

"This is what you were made for,” she said.

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TD Streak Extended - 3 TDs Scored

THREE #‎proCane TDs were scored in Week 4 of the NFL!

#‎Jags WR Allen Hurns (1), #‎Browns RB Duke Johnson (1), #‎Falcons WR Leonard Hankerson (1).

Allen Hurns’ TD extended the streak to 10 straight weeks a #proCane has scored a TD in the #‎NFL.

Duke Johnson scored his first ever NFL TD on a 34-yard pass. Johnson finished the day with 116 total yards and 1 TD. 85 yards receiving, 31 yards rushing.

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Duke Johnson outshines Melvin Gordon

SAN DIEGO, Ca. -- Duke Johnson was anything but "just another body on the field,'' like he described himself after his NFL debut. In fact, he outshined fellow rookie running back Melvin Gordon, who was picked No. 15 overall by the Chargers.

Gordon, out of Wisconsin, also won the 2014 Doak Walker award as the nation's best running back and was the runner up for the Heisman Trophy. But during Sunday's 30-27 loss to the Chargers, the Browns' third-round pick out of Miami was the undisputed star of the backfield.

He caught nine passes for 85 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown -- the first of his career -- on the left side of the end zone that put the Browns up 10-7 with 14:10 left in the third. He also rushed eight times for 31 yards and a 3.9-yard average.

"Anytime you have a back that can be a first or second down back between the tackles, and a guy that you can also split out your number one wide out and hit him on a vertical route, that puts a lot of stress on a defense,'' said coach Mike Pettine. "He certainly will be a big part of our plans moving forward. That's a pretty good glimpse of how we'll be using him."

Gordon, meanwhile, caught only two passes for 8 yards and ran 12 times for 38 yards and a 3.2-yard average. The Browns bottled him up well most of the day, except for a 23-yard run in the second quarter that led to a field goal for a 10-10 tie.

"That's one of the reasons why I'm here, I bring different element in the passing game, just helping him out when we get in trouble, just dink and dunk and be able to get yards,'' said Johnson.

On the touchdown, Johnson motioned out into the slot on the left side, leaving the backfield empty. In the back of the end zone, he beat inside linebacker Donald Butler on the TD, made a nifty over-the-shoulder catch and tiptoed both of his feet inbounds.

"First one for a running back to get a receiving touchdown, it was cool, I enjoyed it,'' said Johnson.

So did McCown, who threw for 356 yards, most since his career-high of 398 in 2005.

"The catch Duke made on the first touchdown was one of the best catches I've seen by a running back,'' said quarterback Josh McCown. "To track a deep ball like that and to catch it over his shoulder, that's not something that they get a ton of time practicing. For him to do that it was just very, very impressive and really encouraging."

The Browns got a scare when McCown got  knocked into Johnson with 9:58 left and the running back was slow getting up. He walked off the field on his own and had his left ankle looked at. But he was back on the field on the next drive -- unfortunately only to lose five yards on a third down screen.

"I'm fine,'' he said. "I thought it was bad, but it's really nothing. I was able to go back in and help Crow out with the offense, do what I could do.''

McCown got fine performances out of both of his young running backs. Isaiah Crowell broke free for a 32-yard run that led to Johnson's TD catch two plays later, and turned a short dump over the middle into a 53-yard gain. He led the team with 63 rushing yards. Johnson's nine receptions tied for the fifth-most by a Browns running back in a game and were the most since 2002.

With Crowell (125) and Johnson (116), it marked the first time two Browns running backs each recorded more than 100 scrimmage yards in the same game since Nov. 17, 2004, when Lee Suggs (119) and William Green (115) did it against Cincinnati.

"They were awesome,'' said McCown. "Our young backs are coming along and that's something to be excited about. ... It's very, very encouraging what they were able to do today.

Like everyone else on the team, Johnson was crushed by the heartbreaking loss on the Josh Lambo field goal as time expired, a re-kick that occurred after Tramon Williams jumped offside on the first attempt.

"One thing it shows is we're going to fight to the end,'' said Johnson. "We're not going to lay down for anybody. It's tough, we fought back and both sides played hard, just couldn't come out with it.''

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Watch Duke Johnson's first career touchdown catch

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Steelers promote linebacker Anthony Chickillo

PITTSBURGH, Pa. ─ The Steelers have promoted linebacker Anthony Chickillo to the active roster, the team announced today.

Chickillo made the team’s initial 53-man roster before being released on September 6 and being signed to the Steelers’ practice squad on September 7. He was drafted by Pittsburgh with the team’s second of two sixth-round selections (212th overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft. Chickillo started 47-of-50 games at the University of Miami and tallied 170 tackles, 15 TFLs, 15.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and five pass breakups in his career.

