Ebner coming on strong in Patriots secondary

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Ebner coming on strong in Patriots secondary

FOXBORO -- Nate Ebner is turning into an interesting acquisition.

The 197th overall pick in 2012, Ebner didn't rhapsodize on the conference call he received after being drafted -- though reporters scrambling for information on him would have probably appreciated it.

A rugby player? Who walked onto Ohio State's football team?

Yes, and yes.

And somehow it's translated to the NFL and his role with the New England Patriots. When Pat Chung left Monday night's game against Philadelphia with a shoulder injury, Ebner got the call.

"They were just like, 'Nate, you're in,' " Ebner said. "And that's what I did."

Simple as that, right?

Well, no.

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said during training camp that Ebner is smart, but there's a lot he needs to learn about playing safety in the pros.

A surprise to no one. Ebner's best shot at making the 53-man roster was on special teams and he knew it as well as anyone. On that post-draft conference call he gushed about kickoff to reporters, saying quite memorably, "I just love it for some reason -- I don't know, maybe I've got a screw loose."

But in training camp, Ebner has shown something more. He had multiple practices with at least one pick or pass breakup last week.

The kid has good ball skills.

"I would say I'm starting to get a feel for things, but you know it starts with practice and just getting better," he said Monday night. "Just trying to get better every day, every week that's really my focus now."

A red zone interception against the Eagles, returned for 34 yards, sure looked like progress.

"The ball came out and I just tried to make a play." Ebner held for a moment, unsure if there was something more he should say. "That's what I'm here to do, so it came to me and that's what I did."

Preseason is context enough to keep most guys grounded. Michael Vick, who was injured, wasn't even on the sideline, much less under center, when Ebner made his play.

But the rookie doesn't need to make a case over the next 10 days to be a starting safety, he just needs to get on the roster. Development into a reliable reserve can happen more gradually.

Right now, it looks like there's potential for both.

Rookie Dak Prescott solid again, Cowboys beat Bears, 31-17

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Rookie Dak Prescott solid again, Cowboys beat Bears, 31-17

ARLINGTON, Texas - Maybe the Cowboys will be OK without quarterback Tony Romo this time. The future of the Dallas running game with Ezekiel Elliott looks pretty good, too.

Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass in fellow rookie Elliott's first 100-yard game, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without the injured Romo over three seasons before the fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia's Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals for a rookie in NFL history.

"Dak's handled every opportunity he's had right from the start really, really well," coach Jason Garrett said. "No different tonight."

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox.

Making his 27th career start for his fourth different team, Hoyer was 30 of 49 for 317 yards - a good portion of that with the game out of each late in the fourth quarter - and threw for two scores to Zach Miller.

"We haven't played a complete game," Fox said. "This week was the reverse of what we've had. We played very poorly in the first half."

Elliott finished with 140 yards on 30 carries, including a 14-yard run when he hurdled safety Chris Prosinski. The Cowboys kept giving him the ball while trying to work the clock with a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter a week after he was benched because of two fumbles in a win over Washington.

"Made a lot of good runs tonight, a lot tough runs, a lot of NFL runs," Garrett said. "He's physically tough. He's mentally tough."

It didn't even bother Prescott that Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith missed just the second game of his six-year career after his back tightened up during the week.

Prescott was 19 of 24 for 248 yards in Dallas' first home win since last year's opener, which was a week before the first of two broken left collarbones that kept Romo out of 12 games last season.

Romo is expected to miss about another month after breaking a bone in his back in the preseason.

Prescott had one of three rushing touchdowns for the Cowboys, who have seven this season after getting eight all of last year, when they finished 4-12.

Because the Bears fell behind again, they couldn't do much with the running game. They had just 15 carries for 73 yards and lost leading rusher Jeremy Langford to an ankle injury in the second half.

Jets lose, Patriots guaranteed 1st place in AFC East when Brady returns

Jets lose, Patriots guaranteed 1st place in AFC East when Brady returns

When Tom Brady returns to the Patriots following his four-game suspension, his team will be in sole possession of first place in the AFC East.

That became the reality as soon as the Jets fell to the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday, 24-3. The Jets committed eight turnovers in the loss to fall to 1-2. 

The Bills and Dolphins each won their first games of the season on Sunday, taking down the Cardinals and Browns, respectively. 

With the Patriots record at 3-0 following their win over the Texans on Thursday night, and with all three of their AFC East rivals sitting on just one win thus far, even if Bill Belichick's club was to fall to Rex Ryan and the Bills in Week 4, it would still be alone atop the division.

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Surely the Patriots would like to have a zero in the loss column when Brady returns. Regardless, to be in first place when Brady's Deflategate punishment is finished -- and having achieved that mark with two different starting quarterbacks -- has to be a point of pride for the organization . . . and a source of agita for those who doled out the punishment.