Tirico still has passion for football

Mike Tirico no longer is behind the microphone doing NFL play by play. That hasn't diminished his passion for the sport.

Indeed, while many observers were belittling the 6-6 tie between Seattle and Arizona last Sunday night, Tirico, a host of NBC's telecast after making the move from ESPN this summer, was enthralled.

''I was in the stadium and had to find a place to sit somewhere near the (production) trailer or in the booth. I didn't want to leave the booth, I just sat and watched up there,'' he says. ''I thought it was a compelling game.

''If you are not nuanced in current football, maybe you didn't appreciate the efforts of the defensive ends who ruined the game for Seattle. And every level on defense that ruined everything Arizona wanted to do.

''Hey, the Browns, the poorest team in the league, score touchdowns. Arizona went nine quarters without giving up a TD. It was two really good defenses, although I don't think the offenses were particularly good. To the naked eye, I found myself watching the defensive ends and linebackers on every snap.''

Tirico has become more ''nuanced'' in the sport thanks to working side by side with Jon Gruden on Monday night telecasts. He's now getting a similar education from Cris Collinsworth.

''Jon helped teach me football and I learned so many things about the game and how to watch the game, and we were able to share it with viewers,'' Tirico says. ''At end of the day if you as a viewer want to expand your knowledge base, I think we can make a connection. It was one of the fun parts of that experience and I feel some of the same with Cris. They just want to teach people about football. So we're learning from them and letting the American public get the knowledge.''

One of America's most versatile broadcasters, Tirico headed to NBC in great part because of the network's sports portfolio, particularly the Olympics, which he worked in Rio. He also will get the chance to do golf again, and next weekend he hosts the Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita.

Should Tirico be asked to play a role in NBC's hockey or soccer or auto racing coverage, he's ready, calling it ''a chance to hit the reset button on my career.''

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HELPING THE KIDS: Jon Gruden is taking the Sports Matter initiative to the kids.

The Super Bowl-winning coach and current ''Monday Night Football'' analyst is combining with DICK'S Sporting Goods and the NFL to support youth and high school sports. They are providing football teams in the cities of Monday games with resources and sports equipment to address barriers to access, and enable more youth to participate.

Gruden hosts chalk talk events with youth and high school football players and coaches to provide mentorship and discuss the value of sports participation.

''Football is a great game and a great teacher,'' Gruden says. ''Kids learn lessons on the field - work ethic, teamwork, sportsmanship and mental toughness - that will help them off the field for the rest of their lives.

''But like all youth sports programs, there's not enough funding to go around. ... We invite you to join us and do what you can in your own community to support youth sports and create more opportunities for kids.''

ESPN has donated $100,000 to DonorsChoose.org and will make additional donations to youth sports teams over the course of the 2016 season. The NFL Foundation, together with USA Football, the sport's national governing body, has matched ESPN's $100,000 donation. USA Football will also host Heads Up Football clinics for participating teams in select markets.

Through the Sports Matter campaign, DICK'S Sporting Goods and its Foundation have made a $50 million multi-year commitment to support youth athletic programs, including donations to community sports leagues.

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GOING THE DISTANCE: The Eagles are the only team in the NFL to return a kickoff for a touchdown this season and they've done it in consecutive games for the first time in franchise history.

Josh Huff had a 98-yard TD return in a 21-10 win over Minnesota last week. Wendell Smallwood had an 86-yard TD runback in a 27-20 loss at Washington a week earlier.

''They're really beginning to click, and great blocks,'' coach Doug Pederson said. (Special teams coordinator) Dave Fipp really has those guys ready every single week. You need those things. You need special teams scores. You need defensive scores. All that helps you, especially late down the stretch. It was just great to see it two weeks in a row.''

Philadelphia is at Dallas in an NFC East showdown Sunday night.

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TAKING BLAME: At least one website blamed Miami Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell for getting burned last week on a 67-yard touchdown pass to the Buffalo Bills' Marquise Goodwin. Soon after the game, safety Michael Thomas took to Twitter to take the blame.

''I can't let my boy B Max take that bullet,'' Thomas tweeted. ''That bomb was on me.''

Thomas later said he was trying to disguise the coverage and wound up out of position. He said he fessed up on social media mindful of his defensive coordinator, Vance Joseph.

''He wants to create a culture about truth,'' Thomas said. ''Every man has to be accountable for his actions. He made the perfect call right there, and I let disguise jeopardize my responsibility. It was important to me because as a leader on this team, I want to make sure every player, and especially the DBs, know I've got their back and I'll never let me hang out to dry.''

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GETTING THE TIMING DOWN: Kirk Cousins has never played in England, but two offseason visits made him adjust his weekly routine going into the Washington Redskins' game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley Stadium.

Coach Jay Gruden opted to practice at home and fly the team over on Thursday, but his starting quarterback got a jump start on adjusting to the time difference. Cousins went to bed Tuesday night at 7:15 p.m. and woke up Wednesday morning at 5:15 a.m. with the goal of being ready for a 9:30 a.m. EDT start Sunday.

Knowing his own experience from his travels, Cousins talked to sleep professionals to get advice on what to do.

''When I went over there this offseason, I had a hard time adjusting,'' Cousins said. ''I was only there for about three days and it was tough. I was sleeping in until noon or 1 o'clock just because of how tired I was, so I want to make sure that doesn't happen.''

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AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner and Rob Maaddi, and Sports Writers Steven Wine and Stephen Whyno contributed.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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