To make room on the roster, the Steelers released rookie defensive end Caushaud Lyons.

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Allen Hurns has big game in loss to Colts

Allen Hurns caught 11-of-15 targets for 116 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's Week 4 loss to the Colts.

With Vontae Davis shadowing Allen Robinson, Hurns took advantage of a matchup with Colts CB Jalil Brown, who left with an injury in the first half. His touchdown came on an eight-yard second-quarter pass from Blake Bortles. Hurns played through an ankle issue for most of the game, but didn't miss any time. He has at least 60 yards in all four games and touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. Hurns will be a WR3 for Week 5 against the Bucs.

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Peter King tabs Sean Spence as Special Teams Player of the Week

Sean Spence's impressive tackle to stop Ravens fake field goal attempt got the attention of many, including longtime NFL writer Peter King.

King, who writes a weekly column for titled The Monday Morning Quarterback, awarded Pittsburgh's linebacker as his Special Teams Player of the Week along with Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos, who booted seven field goals in Kansas City's loss to the Bengals on Sunday, and Justin Tucker, the Ravens kicker who made the game-winning field goal on Thursday night.

Here's what King had to say about Spence's jarring tackle of Baltimore's Nick Boyle in the third quarter of Thursday night's game:

"Midway through the third quarter of a huge rivalry game (Steelers-Ravens always comes down to big plays in the second half), Spence made the best special-teams play of the season so far. Pittsburgh led 20-14, and Baltimore had fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 20. Justin Tucker was lined up to try a 38-yard field goal. Holder Sam Koch took the snap and, immediately, left-wing player (Nick) Boyle, a backup Baltimore tight end, went into motion to the right and took a shovel pass from Koch. Spence knifed in through a slight gap in the Ravens’ line and dove at Boyle, tackling him for a three-yard loss. It was as though Spence knew exactly what was coming. That’s the kind of play that doesn’t happen without great instincts by players, or without attentive coaching. Special-teams coach Danny Smith, the 21-year NFL coaching veteran, clearly got his field-goal defense team ready to sniff out possible fakes. Beautiful play."

They play is just one several beautiful moments for Spence after his career began with a devastating knee injury that sidelined him for the first two seasons of his NFL career. But after successfully rehabbing a torn ACL, LCL and dislocated kneecap suffered in the preseason of 2012, Spence has played in 21 consecutive games for the Black and Gold (including the postseason) since the start of the 2014 season. Starting in place on Ryan Shazier on Thursday, Spence made eight tackles with a sack to go with his sterling stop of Boyle.

While many players should be credited for the Steelers' surprising defensive efforts over the past three games, Spence is one of them, as the linebacker continues to enjoy a solid career while helping Pittsburgh's defense continue to climb up the ranks of the better units in the NFL.

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Eric Winston balances playing, leading union

CINCINNATI (AP) — Bengals offensive tackle Eric Winston heads to midfield as the game ends so he can briefly catch up with players from the other team. Every so often, one of them extends a hand and says thanks.

Winston has just spent four quarters pushing them around. Now he's back to representing them as their union president.

"I get a lot of that, which makes me feel good," Winston said. "Just guys coming up and saying thanks for everything and thanks for the work you've done. That means the most to me."

The ninth-year pro was elected president of the NFL Players Association in March 2014. He was out of the league and contemplating retirement until the Bengals signed him last December with their line depleted by injury.

His dual roles sometimes put him in unusual spots.

The team owner is not only his employer, but someone who sits on the other side of the table when the union and the league hash things out. He competes with other players for a job while also representing them as union members.

And the coaches are aware that when they say things in meeting rooms, they've got the union leader listening.

"He understands he has a huge responsibility within the NFL, but he also understands he's a teammate to these players and a participant in the organization here," Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. "I don't go into a meeting worrying about what I can say.

"Sometimes I can get a little mouthy, and I don't look at Eric and wonder if I can say this because it might be an issue. That makes me comfortable."

That's the thing everyone notes about Winston: His personality is perfect for the job. He's a good listener, he understand complex issues, and he's passionate about helping players, some of whom aren't entirely sure of what he does as their union president.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth accompanied Winston and other Bengals for the coin flip before the final preseason game in Indianapolis and wondered how many of the young Colts shaking their hands realize they were meeting the union president.

"Basically all these things they enjoy and think are cool about playing in the NFL, here's somebody that's working their butt off for you to have all that," Whitworth said. "So I think it's a position that you can't take lightly. It's a lot of work, and he's adamant about being good at it."

It has been a progression for Winston, who had never done anything like it. He played at Miami and has degrees in international finance and marketing as well as political science.

"I was always interested in the issues, just in how things work," Winston said. "That's kind of been with everything, not just the union. Throughout my life, I've always tried to figure things out — how do things work, how do things work well, in my opinion."

