Philosophical differences were behind the Houston Texans' decision to part with head coach David Culley after one season with the team, according to general manager Nick Caserio.

The Texans ended a disappointing campaign 4-13, and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly has also departed after eight years with the franchise, which finished third in the AFC South for a second consecutive season.

The Texans ended their season with a 28-25 loss to the Tennessee Titans, leading a late fightback against their rivals after finding themselves 21-0 down at the halfway point.

Caserio, who has been in the GM post for just a year, released a statement explaining the decision to relieve both Culley and Kelly of their duties, with the Texans ending the season ranked last in the NFL for total offense, and Culley having reportedly resisted attempts to make changes to his offensive staff. 

"Earlier today, I met with David Culley and Tim Kelly to inform them we will be moving in a different direction with the head coach and offensive coordinator positions," the statement read. "I came to this difficult but necessary decision after reviewing our football operations.

"While a change after one season is unusual, we had philosophical differences over the long-term direction and vision for our program moving forward. 

"We appreciate coach Culley for helping us navigate through a difficult season, but it is my responsibility to make decisions that I feel are best for our organisation.

"The search for the next coach of the Houston Texans will begin immediately."

The Arizona Cardinals continued their excellent road form as they edged the Dallas Cowboys 25-22 in a potential-playoff preview with Kyler Murray leading the way on Sunday.

The Cardinals improved their season record to 11-5 and their road record to 8-1, snapping a three-game skid, with Texas-born Murray throwing two touchdowns as he completed 26 of 38 attempts for 263 yards.

The Cowboys had trailed 22-7 at the final charge but stormed back into contention as Dak Prescott threw three TD passes for the game but Murray expertly managed the clock late.

Murray found Antoine Wesley for two TDs including a spectacular catch in the third quarter, while Jonathan Ward made a remarkable helmet catch on a fake punt.

The Cowboys lost Michael Gallup to injury upon his second-quarter receiving touchdown and did not return, not helping their cause.

Prescott, who completed 24 of 38 passes for 226 yards along with 20 rushing yards, found Cedrick Wilson and Amari Cooper for final-quarter TDs to tighten the game but he also had a costly fumble at 22-14.

Chargers snap skid as Williams scores 101-yard return

The Los Angeles Chargers snapped a two-game skid with a 34-13 victory over the Denver Broncos to boost their Wild Card hopes as they improve to a 9-7 record.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert threw 22 of 31 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns, breaking the franchise record for single-season touchdown passes at 35.

Andre Williams scored a 101-yard kickoff return touchdown in the fourth quarter, while Austin Ekeler returned to LA's line-up and was important, with 17 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown, along with three receptions for 54 yards.

 

Lance leads 49ers to key win in Wild Card race

Trey Lance stepped in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo and provided two touchdown passes as the San Francisco 49ers won 23-7 over the Houston Texans.

Lance completed 16 of 23 passes for 249 yards with the two TDs and an interception to help the 49ers improve to 9-7 in the NFC Wild Card pursuit.

Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell scored the touchdowns as the 49ers scored 20 second-half points to secure the win.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is bullish that he can play through his right thumb injury in Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

The 49ers are 8-7 in the NFC West and can secure a playoffs berth with victory against the Texans.

Garoppolo, who will be a key part of their postseason bid, only threw under supervision at the team's Wednesday practice but said he was "definitely" a chance to play.

"I played the entire game with it basically, so it's really just about being able to grip the ball and do the things I normally do and we're gonna go test those out today, see how it feels and go from there," Garoppolo told reporters. "But I feel confident in it."

Garoppolo had missed the 49ers' bonus practice on Monday as he waiting for swelling in the thumb to subside.

"We'll see how it looks today," Garoppolo added on Wednesday. "If it looks good, it looks good. If it looks bad, it looks bad.

"It's just one of those things that you have got to test it out and go through it. Until we do that, it will be hard to say. But we'll all be on the same page and we'll do the right thing for the team."

