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Mahomes' protectors; Melvin Gordon focused; Eli unflappable

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As the 2018 NFL season rolls on into Week 10,'s network of reporters collects the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:

-- Bruce Arians' suggestion for the Browns' coaching job.

-- Life in front of Patrick Mahomes.

-- The stoicism of Eli Manning.

NFL: No end to the offensive revolution. With the NFL passing the halfway point of the season after Week 9, the explosion in scoring -- and particularly passing -- continues. The 6,440 points scored, 736 touchdowns scored and 473 touchdown passes thrown are all the most through Week 9 of a season in league history.

Passing figures league-wide are on a historic pace. Completions (6,185), completion percentage (64.8 percent), net passing yards (67,238), touchdown passes (473) and passer rating (94.0) were all the highest in NFL history through the first nine weeks of a season. Five quarterbacks were averaging at least 300 passing yards per game heading into Week 10, tied with the 2011 season for the most in league history through nine weeks. The five: Matt Ryan (335.6), Patrick Mahomes (322.3), Ben Roethlisberger (320.0), Aaron Rodgers (317.8) and Jared Goff (312.9).

Think the NFL is happy about the range of quarterbacks on that list? In a midseason report sent to teams by Troy Vincent, the league's executive vice president for football operations, it was noted that two (Mahomes and Goff) are 25 years old or younger and three (Ryan, Roethlisberger and Rodgers) are 33 or older.

-- Judy Battista

Players, officials acclimating to penalty point of emphasis. In his midseason report, Vincent also told teams that data and video review indicated that players are adjusting to the emphasis on roughing-the-passer and use-of-the-helmet fouls. He also said that "officials continue to improve on the consistency in making these calls" -- which was the subject of Competition Committee conference calls during the preseason and early in the regular season.

Roughing the passer, which was made a point of emphasis before the season with a focus on defensive players landing with their weight on the quarterback, was called 64 times through Week 9, just five more times than it was called last season and two times fewer than it was called in 2015. The use-of-the-helmet penalty, which is new this season and which caused a firestorm when it was called repeatedly during the preseason, was called just six times through Week 9. The biggest jump in penalties coming from points of emphasis is in illegal contact. It has been called 43 times through Week 9, nearly double the 22 times it was called last season, but about the same as it was called in 2016 (41) and 2015 (44). Illegal use of hands and offensive pass interference have seen steep drops from last season, and defensive holding, unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct have remained steady.

-- Judy Battista

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CLEVELAND BROWNS: Will Browns take Arians' advice? Bruce Arians made headlines last weekend by saying he'd only consider coming out of retirement to coach the Cleveland Browns, but more seriously plugged his friend, Chuck Pagano, for the job.

I'm told Pagano has been staying engaged and preparing for his next opportunity since the Colts fired him in December. He works a couple days a week with NFL referees -- the league says he's a consultant, similar to the position held by coaches Mike Smith, Jim Schwartz, Lovie Smith and others in past years -- and visited some college programs in the fall. Despite a three-year backslide amidst Andrew Luck's injuries, Pagano left Indianapolis with a winning record (56-46 overall, including three playoff victories).

At 58 years old with a defensive background, Pagano would qualify as a surprise hire by the Browns, whose top priority is developing No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield at quarterback. But Pagano's name at least figures to come up during searches for some jobs in this cycle. If no head job materializes, a return as a defensive coordinator is a strong possibility, too.

-- Tom Pelissero

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Mahomes adds wrinkle to life on the O-line. Patrick Mahomes is in the running for MVP. He has maybe an unmatched group of skill players around him, and also has a talented line making sure he has time to make this offense go. As for the members of that line, playing in front of a quarterback who loves to extend plays and runs all over the place buying time in an effort to find an open receiver can be difficult. The Chiefs have incurred 14 holding calls this season, sixth-most in the NFL. And Mahomes' style of play might be a factor with regard to those numbers.

"It is tough on the O-line," Andy Reid said this week when speaking about plays where Mahomes scrambles. "You don't think of that. If you are blocking and you are a tackle, your hands are the last thing, to that side judge there, that he sees. And so, he scrambles out, and all the sudden, your guy takes off that way, and you've got him locked down there, it can be trouble. Our guys have done a good job of feeling it and not grabbing at that point."

