With Week 6 of the NFL season upon us, NFL.com's network of reporters gets you up to speed with the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
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One of the many challenges faced by Dareus that we weren't able to include in the piece was this: He struggled with severe, undiagnosed ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) throughout his childhood, often provoking the open ridicule of his classmates as he unsuccessfully attempted to focus in academic settings.
Last week, a day after Dareus rejoined the Bills following a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on substances of abuse, we revisited the subject in a lengthy telephone conversation. And while Dareus stressed that he wasn't using his condition as a rationalization for his predicament, he said he took advantage of the four-week break to implement fundamental lifestyle changes he hopes will prevent him from making costly decisions in the future.
"I'm really just taking a better course of action -- it's not an excuse," said Dareus, who missed last Sunday's 30-19 victory over the Rams after suffering a hamstring injury in practice -- a setback that also could keep him out for this week's game against the 49ers. "I'm just getting help for myself. I'm not trying to make excuses for myself and my responsibilities. But during these four weeks, I just took the time to better myself and to get the help I need.
"I love my team. I love my family. I love the city of Buffalo. I love the organization. And I love football. This is my life. I don't want to see it go down the drain."
After news of his suspension broke in August, Dareus -- who has a history of receiving NFL discipline, including a one-game suspension in 2015 following an arrest on synthetic-marijuana-possession charges -- initially issued a statement that he was going to rehab. However, after consulting with members of the Bills' medical staff, he instead sought guidance for how to manage his ADHD, a course of action that included a long meeting with renowned doctor Ned Hallowell in New York City.
Often ridiculed by peers for in-class struggles while growing up in Birmingham, Dareus was diagnosed with ADHD shortly after his arrival at the University of Alabama, when head coach Nick Saban noticed his lack of focus in team meetings. Dareus began taking medication for the condition, but he says he gained a much higher degree of clarity about managing ADHD during his four-week absence.
"I sat in a solid 12-hour testing session, from 12 to 12, with Dr. Hallowell, to make sure I had a sense of my strengths and weaknesses and how to develop a plan of action," Dareus said. "Sitting there for that long is obviously not easy for me, but that's how important it was to me not to waste these four weeks.
"I mean, the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. But the people I worked with, and am still working with, helped me get a really detailed understanding of what I'm dealing with and helped me put things in a way that will keep me from getting in the way of myself."
Dareus, who signed a six-year, $96.5 million contract extension in 2015 that included $60 million in guaranteed money, insisted he was not stung by harsh comments from his employers in the wake of his suspension. ("We are very disappointed Marcell chose to put himself first, before his coaches and the rest of the organization through his recent actions," the Bills said in a statement. "From ownership down, we have made it clear his behavior is unacceptable.")
"No, it really didn't upset me at all," Dareus said, "because I knew the extent of what I did. I knew I had hurt the team and hurt the organization. I just should've made better decisions."
Dareus said he was touched by how many people reached out to him during his time away, from numerous Bills Hall of Famers (including Bruce Smith, with whom he spent several days in Virginia Beach, Virginia) to owners Kim and Terry Pegula.
"Bruce and the other Hall of Famers [Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Jim Kelly, as well as two-time Pro Bowler Darryl Talley] really gave me some advice on how to step away from the game, be a man and handle myself going forward," Dareus said. "Knowing they cared that much and that it's a great, big family really meant a lot."
Of the Pegulas, Dareus said, "I sat down and talked to them about some things, and it really enlightened me and made me very positive about the future. They're such great people. They're not like regular owners; they really do care. When this came about, I really had no idea how much they cared, and how much they'd support me.
"I told them, 'Talk is cheap. I'm gonna do the best I can not to put myself in that position.' I really do feel bad that I disappointed them. I'm back at the point where I have to prove myself."
Dareus has endured an unremitting amount of personal tragedy in his 26 years, so it's significant that he calls his recent four-week break -- and, specifically, the experience of watching the Bills stumble to an 0-2 start -- "one of the toughest things of my career, if not my life."
If anything, he's convinced that he now needs to spend his time off the field in a manner that approximates his workplace environment.
"That's one of the big things about ADHD -- people who have it don't do as well when things aren't structured," Dareus said. "Football is very detailed and structured, and people hold you accountable, and [Dr. Hallowell and others] helped me figure that out for my life outside of football.