The 49ers QB continued: "It's a torn ligament so it is what it is. The pain, it's not going anywhere so I know what that feels like but it's just about being confident and going out there and being able to do what I normally do with the football. We'll see where it gets us but I feel good right now with it."

Garoppolo has a completion rate of 68 percent this season for 3,494 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions across 14 games.

If Garoppolo is not deemed fit, rookie Trey Lance will be in line to make his second NFL start having filled in against the Arizona Cardinals on October 10.

Jimmy Garoppolo was absent as the San Francisco 49ers resumed practice on Monday fuelling doubts about his availability for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

The 49ers quarterback has been battling a thumb injury which was aggravated in Thursday's 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Garoppolo's status for Sunday's game is unknown but he is considered day-to-day, meaning Trey Lance could deputise for him.

"We knew his thumb was hurting him," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters. "We thought he jammed it sometime in the game, so he tells us right when he comes to the bench."

He added: "I think this last month of Trey has been his best consecutive four weeks at practice since we've had him.

"He's had a number of good days and he's had some bad days like most guys do, but as far as his consistency and stuff, I feel this last month has been his best."

Shanahan indicated Garoppolo suffered the injury in the second quarter against the Titans when sacked by Denico Autry, with the QB playing on but struggling with two costly interceptions.

The 49ers will re-assess Garoppolo's availability for Sunday's game on Wednesday.

Garoppolo has a completion rate of 68 percent this season for 3,494 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions across 14 games.

Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys blew away the Washington Football Team with six first-half touchdowns as they recorded a comprehensive 56-14 win on Sunday.

Prescott completed 28 of 39 passes for 330 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, as the Cowboys reached 50 points for the first time since Super Bowl XXVII in 1993.

The Dallas QB recorded his fourth career game with 300 yards, four passing touchdowns and no interceptions, which is the most by any player in franchise history, going past Tony Romo (three). Prescott remarkably passed for 320 yards by half-time.

The Cowboys also became the first team this season to score in all three facets of the game as they dismantled Washington.

Ezekiel Elliott scored two touchdowns in the first half as the Cowboys opened up a 42-7 half-time lead. Elliott had nine carries for 37 yards and one rushing TD, along with one receiving touchdown.

Dallas had good contributions from receivers Amari Cooper (seven receptions for 85 yards and one TD), Dalton Schultz (eight receptions for 82 yards and one TD) and Malik Turner (three receptions for 82 yards and one TD).

Demarcus Lawrence also scored a TD after intercepting Washington QB's Taylor Heinicke's first-quarter pass with Chauncey Golston cleaning up in the end zone for a touchdown after Corey Clement blocked a punt.

The Cowboys, who have clinched the NFC East division earlier in the day after the Las Vegas Raiders beat the Denver Broncos 17-13, improve to 11-4 while Washington are 6-9.

 

Burrow blows against Lamar-less Ravens

Joe Burrow was in record-breaking form with the fourth most passing yards in a game in NFL history to lead the Cincinnati Bengals won 41-21 over the Baltimore Ravens, who were without Lamar Jackson.

Burrow completed 37 of 46 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, which was a new franchise record for passing yards as the Bengals claimed a major AFC North win to improve to 9-6 ahead of the 8-7 Ravens on a four-game skid.

The Bengals quarterback also becomes the fourth player in NFL history to have 500 pass yards, four pass touchdowns and zero interceptions in a game, joining Derek Carr, Ben Roethlisberger and Y.A. Tittle.

Wide receivers Tee Higgins (12 receptions for 194 yards and two touchdowns) and Ja'Marr Chase (seven receptions for 125 yards) were excellent against the Ravens whose stand-in QB Josh Johnson had two TD passes.

