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Pistons top East-leading Celtics on the road 118-108

BOSTON (AP) — Andre Drummond scored 26 points with 22 rebounds — both season highs — and Tobias Harris scored 31 to lead the Detroit Pistons to a 118-108 victory on Monday night and send the Celtics to their first loss in Boston since their home opener.

Drummond had 10 rebounds in the first quarter and 11 points in the last 5:36 to help Detroit win the matchup of old-school rivals who are once again the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Reggie Jackson scored 20 points with seven assists for the Pistons, who have won three of their last four.

Marcus Smart scored 23 points, making 6 of 9 from 3-point range, and Kyrie Irving had 18 with nine assists for the Celtics. Boston has lost two of four since a 16-game winning streak.

Detroit led by 11 points in the first quarter, but it was tied 100-all with 5:36 left before the Pistons pulled away thanks to eight straight points from Drummond. With just over three minutes left, the Pistons center stole a lazy inbound pass at midcourt and drove for the dunk, drawing a foul from Irving.

The three-point play made it 109-102.

It was 114-108 when Smart’s long, leaning 3-point attempt rimmed out with 34 seconds left.

SLOW STARTS

The Celtics fell behind 16-6 in the opening minutes, continuing a trend of early deficits. Detroit led 31-23 after the first quarter, but Boston scored the first eight points of the second to tie it.

A seven-point Detroit lead in the third quarter was quickly erased, but then the Pistons responded with eight straight points and the Celtics matched that, too.

FACE TIME

Already wearing a mask because of a broken bone in his face, Irving had to check in with the trainer in the game’s opening minutes after getting hit in the mouth. He did not need to come out of the game.

TIP-INS

Drummond added six assists and four steals. He’s the first player with that many points, rebounds, assists and steals since Charles Barkley on Jan. 20, 1990, according to NBA.com. … Avery Bradley, who played seven seasons in Boston before being traded to open cap space for Gordon Hayward, received a standing ovation when a video tribute was played during the pregame introductions. … Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski sat courtside. … The 118 points allowed was a season high for the Celtics. … Bradley was 4 for 12 after hitting his first three shots.

UP NEXT

Pistons: Host Phoenix on Wednesday night.

Celtics: Host Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Takeaways: LeBron James, Cavaliers teach upstart 76ers a lesson

CLOSE

SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick, Jeff Zillgitt and AJ Neuharth-Keusch break down the roller coaster seasons of the Cavaliers and Thunder. USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA – The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 113-91 in a hyped Eastern Conference matchup. Here are key takeaways from Cleveland’s victory:

LeBron’s James did what he does: Putting together one of the best seasons of his career on the verge of turning 33 years old, James had 30 points (in 31 minutes), 13 rebounds and six assists. He shot 12-of-22 from the field, including 3-of-7 on three-pointers. He scored 22 of his points in the first half including 15 in the first quarter.

Cavs defending: Cleveland held the Sixers to 37.5% shooting, including 10.7% (3-for-28) on three-pointers. The Sixers missed all 11 three-point attempts in the first half. In the previous seven games – all Cavs victories – they allowed 101.8 points per 100 possessions, a considerable improvement over their season average of 108.9 points allowed per 100 possessions. The Cavs are far from the best defensive team in the league, but their improvement during this eight-game winning streak is noticeable.

Sixers’ young players get a lesson: Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are outstanding. But they learned just how difficult it is to beat a team like Cleveland. Embiid had 30 points and 11 rebounds, but he was just 11-of-24 from the field. Simmons, who sprained his right ankle, had 11 points and eight rebounds but just two assists. Before the game, Sixers coach Brett Brown shut down the Simmons-James comparison. He said it was reckless to compare a future Hall of Famer – one of the best to ever play in the NBA – to a guy playing in his first NBA season. “Ask me later, a few years from now,” Brown said before the game.

Grizzlies’ David Fizdale firing reinforces how NBA is star-driven league

Week 6 NBA power rankings: Cavaliers continue to climb, 76ers join top 10

Three ball makes a difference: It’s difficult beating any NBA team with just three three-pointers. And even more difficult against the one of the league’s best three-point shooting teams. Robert Covington missed his nine three-point attempts, J.J. Redick was 1-of-4 and Dario Saric was 0-of-3. The Cavs made 15 threes and shot 40.5% from that distance. Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith were each 3-for-5 on threes, and Channing Frye made 2-of-3.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter. 

