NFL superstar continues to play through pain

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NFL superstar continues to play through pain

From Comcast SportsNetALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) -- Calvin Johnson didn't practice for the Lions on Thursday -- and that's a report Detroit fans may need to get used to.Doesn't mean he'll be any less of an asset Sunday."Calvin at any percent ... is a bonus for me or anybody else," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.Johnson toughed out Detroit's 31-14 victory over Jacksonville last weekend, catching seven passes for 129 yards after getting a pain-killing shot in his left knee. The All-Pro receiver is still banged up, but even if his practice time remains limited, he's a big part of the Lions' offense.Up next is a trip to Minnesota. The Vikings beat Detroit on Sept. 30, knocking Johnson around in the process. The 6-foot-5 Johnson was hit in the head and neck area by Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway. He was also hit in the end zone in that game, failing to hold on to a potential touchdown.Although he says he's feeling better now, there were some lasting effects from those collisions."Actually had some nerve damage," Johnson said. "Taking those hits, man, they're real violent. They definitely have a lot of lingering impact. ... Stuff shooting down your arms and stuff like that."Now it's the knee that's a concern."It's coming along. Definitely feels better than it was at this point last week," Johnson said. "I've just been doing a lot of stuff in weight room, just to strengthen the muscle around it."The rest of the NFL could barely contain Johnson last season, when he caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. This season, he's on pace to post similar numbers -- except that he's only caught one TD pass.Last weekend it wasn't clear how effective he could be because of the knee, but he ended up playing one of his best games of the season."I always expect the ball," he said. "The production I had, it was actually very good considering what I was dealing with."Detroit needs Johnson to be a force, especially with receiver Nate Burleson out with a broken leg. The Lions (4-4) are in last place in the NFC North, but they're very much in the hunt for a wild card. The remaining schedule is tough, with two games against Green Bay and one each against Houston, Atlanta and Chicago.This weekend's game starts a stretch of three in 12 days for the Lions, including their annual contest on Thanksgiving."It's a tough stretch for everybody, whether you're hurt or not," Johnson said. "It's going to be a grind."One encouraging sign last weekend for Detroit was the emergence of the running game.Mikel Leshoure rushed for 70 yards and three touchdowns, and Joique Bell ran for 73 yards and a TD. The Lions set a season high with 149 yards on the ground -- exactly what the offense needed with Johnson on the mend and the passing game not looking quite as explosive as expected."We'd like to build on it," Linehan said. "It's going to be a tough challenge for us, but we feel confident in our ability as we're moving forward in our run game and having some things that we're doing. Backs are getting confidence, they're running good."Meanwhile, Johnson is managing his recovery carefully.Sitting out practice is not an ideal situation, but if it's necessary, he can adjust."I do know what I need to do by Sunday," Johnson said. "Experience helps with that."

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

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Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

 

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

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Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.

An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.

Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”

“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”

James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.  

He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?

Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.

“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”

To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.  
 
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.

“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”

We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.