 

Chiefs clinch AFC West yet again

The Kansas City Chiefs became the first team to ever clinch the AFC West title for six straight seasons after a 36-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw 23 of 30 passes for 258 yards with three TD passes, while Steelers veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger struggled with 23 of 35 passes for 159 yards with one TD and one interception.

Wide receiver Byron Pringle had six receptions for 75 yards with two touchdowns as the Chiefs improved to an unassailable 11-4 record in the AFC West, ahead of the Los Angeles Chargers (8-4) who lost 41-29 to the Houston Texans earlier on Sunday.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is set to miss Sunday's clash with the Houston Texans after being added to the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said that Ekeler was "day-to-day" having been placed on the list, along with wide receiver Jalen Guyton

The 26-year-old has 1,347 total yards from 235 touches this season with 17 touchdowns (10 rushing and seven receiving).

The Chargers have been hit the recent COVID-19 surge with star linebacker Joey Bosa and defensive back Kemon Hall also on the reserve/COVID-19 list along with several others.

Bosa is unvaccinated and has been added to the reserve/COVID-19 list for a second time.

Mike Vrabel described the Tennessee Titans' offense as its own worst enemy after the top seed in the AFC slumped to a shocking loss to the lowly Houston Texans.

The Titans went into Sunday's encounter on a six-game winning streak, including victories over the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams.

But that was remarkably ended by the Texans, who claimed only their second win of the season with a 22-13 triumph in sodden conditions.

Ryan Tannehill was intercepted four times, with a Titans attack missing Derrick Henry and Julio Jones scoring just 13 points against a Texans team that has given up the fourth-most (264) in the NFL.

The Titans also lost top receiver A.J. Brown to a chest injury, but neither Vrabel nor Tannehill made any excuses for a dismal offensive showing.

"I think we've seen Ryan perform at a high level," Vrabel said. "Offensive football at any level takes 11 guys.

"There was a lot of good football out there, unfortunately we turned the football over too many times. Our defense battled. Our offense was its own worst enemy."

Tannehill added: "We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot you know?

"Turnovers, turnover on downs, penalties. We shot ourselves in the foot all day. And we got to get better and it starts with me."

The Titans remain in top spot in the AFC with an 8-3 record, but could be unseated by the New England Patriots (7-4) should they lose in Foxborough in Week 12. 

Miami Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said the franchise did their "due diligence" regarding a trade for wantaway Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson before opting not to make a deal.

The Dolphins were reportedly favourites to land Watson before Tuesday's NFL deadline as the three-time Pro Bowler was believed to have been willing to waive his no-trade clause.

It sparked uncertainty over the future of second-year QB Tua Tagovailoa, however, a trade for Watson did not materialise.

Grier was asked about Miami's interest in Watson – who is yet to play this season – on Wednesday and he told reporters midweek: "We never got to a point where anything was going to be realistic in terms of happening.

"It was still us just doing our due diligence, just talking through things. We never got to a point where anything was that close to happening."

Topping 4,000 yards for the second time in his career as he racked up 4,823 to lead the league, Watson threw for 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season.

Fifth in the NFL in air yards per attempt (9.27), according to Stats Perform data, Watson did an excellent job of balancing his aggression with smart decision-making.

Watson threw a pickable pass on just 2.28 per cent of his attempts, the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL last term.

This season, Tagovailoa has 103 completions for 1,040 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions in five games.

"I don't think it's any different than any player on the roster, honestly," Grier said. "Because if there's a player available around the league that's viewed as being one of the top players in the league at any position, I think you look at it and try to go for it.

"We're very happy with Tua. We think he's developing well. Brian has been very consistent with his message, and we have been as well.

"He's working hard, he's showing a lot of improvement and we think he'll continue to develop and be the player he should be."

Watson will remain in Houston until at least the end of the season and Texans GM Nick Caserio added: "The veracity of some of what has been reported is a little bit stretched. But that's just the nature of how these things work.