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Aqib Talib, Michael Crabtree each suspended 2 games

Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree were each suspended two games by the NFL on Monday for their roles in a scuffle that led to both players being ejected from Sunday’s game, the league announced.

Both Talib and Crabtree will appeal the suspension, sources informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The suspensions are a result of violations of unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness rules during the game.

Talib and Crabtree were ejected in the first quarter of the Raiders21-14 win after getting into an on-field fight. Broncos cornerback Chris Harris alleges Crabtree sucker punched him the play before Talib and Crabtree got into their altercation. Both Talib and Crabtree were given unnecessary roughness penalties. Raiders guard Gabe Jackson also was ejected after making contact with an official during the incident.

For the second straight year, Talib and Crabtree got into an in-game altercation that involved the star defensive back pulling off Crabtree’s gold necklace. Sunday’s altercation was much more heated than last year’s, however, with the two engaging in a push-pull match that ended up knocking over at least a couple people standing on the sideline before they were swarmed by Broncos players. After being briefly separated, both players broke away from teammates and threw punches at one another.

In his letter to Crabtree notifying him of the suspension, NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan wrote:

“The series of flagrant violations for which you are being disciplined began with 12:31 remaining in the first quarter — less than three minutes into the game. First, you punched a Broncos opponent Chris Harris in the midsection, resulting in him being removed from the game. Then, on the subsequent play, you blocked a different Broncos opponent (Aqib Talib) into the sidelines beyond the yellow media border, well after the play was over. Your actions triggered a melee and endangered various sideline and league personnel, including one of our game officials who was injured trying to maintain control of the situation. Finally, during the ensuing altercation, you grabbed and twisted that same opponent’s facemask and threw a punch at him … Such actions have no place in this game, engender ill will between teams, and lead to further confrontations.”

Talib said he wasn’t trying to retaliate or defend Harris for what allegedly happened a play earlier.

“If you see the play, I didn’t defend Chris,” Talib said. “He punched Chris, next play he came [and] punched me. So, I mean, so he was on whatever he was on. So, I wasn’t even defending Chris this time, it wasn’t a problem.”

In his letter to Talib, Runyan wrote:

“The series of flagrant violations for which you are being disciplined began less than three minutes into the game. First, while competing on the field of play, you deliberately ripped your opponent’s chain from his neck just as you did last year when you played against him. Then, when the two of you went to the ground after a subsequent play, you aggressively removed his helmet and threw it in his direction, endangering him and various sideline personnel in the near vicinity. Finally, once you were momentarily separated from your opponent, you again engaged him and threw a punch. … Such actions have no place in this game, engender ill will between teams, and lead to further confrontations.”

Crabtree will miss games against the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs and Talib will miss games against the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. Both will be eligible to return to their respective active rosters on Dec. 11.

Raiders’ Michael Crabtree and Broncos’ Aqib Talib suspended 2 games for fight

The NFL announced Monday night that it has suspended Oakland Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib two games apiece without pay for their fight in Sunday’s game.

Sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter that both players will appeal the suspensions.

Talib, Crabtree and Raiders guard Gabe Jackson were ejected with 11 minutes, 47 seconds left in the first quarter of Sunday’s game. Talib and Crabtree were ejected for fighting, and Jackson was ejected for making contact with an official.

Jackson was not suspended.

On a second-and-6 play from the Raiders’ 24-yard line on Oakland’s second possession of the game, Crabtree blocked Talib during a 5-yard run by Marshawn Lynch. Crabtree kept pushing Talib out of bounds near the Broncos’ bench area.

Talib and Crabtree then exchanged shoves before they threw punches at each other. Talib said Monday that Crabtree threw a punch at him first. As he did in a game last season, Talib ripped a necklace off Crabtree during the fight.