"I'm getting the help I need. Smoking weed isn't an issue. It's just really getting the help I need, being around the right people to give me help. It's a real vivid thing for me. Every day, I write a list and focus on the relationships of people who can really help me, and not criticize me.
"I feel like I'm back trying to prove myself. It's a day-by-day process, but I'm in a much better place."
And now, the rest of this week's notes from NFL.com's reporters:
BUFFALO BILLS: The revival continues. The Bills have won three in a row since Anthony Lynn replaced Greg Roman as offensive coordinator, with LeSean McCoy rushing for 330 total yards in that span.
"Well, I think the biggest thing is just simplifying the offense," McCoy said. "Let talent find its place and just let us play."
Taylor enjoying freedom. Taylor said that Lynn has scaled back the number of plays in the weekly game plan and that Lynn has asked input from players about plays that they like, what's working in games and what vulnerabilities that they see in opponents.
Taylor also said that Lynn has used the no-huddle more, and when that happens, the quarterback has more liberty to change a play call from the sideline and manipulate the defense on the fly. Heading into Sunday's game against the 49ers, Taylor said they've gone no-huddle four times since Lynn took over and scored three times.
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CLEVELAND BROWNS: QB woes persist -- but are there signs of hope?Last Sunday, the Cleveland Browns experienced, in just 60 minutes against the Patriots, a microcosm of their entire franchise's curse since 1999. Rookie quarterback Cody Kesslerinjured his chest and ribs, and then backup Charlie Whitehurst suffered a knee injury, forcing receiver Terrelle Pryor -- a converted quarterback -- to play under center. That made it five quarterbacks used by the Browns through the first five games of the season. (They are 0-5 -- see the symmetry?)
Such shuffling should sound familiar. The Browns have used an astounding 26 starting quarterbacks since 1999, and you can still see the reminders of many of them when you glance into the stands at home games. On Sunday, there were the jerseys of Kosar and Hoyer and Couch and McCoy. And that didn't even take into consideration the fact that Kessler was starting because Week 1 starter Robert Griffin III and No. 2 Josh McCown had been hurt earlier in the season.
But what passes for continuity with the Brownsreturned on Thursday. Coach Hue Jackson said Kessler will start Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. McCown, who had a broken collarbone, threw during practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but he's been ruled out of Sunday's game. Whitehurst was released this week, and the Browns have rookie Kevin Hogan on the roster, too.
As much as the Browns have struggled, Kessler has provided a glimmer of good news. In three starts, he has completed 66.7 percent of his passes and thrown two touchdowns vs. one interception. Against the Patriots, Kessler led a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that immediately followed the Patriots' first touchdown drive. Kessler was injured on the Browns' next drive, and he believes the game, a 33-13 Patriots victory, might have evolved differently if he had been able to play on.
"That's what upset me the most," Kessler said Wednesday. "We were getting in a rhythm there on offense and moving the ball."
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DENVER BRONCOS: Teaching the art of the spin. The Falcons had just handed the Broncostheir first loss of the season on Sunday, and players were filing out of the visiting locker room and heading to the team bus. Here is where Falcons defensive end Dwight Freeney told me, "I'm going to have to apologize to [Falcons quarterback] Matt [Ryan] once we get on that bus. I'm going to have to tell him I'm sorry."
When you hear Dwight Freeney's name, his spin move is probably the first image that comes to mind. He's done it for years, and he's perfected every nuance of the move -- from how, as in a game of chess, he sets up offensive linemen early in games to the footwork and hand placement within the move itself.
Freeney, like many players around the NFL, is also generous with his knowledge of the game with those coming up behind him. Three years ago, the seven-time Pro Bowler was working out with the Broncos' Von Miller and the Packers' Clay Matthews and a few other NFL players during the offseason in Orange County, California. That's where the three-time All-Pro taught Miller everything there is to know about his legendary spin move.
"He didn't just tell me, 'When you run up to him, you've got to turn around and spin'," said Miller, who added another sack to retake the league lead at 7.5 during the Broncos' loss to the Chargers on Thursday night. "He really broke it down from an approach standpoint, from a footwork standpoint and a momentum standpoint. He helped me along with that. I don't know how many sacks I've gotten off of the spin move, but I think it's a lot."