"There were various levels of discussions, specific to him and specific to other players as well. In the end, there was no trade that came to fruition, so I don't really have any comment about some of the logistics and the mechanics about what happened and what hasn't happened, what did happen."

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson will remain on the team's roster until the end of the season after the disgruntled star was not traded before Tuesday's NFL deadline.

Watson was on the tracking block after requesting a move from the Texans in January as the three-time Pro Bowler faces 22 civil lawsuits that remain unresolved as the NFL conducts its own investigation into sexual assault and misconduct allegations against him.

The Miami Dolphins were reportedly favourites to land Watson, who was believed to have waived his no-trade clause, while the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles had also been interested.

But Watson – who has been inactive during the 2021 season – is staying put after an agreement was not reached prior to the deadline.

Topping 4,000 yards for the second time in his career as he racked up 4,823 to lead the league, Watson threw for 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season.

Fifth in the NFL in air yards per attempt (9.27), according to Stats Perform data, Watson did an excellent job of balancing his aggression with smart decision-making.

Indeed, the 26-year-old threw a pickable pass on just 2.28 per cent of his attempts, the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL last term.

The Pittsburgh Steelers overcame the loss of kicker Chris Boswell for the whole second half as they beat the Cleveland Browns 15-10 on Sunday.

D'Ernest Johnson rushed 10 yards for the game's first touchdown in the third quarter to put Cleveland seemingly in control at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Steelers' chances were already damaged by the loss of Boswell to a concussion following a huge hit from Browns tackle Jordan Elliot, but Najee Harris' touchdown closed the gap to a point.

Ben Roethlisberger threw two yards on fourth down for Pat Freiermuth to earn the decisive score with a little over 11 minutes on the clock.

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett came in costume as the Grim Reaper to mark October 31, his cape inscribed with the names of his sacked quarterbacks, but it was the Steelers' trick play that proved far from a treat in the first half: Boswell took a direct snap from 28 yards and, after rolling right and throwing for the end zone, he took a powerful hit from Elliot.

After rookie Harris had dragged Pittsburgh back into contention following Johnson's score, Roethlisberger, who is now 24-3-1 in career starts against the Browns, made his mark.

The 38-year-old, who finished 22 of 34 for 266 yards, almost saw his two-yard pass fumbled by Freiermuth but the tight end recovered to land both feet in the end zone.

By contrast, Jarvis Landry's handling let him down as he was stripped by Joe Schobert with a little over six minutes left.

The 4-4 Browns will hope for better next time out against the 5-3 Bengals, who were stunned by a New York Jets 34-31 comeback win in which Mike White threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns on his first NFL start.

Rams rout Texans, Lions looking toothless

The Philadelphia Eagles ran in four touchdowns as they snapped a two-game losing streak to crush the Detroit Lions.

As coach of the NFL's only winless team after eight straight defeats, Dan Campbell will head into a bye week to try to arrest a terrible run of results that culminated in Sunday's 44-6 loss, in which the Lions only got on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.

The Houston Texans (1-7) are faring little better, their 38-22 loss to the Los Angeles Rams (7-1) looking only a little more respectable after they ran in 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, Davis Mills throwing for 310 yards and two touchdowns.

49ers down Bears through sensational Samuel

The San Francisco 49ers improved to 3-4 after a 33-22 defeat of the Chicago Bears in which Deebo Samuel set pulses racing with a spectacular 83-yard catch-and-run.

After being denied an apparent touchdown for being ruled out of bounds, Samuel's run still allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to score from two yards out just a handful of plays later to cut the Bears' advantage.

Not only did Samuel produce the Niners' longest play of the season, he passed Jerry Rice for the most receiving yards for the franchise across the first seven games of an NFL season.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into Week 8 with a 6-1 record, though their form will be tested against the New Orleans Saints.

Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns and 211 yards in the Bucs' 38-3 thrashing of the Chicago Bears last week, though Tampa Bay's recent record against the Saints is poor.