Several other players from both teams joined in along the Broncos’ sideline. Talib eventually got ahold of Crabtree’s helmet, pulling it out of a crowd, and he tossed it toward the stands.

“I came out there to play football on Sunday. I don’t really know what he came out there to do. … He came out here on this extra stuff, so one thing led to another,” Talib said Monday. “It’s unfortunate. I wish it didn’t happen, but it happened, so just have to move on.”

After initially being removed from the group, Talib and Crabtree reignited things in the end zone.

“The second half of it could have definitely been defused,” Talib said. “That’s what I’m disappointed about, the second half of it. The first half, that was him being extra. That’s what he wanted. He didn’t want to play that game, he wanted to come out and wrestle all day.”

Asked whether he believed he would be fined or suspended by the league — or both — Talib said he hoped the entire incident would be considered.

“I hope the league sees how it started. … I didn’t come out there to fight or wrestle with him,” Talib said.

ESPN’s Jeff Legwold and Paul Gutierrez contributed to this report.

Raiders’ Michael Crabtree, Broncos’ Aqib Talib suspended 2 games for fight

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and Oakland Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree have each been suspended for two games one day after the two players were ejected from Sunday’s game for fighting.

Both players plan to appeal the suspensions. If upheld, Talib would be suspended for the Broncos’ games against the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, while Crabtree would be suspended for the Raiders’ games against the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs.

NFL vice president of operations Jon Runyan announced the suspensions Monday night, and each player was notified in writing. In his letter to Talib, Runyan referenced Talib ripping a chain off Crabtree’s neck, “aggressively” removing Crabtree’s helmet and throwing a punch, and the two players “reigniting” the fight for a second confrontation. Runyan added, “Such actions have no place in this game, engender ill will between teams and lead to further confrontations.”

In his letter to Crabtree, Runyan cited the wide receiver for punching Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. in the stomach on the play that preceded the fight with Talib and said Crabtree’s actions with Talib “triggered a melee and endangered various sideline and League personnel, including one of the Game Officials who was injured trying to maintain control of the situation.”

Earlier Monday, Broncos coach Vance Joseph called Talib’s actions “unacceptable.” Talib said he hoped the NFL would consider “how it started” before handing down any potential discipline.

Talib, Crabtree and Raiders guard Gabe Jackson were ejected with 11:47 remaining in the first quarter Sunday. Talib and Crabtree were ejected for fighting, and Jackson was ejected for making contact with an official.

Joseph said he addressed the incident at Monday’s team meeting.

“It’s unacceptable. We can’t do it,” he said.

“We can’t lose our best corner in a game like that,” he continued. “It obviously hurt us down the stretch. I told our guys, if we can defuse those things, we have to defuse them. We can’t fall into the trap of getting into a fight that ends up losing one of our best players. We can’t do it.”

Meanwhile, in Oakland, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said earlier Monday that he had yet to speak with Crabtree.

“I’ll see him tomorrow,” Del Rio said.

Del Rio also said at the time that he didn’t anticipate Crabtree or Jackson would be suspended.

“That’s for the league to decide,” Del Rio said of Crabtree. “I would hope not. Based on what I saw, I wouldn’t think there would be that type of reaction.”

Del Rio took to Twitter to share his thoughts after the suspensions were announced.

On a second-and-6 play from the Raiders’ 24-yard line on Oakland’s second possession of the game, Crabtree blocked Talib during a 5-yard run by Marshawn Lynch. Crabtree kept pushing Talib out of bounds near the Broncos’ bench area.

Talib and Crabtree then exchanged shoves before they threw punches at each other. Talib said Monday that Crabtree threw a punch at him first. As he did in a game last season, Talib ripped a chain off Crabtree before the fight.

Because of the previous incident, Crabtree had taped the chain to his body before the game, sources told Schefter. Talib still got it.

Several other players from both teams joined in along the Broncos’ sideline. Talib eventually got a hold of Crabtree’s helmet, pulling it out of a crowd, and tossed it toward the stands.

“I came out there to play football on Sunday. I don’t really know what he came out there to do. … He came out here on this extra stuff, so one thing led to another,” Talib said Monday. “It’s unfortunate. I wish it didn’t happen, but it happened, so just have to move on.”

