NFL notebook: Mixon back in, ailing Bernard out at RB for Bengals

Bengals' Mixon returns in time to face Dolphins© Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Cooney

Running back Joe Mixon is coming back just in time for the Cincinnati Bengals.

With Mixon set to return to the starting lineup for Sunday's matchup against the Miami Dolphins, the Bengals ruled out backup Giovanni Bernard because of a knee injury.

Bernard, who played well in Mixon's two-game absence, is expected to be sidelined for two to four weeks with an MCL sprain, the NFL Network reported.

Mixon sat out the last two games after undergoing a procedure to repair a slight meniscus tear in his right knee. He was hurt in Cincinnati's 34-23 victory over Baltimore in Week 2.

Bernard rushed for 69 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 37-36 victory at Atlanta. He had 61 yards rushing and a score on 12 carries in a Week 3 loss at Carolina. Bernard also had nine receptions in the two games.

A second-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2013, Bernard rushed for at least 680 yards in each of his first three seasons. He is a reliable pass-catching threat out of the backfield with 230 receptions in his first five seasons.

Mixon practiced in a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday but was removed from the team's injury report Friday.

Cincinnati's second-round pick in 2017, Mixon rushed for 84 yards on 21 carries against the Ravens after opening the season with 95 yards and a touchdown on 17 rushes in a win at Indianapolis.

The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Mixon rushed for 626 yards and four touchdowns in addition to catching 30 passes for 287 yards as a rookie.

--Safety Eric Reid will start at safety against the New York Giants on Sunday, head coach Ron Riviera said Friday.

Reid was out of football for nine months after being the subject of controversy when he knelt in protest alongside his teammate and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

"We're going to keep an eye on him," Rivera said. "We'll see how he does the first couple series, try and gauge that, and go from there. We really don't want to overuse him. We want to be smart about it. We want this for the long haul, for hopefully all of the games that we play this year."

Reid, who signed a one-year deal with Carolina last week, practiced with the first-team defense throughout this week and seemed to pick things up quickly. However, conditioning could be an issue because he hasn't played since last season.

Colin Jones and rookie Rashaan Gaulden could rotate in at Reid's spot, but the Panthers had a need at the position after Da'Norris Searcy was placed on injured reserve.

The 26-year-old Reid was selected in the first round (No. 18 overall) by the 49ers in the 2013 draft out of LSU and started all five seasons he was with the team, making the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder has 318 tackles, 34 passes defensed and 10 interceptions in his career.

  • --Punter Marquette King of the Denver Broncos is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the New York Jets because of a right thigh injury and there is speculation that his time with the team might be running short.

The injury apparently occurred during Monday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs, one week after head coach Vance Joseph called King out for a poor performance.

Joseph said he didn't believe King's injury affected his punting and the Broncos added Colby Wadman to the practice squad last week.

"We've got Wadman in the building," Joseph told reporters on Friday. "Obviously, we've got to make a roster move to get him up, so I'll get with (general manager) John (Elway) and we'll figure it out. He's the next option and I'm very comfortable with him if he has to go."

If King cannot play Sunday, the question would be whether he would be inactive, released or placed on injured reserve.

"Anything is possible," Joseph said. "We're trying to win the football game and we've got to have a punter, obviously. We'll see. I'll get with John and we'll decide it."

King was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Oakland Raiders out of Fort Valley State in 2012, led the NFL in punting yardage in 2014 and was selected second-team All-Pro in 2016.

In 2016, the Raiders signed King to a five-year, $16.5 million contract extension with $12.5 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $250,000, but this year he reportedly clashed with new head coach Jon Gruden and was released in March.

King signed with the Broncos in April and after averaging 46.8 yards per punt in his career, he is at 44.1 in four games this season, including 41.0 in each of the last two games.

  • --The Kansas City Chiefs on Friday listed wide receiver Sammy Watkins as questionable for Sunday's game at Arrowhead Stadium against the Jacksonville Jaguars because of a hamstring injury.

Watkins was injured during the second quarter of Monday night's victory over the Denver Broncos and has been a limited participant in practice every other day this week for the AFC West-leading Chiefs (4-0).

Against the Broncos, Watkins did not catch a pass after quarterback Patrick Mahomes found him 14 times for 176 yards and a touchdown in the first three games. He also has carried the ball three times for 51 yards.