He got more deeply involved with the union during his six seasons at Houston. Much of his work lately has involved player safety and concussions — things that affect people's lives.

"You look at when I came into the league a decade ago and now, and it's night and day," he said. "The awareness, the precautions, the protocols, everything. Even five years ago it was different."

Winston is proud of the progress that's been made in protecting players' health. Part of his job is helping them understand the changes and what might be coming down the road.

"Eric's extremely thorough," said Whitworth, who has been the team's union representative for years. "It means a lot to him. He's always looking for new and inventive ways to make sure our guys understand the business of this game and all the ways they can benefit, and finding new ways to benefit from the game."

Winston spends a lot more time on union work in the offseason. During the season, he talks to the union's staff several times a week on average. He also takes a lot of questions by email, text or phone from other players, both teammates and those on other teams.

There are a lot of demands on his time during the season.

"That's kind of the interesting part of it, but I think it's good," he said. "I've always thought that it's important for the guy holding this position to be playing, just so guys in the locker room understand he's one of us and he understands what we're going through now."

Winston doesn't have a lot of dealings with team owners outside of their formal meetings. Sitting on the other side of the table was a new experience.

"The first time you step into that meeting room, it's like game day: 'Oh how is this going to go?'" he said. "But it's like anything else. You do it three or four times, and it's old hat.

"It's about building relationships. We've got to find ways to figure out our differences."

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Leonard Hankerson goes 6-103-1 against HOU

Leonard Hankerson secured 6-of-8 targets for 103 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons' Week 4 rout of Houston.

He also drew an illegal contact penalty early in the game, and scored his TD on a quick goal-line rub route in the first quarter. Hankerson is an every-week contributor in Atlanta's offense, but not quite consistent enough to be trusted as more than a dart-throw WR3 in fantasy. Through four weeks, Hankerson is on pace for 68 catches, 964 yards, and eight touchdowns. He'll be more of a WR4/flex play against the Redskins in Week 5.

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St. Louis Rams Release Brandon McGee

Apparently feeling a need for extra safety depth on Friday after Maurice Alexander was ruled out for this weekend’s game against the Arizona Cardinals with a groin injury, the St. Louis Rams promoted safety Christian Bryant from the practice squad to the active roster and released cornerback Brandon McGee.

Bryant, an undersized safety at 5-foot-9 and 198 pounds, was a seventh-rounder of the Rams last season and will be making his first appearance on the active roster after a year-plus on the practice squad. Bryant, who was a noted special-teamer coming out of Ohio State, has flashed skills that indicated he could hang with NFLers during both of his preseasons to date, but with the exceptional depth that the Rams already possess at the safety position, there hadn’t really been space on the roster for him until now. His addition to the 53-man roster makes the Rams’ 2014 draft look just a bit better, as two of their last five picks (none of whom were on the 53-man at any point last season) have made it to the active roster this year, with backup lineman Demetrius Rhaney and now Bryant earning spots. Bryant will almost certainly be up and active for the game on Sunday, otherwise it’s difficult to understand why he would have been moved up so late in the week.

Though the Rams will be without Alexander, one of their better special teams players, on Sunday, it’s quite odd that an NFL team in 2015 would find it difficult to play a game with only four safeties on the roster (Rodney McLeod, T.J. McDonald, Cody Davis, and Mark Barron). With that said, Barron plays regularly from scrimmage in more of a linebacker role, so perhaps the staff didn’t want to risk the possibility of losing both their safeties and having to move Barron away from his usual role as a Swiss army knife. However, that’s a pretty advanced level of crisis planning considering that the team has had McDonald and McLeod on the field for virtually every play this season.

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Travis Benjamin continues to be integral part of Browns' passing

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin was active in the passing game again this week, finishing second on the team with six receptions for 79 yards.

Fantasy Impact: This was also the second week in a row where he amassed 10 targets. Despite being labeled as a deep threat only, Benjamin has proven to be a viable WR3 with upside through four weeks. He is worth adding if you are in need of WR help.

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Pat O'Donnell expects to practice this week

Punter Pat O’Donnell missed Sunday’s win against the Oakland Raiders because of a right knee injury, leaving the Bears to sign and play veteran Spencer Lanning.

O’Donnell, though, said he expects to practice this week.

“I’m doing well,” O’Donnell said after the Bears’ 22-20 victory at Soldier Field. “I’ll get back to it next week and see how it goes. [It’s] a little minor thing. They just rested me this week.”

Lanning punted three times for 136 yards, including a long of 51 yards. His second punt was returned 22 yards by T.J. Carrie.