After initially being removed from the group, Talib and Crabtree reignited things in the end zone.

“The second half of it could have definitely been defused,” Talib said. “That’s what I’m disappointed about — the second half of it. The first half, that was him being extra. That’s what he wanted. He didn’t want to play that game. He wanted to come out and wrestle all day.”

Asked whether he believed he would be fined or suspended by the league — or both — Talib said he hoped the entire incident would be considered.

“I hope the league sees how it started. … I didn’t come out there to fight or wrestle with him,” Talib said.

Harris said following the game that Crabtree punched him in the stomach one play before the fight between Talib and Crabtree. Harris stayed down on the field after the play “because I lost my mind” and then, as he walked off the field, motioned toward the Raiders’ bench that Crabtree had punched him.

“I didn’t defend Chris. [Crabtree] punched Chris,” Talib said. “Next play he came and punched me. So he was on his whatever he was on.”

Crabtree did not address the media, but fellow Raiders receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said he was not surprised by the fight.

“We all knew it was going to happen,” Patterson said. “It was just a matter of time, when. Everybody was ready, prepared for it.

“I don’t beef on the football field. I love my money too much. You start fighting, you get fined and get kicked out the next week and losing all that money. I really ain’t got time for that, man. So I just go out there and just try to make friends with everybody.”

Del Rio deflected when asked whether, considering the history Crabtree has with Talib, he had spoken with his receiver about keeping his emotions in check before the game.

“We were all about finding a way to beat the Broncos,” Del Rio said. “That’s all.”

Joseph said Monday afternoon that he wouldn’t consider any additional discipline for Talib and would wait for the NFL to hand something down. Talib was suspended for one game in the 2015 season for poking then-Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen in the eye.

“I’m not sure how it all started,” Joseph said. “If the league steps in and they hand something down, that’s their decision. Internally? No because I’m not sure how it all started. And when those things start … it’s a fine line between once it starts, not defending yourself.

“I told our guys I don’t want it, but once it happens, how does a guy not defend himself? Punches are being thrown, helmets are off. I don’t want it to happen, but if it does happen, you can’t blame a man for defending himself. I want our guys to simply defuse and walk away. That’s what I want.”

ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez contributed to this report.

LeBron James, Cavaliers win eighth straight

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LeBron James procures a rebound in the corner, then fires a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer against the 76ers.

PHILADELPHIA — The once ridiculed and now widely praised “process” being embarked upon by the 76ers adjusted its gaze from the hope of future glory to a litmus test in the present on Monday, when the current kings of the Eastern Conference came to town.

And LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers thwarted the Sixers’ attempt to wrest the crown from atop their heads, as determined as it might have been.

“This is like NBA royalty,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said before the game. “And you don’t back away from it. You’re not intimidated by it. You embrace it. I said a while ago, the group isn’t coming here looking for autographs. We’re here to win a game.”

Cleveland won, however, 113-91, recording its eighth straight victory — despite the All-Star point guard it traded for in the offseason donning street clothes, the former MVP point guard it signed in the summer on a self-imposed exile and its starting shooting guard reeling from the death of a family member.

And those plucky processors from Philly put a scare in yet another championship contender; the only losses in the Sixers’ past seven games are to the Cavs and the Golden State Warriors.

James finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Dwyane Wade tallied 15 points as one of three Cavs bench players scoring in double digits.

The Cleveland defense held Philadelphia to just 37.5 percent shooting from the field. The 76ers shot 10.7 percent from 3 (3-of-28), the second-lowest mark by any team that has taken at least 20 attempts in a game this season. Philadelphia entered Monday’s contest averaging 11 3-pointers per game.

The hype machine was in full effect for the matchup, with the Wells Fargo Center as alive as it has been since Allen Iverson was in his prime. There was an increased presence in James’ business associates than you would find at a typical non-New York, non-Los Angeles road game — with James’ agent, Rich Paul, sitting courtside across from the Cavs bench, and James’ partner, Maverick Carter, sitting courtside next to the Sixers’ substitutes there to watch the four-time MVP against the leading candidate for NBA Rookie of the Year in Ben Simmons.