The Los Angeles Rams are also 6-1, and are looking to extend their strong start when they take on the Houston Texans, who are out to avoid a franchise first.

Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, meanwhile, have been linking up to superb effect for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are at the New York Jets on Sunday. 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1) @ New Orleans Saints (4-2)

Tampa Bay may have picked up from where they left off last season, but their recent run against New Orleans has not been at all profitable.

New Orleans have won five straight games against NFC South rivals Tampa Bay, which is the longest active losing streak for the Buccaneers against any single opponent.

However, the Bucs did set franchise records for points in a first quarter with 21, and points in a first half with 35, in their 38-3 win over the Bears. The 21 first-quarter and 35 first-half points are also the most scored by any NFL team this season.

Mike Evans caught three touchdowns against the Bears with all of them coming in the first half. He joined Marvin Harrison, Marvin Jones Jr, Jerry Rice, and Sterling Sharpe as the only players since the merger to have multiple games with three first-half touchdown catches.

The Saints beat the Seattle Seahawks in their last outing, and had 35 passing attempts in that win. Both teams have combined to win 76.9 per cent of their games this season, the highest combined winning percentage that the teams have ever had when facing each other.

Los Angeles Rams (6-1) @ Houston Texans (1-6)

This will be only the fifth all-time meeting between the Texans and the Rams, and just the second game since the latter moved back to Los Angeles.

The Rams have outscored the Texans by an aggregate of 71-20 over the last two meetings, and, at 6-1, Los Angeles are enjoying their equal second-best start to a season this century, behind the 7-0 run in 2018.

They are also looking to win each of their first four road games of a season for the fourth time since 2000, having also done this in 2001, 2017 and 2018.

Matthew Stafford has thrown for 2,172 yards this season, the most by any Rams player in the team's first seven games of the season since Kurt Warner threw for 2,445 yards in the first seven games of 2000.

Houston, meanwhile, have lost six straight, with each of the last two losses coming by over 25 points. The Texans have not lost three straight games by at least 25 points in franchise history – the only team to do so in a single season in the last 25 years were the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) @ New York Jets (1-5)

The Bengals have won each of the last three meetings between these teams, matching their longest-ever win streak over the Jets (1973-81). Cincinnati's 23-22 win in New York in 2016 snapped a nine-game losing streak when visiting the Jets.

Cincinnati only managed four wins in 2020, but they surpassed that figure with a brilliant 41-17 victory in Baltimore last week, with quarterback Burrow and wide receiver Chase turning in stellar performances.

Burrow passed for a career-high 416 yards and tied a previous career high with three touchdown passes. It was his seventh consecutive game with multiple TD passes, tying a franchise record set twice before by Carson Palmer (2004-05 and 2010).

Chase, meanwhile, had 201 receiving yards, the most all-time by a Bengals rookie and the most by any rookie since Mike Evans had 209 in 2014. Chase's 754 receiving yards in 2021 ranks are the most by any player through seven career games in NFL history.

The Jets' 54-13 loss to the Patriots last week was their largest defeat since a 45-3 loss in Week 13 of the 2010 season, which also happened in New England. The 54 points are the fourth-most that New York have allowed in a single game and the most since 1980.

Elsewhere...

The Detroit Lions are still winless, going 0-7 so far, but could snap the losing streak against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions have won three straight against Philadelphia, with each of the last two games being decided by three points or fewer. 

Strugglers the Miami Dolphins travel to Buffalo. With two receiving yards on Sunday, Stefon Diggs will reach 2,000 as a Bill in just his 23rd game with the team. That would be tied for the second fewest games needed by any player with any single team in the Super Bowl era (Odell Beckham Jr. – 21 with the Giants, Vincent Jackson – 23 with Tampa Bay, Brandon Marshall – 23 with Chicago).

Fresh from their win over the Jets, the Patriots will aim to maintain the momentum against the Los Angeles Chargers, against whom they have five straight wins and are 16-3 in the last 19 meetings.