Watkins, who has a history of injuries, is expected to be a game-time decision on Sunday.

The 25-year-old Watkins, selected by the Buffalo Bills with the fourth overall pick of the 2014 draft out of Clemson, signed a three-year, $48 million contract with the Chiefs after spending two seasons with the Bills and one with the Los Angeles Rams.

For his career, the 6-foot-1, 211-pounder has 206 receptions for 3,128 yards and 26 touchdowns.

The Chiefs also listed safety Eric Berry (heel) as doubtful to play against the Jaguars, and defensive end Dee Ford and defensive back Armani Watts are questionable because of groin injuries.

  • --As Le'Veon Bell remains away from the Pittsburgh Steelers, a report Friday detailed the team's contract offer to the star running back in July.

The Steelers were set to give Bell a contract worth $47 million for three years in July, Pro Football Talk reported, citing a league source.

During the time leading up to the deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign a long-term deal, Bell reportedly rejected a five-year, $70 million contract. The NFL Network reported at the time that a $10 million signing bonus was the only portion of the deal that was fully guaranteed.

However, Pro Football Talk reported that under the three-year proposal, Bell would receive a $10 million signing bonus and a $10 million roster bonus. The second bonus would not apply only if Pittsburgh cut Bell days after signing him.

Instead, Bell has stayed away from the team and refused to sign his $14.54 million franchise tender. ESPN reported that Bell plans to return to the team between Weeks 7 and 8.

"It (stinks) having to sit out football," Bell told ESPN. "I want to play. I want to win games and the playoffs. But I've gotta take this stand. Knowing my worth and knowing I can tear a ligament or get surgery at any time, I knew I couldn't play 16 games with 400 or more touches."

Pittsburgh has been exploring trading options for Bell and has been asking a steep price, notably at least a second-round draft pick in addition to another a "good" player, according to the NFL Network.

However, Bell cannot be traded without signing his franchise tender. The Steelers are off to a 1-2-1 start without their star running back.

Pittsburgh rushed for 19 yards during a 26-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night. Ben Roethlisberger was limited to 50 passing yards in the second half of that game.

James Conner, the replacement for Bell, had a monstrous season debut with 135 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 31 carries in a season-opening 21-21 tie at Cleveland.

However, Conner was limited to 97 yards rushing on 32 carries in his next three games.

  • --The Cincinnati Bengals activated Vontaze Burfict to the roster, clearing the way for the veteran linebacker to make his season debut Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

The Bengals cleared a roster spot by placing tight end Tyler Eifert on injured reserve five days after he sustained a gruesome ankle injury in last week's win at Atlanta.

Burfict missed the first four games while serving a suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substance policy. He was also suspended to begin the 2016 and 2017 campaigns for violations of the league's player safety rules.

"I'm happy to be back, but I enjoyed the little vacation; happy to be 3-1," Burfict told reporters in the team's locker room on Friday. "I think we're doing a lot of things right. I feel like every game I've played in the NFL, it's always two or three plays on defense -- you can't be perfect the whole game -- I feel like we mess up two or three plays a game and it affects us.

"Last year, when we messed up only two or three plays they didn't score and I would say this year sometimes they're scoring. So we just got to fix the little minor errors and I think we'll be all right."

The 27-year-old Burfict has played 16 games in a season once, when he received his only Pro Bowl selection by establishing career highs with 177 tackles and 3.0 sacks.

Despite the fact that he has missed 28 games in the last four seasons, Burfict said one of his biggest impacts on the lineup is as a "vocal leader" of the defense.

"Understanding what's going to happen, just my little two cents can help," said Burfict, who praised the intelligence of fellow linebacker Preston Brown. "Two minds is better than one."

Burfict's immense talents have been offset by his volatile play on the field. He served a three-game suspension to open the 2017 season for an illegal hit on Kansas City's Anthony Sherman in a preseason game.

His most infamous transgression was a hit to the head of Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown in a 2015 wild-card game, resulting in a personal foul that helped the Steelers drive for a game-winning field goal. That led to a three-game ban to start the 2016 season.