“It’s not about me vs. Ben,” James said at shootaround. “It’s about the Cavs vs. the 76ers.”

The story of the game really became about Wade vs. the 76ers’ bench, however. And during a key sequence in the fourth quarter, it became about Wade and James vs. Joel Embiid.

Wade blocked the Sixers center on one end, and James, matched up with him on the perimeter on the other end and calmly dropped in a 3-pointer over the 7-footer to put the Cavs up by 17 with 6:45 remaining in the game. James punctuated the play with something to say to Embiid, causing the big man to drop his head at first, before flashing a smile back at James as he walked to the bench.

Before the Cavs’ duo put the finishing touches on the win, it was Wade who set the Cavs’ night up for success, fueling a 10-0 Cleveland run to finish the first quarter. The total bench scoring for the game was 57-30 in Cleveland’s favor.

Embiid made things interesting in the third quarter, scoring 16 of his 30 points to cut a once 14-point Cavs lead down to just three, but Cleveland was back up by 13 to start the fourth quarter.

By the time the Sixers announced halfway through the fourth that Simmons’ night was over early after a meager (by his standards, at least) 10-point, eight-rebound output, thanks to a right ankle sprain, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue had already pulled his starters with the victory already comfortably secured.

JR Smith, visibly shaken before the game after the death of his cousin, had 11 points on 4 for 6 shooting and was greeted by hugs when he came to the bench.

And the present, at least for a night, prevailed over the process.

The Grizzlies fired David Fizdale, but that won’t solve their problems

David Fizdale was fired as coach of the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday afternoon, a decision that sent shockwaves through the NBA even as Memphis is mired in the middle of an eight-game losing streak and sits in 12th place in the Western Conference.

This move was entirely unexpected. Memphis is playing without one of its two best players, point guard Mike Conley, who is out indefinitely with Achilles’ soreness. With him, Memphis is 7-5, including two wins over the Houston Rockets and another over the Golden State Warriors. Without him, though, Memphis is 0-7, including losses to the Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets at home.

So why, then, was Fizdale let go? It seems, more than anything else, a classic case of losing a power struggle, and, as a result, losing your job.

Fizdale benched center Marc Gasol in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 98-88 loss to the Nets — a tough decision to make under most circumstances, given Gasol’s importance to the team, but especially when your team is trying to snap a seven-game losing streak at home. After the game, Gasol didn’t mince words about how he felt.

“I do not know the why,” Gasol told reporters Sunday about not playing down the stretch.

“It’s a first for me, trust me, and I don’t like it one bit. I’m more [ticked] than I can show and frustrated.”

Then there was this: “If I’m not on the floor, then I’m not valued. I’m sure [the coaching staff] knew that would hurt me the most.”

It appears the Grizzlies’ front office and ownership heard those comments loud and clear and decided to clear the air by telling Fizdale to clear out his office Monday. In truth, though, those comments were only the culmination of what has been a tense relationship between the two for some time, perhaps going all the way back to last December, when Fizdale said after a loss to Boston he was “really down on our leadership.”

On a team clearly led by Conley and Gasol, there’s little doubt who that was a shot at, and Gasol appears to have never forgotten it.

Even with those issues between Gasol and Fizdale, though, moving on from the coach will do nothing to actually improve the situation in Memphis. The Grizzlies came into this season attempting to try to replicate what they did last year: coax another pair of stellar seasons out of Conley and Gasol (who, it should be said, were terrific under Fizdale last season) and get enough production from a mix-and-match supporting cast to sneak into one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

Instead, Conley is hurt, Gasol’s shooting numbers are down and Memphis hasn’t gotten enough production from those other players. The result?

“You can stick a fork in them,” said one scout, a comment that was made even before Fizdale’s firing was announced.

And that’s where the real trouble starts for Memphis. Conley, Gasol and Chandler Parsons are owed a combined $78.8 million next season and, presuming Gasol picks up the option on the fifth year of his deal in 2019-2020, will be owed north of $83 million the following season. That’s given Memphis no flexibility to fill in the roster around them.

