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Chicago Bears release linebacker Pernell McPhee, safety Quintin Demps

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Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, the first big free agent signed by Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace in 2015, and safety Quintin Demps were released by the team on Monday.

McPhee, 29, was scheduled to earn a base salary of $7.2 million in 2018, which was too high for a player with only 14 sacks over three seasons in Chicago. By releasing him, the Bears will open up $7.075 million in salary-cap space.

Demps, 32, played in three games last season before landing on injured reserve with a broken forearm. Demps was due to collect a $500,000 roster bonus on the third day of the league year; Demps’ total compensation would’ve maxed out at $4 million in 2018. The Bears signed Demps to a three-year deal last March.

McPhee played extremely hard on defense, and he was also a forceful and entertaining presence in the locker room. However, he missed 12 games with a variety of ailments, including chronic knee issues, since joining the Bears. He was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 21 after trying to battle through a shoulder injury.

The Bears are looking for a long-term solution at the position opposite Leonard Floyd, the ninth overall pick in the 2016 draft. Floyd had developed into one of the Bears’ best defenders in 2017 up until he suffered a knee injury that ultimately required surgery.

Before joining the Bears on a five-year deal that included $15.5 million in guaranteed money, McPhee played four seasons with the Ravens, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. Overall, he has 182 tackles, 31 sacks, six forced fumbles and an interception in his seven NFL seasons.

Demps, who intercepted a career-high six passes for the Houston Texans in 2016, was the odd man out in Chicago’s secondary after young safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos emerged as dependable full-time starters in the wake of Demps’ season-ending injury in Week 3.

A fourth-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008, Demps also spent time with Kansas City and the New York Giants before he arrived in Chicago last offseason.

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Atlanta Falcons RB Todd Gurley ‘mad as hell’ as TD leads to loss to Detroit Lions

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Todd Gurley was “mad as hell.” He knew he should have gotten down. He should have stopped. He wanted to. He planned to. But he just couldn’t stop short of the goal line on a 10-yard run against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

If he didn’t score, the Atlanta Falcons could have run out the clock and kicked a short field goal to beat the Detroit Lions. Instead, he barely fell into the end zone. It gave Detroit a chance, and the Lions ended up beating the Falcons 23-22 on the final play of the game.

Afterward, Gurley said he was doing everything he could to not get in.

“I was trying not to. My momentum took me in,” Gurley said. “It’s kind of crazy, the last time I played Detroit, I went down. This time I end up scoring. It’s like what goes around, comes around.

“It’s one of them unfortunate situations. I’ve been, I mean, plenty of those situations my rookie year, six or seven, and I’ve always got down. It was an unfortunate one right there.”

Gurley said he takes responsibility for what happened and should have fallen down to keep the ball out of Matthew Stafford‘s hands. Gurley said it came up in the huddle a couple of plays before his 10-yard touchdown and he also knew from his own prior experience. He said they never discussed taking a knee and that he tried to go down but didn’t.

“It was talked about right at that moment,” Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris said. “We knew that was kind of going to be their ideal choice for us to get in the end zone so they could have a chance to go down there and score.

“So we wanted to take the knee on the one, and he obviously tried and he fell into the end zone at the last second there, getting tripped up a little bit.”

It appeared close, and Detroit linebacker Jamie Collins signaled touchdown to make clear Gurley got in while linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin pointed toward the end zone. Lions coach Matt Patricia said his team had “great situational defensive awareness right there.” The Lions largely let Gurley break through the line to score, although safety Will Harris did try to wrap him up at the 3-yard line.

Gurley broke that tackle, tried to fall short and almost did, although the ball broke the plane, giving Atlanta the touchdown to take the lead it would eventually relinquish.

“I should have went down,” Gurley said. “… I shouldn’t have scored. God dammit.”

Patricia said the result was “exactly how you want it, so it was a great job by them,” meaning his players. Some of the other players on the Lions, though, were concerned they weren’t going to get one more shot to win once Atlanta reached field goal range on the Falcons’ final drive.

“I had my helmet on, thinking the game was probably going to be over,” Stafford said. “They let him score, gave us a chance and that’s all we needed. Proud of those guys for making that play.”

Stafford then got the ball back, drove 75 yards in 64 seconds, capped with an 11-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson to tie the game with no time left. Then, after a Danny Amendola penalty pushed the extra point back 15 yards, Matt Prater made the kick to give Detroit the 23-22 win.

Gurley’s play comes one day after almost the exact same thing happened in the Penn StateIndiana game. Unlike in the Lions-Falcons game, Penn State had the lead, but running back Devyn Ford fell into the end zone instead of on the 1-yard line to extend the lead to 28-20 and leave time on the clock. Indiana then tied the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive and two-point conversion, and won in overtime.

In Sunday’s situation, if Gurley had fallen, the Falcons could have run down the clock on the 1-yard line to give Younghoe Koo a chance at a winning field goal at the buzzer. Instead, the Falcons scored and converted a two-point conversion to take a 22-16 lead with 1:04 left.

