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NFL storylines: Raiders can only hope Mack takes it easy on them

Khalil Mack

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Mack gets his chance to sack the Raiders

One of the first things Jon Gruden did after becoming coach of the Oakland Raiders was to decide his team could not afford Pro Bowl linebacker Khalil Mack.

After being drafted in the first round by the Raiders in 2014, Mack quickly delivered in his four seasons with 40 ½ sacks and nine forced fumbles. He was a nightmare for offenses to deal it.

But on Sept. 1, 2018, the Raiders traded Mack to the Chicago Bears, who quickly signed him to a rich contract that guaranteed him $90 million. It was career shift he did not anticipate.

“That’s the expectation when you get drafted to a team: You want to be there for the long haul and bring championships and all those good things,” said Mack this week. “It’s the business side of it that doesn’t really let you do that.”

On Sunday, Mack will have his first chance to get revenge on the Raiders when the teams meet in London.

“It’s another game, man,” Mack said. “It’s going to be a fun one because I know a few of the guys out there. But it’s going to be a good one. Can’t wait.”

“You can’t play this game with too much emotion, man. Ultimately, I try to stay focused on the task at hand and understanding the situation and understanding what they’re going to be thinking that I feel. But ultimately, I’m going to go out there and do what I do — and that’s play football and love the game that I play, you know what I mean?”

In his first year with the Bears, Mack had 12 ½ sacks, one pick six and six forced fumbles. He was one of the big reasons the Bears won the NFC North. This season he has 4 ½ sacks and four forced fumbles.

Melvin Gordon

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Gordon’s back, but no one knows how much he’ll play

Melvin Gordon returned to the Los Angeles Chargers before last week’s game in Miami but didn’t get a chance to play after his 64-day holdout. But that’s going to change on Sunday. It looks like he might even start at running back against the Denver Broncos.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn told SiriusXM NFL Radio this week Gordon is ready to make an impact.

“He’s getting more work [in practice] this week, and he’s definitely going to have a workload this week, but not too big,” Lynn said. “I want to work him in, but I don’t want to overdo it.”

It’s hard to say how much Gordon will play because of the way Austin Ekeler has filled in for him. Ekeler has  a league-leading six touchdowns and has rushed for 220 yards while adding 24 receptions for 270 yards.

“I can’t give him 50 snaps come Sunday,” Lynn said. “I think that’s way too many.”

“We have a package for him – a role for him in this game. He may even start this game. But we’re going to see how he looks at the end of the week and go from there.”

Jimy Garoppolo

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Are the 49ers legit? We’re about to find out

The San Francisco 49ers had one of the most ill-timed bye weeks in NFL history. Not only did it come early (Week 4), but it came during a time when the team (3-0) was playing its best football in many seasons.

The 49ers return to action on Monday night at home against the resurgent Cleveland Browns in what might be the most interesting game of the weekend.

The 49ers lead the NFC West for the first time since the end of the 2012 season, but they haven’t had the type of challenge they will receive from the Browns who have the capacity to dominate offensively.

The three teams the 49ers have defeated have a combined record of 3-9.

“That is good, but that doesn’t mean anything,” said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. “I’ve been 5-0 (Atlanta in 2015) and not made the playoffs before, so that doesn’t mean much.”

The 49ers beat Tampa Bay by 14 points in Week 1 and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by a collective 28 points.

“You’ve got to believe. There’s lots of things that make you believe. You’ve got to believe that you’re good enough, and I think we’ve added some guys that definitely help, and I think guys that have played here know that they’re good enough,” said Shanahan.

Stefon Diggs

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Vikings offense leaves a lot on the table

In a rare show of contrition earlier this week, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins essentially apologized to receiver Adam Thielen for failing to connect with him often enough during last week’s discouraging loss to the Bears.

The fact is that Cousins has not played well this season. He has only 64 completions for 735 yards after throwing for only 233 last week against the Bears. Cousins and Thielen combined for only two receptions and six yards.

Cousins ranks 32nd out of 33 in ESPN’s QBR, is 16th in passing yards per attempt (7.4), 23rd in QB rating (88.6), 19th in completion percentage (64.6%), 25th in total passing yards (735), 38th in first-down percentage (27.3%) and has the most fumbles (6) in the NFL.

The Vikings are in New York on Sunday to play the Giants and it seems their offense has come to a crossroad since the Bears also held Dalvin Cook to 35 yards rushing and sacked Cousins six times.

It appears some are beginning to get very frustrated about what’s happening. Receiver Stefon Diggs had to answer questions this week about rumors he’s asked the Vikings to trade him.

“I haven’t communicated anything,” said Diggs. “The conversations I’ve had [with the Vikings] have only been about the team and trying to have success on the field.”

Speculation about Diggs was heightened when he didn’t practice on Wednesday. Diggs said he had a cold. He signed a five-year extension with the team last July.

He’s caught only 13 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown. Diggs had 27 catches in the first four games last season.

“I can’t sit up here and act like everything is OK,” Diggs said. “It’s obviously not. But what I can say at this point, just trying to work through it.”

Kliff Kingsbury

(Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

Kingsbury says the Cardinals just need more snaps

After so much preseason excitement after the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury and drafted Kyler Murray, the team has settled back into its normal environment at 0-4. That might change Sunday when they play the 0-4 Cincinnati Bengals.

Kingsbury suggested this week one of the reasons his “Air Raid” offense has stalled was it wasn’t getting enough time on the field. The Cardinals are averaging only 67 snaps.

“I think the biggest takeaway is there’s no kind of throwaway plays in the NFL,” Kingsbury said. “In college, you may have 85, 90 snaps. There’s a handful that are kind of throwaways and you look back at them and [say], ‘Hey, that’s all right that there were five plays that maybe we didn’t have the best call on and it didn’t work out.'”

“But, here, you better make every call count because there’s not as many plays and everybody is executing on a very, very high level.”

The Cardinals haven’t held a lead in regulation this season and are averaging only 18.5 points and 326.3 yards. According to ESPN, they have had only 268 total offensive snaps this season. Only the Redskins and Dolphins have a worse point differential than the Cardinals (minus-41).

“I didn’t anticipate being where we are now,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald told The Athletic. “We’re just not good enough to make the mistakes that we’re making now. Oftentimes, it’s a little bit too late when we finally get going.”