It’s what makes Parsons leaving Sunday’s game with a recurrence of pain in his right knee (he could be seen on camera wincing after making a play in the first half) so damaging to the Grizzlies’ hopes of keeping this era in franchise history alive. Memphis took a chance on Parsons rediscovering the talent he displayed earlier in his career, and it outbid Portland for his services by offering him a maximum contract.

That, so far, looks like it will be a complete disaster.

Memphis would have been able to offset that, though, if the Grizzlies could support Conley and Gasol with some young talent. And, highlighting another reason for the troubles in Memphis, they have very little.

The Grizzlies haven’t had a single first-round pick reach a second contract with the team since Conley himself was drafted 10 years ago. Wade Baldwin, their first-round pick last year, was cut at the end of training camp and later signed a two-way deal with Portland. The only other former first-round pick on the roster, 2015 selection Jarell Martin, was rumored to be on his way out in training camp only to survive and make the roster, but he is only a bit player.

It is difficult to construct a contender in a small market like Memphis even if you find stars and draft well to surround them. It becomes impossible if you do one but not the other.

The question now for Memphis is what comes next? The Grizzlies have their first-round pick this season, but starting next year they will have to give up a first-rounder to Boston sometime in the following three years because of the ill-fated Jeff Green trade back in 2015 (that pick is top-eight protected in 2019, top-six protected in 2020 and unprotected in 2021).

Trying to find a taker for Gasol and Conley would make some sense, but trying to move on from either of them is going to be extremely difficult. While both are talented players, their ages (Gasol will be 33 in January; Conley turned 30 in October) will give teams pause, as will the money remaining on their contracts (roughly $72 million over three years for Gasol, assuming he picks up that option, and $126 million over the next four years for Conley if he picks up the option on his deal).

Plus, firing Fizdale would seem to indicate that, at least for now, the players involved aren’t going anywhere.

The truth is, though, that this is what Memphis signed up for when it re-signed Gasol in 2015 and Conley in 2016. Residing in a small market that had seen unprecedented success with a talented core full of vibrant personalities made the Grizzlies beloved in the city and its surrounding environs, and Memphis chose to keep its stars intact instead of settling into a long, arduous rebuild with no assurances of success.

It was, and remains, a perfectly defensible decision. Such runs of success don’t happen every day and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But signing aging stars to large contracts in small markets can come back to haunt teams down the road.

And while Memphis moved on from David Fizdale on Monday afternoon, that won’t mean the end of the pain for the Grizzlies. Not by a long shot.

Texans vs. Ravens 2017 live results: Score updates and highlights from ‘Monday Night Football’

Ravens 17, Texans 10 Baltimore made a last-minute drive to get some points before the break, but Flacco couldn’t get the ball any closer than the 35-yard line. Of course, Justin Tucker is money from long distance and made a 53-yard attempt look easy.

Ravens 14, Texans 10 Despite losing Miller, the Texans got a handful of critical third-down conversions to get in field goal range towards the end of the half, with huge plays from Hopkins and Alfred Blue. A roughing-the-passer call and Ellington screen put them at the 4-yard line, but they couldn’t find a touchdown and settled for the 25-yard field goal.

Miller went down in a heap after getting shoved out of bounds and left the game with a leg injury, in what would be a significant loss for the Texans. D’Onta Foreman is already out for the year and newly claimed Andre Ellington is inactive.

Ravens 14, Texans 7 The Ravens went for it on fourth down and flipped the ball outside to Alex Collins, who took it 28 yards down to to the 8. Collins hit paydirt on the next play and Baltimore now has 14 unanswered points.

Savage, who’s been surprisingly decent for most of the game, made his first terrible mistake, throwing an interception straight into double coverage. The Ravens have all the momentum now.

Texans 7, Ravens 7 Business picked up after the fake punt. Javorious Allen dragged about half the Texan’s defense into the end zone and finally got Baltimore some points, tying this game up.

The Ravens’ offense stalled at midfield again, but John Harbaugh whipped out a fake punt that worked perfectly. Truly an elite throw by Sam Koch.

Houston punted again, with the offense grinding to a halt after a promising opening drive.