An AFC North clash sees the Browns (4-3) host the 3-3 Steelers. Pittsburgh have not won in Cleveland since 2017, as the teams tied in 2018 before the Browns won in 2019 and 2020.

Tua Tagovailoa says he is not worried about trade speculation linking the Miami Dolphins quarterback with a swap for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The 23-year-old quarterback, who is playing in his second season, has been the subject of trade speculation but said he felt reassured after conversations with Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.

The NFL's Tuesday trade deadline is approaching, although Tagovailoa said he was not thinking about it.

"I don't not feel wanted. That's what I could say," Tagovailoa told reporters.

"I really don't think about it. The only time I'm really hearing about it, like I've said before, is if [the communications staff] is kind of telling me what's going on within the rumours or if my agent calls me.

"That's really when I hear it. Other than that, I don't really hear it."

Watson requested a trade from the Texans in January and is facing 22 civil lawsuits that remain unresolved as the NFL conducts its own investigation into sexual assault and misconduct allegations against him.

Tagovailoa, who was pick five in the 2020 NFL Draft, has enjoyed the best two-game stretch of his career to date over the past fortnight, completing 75 per cent of passes for 620 yards and six touchdowns.

The Dolphins are 1-6 this season with Tagovailoa completing 82 of 118 attempts for 835 yards, with seven touchdowns, four interceptions and five sacks across his four starts, having missed time due to a rib injury.

Tagovailoa has shown improvements this season but the Dolphins have been let down in defense, giving up 207 points for the season, the second-highest total in the NFL through Week 7.

The Hawaii-born QB would not be drawn on what was discussed in his conversations with Flores but insisted it reassured him.

"Honestly, I don't base my emotions off of who says anything about me or who is saying what," he said.

"All I can do is my job and do it to the best of my capabilities. Everything else, I mean it's out of my control. But I have the utmost confidence and trust that I am the quarterback of this team, just off of conversations that I've had with Flo and whatnot.

"That obviously stays between us. I feel very confident that I'm the person."

Tagovailoa started nine games in his rookie season, winning six of them as he threw 11 touchdowns to five picks with some steady but unspectacular performances.

It says a lot about how far the flawless Arizona Cardinals have come that they found plenty to critique even after a 31-5 victory over the Houston Texans.

At 7-0 after routing the Texans on Sunday, the Cardinals are the NFL's lone unbeaten team and are off to their best start since 1974. 

For a team that have not won more than eight games in a season since their last trip to the playoffs in 2015, the Cardinals are brimming with confidence heading into a Thursday game against the 6-1 Green Bay Packers.

While quarterback Kyler Murray said he "wasn't too concerned" when the Cardinals came up empty on their first three offensive possessions – which included Arizona star being caught in the end zone for a safety – he noted they cannot make a habit of it. 

"I don't know why, maybe came out a little lax," Murray told a news conference. "I just know we've got to be better, because you get beat if you come out too slow. Sometimes you may not be able to catch up.

"So for us, I know we're better than what we put out there today. We kind of clicked, for the most part, during the middle of game but [Houston] got after us today. I don't want to take anything away from them. Obviously we won by large lead but for the most part offensively, I think, we can be a lot better."

Murray followed up that safety by leading a 14-play touchdown drive that got the Cardinals on the scoreboard and they did not look back from there, leading 17-5 at the half before tacking on two more TDs after the interval. 

Arizona's slow start may also have been attributable to head coach Kliff Kingsbury's return to the sidelines after missing the previous game against the Cleveland Browns following a positive COVID-19 test. 

While the Cardinals had no trouble in that 37-14 blowout, Kingsbury said it took him a while to find his rhythm against the Texans after missing the entire week of practice before he was cleared to coach in the game on Sunday. 

"I felt a little disconnected," he said. "I didn't feel as into the game as I usually am, just showing up on game day, but the players are awesome, great energy and made me feel very welcome to be back."