Freeney told me he'd never stop helping NFL players who are eager to learn, because that's what this league is all about: teaching. Miller jokingly said Freeney is only responsible for 65 percent of the spin move he uses today, adding that the rest of it stems from his natural athletic ability. But Miller is grateful for what Freeney did for him, and he's trying to do the same. The MVP of Super Bowl 50 has been passing down his knowledge to players coming up behind him just as Freeney did, calling himself "an open book."
"It's one of the beautiful things about the National Football League," Miller said. "Guys really don't try to hold back secrets or moves. They just put the knowledge out there, and if it applies to you, if you can use it, you use it. If you can't, you can't."
Miller doesn't even see an issue teaching players within his division. Chargers pass rusher Melvin Ingram is one of Miller's many friends, and the face of the Broncos franchise sees no problem teaching pass-rush techniques to another player in the AFC West. In his mind, everyone is going to get sacks, and everyone learns or steals from other pass rushers.
"I remember Justin Houston, two years ago when he had 22 sacks, he had a little jab-step swipe with double hands, and he went off with that move," Miller said, while acting out the motion with his body. "Watching film and asking him about that move -- and that was one of my moves back then, as well. It's a copycat league; if it works, people will do it."
A few hours before I spoke with Freeney last Sunday, he had watched from the sideline as Miller used a spin move to embarrass Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder before driving Ryan into the turf at Mile High. Hence the planned postgame apology to the NFL's leading passer.
Broncos will wait for Ware to be healthy.DeMarcus Ware is calling Monday a "really big day." Ware will have an X-ray on his broken forearm, and if the bone is healed enough to the medical staff's liking, he will be able to play the following Monday vs. the Texans, with some sort of protective wrap for added support. If the X-ray shows that the bone has not healed to the point where the doctors are comfortable, he would be looking at a return the following week, against the Chargers on Oct. 30.
Despite losing their last two games, the Broncos are taking every precaution with Ware's return. What they want to avoid is any chance of him returning too early and reinjuring the break, thus setting him back several more games as Denver heads down the stretch of what the Broncos believe could be another Super Bowl run. Ware understands there will be a lot of football left to play even if he returns in Week 8 against San Diego as opposed to next week vs. Houston. All involved would rather have him return a week later and be safe as opposed to rushing him back and missing a stretch of games or the rest of the year if he is reinjured.
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Two-tight-end plan coming to fruition. Among the take-notice moments of the Patriots' offseason workouts and training camp were when Tom Brady worked alone with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, the hulking tight end pairing that the Patriots hope will be a devastating red-zone weapon.
In Brady's first game back last Sunday, we saw the fruits of that work, as Browns defenders focused their attention on Gronkowski, leaving Bennett free to catch three touchdown passes. He already has four touchdown catches this season (his career high is six, set in 2014 for the Bears) and he and Gronkowski are well on their way to recreating the impossible-to-defend pairing the Patriots once had with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. In two earlier games, Bennett also notably stayed in to block.
"I think this is about what we thought it would be," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this week. "Experienced player, veteran player that's very smart, that has a lot of position flexibility, can play in the passing game, can play in the running game, can block, can catch, run after catch, make big plays, make possession plays. His intelligence gives him a lot of versatility. He's done that before in his career, multiple times, and I think that's what he's given us."
In four seasons with Buffalo, Hogan averaged 11 yards per reception. In five games in New England, it has shot up to 19.7 yards per reception, aided by catches of 43and 63 yards against Cleveland last Sunday. Hogan's 114 receiving yards were a career high, eclipsing his previous high of 95 yards, which he posted last season against the Patriots while Hogan played for the Bills.
Hogan turns 28 later this month, but he is still a bit of a football work in progress. A former all-state high school player from New Jersey, he played lacrosse at Penn State before using an extra year of eligibility (he suffered an ankle injury playing lacrosse) to play football at Monmouth, mostly on defense. He went undrafted but had brief stints with the 49ers, Giants and Dolphins before signing with the Bills in 2012. That's where he was until he signed with the Patriots this offseason.
Hogan's timing was good. With receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola both returning from injuries, Hogan got extra work in with Brady during offseason practices. This week, Belichick said Hogan's speed was apparent from his time on special teams in Buffalo, but now he is learning the finer points of being a receiver in the Patriots' offense.