Not much happened to close out the quarter, but the Ravens broke out this nifty sack dance after Terrell Suggs dropped Savage.

As if the Ravens’ offense didn’t have enough problems, left tackle Ronnie Stanley went down with an injury.

Baltimore got into enemy territory with an important third-down conversion, as Mike Wallace took a short slant 24 yards. However, they went backwards with a pair of bad plays and the crowd started booing as they punted from midfield.

Texans 7, Ravens 0 The Texans got deep into scoring position, thanks to big passes from Savage to DeAndre Hopkins and Bruce Ellington. Hopkins later drew pass interference on Brandon Carr, setting up Houston at the 4-yard line. Lamar Miller punched it in to get the Texans on the board.

The Ravens went three-and-out after Jadeveon Clowney made his presence felt, forcing Flacco into a bad pass on third down.

The Baltimore Ravens have been as up-and-down as any team in football season, but at 5-5 they’re still alive and well in the playoff race. They’ll try to get back over .500 when they take on the Houston Texans Monday night at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN (live stream at WatchESPN).

The Ravens’ defense is the chief reason why they have five wins. They have three shutout victories this season, the most recent one being a 23-0 win over the Green Bay Packers last week. That defense has been good enough to keep the Ravens competitive, even while Joe Flacco scuffles through a career-worst season.

Through ten games, Flacco has a paltry nine touchdown passes, while throwing 11 interceptions and averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. He also has three lost fumbles on the year. The Ravens’ offense has become a station-to-station unit, leaning on Alex Collins and Javorious Allen in the run game while utilizing short dumpoff passes and relying on Justin Tucker to score points. It’s probably not a sustainable formula, but the defense gives Baltimore a puncher’s chance of playing in January.

The Texan’s dream season evaporated in a flash when Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in practice. They’ve gone 1-2 without Watson, while Tom Savage remains one of the worst starting quarterbacks in football.

Savage was actually not terrible last week, guiding the Texans to a 31-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals. However, he threw an interception and got strip-sacked again, which has become a common theme for the lead-footed Savage. Over five games, he already has six lost fumbles and three interceptions, showing a total lack of care with the ball.

Quarterback isn’t the only position with injury woes. Running back D’onta Foreman tore his Achilles, leaving the run game without a change-of-pace back. Will Fuller is still out with a rib injury and DeAndre Hopkins (the reason Savage looked semi-good last week) is questionable with a foot ailment. It’s been that kind of year for the Texans, who were close to building something special before everyone got hurt.

At 4-6, Houston isn’t out of the Wild Card race yet. In fact, they can pick up an important head-to-head tiebreaker with a win over Baltimore. But that might be easier said than done with the Ravens’ defense licking its chops against Savage.

Regardless, Baltimore needs their offense to be more aggressive. The Ravens ‘dink and dunk’ offense is not working . The wild-card race is starting to heat up and Baltimore will desperately need their offense to come alive in the final stretch of the season.

  • It’s tempting to compare this Ravens team to the 2015 Denver Broncos, but they’re not nearly the same team.

All in all, the 2017 Ravens and 2015 Broncos both were built on defense leading the team. However, Denver’s 2015 offense at least provided some help along the way to the Super Bowl. The offense of the 2017 Ravens has provided no such aid to the defense. The Ravens offensive shortcomings are significantly more pronounced than that Broncos team. No matter how well the Ravens defense plays, if the Ravens offense stays this bad, then the Ravens will get nowhere in the playoffs, if they even make it. In the Ravens’ five wins this season, only once has the opponent scored more than 10 points (17 for the Raiders in Week 5). The defense can’t be expected to pitch a shutout every week. This defense is good, but it’s not historically good. The defense can’t take the Ravens anywhere alone.

There is a certain artistic merit in how Tom Savage plays quarterback. Not in his completions or the magnificent throws in tight windows we’ve come to expect from better quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson, Matt Schaub, Brian Hoyer, and the homeless person standing on the corner who’s always telling you that there’s a radio in his brain. There’s no merit to that. But if you watch Savage get strip-sacked, hoo boy, you will have yourself a fine old time.