The Chiefs' offense is the best in the NFL. Teams have tried everything to slow them down, but one focus in Kansas City is to make sure the Chiefs don't slow themselves down, either.

-- James Palmer

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LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Gordon not looking past the Raiders. Melvin Gordon returned from the Chargers' Week 8 bye -- and his own one-game absence in Week 7 -- rested and ready, blasting through the Seahawks' defense for 113 rushing yards on just 16 carries. In three of his last four games, he's rushed for more than 100 yards, and the Chargers' run game appears to be surging -- ranked fifth in the league -- as they head into Oakland this weekend to face the Raiders, who rank last in the league in rushing defense. But when I asked Gordon about that matchup, he didn't exactly light up.

"I'm going to give it my best, the best I can do, regardless of who it is," Gordon said, before reminding me of his 19-carry, 58-yard performance the last time these two teams met, in Week 5. His per-carry-mark that day of 3.05 yards ranks as his lowest of the season. "It's never easy (against the Raiders), 'cause obviously it's a rivalry."

What did get Gordon excited was talking about the strong play of the Chargers' offensive line, which has provided Gordon and fellow running back Austin Ekeler with several opportunities to run through gaping holes in their opponent's D-line. "When those boys get you through the trenches like that, untouched, that's what you look for right there. ... Open up them gears a little bit," Gordon said.

"(The running backs) make us look good," center Mike Pouncey said in response. "These guys work really hard, it's not just on Sundays; these guys are, each and every day, coming in, in the weight room, they work out really hard, on the practice field they run as hard as they can, and so it's a reflection of how they play on Sundays."

Nothing but good vibes coming out of the Chargers' locker room as they hope to continue their five-game winning streak.

-- Omar Ruiz

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NEW YORK GIANTS: Manning won't shy away from tough situation. For the second consecutive autumn, Eli Manning stands at his locker -- regularly -- and talks about a team that has one win. That is to his credit. Manning is Mariano Rivera-esque when it comes to accountability. During my seven years covering the Yankees, Rivera stood in front of his locker often, including after every blown save.

"Just get ready for the second half," Manning said of his current mindset. "Go play well. We need to improve. Everybody needs to improve and get going, but I do feel like we're close. We just got to score some more points."

Manning's job depends on it.

"I think there's urgency to get things going, for sure," he said. "We got to get some wins. The team needs it, for the morale and for just the hard work and everything we put in. Just need to reap the benefits of the work, and feel good about what we're doing."

Next up, Monday night -- Giants at 49ers.

-- Kimberly Jones

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NEW YORK JETS: McCown ready to go. With Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold not practicing, wearing a boot on his strained right foot and being ruled out by Todd Bowles as Sunday's starter, veteran Josh McCown will get his first start of the season Sunday against the Bills.

Asked if he anticipates being rusty, McCown, 39 and in his 16th NFL season, said: "For me, that's not the plan. I think that's part of being in professional football; the expectation is to go out and play at a high level. That can't be allowed to be an excuse, and it won't be. I'll go out and expect to play to my standard and to the standard of this football team and win a football game."

McCown is and has been a terrific mentor to the 21-year-old Darnold. One upside of McCown's inactivity on gamedays? He said this is "for sure" the healthiest he has been in November in his long career.

-- Kimberly Jones

Darnold determined to make most of time out. McCown, not surprisingly, has given Darnold advice about dealing with an injury. "You have to treat everything just like you do your film study," McCown said. "You're a pro in every aspect, and we talk about that not just with Sam, but with every guy in the locker room."

Said Darnold: "Every single day, I'm just going to come in here and do what the trainers tell me to do. Just go about it that way. Really just put my head down and go to work. That's all I really know how to do, and once it starts feeling better, I'll know."

Darnold said he does not know when he injured his foot Sunday against the Dolphins. "If I'm not playing, there's a lot of things I can learn from a guy like Josh. Obviously, I would like to play. But if I'm not playing, I'll learn a lot from him."

-- Kimberly Jones

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Trying to tighten things up. Ahead of their second meeting of the season with the Los Angeles Rams, the Seahawks are learning from their mistakes. I asked quarterback Russell Wilson what he thinks is the key to securing a victory this time around (Seattle fell to the Rams, 33-31, in Week 5). Wilson said it's simple: execution. "When you're going up against a championship-caliber team, you have to be right all the time," he said.