O’Donnell commended Lanning, who handled the holds for kicker Robbie Gould without error. Gould made 54- and 49-yard field goals. The 49-yarder was the game-winner.

“He did a great job,” O’Donnell said of Lanning. “He’s a pro. He’s been in this league. He definitely knows it takes to step in and fill the role.”

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Ereck Flowers rolls his ankle — and proves a lot to Tom Coughlin

ORCHARD PARK — Ereck Flowers was under the watchful eyes of Tom Coughlin in pregame warm-ups, as the veteran coach wanted to make sure the rookie left tackle would be able to hold up after missing the last game with a sprained left ankle.

Flowers was given the go-ahead to start, but on his first play, his ankle was rolled over and he was forced out. Justin Pugh moved from left guard into Flowers’ spot and John Jerry came off the sideline to play left guard.

“It’s all good, came back, we got the win,’’ Flowers said.

Indeed, Flowers returned later in the first quarter as the Giants beat the Bills 24-10, and he continued to impress those around him for his toughness in battling through this lingering ankle issue.

“The kid’s a tough kid,’’ Coughlin said. “I ask him how he’s doing and he says ‘Good.’ He’s always good. He came out, before you know it he’s back in. I respect the hell out of it.’’

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Phillip Dorsett plays limited role Sunday

Phillip Dorsett caught 2-of-3 targets for seven yards in the Colts' Week 4 win over the Jaguars.

Dorsett was limited to four-wide sets, but outplayed Andre Johnson for the second straight week. The Colts didnt attempt any passes downfield with Matt Hasselbeck starting. Dorsett should push for a bigger role if Johnson's struggles continue. With Andrew Luck's status up in the air, Dorsett isn't a Week 5 fantasy option.

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Brandon Linder needs shoulder surgery, will miss rest of season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have placed right guard Brandon Linder on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

The team said Monday that Linder will have surgery later this week to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The second-year starter injured his shoulder in practice two weeks ago and aggravated it in a win against Miami on Sept. 27. He was inactive for Sunday's loss at Indianapolis.

The Jaguars (1-3) signed linebacker James-Michael Johnson to the active roster. Johnson has appeared in 43 career games, spending time with Cleveland (2012), Kansas City (2013-14) and Tampa Bay (2015). The Jaguars play at the Buccaneers (1-3) on Sunday.

Linder has been Jacksonville's best lineman, starting 15 games as a rookie last season. Third-round draft pick A.J. Cann is expected to replace Linder in the starting lineup.

Linder is the latest in a growing list of injuries for the Jaguars, who are without first-round draft pick Dante Fowler Jr., tight end Julius Thomas, defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and receiver Marqise Lee.

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Trent Dilfer, Ray Lewis slam Jimmy Graham’s blocking

The day started with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith vs. Kevin Durant. It’s ending with ESPN’s Trent Dilfer and Ray Lewis vs. Jimmy Graham.

Dilfer and Lewis teed off on Graham as a blocker during Monday Night Countdown.

“He’s a fantastic offensive weapon when split out. But when he’s an in-line tight end, it’s not perception, it is fact. He is unwilling and incapable to hold up in the run game as an in-line tight end,” Dilfer said. “He’s more of a spectator than a blocker. They’re averaging zero yards per carry when he lines up as an in-line tight end.”

Dilfer then tried to soften the blow without taking a breath.

“I’m not ripping Jimmy Graham,” Dilfer said, to laughter from Steve Young and Suzy Kolber. “But it’s very important to understand what he is.”

Dilfer then argued that Graham’s involvement in the run game strips the team of its entire identity.

Ray Lewis agreed with Dilfer, saying it’s not an attack on Jimmy before jumping off the top rope.

“He’s a queen tight end. He’s the opposite of what I used to be playing against,” Lewis said, explaining that when Tony Gonzalez played for the Chiefs they would never run to his side of the field.

“When you have this type of deficiency in your offense,” Lewis said, “this can take away your identity without you even knowing it takes away your identity.”

The broader point is that the decision to trade for Graham means that the Seahawks are shifting away from being a power running team. And that point could have been made without attacking Graham. And the mere fact that Dilfer and Lewis said “we’re not attacking Graham” doesn’t change the fact that, indeed, they both attacked him.

It’s almost as if Graham at some point made enemies out of Dilfer and Lewis.

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What has happened to Andre Johnson?

For the first five years of Kylie Johnson’s life, daddy worked at NRG Stadium. She’d dial his cell phone and they’d chat – before practice, after practice, before games, after games. Andre Johnson would tell his daughter he was at work, then he’d quiz her on what that meant.

“Oh, I know where you are,” Kylie would say. “You’re at NRG Stadium.”

He’d smile.

“You’re right,” Andre would tell her.