“We were trying to get to the 1,” Morris said. “We were trying to get down to the 1 and stop, get down right there.”

The Falcons have now lost fourth-quarter leads in three of their six losses this year.

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Pittsburgh Steelers hang on, remain unbeaten as Tennessee Titans miss tying field goal

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The Pittsburgh Steelers couldn’t have started off any better against the Tennessee Titans.

And they couldn’t have finished any worse.

Even so, a missed 45-yard field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski with 19 seconds left preserved the Steelers’ undefeated record, and Pittsburgh held on for a 27-24 win in Nashville despite a fourth-quarter collapse. With the win, the Steelers are 6-0 for the first time since 1978.

“Thankfully our guys didn’t blink and was able to hold it together and make enough plays to secure a victory,” coach Mike Tomlin said afterward, giving props to the Titans (5-1) in his opening statement after the win. “Not a perfect product. We understand that. But I appreciate their efforts. We are perfect from a record standpoint, and so we respect that.”

After throwing just one interception in the first five games, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (32-of-49, 268 yards, 2 TDs) was picked off three times Sunday, including on an attempt to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was defended by a linebacker, with less than three minutes to play. The Steelers were up by just three at the time and in the midst of a 16-play drive that kept the Titans and running back Derrick Henry off the field. It was the same recipe that worked in the first half, but instead of ending a long, grinding drive with a score, Smith-Schuster bobbled the ball, and Amani Hooker came down with it to give his team a window to work its fourth-quarter magic.

“It’s NFL football,” Tomlin said. “We play to win. We don’t live in our fears. Is it a combat play? Is it tight? Yes, we have a quarterback that’s been doing that for 17 years.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to acknowledge that they made the play in the moment and we desire to, and that’s why we’re not going to live in our fears. We’re going to go in those instances to secure victory.”

The Titans’ ensuing drive ended with an opportunity to force overtime with Gostkowski’s field goal attempt, but it sailed wide right, and Roethlisberger, who watched incredulously from the sideline, came out for the victory formation.

“We feel we have a really good football team, right?” said Roethlisberger, whose team takes on the 5-1 Ravens in Baltimore next Sunday. “We feel that it could be very special and we’re happy with where we are right now, but that’s going to be a short-lived happiness because we know what’s coming up next.”

The Titans staged their second-half comeback as the Steelers struggled to replicate the recipe that worked in the first half, during which they grinded out long drives to keep Henry on the sideline, and swallowing him up with tackles behind the line of scrimmage when he was on the field.

After winning the coin toss, the Steelers elected to receive the ball and went on a 9-minute, 18-second drive that ended with a Diontae Johnson touchdown, marking their first opening-drive TD since Week 15 of the 2018 season against the Patriots.

The defense complemented the score with a three-and-out to hand the ball right back to the offense for another long scoring drive, putting the Steelers up 14-0.

“That was five-star ball,” Tomlin said. “That’s a good group. Guys like JuJu and others stepped up and made those plays, but you got to tip your cap to Tennessee. They made those plays, combat catches with tight coverage.”

Including the playoffs, Roethlisberger is 98-1-1 in his career in games in which the Steelers have a 14-point lead, the only loss coming in Week 13 of 2018 vs. the Chargers and the tie in Week 1 of that same season at the Browns.

The Steelers capitalized on the Titans’ below-average third-down defense, converting 8 of 9 attempts for their highest third-down conversion percentage in a half over the past 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. With that formula, the Steelers scored on each of their first four possessions to build a dominating 24-7 lead at halftime, and after the break, they added a field goal to make it 27-7.

But the Titans ripped off 17 unanswered points as Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill got things going. Tannehill hit A.J. Brown for a 73-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter, and after Gostkowski hit a 51-yard field goal to close it to 10, Henry scored on a 1-yard rush to wrap up a 12-play, 70-yard drive early in the fourth quarter.

On the other side of the ball, the Titans kept the Steelers from going on the same lengthy drives that ate clock in the first half.

“I don’t know that they changed anything that they did,” Tomlin said of the Titans’ second-half adjustments. “We had a tipped pass that got intercepted and we were penalized, some things that happen when you stop yourself. They were confident, no doubt. But I don’t know that they changed anything schematically or anything substantial changed. We just got to play better. We didn’t play well enough in the second half for it not to be as tight as it was.”

Roethlisberger’s first interception also stopped the Steelers cold on a potential scoring drive, as safety Dane Cruikshank picked him off in the end zone on the final play before halftime. On the second interception, Jeffrey Simmons tipped a Roethlisberger pass at the line of scrimmage that Jayon Brown came down with.

It wasn’t a complete win, but it was a win nonetheless.

“There’s a way that we like to play and there’s a lot of meat on that bone, as Coach likes to say,” defensive lineman Cam Heyward said. “I’m fine saying that. I believe in the guys we got, and I’m confident we can do more. I look forward to answering the call next week.”

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