"Chris' situation, even though he has some NFL experience, I think some of the things we asked him to do in the passing game were new to him, maybe a little bit different in our offensive structure," Belichick said. "So there's definitely a learning curve, but he's done a good job with that. He's tough, out there every day, really wants to get it right, work hard on the things that he needs to improve on. He's very diligent about that. I think there's still a ways to go. It's not like we're there yet. But he's worked hard at it. He's made a lot of progress, and he's made a lot of big plays for us."
Brady and Ninkovich return to Gillette Stadium. It didn't take Tom Brady long to warm up to the 2016 season vs. Cleveland last week: 406 pass yards and three touchdown passes -- good enough for AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Now, Brady and his 4-1 Patriots face another AFC North foe in the 2-3 Bengals, who stumbled mightily at Dallas last week with continued inconsistencies on both sides of the ball. It doesn't get any easier for the Bengals, who will face the edgy and determined Brady, in his first home game since suspension, at a place where he is 60-5 since 2007 -- Gillette Stadium will be electric on Sunday. And yes, Brady is 5-1 vs. Cincinnati over the course of his career.
Oh, and then there's defensive end Rob Ninkovich -- he too returned from suspension last week against the Browns on a rotational basis, giving added life to a unit that already ranks fourth in scoring defense. Not great news for Cincinnati, as the Bengals' offense has not scored more than 23 points in a game this season, averaging just 18.4 points per outing. For comparison's sake, Cincy scored 24-plus points in 12 of 16 regular-season games in 2015. (Don't blame A.J. Green, though -- 518 receiving yards is the highest total he's ever had through five games.)
In typical Patriots fashion, the franchise has downplayed any emotion associated with Brady's return. Wide receiver Chris Hogan, the benefactor of 114 of the quarterback's 400-plus passing yards last Sunday, told me, "We're going about our business like it's any other week. I know that people around, in this city, and the fans, I'm sure they're gonna be super excited to have him back, playing at home. But for us as a team, our main focus is Cincinnati."
The aforementioned Ninkovich, who is thrilled to be returning to form after his four-game suspension (having tested positive for a banned substance), was slightly more excited about the prospect of stepping back into familiar territory with his Patriots: "I think everyone is very excited moving forward, and not looking in the rear-view mirror. What has happened has happened, it's in the past. So now, as a team, we all are aware that we can do something special, but we have to all come together here to do exactly that -- and that's to be a good team, and work for each other, and in all three phases, play good football."
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This despite facing defenses that apparently were successful with a vanilla approach.
"Same thing over and over again: two-high safety, six in the box," receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. "They're just making it difficult."
"Just have to come out and be where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there. Execute what is called. Play at a high level," Beckham said. "That's all I can tell you. Everyone needs to play at a high level all around."
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No," Fitzpatrick said, "you definitely can't replace him with one guy."
"I have to throw on anticipation, I have to throw with trust," Fitzpatrick said. "[A] big part of it is just communicating to those guys [about] where they're expected to be and at what time they're expected to be there."
On Wednesday, while Marshall talked to reporters, Anderson was sitting as his adjacent locker.
After saying he has confidence in the youngsters, Marshall said, "Stand up, Robby."
"Make plays," a smiling Marshall told him.
Something's missing on D. Compared to the 2015 season, the Jets' defense has been dramatically different through five games, despite few personnel changes.
Coach Todd Bowles pointed to turnovers as a main culprit. The Jets have three takeaways this year after forcing 30 last season.
"Obviously, we have to do some things to try to turn that around," Bowles said. "It comes in bunches. That's probably the biggest thing."
"It's on everybody," Bowles said. "[The numbers] are what they are. It's on our whole team. It's on the coaches and the players."
Bowles said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (sacked once in Week 5) and Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (sacked twice in Week 3) got rid of the ball quickly or max-protected against the Jets. Bowles said at Buffalo in Week 2, where the Jets captured their lone win thus far, the scheme was designed to keep Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (who was not sacked once) in the pocket.
"They're playing very well," Bowles said, "and I'm very happy with the defensive line."
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A little back-and-forth, a little gamesmanship -- it's all to be expected from fiercely competitive identical twins who have never actually competed on the NFL stage. The Pounceys played together in high school and at the University of Florida, and while the Dolphins and Steelers have faced off once since they were drafted (Maurkice in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Mike in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft), Maurkice was hurt and didn't play.