The first change of address of Johnson’s 13-year NFL career came in March, when the greatest player in Houston Texans' history was released following a messy divorce with the team that drafted him third overall in 2003 and paid him roughly $88 million in the years since. The free agent wide receiver lasted on the open market all of two days. Forty-eight hours after he was cut, Frank Gore was leaping into Johnson’s arms inside a hallway at the Indianapolis Colts’ West 56th Street facility. The former college teammates and longtime friends had signed their new contracts with their new team.

The reunion was complete. They'd start over in Colts' blue.

Thus NRG Stadium went from Johnson’s home to Johnson’s former home. Except to one person. Kylie wasn’t buying.

“At first, she didn’t believe me,” Johnson remembered. “I was trying to explain to her that I was going to play for a new team in a different city. She would shake her head. She was like, ‘No you’re not. You can’t be.’”

It was all foreign to Johnson and his tightly-knit inner circle, which includes Kylie, his mother, Karen, and uncle Andre Melton. Houston was the only NFL home they'd ever known.

“He really wanted to retire there,” Karen said last spring.

Instead, transition. A new office, one Kylie learned eventually, called Lucas Oil Stadium. A new team. A new number. A new quarterback. A new role.

Yet a month in, the Colts are still waiting for Andre Johnson to arrive.

The numbers are alarming: The team’s most expensive offseason addition on offense has been targeted just 20 times in four games. He’s caught just seven passes for 51 yards. Seven catches for 51 yards? That used to be a half’s worth of work for Andre Johnson.

Now the fear is it’s his new reality.

“Obviously we’d all love to see him have more catches to this point,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “I know he would. But he’s a selfless guy. He’s going to keep working and keep grinding.”

There’s more. There’s the fact that Johnson has more drops so far (one) than touchdowns (zero). There’s three three targets and no catches in the last two games.There’s this startling statistic: In 169 career games with the Texans, Johnson went catchless in a game just once; it's already happened twice with the Colts.

Not exactly the return on investment – Johnson signed a three-year, $21 million deal in March – the Colts (2-2) were hoping for.

“Anytime you’ve been somewhere for 12 seasons and you make a change, it’s challenging,” the eternally even-keeled Johnson said Monday inside the Colts’ locker room. “But at the same time it’s an experience and I’m just rolling (with it). I don’t have any regrets on any decisions I’ve made.”

This week he returns to NRG Stadium (8:25 p.m. Thursday, CBS, NFL) for the first time as a visitor while doubts about his age and ability swell around him.
No longer is the question, Can Andre Johnson play like the Andre Johnson of old?

No, it’s worse than that. Now it’s, Can Andre Johnson still play at all?

“If there was ever a game that he would have a better day, it would be this week,” said Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who threw Johnson’s way just twice in 47 pass attempts Sunday. “He’s a pro. I know the production might not be there for fantasy football, but he does everything we ask him in practice, and he’s a done a good job.”

But still. Two looks on 47 throws? T.Y. Hilton was targeted 11 more times than Johnson on Sunday. Coby Fleener was targeted 10 more. Just as concerning as his quarterbacks’ repeated refusal to look his way in games is Johnson’s inability to create separation from the opposing secondary. It seems on most downs Johnson’s the third, fourth, even fifth option. Is Hilton open? Nope. How about Donte Moncrief? Nah. What about Fleener? Or Phillip Dorsett?

Johnson, for stretches, seems to disappear.

Hasselbeck, in part, chalked it up to his new role: Johnson, throughout his career, has primarily has played out wide. With the flurry of weapons at the Colts’ disposal, he’s frequently lined up in the slot this season.

“He’s playing inside more than he’s used to,” Hasselbeck said. “I think he’s doing a good job. We haven’t been lights out (on offense) across the board. I’m sure that will come. We’ll break through as we go.”

To hear Johnson tell it, this is what he signed up for. He wasn’t naïve about the situation he walked into with this offense last spring. There are weapons abound. Patience, on this squad, during this season, will be Andre Johnson’s most valuable virtue.

“You have to be realistic with yourself,” he said Monday. “Coming into this situation, I knew what could happen and so when you’re realistic with yourself and not thinking above and beyond what can happen, then you’ll be fine and you can deal with it.”

What’s clear is this situation isn’t like his last one. Johnson averaged 84 catches per season in his 12 years in Houston and had five seasons with 100 or more. He made seven Pro Bowls. He’s gone from The Man to The Forgotten Man.

Perhaps most puzzling: Johnson was dominant in training camp in August. He was the 34-year-old receiver who looked 24, springy and sure-handed, a benefactor of what appeared a seamless transition into Pep Hamilton’s pass-happy offense. The rapport was so palpable between he and his new quarterback their steady production seemed like a forgone conclusion this season. Luck to Johnson. Luck to Johnson. Luck to Johnson.