Eifert's injury was the latest physical setback in a star-crossed career. He was taken off the field on a cart after his right ankle twisted in an awkward way when he was dragged to the ground by Falcons linebacker De'Vondre Campbell.

An air cast was placed on his lower leg, and Eifert was carted off the field with tears in his eyes.

Eifert has missed 41 games of a possible 80 in his first five years. He played in only one game in 2014 and only two games in 2017. When Eifert is healthy, he is a reliable scoring threat, having caught 21 touchdowns, including a career-high 13 during his 2015 Pro Bowl season.

A first-round pick out of Notre Dame in the 2013 Draft, Eifert has 142 receptions in 43 games.

  • --Quarterback Andrew Luck's surgically repaired shoulder is getting more of a test than either he or the Indianapolis Colts envisioned.

Luck missed the entire 2017 season while rehabbing from shoulder surgery and there were speculation that the injury could threaten both this season and his career.

Through the first five games of the season, Luck has held up well -- despite Indianapolis' 1-4 record and the fact that he is on pace to set the NFL record for passes in a season.

The Colts found themselves facing a big early deficit for the second time in as many games in Thursday's 38-24 loss to the New England Patriots.

Forced to play catch-up, Luck went to the air 59 times against the Patriots, completing 34 passes for three touchdowns and two interceptions.

That came four days after Luck threw for four touchdowns and a career-high 464 yards in a 37-34 overtime loss to the Houston Texans.

Luck was 40 of 62 against Houston, giving him a staggering 121 pass attempts in a five-day span.

"It's a lot," Luck told reporters after Thursday's loss. "We know we need balance. Football's not rocket science. You need to be able to run the ball well to help protect your passing game. We'll keep working at it and we have no excuses for it. We've got to get better. Everybody, including me, in it."

Luck is averaging 49 passes per game and is on pace to attempt 784 passes this season -- the league record is 727 by Detroit's Matt Stafford. He also is on pace for 521 completions, which would eclipse the previous mark of 471 held by Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.

  • --New England quarterback Tom Brady threw his 500th career touchdown pass in the Patriots' 38-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday.

Brady's milestone toss -- a 34-yarder to newly acquired wide receiver Josh Gordon -- came with 9:39 remaining and gave New England a 31-17 lead. Brady was 34 of-44 passing for 341 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Brady joins Peyton Manning (539) and Brett Favre (508) in the exclusive club. New Orleans' Drew Brees (496) could become the fourth member as early as Monday when the Saints host the Washington Redskins.

Brees, who turns 40 in January, and Brady, 41, appear likely to pass Manning. Brady has said that he hopes to play through the 2022 season.

"I think 45 is a pretty good number for right now," Brady told ESPN in 2017. "I know the effort it takes to be 40 ... My love for the sport will never go away. I don't think at 45 it will go away.

"At some point, everybody moves on. Some people don't do it on their terms. I feel I want it to be on my terms. I've got to make appropriate choices on how to do that, how to put myself in the best position to reach my long-term goals."

  • --The Green Bay Packers provided some clarity on the status of their top three wide receivers.

The Packers on Friday ruled out Randall Cobb for Sunday's NFC North matchup at the Detroit Lions but are still holding out hope for fellow wideouts Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison.

Adams, who had to exit Wednesday's practice after injuring a calf, will attempt to practice Saturday, coach Mike McCarthy said, per multiple media outlets.

McCarthy also said "there's hope" that Allison would be available Sunday, even though he remains in the NFL concussion protocol.

Adams leads the teams in receptions (28) and touchdowns (3) and has at least five catches in each of Green Bay's four games.

Allison has been the team's best deep threat with a team-high 289 yards on 19 catches to go along with two touchdowns. He had six receptions for 80 yards in a 22-0 win over Buffalo last week.

Cobb will sit out his second straight game with a hamstring injury. He has 17 catches in three games, including nine for 142 yards and a score in the season opener.

Behind the ailing trio, tight end Jimmy Graham is the Packers' top receiving threat with 16 receptions, 169 yards and one score.

Green Bay also has a trio of rookies at wideout in Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J'Mon Moore and Equanimeous St. Brown. Valdez-Scantling is the only player with a catch this season, and he has just one reception for 41 yards.

Running back Ty Montgomery, a converted wide receiver who has 11 catches this season, also could line up wide.