That changes this weekend, when the 4-1 Steelers fly down to 1-4 Miami. Maurkice said his parents have had special shirts made with both sons' faces on them, and he acknowledged that the bragging rights for this one give it a bit of extra weight. Still, Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said he hasn't heard much in the way of extra exhortations from Maurkice -- although during a visit to Miami this summer, Mike "kept talking about Week 6," Foster said. "He's been talking about this one for a while."
To which Maurkice shook his head and confirmed that yes, that's the case. "Mike is more of a trash talker than me," he said. And then, grinning, he added: "Probably because he doesn't actually have to go up against me."
Game planning around Heyward's absence.Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward hurt his hamstring last week against the Jets. Now, for the first time in his six-year NFL career, he'll miss a game. He never missed one at Ohio State or in high school, either. Which hasn't been the best for his home life, he said.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler said the Steelers won't schematically change anything to compensate for the loss of their defensive captain and sack leader. He's been pleased with Hargrave, and head coach Mike Tomlin talked earlier this week about Mathews' ridiculous motor. However, Butler said the Steelers have to bring pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill -- who was sacked six times by the Titanslast week -- but without being exotic.
"I don't think he has problems with blitzes," Butler said. If the Steelers' get to Tannehill, he explained, it will have to be with their three- or four-man rushes.
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SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: Shaking the bad-luck blues. Prior to Thursday night's 21-13 win over the Broncos, the Chargers had experienced a litany of late-game mistakes that put them in a serious hole to start the season. Enduring those mishaps is one thing -- believing they are somehow inevitable when crunch time arrives is another.
Nose tackle Brandon Mebane, who joined the Chargers after nine years in Seattle -- a franchise that never feared big moments and frequently rose to victory when it mattered most -- said thinking about doomsday scenarios can become contagious. So can believing in and exercising poise under pressure. Mebane said prior to Thursday's contest that, more than anything, the Chargers needed to pull out a close win down the stretch to restore faith. How?
Individual players need to tell themselves that they are going to make a play then go make a play, "Like Kobe [Bryant]," Mebane said. "Once one guy does it, the next guy and the next guy will. Then you've got something going."
Well, San Diego got it going on Thursday night, jumping out to a 21-3 lead before holding off a Denver rally in the fourth quarter. Big win in a big spot, with head coach Mike McCoy apparently sitting on the hottest of hot seats. Now we'll see if San Diego can carry this momentum over to next week's difficult road trip across the country for a date with first-place Falcons.
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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: How will Kap's promotion play out?Colin Kaepernick is back as the starting quarterback, but on the day coach Chip Kelly announced the decision, it was hard to tell if there were many players championing the move or condemning it. Reaction was very matter-of-fact, in the "Whatever coach wants to do, we'll roll with" mold.
Nobody seemed surprised, especially after Week 1 starter Blaine Gabbert didn't play well in losing four straight games.
Gabbert is well-liked by teammates, so seeing him lose his job as the starter -- maybe for the last time in his career -- wasn't easy for players. Neither is the fact that so many other players are complicit. The offense is a hot mess all the way around, from the lack of top-shelf talent to execution, so for those failures, Gabbert didn't have much help.
Will Kaepernick? We'll see. One thing Kelly and the members of his staff know more than any of us is whether Gabbert messed up calls, reads and other elements of the offense that aren't recognizable to those who don't know the play. Kaepernick was not great in practice in a backup role, but since he's gotten more reps as the starter, he has consistently make more big plays in practice, according to a teammate.
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Those games came against the Cody Kessler-led Browns and a Ravens offense led by since-fired coordinator Marc Trestman, but Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews indicated it's about more than inferior competition. To Matthews, it's the Josh Norman effect, and not just because Norman is the last starter standing.
"I think it's their attitude," Matthews said as the Eagles prepared for their game against Norman and the 'Skins this Sunday. "When you have an attitude, then the guys who come in after that are always [eager] to pick up on that and play well. You see that, when Josh came, he brought attitude with him, and that's always going to help them."
"Obviously, the team he left, a little bit of his attitude left, too. That's just the reality of it, and people don't understand there's a swagger that comes with it," Matthews said of Norman, who's been battling through a hand injury. "He's a testament [to] how they've been able to do even with guys out, because even the young guys have a guy to look to and say, 'OK, I see how he's doing it, I see the swagger he's playing with, so let me go out there and imitate that.' "