Then the season started. Then Johnson disappeared.

Johnson didn’t have much interest in reliving his glory days in Houston on Monday. Not after a second straight week that produced more questions than catches.
“Everybody is asking me how I feel,” he said. “I won’t know how I’ll feel until I experience it.”

That comes Thursday. And with it, another chance for Johnson to prove to his new employer – not to mention his old one – that, at 34, he's not done just yet. One of his new teammates isn’t worried.

“He’s a true leader,” Hilton said. “His character shows it. Even when he’s not getting the ball, he’s helping us out. He’s always happy. Just seeing him out there knowing things aren’t going his way, the first thing I said when I walked in this locker room was, ‘I need you this week.’ I expect a big week out of him."

For Johnson, Thursday’s game – which conveniently takes place in the city where his NFL career began – seems like the perfect place to start.

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Antrel Rolle: 'Thank God nothing is broken'

Bears safety Antrel Rolle feels fortunate. When his right ankle was contorted on the first play of scrimmage in the second half, he was scared to look.

“I thought it would be facing the other way,” Rolle said....

But it wasn’t, and the X-rays were full of good news, too. Nothing was broken. So Rolle made sure to rejoin his team on the sideline to cheer on their 22-20 victory against the Raiders at Soldier Field on Sunday.

“That was extremely important to me to be out there with my guys,” Rolle said. “They played outstanding.”

As far as his injury, Rolle promised to back as soon as possible. He said didn’t know if he had a high-ankle sprain, but he was in a protective walking boot.

“Thank God nothing is broken,” said Rolle, who was transported by cart to the locker room when he was hurt. “It could have been a lot worse than what it really is. The X-rays came back negative. … I’m going to keep grinding and just keep on pushing. I plan on being back in no time.

“It got rolled up pretty bad. It’s a part of the game. I’m just glad I was able to get up and walk off the field. … It’s time to rehab and grind.

Rolle last missed a game in 2009, when he sat out the season finale with a thigh injury. Against the Raiders, Rolle was replaced by rookie Harold Jones-Quartey, an undrafted rookie who was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals.

“I’m a fighter, man,” Rolle said. “My body heals fairly well. … I don’t like missing time.”

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Frank Gore's fumbling problems have to stop

INDIANAPOLIS – Running back Frank Gore's 22-yard run in overtime put the Colts in chip-shot territory for kicker Adam Vinatieri to make the game-winning field goal.

But ...

“I have to be smarter,” Gore said.

Gore led the Colts in rushing with 53 yards.

But ...

“Man, I have to be smarter,” he said.

The Colts managed to win an ugly game without starting quarterback Andrew Luck.

But ...

“I’m happy we got the win, but still, man, I know I can play football,” Gore said. “I have to play smarter.”

Gore, a man of few words, was beyond hard on himself inside the locker room after the Colts’ victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

He acknowledged that he’s having a difficult time holding onto the ball with his left hand because of an injury. But Gore isn’t using that as an excuse for his play.

Gore is having a hard time stomaching that his fumbles have killed drives inside the 5-yard line twice in the past three games.

The Colts were in position to at least go up by three points on the Jaguars in the fourth quarter when a Jacksonville defender put his helmet on the ball and knocked it free from Gore. The Jaguars recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.

“Trying to make something happen instead of playing smart,” Gore said. “I’m putting us in bad situation. [We could have had a] touchdown or field goal. I feel like I’m playing hard, just have to play smarter.”

Sunday’s fumble came after Gore lost the ball inside the 5-yard line against the New York Jets in Week 2. He’s had more than two fumbles in a season seven times during his 11-year NFL career.

The Colts are having a difficult enough time scoring points as it is (18 points a game); the last thing they need is for their starting running back to continue coughing the ball up at the goal line.

“Can’t do it,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “We shot ourselves in the foot. We’re going in for a touchdown and put one on the ground. We’ve got to take care of it, take of the football.”

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Warren Sapp reaches plea deal in Las Vegas domestic assault case

Warren Sapp may never work in television again, not because networks are wary of him, but because he’ll be too busy doing community service.

According to the Associated Press, the Hall of Famer avoided any jail time with a plea deal in the Las Vegas domestic violence case stemming from a scuffle with his girlfriend. Two more misdemeanor domestic violence charges were dismissed.

Sapp pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor domestic violence charge. He was fined $345 and ordered him to pay $2,555 in restitution, log 48 hours of community service and get six months of counseling. He was also ordered to stay away from the victim, and faces six months in jail if he violates the terms of the deal.

Sapp was charged in June with knocking his then-girlfriend down, biting her finger and stepping on her head in an altercation that began at a resort pool.