Another area of focus for offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is to eliminate penalties, which he called "self-inflicted wounds" during Thursday's press conference. Schottenheimer said they have to stay out of third-and-long situations if they want to gain ground against the Rams.

Another key will be keeping Wilson protected. Offensive guard D.J. Fluker did not participate in practice Wednesday or Thursday with a calf injury. Earlier this week, head coach Pete Carroll said Fluker has one of the toughest jobs on the field lining up against guys like Los Angeles' Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. Donald and Suh each sacked Wilson once back in October.

-- MJ Acosta

Wilson not being asked to do as much. The Seattle Seahawks are relying on a familiar formula to remain in playoff contention these days: running the football consistently and playing tough defense. That means Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson is having to do less with his arm than in past years.

Currently, Wilson is on pace for 3,582 passing yards (which would be his lowest total since 2014, his third NFL season) and 442 pass attempts (his lowest since 2013). He's also done enough in the passing game -- with 18 touchdown passes and five interceptions -- that he's helped the Seahawks rebound from an 0-2 start to be 4-4 at midseason.

"You guys know me -- all I care about is winning," Wilson said. "I love finding different ways and doing whatever it takes. That's where you get a lot of joy out of this process."

-- Jeffri Chadiha

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CHICAGO BEARS: Two stars return. The 5-3 Chicago Bears sit atop the NFC North ready to kick off a three-game stretch versus divisional opponents (Lions in Week 10, Vikings in Week 11, Lions against in Week 12 on Thanksgiving). Good news for the team, two playmakers -- the Bears' two biggest 2018 off-season acquisitions -- return this week.

Having missed the last two games, wide receiver Allen Robinson is back from a groin injury. He said the "flare up" happened after the Miami loss in Week 6, and he didn't think it would cause him to miss substantial time. But he's ready for Sunday's game.

"I'm feeling good. I'm feeling really good," Allen said. "Trust me, I missed (playing) the last two weeks."

Pass rusher Khalil Mack remarkably has never missed a game in his career prior to sitting out against the Jets and Bills because of a lingering ankle injury. Missing games was difficult for him. "It was real tough, it was real tough for me, knowing the person that I am, but I'm excited to get out there this week."

Like Robinson, Mack pointed out that he feels really good right now. Asked if he'll return with the same burst he had prior to the injury, Mack smiled and said, "when I go out there, I'm gonna go out there and try to be myself."

-- Stacey Dales

Chicago is switching to late-season mode. How are the Bears handling the pressure of leading the NFC North through nine weeks amid a stretch of three straight divisional games? Given the energy in the locker room, they seem to be handling it well as Chicago looks to snap their three-game losing streak to the Lions, who've beaten the the Bears in nine of the last 10 meetings.

"I've been telling everybody, you play all year, you grind through camp to get to this point, to be able to say that you're at the top of the division," Robinson said. "... Playing November and December football, that's what you want ... we've really worked to put ourselves in this situation. Let's really capitalize on it. I don't think there's a better position to be in. ... What we gotta do is just hone-in, start getting into that playoff mindset, as far as each and every week."

-- Stacey Dales

Bears defense is a "hell of a thing." The Chicago Bears had a top-10 defense last season. Through eight games in 2018, they've been a top-five squad. Chicago leads the NFL with a whopping 81 points off turnovers. They rank second with 14 interceptions, second with a plus-10 turnover margin and are tied for second with 11 forced fumbles. When opportunities knock, they answer.

The defensive unit has actually applied more blitz pressure without Mack over the past two games. According to Next Gen Stats, the Bears have blitzed approximately 28 percent of the time in the last two outings, versus about 19 percent in weeks 1-7.

The team has gone 2-0 without Mack (and other key players), and the prolific linebacker knows just how good this group is.

"I'm just excited to come here and play with these guys," Mack said. "Knowing that they have the talent that they have, even without me. It's a hell of a thing.

"I feel like the defining pride of this defense is just understanding situational football, and understanding that we have to get the ball back in our offense's hands no matter the situation. ... So, when you're talking about getting turnovers, that's been huge for us."

-- Stacey Dales



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