The NFL’s final 4 all overcame injuries to star players

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The list of players sitting out this weekend’s conference championships is almost as impressive as the starting lineups: Julian Edelman. Carson Wentz. Dalvin Cook. Dont'a Hightower. Allen Robinson. Sam Bradford.

Following the NFL’s season of carnage that claimed the likes of, among others, Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Joe Thomas, this year’s final four all overcame not only the odds – “Minneapolis Miracle , anyone?” – but devastating injuries to key starters.

“We have a tough and resilient team,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long said of the NFC’s top seed , which is missing its second-year QB in Wentz, an MVP hopeful when he blew out a knee in December.

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Even before Wentz’s injury thrust backup Nick Foles into the starting job for the playoffs, the Eagles lost nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, playmaking middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, versatile return specialist Darren Sproles, and special teams captain Chris Maragos.

Yet, here they are, 60 minutes from Minneapolis and Super Bowl 52.

“I think that starts at the top with Doug, because he sets the tone for being resilient and even keeled,” Long said of his coach, Doug Pederson. “At the end of the day, we have a tough group of guys.”

So do the Minnesota Vikings, who are trying to reach their first Super Bowl in more than four decades and fulfill mantra to “Bring it Home” and become the first NFL team to play the title game in its own stadium.

And they’re doing so behind Case Keenum, who crashed Tom Brady‘s playoff party along with fellow perennial backup Foles and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.

Together, the four quarterbacks left standing have a combined five Super Bowl rings, two NFL MVP awards and four Super Bowl MVP trophies. Brady, of course, owns all of that hardware himself.

Such is the panorama of these playoffs following a season of pain in which so many superstars were rendered sideline spectators with broken bones, snapped ligaments, torn muscles.

Keenum replaced an injured Bradford, who had replaced an injured Teddy Bridgewater. Bradford, now back in uniform as Keenum’s backup, blew out a knee in the first month of the season, as did rookie running back in Cook, who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Behind resilient coach Mike Zimmer , who resisted the urge to quit just before he got the Vikings’ head coaching gig in 2014, Minnesota rolled right along. Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.

“We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. “They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”

The Patriots are also a bunch of fighters; they reached their seventh straight AFC title game despite losing Edelman, Brady’s top target, to a torn ACL in the preseason, and Hightower to a torn chest muscle in November.

Play caller Josh McDaniels and Brady, who led New England to a fifth Super Bowl title last year despite the absence of Rob Gronkowski, adjusted accordingly to Edelman’s absence with another terrific year.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy stepped in for Hightower and ranked third on the team with 73 tackles and second with 5+ sacks despite missing three of the final five games with a calf injury.

Van Noy’s sack total was just a half-sack shy of Hightower’s career high set in 2014.

“The thing about K.V. is he’s very versatile,” said Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty. “So we’ve used him a bunch of different ways. … He’s been a big asset to our team.”

The Jaguars are the healthiest of the remaining playoff teams. They have only one opening-day starter on injured reserve: former Pro Bowl receiver Robinson, who tore his left ACL on Jacksonville’s opener.

Four months removed from reconstructive surgery, Robinson is now traveling with the team, so he’ll be on the sideline Sunday at New England, serving as a mentor to a raw receiving corps.

“Every person in this locker room put in a lot of work to get to this point, with me being one of them,” said Robinson, who was poised for another big year after dominating the league’s best secondary in training camp.

His injury on Jacksonville’s third offensive snap created a huge void for the offense. Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns tried to pick up the slack, but they ended up on the sideline at one point with injuries, too, leaving rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook to assume bigger roles.

Cole, an undrafted rookie from tiny Kentucky Wesleyan, had 42 catches for 748 yards and three scores in the regular season. He added a clutch 45-yard catch that set up a late TD in Jacksonville’s 45-42 stunner at Pittsburgh last week.

“I wish I could just wake up tomorrow and feel like I did Sept. 9,” Robinson said, “but I understand it’s going to be a process. I know I’ll be back to that point and better.”

Like so many other stars, Robinson will be in street clothes Sunday, cheering on his teammates in hopes of getting a sideline pass to the Super Bowl.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

With contributions from AP Pro Football Writers Rob Maaddi and Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Mark Long and Kyle Hightower.

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Cousins throws for 3 TDs, Redskins beat Broncos 27-11

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LANDOVER, Md. (AP) Kirk Cousins threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns in what could be his final home game for the Washington Redskins as they beat the Denver Broncos and their top-ranked defense 27-11 Sunday.

Cousins was 19 of 37 with TD passes to Jamison Crowder , Josh Doctson and Vernon Davis and an interception. He became the first quarterback in Washington history with three seasons of 25 or more TD passes, and needs 65 yards for his third in a row with 4,000-plus yards.

Washington’s 386 offensive yards are third most by a Denver opponent this season, behind only Philadelphia and New England. The Broncos came in giving up an average of 276.8 yards a game.