Coupled with the Super Bowl weekend prostitution bust in Arizona, it’s likely we’ve seen the last of Sapp on television, unless Court TV wants to turn him into a reality series.

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A more mature Shenise Johnson makes an immediate impact for Indiana

MINNEAPOLIS -- Indiana guard Shenise Johnson writes poems that are sometimes meant to last and other that are meant to go away shortly after they're created.

"I like to express myself as an outlet, a stress-reliever. So I'm not punching walls or doing anything like that," she said, chuckling. "It allows you to evaluate, to write something down and release it.

"Then, it's over and done with and I can do what I please with it. I can throw it out, burn it, or I could keep it and reread it."

Johnson has been an important part of the puzzle in her first season in Indiana. After three seasons of never quite being comfortable with her role or her future in San Antonio, the team that drafted her No. 5 in 2012, Johnson has clicked into place with the Fever.

She had 10 points, five rebounds and three assists in Indiana's 75-69 Game 1 victory Sunday over Minnesota in the WNBA Finals. Those are numbers that almost exactly match what Johnson, a 5-foot-11 guard, brought to the Fever throughout the regular season. And it's what the Fever can expect from her in Tuesday's Game 2 (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).

"Throughout my career, I pride myself in being consistent and efficient," Johnson said. "I'm not really a volume shooter. Overall I have more of an opportunity here in Indiana. There are times I have to be aggressive, so I pick and choose my spots. At the same time, I'm a playmaker, not just a scorer."

Johnson was obtained in a trade in March, as the Fever sent 2015 first- and third-round picks to the Stars. The first pick turned out to be No. 6 Dearica Hamby, who averaged 6.1 points and 4.1 rebounds, showing promise as a rookie in San Antonio. The other pick, No. 30 Dragana Stankovic of Serbia, didn't play in the WNBA this year.

In return, Indiana got a full-time starter at guard who brought quickness and a multidimensional game. By any measure, the trade has turned out very well for the Fever and for Johnson.

"This is what we hoped for," Indiana coach Stephanie White said. "You think about her potential in the open floor and to create shots. She does a good job of not only making plays for herself but for others, too.

"The biggest thing -- and the most proud I am of her -- is just her growth on the defensive end. Her attention to it, her urgency about it, how she values it. Because in the beginning of the year, that was more her struggle. We certainly expected the offensive output that she's had, and I am very happy about the defensive end."

That's the type of player Johnson has wanted to be for a long time. She grew up in Rochester, New York, but would visit her father in the summer in Detroit and go see Shock games when the franchise was still located in the Motor City.

"Deanna Nolan played both sides of the floor so well," Johnson said of the former Shock standout. "She had that pull-up, midrange game and could go to the basket. And she played defense. I want to be known for doing both."

As a youngster, though, Johnson missed her dad not being nearby back in Rochester. She had a certain edge to her, a defensiveness and anger that was really about self-preservation. It resulted in some difficulties getting along on teams. Sometimes, she'll readily admit now, she didn't do herself any favors.

It wasn't really until her senior year in high school that she fully realized the educational opportunities that were available through basketball. She knew she had to dial down some of her angst. It was fuel for her, but it could also burn her.

"Like, how much is enough?" Johnson said. "You realize, these people -- the coaches, the teachers -- they're not your enemy. You have to figure out who the enemy is, or if there is one at all. That's something I had to mature and grow into."

All of which is why she chose a college so far from Rochester: the University of Miami. She could have gone to Syracuse, or someplace else relatively close. But she wanted to be on her own in a new environment. Hurricanes coach Katie Meier and her staff meshed well with Johnson.

"I pushed for it; you have to go where your gut and your spirit connect to," Johnson said. "Katie -- from a genuine standpoint, building character not only on the basketball court but off -- was really important to me. Because those things were really important to her, too."

Johnson was a three-time All-ACC first-team pick and started all 131 games of her Miami career. She finished with 2,262 points (17.3 PPG average), 1,020 rebounds, 556 assists, 401 steals and 90 blocked shots at Miami.

Then as a rookie in San Antonio, she averaged 5.6 points and 17.1 minutes of playing time. Her second year, she started to blossom, starting 24 games and averaging 11.0 points and 27.3 minutes. But last year seemed more like her first season, as she no longer started and was averaging 10 minutes less per game.

Which was why news of an impending trade to Indiana perked up Johnson. She quickly heard from various Fever players, including Tamika Catchings.

"You can tell that everybody there knows what is happening and what is expected with that team," Johnson said of her perception of the Fever even before she arrived. "I immediately felt accepted."

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said she sees in Johnson a player who has taken advantage of more time on the floor to show what she can do.