Murray said he did not pick up on his coach's discomfort but noted that it did not seem to be detrimental. 

"I'm sure he probably felt a little bit off, but we put up 31 today, defence played great," Murray said. "It was a great team win so for him to feel awkward or whatever and then we still put up 31 is a good job and you know we've got to keep it going because the Packers are coming in as a great team."

In his first game with the Cardinals after being acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles, Zach Ertz caught a 47-yard touchdown from Murray – his longest TD of his career.

Ertz also became the first player in NFL history with a receiving touchdown in consecutive weeks for two different teams.

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule vowed to stick with Sam Darnold as his starting quarterback, despite benching the team's top offseason acquisition in a 25-3 defeat to the New York Giants. 

Darnold completed 16 of 25 passes for 111 yards with no touchdowns and an interception and also was sacked three times in the NFL on Sunday.

His intentional grounding penalty in the end zone gave the Giants a safety for their first score of the game. 

Rhule handed the reins to backup P.J. Walker in search of a "spark" early in the fourth quarter, but he was even less effective, connecting on just three of 14 attempts for 33 yards. 

With the NFL's trade deadline looming on November 2, The Athletic reported following the game that the Panthers are expected to engage the Houston Texans in talks about acquiring Deshaun Watson. 

Watson requested a trade following last season and has not played this year after accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced during the offseason.

The 26-year-old quarterback has denied the allegations and remains on Houston's 53-man roster but has been inactive for every game. 

Reports last week said the Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles also were potentially interested in Watson, who has the right to veto any deal. 

Rhule was asked directly about potential interest in Watson on a conference call last week and responded that Darnold was his focus and "I'm not looking anywhere else". 

He maintained his line after the loss to the Giants, despite the Panthers dropping their fourth straight game following a 3-0 start – a slump that has coincided with star running back Christian McCaffrey being out of the line-up due to a hamstring injury. 

"Sam will be our quarterback next week," Rhule said. "He will be our quarterback moving forward.

"We're not winning right now. It's going to take all of us. [Darnold] just needs a lot of help from a lot of guys right now that he's not getting. I see the good moments, too. We're going to keep coaching him."

Tom Brady made history once again as Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rolled past the Chicago Bears 38-3 in NFL action Sunday. 

With a nine-yard strike to Mike Evans in the closing seconds of the first quarter, Brady became the first NFL quarterback to throw 600 touchdown passes.

The 44-year-old – 20-of-36 passing for 211 yards – would finish the game with 602 for his career, all four of his TD tosses going for fewer than 10 yards and three of them landing in Evans' hands. 

Blaine Gabbert took over at quarterback for Brady midway through the fourth quarter with the game well in hand as the Buccaneers improved to 6-1. 

Brady's opposite number, Bears rookie QB Justin Fields, had a brutal day as he was sacked four times and threw three interceptions as Chicago failed to find the end zone. 

Stafford, Rams survive Lions scare

The matchup between Super Bowl contenders the Los Angeles Rams and the winless Detroit Lions finished with the expected result, but the Rams' 28-19 win was much closer than anticipated. 

The Rams (6-1) trailed 19-17 entering the fourth quarter and needed a five-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Cooper Kupp early in the period to take the lead and a 47-yard Matt Gay field goal with just over a minute to play to seal the win. 

Stafford completed 28 of 41 passes for 334 yards and three TDs against the team he played for in the first 12 years of his career, while former Rams QB Jared Goff threw a pair of costly interceptions for the Lions (0-7).

Kupp became the first player in the Super Bowl era to have 800-plus receiving yards and nine-plus receiving touchdowns in his team's first seven games of a season.

While the Lions remained the only winless team in the league after Week 7, the Arizona Cardinals (7-0) maintained their status as the lone team with a perfect record, routing the Houston Texans 31-5 behind three TD passes by Kyler Murray. 

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