You have to know what to look for in a strip sack. On the surface, a strip sack is just losing the football in one of the most embarrassing plays in sports; below that surface, however, there are far deeper nuances to each subtle move. Much like a hula, each movement is a part of a greater story that we never see because we’re too busy throwing leaf-covered buffalo wings at the television when it happens…not that this has happened, mind you; I’m just guessing.

49ers undecided if Jimmy Garoppolo or CJ Beathard will start Sunday

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has not yet chosen between C.J. Beathard and Jimmy Garoppolo as his starting quarterback this week. But he’s close and it might not be a difficult call.

On Monday, Shanahan offered an update on Beathard, whom the first-year coach said is “pretty banged up.” During Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Beathard suffered a bruise to his left knee and a hip strain, neither of which Shanahan said is considered serious or a long-term injury. Still, it might be enough to prevent Beathard from practicing on Wednesday, leaving Shanahan to turn to Garoppolo.

According to Shanahan, Beathard was sore on Monday. Before making a decision on this week’s starter, Shanahan wanted to give Beathard a little more time to recover.

Which means Shanahan is aiming for a decision in the next couple of days.

“I will probably have an answer for you guys on Wednesday,” Shanahan said. “I’d like to talk about it [with] the staff, I’d like to watch some Chicago first. We just finished up Seattle, just finished up watching the game with the quarterbacks, then came in here — but I’ll have a decision for you guys by Wednesday.”

Beathard departed Sunday’s loss with 1:07 remaining after taking a big hit from Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. The hit came on a play in which Bennett was flagged for jumping offside, but the officials didn’t blow the play dead for Bennett being unabated to the quarterback.

Shanahan also noted that the hit appeared to be out of the target zone in which quarterbacks can be hit while still in the pocket.

“It was pretty violent, right at his knee area,” Shanahan said. “I’m sure that jarred something into his hip that went into his whole body. He hit his head pretty hard at the end of it, too. He fell pretty hard.

“It definitely looked low.”

Garoppolo replaced Beathard to a loud ovation from fans and promptly ran for 4 yards and completed his only two passes for 19 yards, including a touchdown.

That cameo was enough to leave many Niners fans wanting more, but Shanahan did not want to make a quick decision after the game. Since the 49ers acquired Garoppolo on Halloween, Shanahan has preached patience with the former Patriots backup as he learns a new system after 3½ years in New England.

Shanahan said he would not factor Garoppolo’s three plays against the Seahawks into his decision. Instead, Beathard’s health and Garoppolo’s state of readiness would be his primary concerns. On Monday, Shanahan said he has seen Garoppolo take steps forward.

“He’s gotten better,” Shanahan said. “It’s still a work in progress and it will continue to be throughout the year.”

Shanahan’s desire to have a decision made by Wednesday is largely due to him wanting the starter to get the majority of reps in practice this week. That’s especially true in the case of Garoppolo, who needs as much work as he can get in an unfamiliar offense.

“It definitely helps, especially when you are dealing with two guys and one is a rookie quarterback and the other one basically is also with him just being here, so to give those guys the best chance to be successful, you want to give them all the reps, which still isn’t enough reps,” Shanahan said. “Anytime you split the reps evenly it’s kind of a disservice to both.”

Even if Garoppolo does make his first start in his hometown of Chicago this week and finishes out the season in that role, Shanahan has repeatedly indicated it won’t be a referendum on how the team views him for the long term.

In fact, Shanahan drove that point home Monday when he again referenced the Niners likely using the franchise tag on Garoppolo this offseason, as a means to buy both sides more time to get acquainted and have success together.

“I think that’s why it makes it easy for us to talk and easy for us to work through,” Shanahan said. “I think Jimmy has goals and believes in himself that he can be one of the better quarterbacks in the league, and anyone who feels that way I would assume wants to be paid that way and be paid accordingly. That’s very tough to do over six games, five games, four games. I think Jimmy wants his best opportunity to prove that to us, and I’d like to give that to him.

“If that happens over a five-game span, a three-game span, great, let’s do it. If it doesn’t, no big deal, we can franchise you … our goal is to get you that next year because if that does happen for you, that means it happens for us, and I think we’ll all be happy about that.”