"I was a fan of Shenise out of Miami, for sure," Reeve said. "She was a skilled player, and I thought she would be a good WNBA player. It's hard to develop players from the bench, because it isn't until you're in the trenches with them, in the heat of the moment in games, that you really learn about a player.

"Where they develop is overseas. And it also depends on which team you're on."

Johnson definitely has improved with her overseas experience, something that Minnesota guard Renee Montgomery said she noticed because they faced off in European competition.

"Everybody in this league is a talented player, but it depends on how the team is able to use you," Montgomery said. "In Indiana, she's gotten a chance to show what she can do."

While Johnson has quickly come to feel at home in Indianapolis, she acknowledged that Rochester will always be her real home. She is a fan of another very accomplished female athlete from that city, soccer star Abby Wambach.

"She does a lot of things in the community," Johnson said. "She definitely is someone I look up to and want to follow in her footsteps."

Between the WNBA and overseas seasons, Johnson has just handful of days to go back to Rochester. But the city remains in her heart. She thinks particularly of the people -- her mother and siblings, her teachers and coaches -- who stayed patient with her when she was growing up. And she also feels closer than ever to her dad, saying that their relationship now is "flourishing."

"When I look back, I am also thankful for the three years I had in San Antonio," Johnson said. "Because I was able to observe and learn. I was playing with Becky Hammon, and got to watch her walk the walk and talk the talk. Now I'm playing with somebody like Tamika Catchings, who is the same way. This is a great place for me."

Johnson felt tears well up Sunday just before the start of Game 1, as the national anthem was being sung at Target Center. The emotions didn't affect her play, as she was pretty quickly all business in the victory after shaking off a little bit of the jitters. But she did allow herself to truly feel it just before tipoff.

"I was nervous -- dreams coming true right before my eyes," Johnson said. "Watching the crowd, the atmosphere, the sincerity. It was just a special moment."

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DeQuan Jones competing for spot with hometown Hawks

There is a slam dunk champion in Hawks training camp.

DeQuan Jones is hoping his high-flying athleticism and his defensive versatility will land him a roster spot in the NBA.

Jones, from Stone Mountain and Wheeler High School, played last season in the Italian Lega Basket Series A, where he was named to the All-Star Game and won the slam dunk contest. The forward signed a non-guaranteed training camp deal with the Hawks last month and is one of six players competing for a lone roster vacancy.

“I think it’s going pretty well,” Jones said. “I think I’ve shown them that I can guard multiple positions and my athleticism can be utilized to help the team win.”

Jones is a long shot but he does have NBA experience. After playing collegiately at Miami, he signed with the Magic as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and appeared in 63 games, including 17 starts, that season. He has also played in the NBA Development League and had a tryout with the Kings.

“He brings a physicality and an athleticism too,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “In open gym, he did a few things that were impressive. His attitude and his approach have been great. And he is somebody who has played NBA games. … It’s nice to have those guys in camp that are a little bit knowledgeable.”

Budenholzer has suggested the Hawks would carry 15 players out of camp. Jones is competing for that last spot with Lamar Patterson, Terran Petteway, Earl Barron, Edgar Sosa and Arsalan Kazemi.

Jones, at 6-foot-8, said his defensive ability is an asset in the competition. Budenholzer likes versatility and Jones said he has guarded the point guard through power forward positions.

“With the way the league is now, it allows a guy with my size, in some cases, to guard one through four,” Jones said. “That is my biggest mindset going in and it’s what I have to prove to them.”

Jones, 25, was The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Class AAAAA player of the year as a senior at Wheeler in 2008. He is glad to be back home and his mother is making a few more family dinners with her son back in town. But it was the Hawks’ player development system that was most attractive to Jones.

He and many others around the league saw DeMarre Carroll come to Atlanta as a little used player and two years later sign a free-agent contract with the Raptors worth $15 million a season.

“Aside from representing my city and state, it was the new revival of the Atlanta Hawks culture and atmosphere,” Jones said of his decision. “Given the previous success from past years, everybody is excited about this new team. It’s something I wanted to be a part of.

“Coach Bud does a great job of utilizing a player’s attributes and strengths to a team. Seeing DeMarre’s growth and development, it’s exciting playing for a coach that takes that initiative.”

Jones played with the Hawks during open gym for several weeks during the summer. Soon after, he got a call to sign a training camp deal and jumped at it. He will get an idea of where he stands when exhibition games begin next week. The Hawks open against the Cavaliers in Cincinnati on Wednesday.

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Ryan Braun: Undergoing surgery Thursday

Braun (back) will undergo an MRI on Wednesday and will likely have surgery Thursday, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Braun didn't play in any of the final six games of the season, and it appears he's now set to undergo an offseason procedure that's expected to need a month of recovery. However, it shouldn't impact his availability for the beginning of the 2016 season.

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