The Redskins (7-8) came 78 seconds from not allowing a touchdown for a second consecutive game for the first time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Washington had allowed a combined 68 points in its previous two games before clamping down against Arizona and Denver.

After a week of uncertainty, Brock Osweiler started at QB over Paxton Lynch for the Broncos (5-10) and was 22 of 38 for 193 yards with a fumble and an interception . C.J. Anderson scored a late touchdown and was the game’s leading rusher with 16 yards on 88 carries.

KERRIGAN’S MILESTONE

Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan sacked Osweiler twice and has 11 this season, becoming the first Redskins player with 10 or more in consecutive seasons since Dexter Manley and Charles Mann in 1985 and 1986. His 69 1-2 sacks are tied for fourth since entering the NFL in 2011, behind only Von Miller, J.J. Watt and Cameron Wake.

WHAT’S HE THINKING?

Rookie receiver Isaiah McKenzie made a memorable blunder late in the first half that likely cost Denver three points. With the Broncos out of timeouts, McKenzie caught the ball near the sideline inside the Washington 30-yard line and kicker Brandon McManus‘ field goal range. But he didn’t go out of bounds, and Osweiler and other offensive teammates were visibly upset not to get another snap.

Coach Vance Joseph called McKenzie over after the play and gave him an earful while putting his arm around the 22-year-old.

INJURIES

Broncos: WRs Emmanuel Sanders (ankle) and Cody Latimer (thigh) were inactive.

Redskins: NT Ziggy Hood left with an elbow injury early in the second quarter. Defensive teammates knelt on the field near Hood as he was being attended to by trainers. … Rookie WR Robert Davis was knocked out with a concussion. CB Kendall Fuller was pulled from the game for a potential concussion late in the second quarter, but was cleared. … LB Zach Brown missed his second consecutive game with various injuries including Achilles tendon and toe.

UP NEXT

Broncos: Host Kansas City next Sunday.

Redskins: Finish at New York Giants next Sunday.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

O’Brien says he’ll never resign as coach of the Texans

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HOUSTON (AP) Coach Bill O’Brien was emphatic on Monday about his desire to remain with the Houston Texans, a day after the team dropped to 4-10 with an embarrassing 45-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“I will never quit as the head football coach of the Houston Texans,” he said. “Ever.”

O’Brien, who has one more season left on his contract, was asked if he had thought about resigning after the Texans complete what will be the first losing season in his time with the team.

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“I’m not a quitter,” he said. “I was raised in a family that believed in family, faith, education and never quit. So, I never will.”

O’Brien’s job security has become a topic of discussion in recent weeks as injuries and inconsistent quarterback play have led to four straight losses, one win in the last eight games. He spent a sizable chunk of his media availability Monday discussing his future, his relationship with general manager Rick Smith, and whether he would like to sign an extension to remain with the Texans.

He dismissed the notion speculation about his job is getting to him.

“All I’m worried about is this team,” he said. “All I’m worried about is this team and this coaching staff. That’s really all I really care about.”

The Texans are trying to regroup and focus on how they can play better before they host the Pittsburgh Steelers next Monday. They’ll likely have to do it with third-string quarterback T.J. Yates, who struggled Sunday in his first start since 2015. O’Brien said Monday there was a chance Tom Savage could miss the rest of the season while recovering from a concussion, leaving Yates as the team’s best option at the position.

Yates was 12 of 31 for just 128 yards with a touchdown and an interception Sunday. He could have to work behind a makeshift offensive line against the Steelers after right guard Jeff Allen sustained a concussion against the Jaguars, and center Nick Martin suffered what O’Brien called a “serious” ankle injury.

If Allen can’t play the Texans will look to rookie Julien Davenport, who has appeared in nine games with two starts, to fill in. O’Brien evaluated the work he did on Sunday after the injuries.

“He did OK,” O’Brien said. “He’s young. He’s been injured. He’s going to be good. He’s a great kid. Very focused guy … it was some good, some not so good, and he was blocking on some real good guys. So, I think it’ll be a good experience for him.”

O’Brien believes his team has continued to play hard despite the poor results and expects that to continue in Houston’s last two games.

“We’ve got to play better,” he said. “It’s not a matter of effort. I just went through the tape. I looked at it real close. These guys are playing hard, it’s just a matter of execution and better play calls, and just trying to do a better job. I just want them to continue to be who they are, which they’re tough, they’re competitive guys, and they have a lot of pride. I just want them to continue to play hard.”

One player who has undoubtedly continued to compete at a high level despite Houston’s struggles is receiver DeAndre Hopkins. He’s one of the few bright spots in a season been marred by injuries to stars J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson and Whitney Mercilus. Hopkins leads the NFL with a franchise-record 12 touchdown receptions, and his 1,313 yards receiving are second to Antonio Brown despite playing with three quarterbacks this season.

“I think he’s the best receiver in the league,” O’Brien said. “He’s big. He’s strong. He’s got great ability on the sideline. He’s such a great competitor on Sundays. He wants the ball. He wants the ball thrown to him.”

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL