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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Helen Marrone is fielding a lot of calls this week, asking for help with tickets to the Jaguars’ game at Tennessee on Sunday.

Most of the requests are from members of her family. And not all of them will be rooting for the playoff-bound Jaguars.

The wife of Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone has deep Tennessee roots, and Marrone said a large portion of Helen’s family are Titans fans and will be rooting against their ticket hookup at Nissan Stadium.

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The Tennessee Titans are hoping DeMarco Murray’s injured right knee will still allow him to play in the season finale against the Jaguars.
“We’re getting calls: ‘Can we get some tickets to watch Tennessee kick your ass?'” Doug Marrone said Wednesday. “People you know [are asking]. I hear it.”

Surprisingly, though, he doesn’t have an issue with that.

“It’s not bad because it gives me an excuse not to go to a lot of family functions,” Marrone said, “which, as you guys know, I’m not the best family function guy. I’m kind of in the corner. So now it’s easy. Now it’s like, ‘Well, nuh-uh, they went to the game and they rooted for the Titans, so I’m not going to this function.’

“But there are a couple that are, obviously, rooting for us because there’s a couple of them that actually like me.”

Marrone said that includes his wife’s immediate family. His father-in-law is Boots Donnelly, who coached at Middle Tennessee from 1979-98 and compiled a 133-80-1 record and took the Blue Raiders to seven I-AA playoff appearances. He’s also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Marrone has some Tennessee ties himself. He and his wife own a farm outside of Nashville, and he was among those who interviewed with the Titans in January 2015 to replace the fired Ken Whisenhunt. The Titans chose Mike Mularkey, one of Marrone’s longtime friends.

Marrone is 1-1 against the Titans as the Jaguars’ head coach. The Jaguars won 38-17 in Jacksonville on Dec. 24, 2016; that was Marrone’s first game as the Jaguars’ interim head coach after the team fired Gus Bradley. The Titans won 37-16 in Jacksonville in Week 2 this season.

Marrone said he got another text from someone with a Tennessee connection this week. It wasn’t a request for tickets, though.

“Coach [Phil] Fulmer is the 12th Titan so he texted me today, made sure I knew that,” Marrone said, referring to the University of Tennessee’s athletic director and former coach.

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Free-agent pitcher Hector Rondon has agreed to a two-year contract with the Houston Astros, the team announced Friday.

Rondon, 29, spent his first five seasons with the Chicago Cubs, compiling an 18-13 record with 77 saves, 28 holds and a 3.22 ERA. He went 4-1 with a 4.24 ERA and a career-best 10.83 strikeouts per nine innings last season.

The former closer might be best remembered for his save in Game 4 of the 2015 National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Astros also announced that they had designated outfielder Preston Tucker for assignment to maintain their full 40-man roster.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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The Titans will look to revive their offense Sunday in San Francisco, when they play their second straight away game against an NFC West opponent. It’s the last road game of the season for the Titans, who will finish up with home contests against the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Heading into the final three games of the season, the Titans control their destiny in regards to winning the AFC South.

It’s a good position to be in, but the Titans can ill afford another stumble down the stretch if they want to reach their goal.

Here are five key questions for the Titans as they ready for San Francisco:

How are the Titans’ rookie wide receivers progressing? – Both Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor have had ups and downs this season, which is to be expected of rookies.

In his eight games, Davis, the fifth overall pick of the draft, has totaled 25 catches for 256 yards. His best game was his first, when he caught six passes for 69 yards.

Davis has the most receptions of the three wide receivers chosen in the first round this season. But the NFL’s two most productive rookie wide receivers have actually been a pair of third-round picks: the Los Angeles Rams’ Cooper Kupp has 56 catches (in 13 games) for 783 yards and four touchdowns, while Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster has 37 catches (in 11 games) for 585 yards and five touchdowns.

What has to be kept in mind regarding Davis is the large amount of time he missed during both the offseason and preseason because of injuries. Missing all those practice reps is especially difficult for a rookie to overcome.

Overall, Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Davis is progressing at about the level expected.

“I’d say, especially for Corey, (this is) probably where he’s going to be based on all the time he missed, which was a significant amount of time,” Mularkey said. “He’s definitely gotten better each week with the time he’s playing.”

Taylor, a third-round pick has caught 16 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown. In Sunday’s loss to Arizona, Taylor appeared to be open on a deep pass over the middle against the Cardinals – his only target of the game – but didn’t adjust to the ball.

“The coverage dictated to throw the ball to Taywan down the middle of the field,” Mularkey said. “Taywan did not look early enough. He might have scored if he had. Just a young player’s mistake, hopefully he’s going to learn from it.”

Mularkey said Taylor, like Davis, is about where the Titans expected him to be given the amount of playing time he’s received.

“Taywan is another young player that’s not getting the number of snaps that Corey is, and he’s learning from each one of them,” Mularkey said. “But they’re (both) kind of where we thought they were going to be.”
How has cornerback Logan Ryan contributed to the Titans’ defensive surge? – The Titans haven’t done a lot of matching – assigning a specific cornerback to shadow a specific receiver for most of the game – in recent years .

But they’ve changed that strategy at times this season, using free-agent acquisition Logan Ryan in a “shadow” role. In the last two games, for instance, Ryan has spent much of his time covering two of the NFL’s top receivers – Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald.

When Ryan was matched against Hopkins, he contained the Texans receiver, allowing him five catches – on nine targets – for just 44 yards, per Pro Football Focus. Houston’s Tom Savage had a quarterback rating of just 68.8 when throwing into Ryan’s coverage area.

When Ryan was matched against Fitzgerald, he allowed him just three catches for 20 yards, per PFF. Arizona’s Blaine Gabbert posted a low quarterback rating of 68.8 when throwing into Ryan’s coverage area during the game.

“He’s been amazing,” Mularkey said of Logan. “That was a tough, tough duty to put him on with (Fitzgerald). Larry is just – the size and physicality is one thing, but his route running, his precision is another. I mean, you have to stick to him like glue, it’s hard … I think he’s done really well for us, for what we’ve asked him to do against all these receivers we’ve faced lately.”

What’s slowing the Titans’ offense? — Among the issues the Titans are working on is improving their third-down success rate.

They were the fourth-best team in the league last year with a third-down success rate of 46.1 percent, but are currently 24th at 36.4 percent.

Sunday’s loss to Arizona was a good example of what’s been troubling the Titans this year: They’ve too often found themselves in third-and-long situations.

There were five instances against the Cardinals in which the Titans faced third-and-10 or more. The Titans didn’t convert any of those third downs, which was a big reason Tennessee went four-for-12 overall on third down.

This season, the Titans have converted at least 40 percent of their third downs in five games. They’re 4-1 in those contests.
What’s behind the Titans’ stunning sack totals? – Over the last four weeks, the Titans have recorded 23 sacks, the most of any NFL team. That sack total is a whopping nine higher than the second-place team, Baltimore (14), during that stretch.

It’s a drastic change from the Titans’ first nine games when Tennessee recorded only 14 sacks, which left the Titans 28th in the league.

The Titans also have a league-best 34 quarterback hits over the past four games, compared to 42 in the first nine games (28th-best).

“I think coach (Dick) LeBeau has done a great job of getting these guys prepared with the scheme, understanding what offenses are doing and how their protection scheme works, and just the overall execution,” Mularkey said. “It’s not just the pressure, the sacks. The coverage that goes with it has been very good. Everybody doing their part has a lot to do with why we have 23 sacks the last four games.”

The Titans have also faced less mobile targets in the pocket over the past month, as they’ve teed off against Gabbert, Houston’s Tom Savage, Indianapolis’ Jacoby Brissett and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.

Some of the more elusive quarterbacks the Titans faced earlier in the year included Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Houston’s Deshaun Watson and Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer.

How different are the 49ers with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo? – Garoppolo is 2-0 as the 49ers’ starting quarterback, quite a turnaround for a team that was 1-10 before he entered the lineup.

Breaking things down a little further, here’s a good comparison:

Through their first 11 games pre-Garoppolo, the 49ers ranked 21st overall in offense, 17th in passing offense and 28th points. Over the last two weeks with Garoppolo playing, the 49ers have ranked seventh in total offense (402 yards per game), seventh in passing offense (296 yards per game) and 15th in points (20.5 points per game).

Garoppolo has only started four NFL games in his career, so there’s not a lot of scouting one can do on him.

“It’s going to have to be enough,” Mularkey said. “We really don’t have much of a choice there. We know that statistically everything is up (with Garoppolo) including the run game. The passing game, the yards per game, everything just has gone up in the games he’s started … They’re gaining a lot of confidence with him as their quarterback.”

— Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.

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INDIANAPOLIS — The start was disappointing for the Indiana Pacers.

The finish was great.

Victor Oladipo scored 27 points, including a clutch 3-pointer with 31.1 seconds left, and the Pacers beat the Chicago Bulls 98-96 on Wednesday night.

Bojan Bogdanovic had 17 points for Indiana (14-11), and Darren Collison finished with 14. Myles Turner had 11 points and blocked four shots, and Thaddeus Young finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.

The Pacers outscored the Bulls 29-13 in the fourth quarter.

“I was going out there and playing as hard as I could on both ends of the floor and trying to help us pull it out,” Oladipo said. “We’ve got to learn to not put ourselves in that hole in the first place and try to make sure we avoid that. At the end of the day it was a big win for us and we can build on it.”

The lowly Bulls led by as many as 17, but couldn’t hold off the Pacers in the final moments. Oladipo’s 3 gave Indiana its first lead at 97-96, and he tacked on a free throw with 12.8 seconds left.

Lauri Markkanen missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds of Chicago’s 10th straight loss.

“This one, it stings a lot,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s a really, really hard (loss) because we had control for the majority of it and played really good and hard unselfish basketball. The big message to our team is if we continue to play with that type of effort, if we continue to play the right way, and unselfish, we’re going to start winning games.”

Kris Dunn had 18 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Bulls (3-20), and Robin Lopez scored 16 points. Denzel Valentine finished with 15 points and eight boards.

Chicago looked pretty good for about 3 1/2 quarters. The Bulls went 7 for 15 from beyond the arc on their way to a 55-39 halftime lead.

Turner said the Pacers didn’t take the Bulls lightly. Instead, Indiana just got going late.

“We just didn’t come out as sharp as we’ve been all season,” Turner said. “Defensively we had some lapses, offensive end we weren’t hitting shots, I think we started settling. It was a flat start, but we recovered, thankfully.”

TIP-INS

Bulls: All three of Chicago’s wins have come on Friday. … The Bulls went 8 for 16 at the free-throw line. … Chicago has lost nine of its last 11 games against the Pacers.
Pacers: Indiana’s 39 points at halftime was a season low. … The Pacers improved to 4-8 this season when they are outrebounded.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

The Bulls, averaging a league-low 95.6 points entering Wednesday, held the Pacers to their second-lowest scoring total of the season. Indiana was averaging 108.9 points per game coming into the night, fourth-best in the NBA.

OH, TO BE YOUNG

Young has scored in double figures in 20 of Indiana’s 25 games this season, scoring 20 or more in two of those contests. The 10-year veteran is averaging nearly 33 minutes and 13.4 points per game.

UP NEXT

Bulls: Play at Charlotte on Friday.

Pacers: Host Cleveland on Friday.

Check out the team sites for the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers for more game coverage.

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TAMPA, Fla. — Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since allegations surfaced two weeks ago that he groped a female Uber driver.

He said he “absolutely” believes he will be vindicated by the NFL’s investigation and has no fear of a suspension.

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“I have no fear at all, but I have to respect their process,” Winston said. “I’m just going to respect the process, most importantly. That’s all I can do.”

Winston previously issued a statement at the time that the allegations surfaced in a BuzzFeed report, denying them. He had been dealing with a shoulder injury and had not been required to take part in his weekly news conferences since he was not playing.

ESPN confirmed that no police report had been filed in Scottsdale, Arizona, the night the alleged incident occurred in March 2016. The driver did file a complaint with her employer, however, and Winston’s Uber riding privileges were revoked.

The woman stated that Winston was in the passenger seat of the vehicle and that he reached over and placed his hand on her crotch while waiting in a fast food drive-thru. The restaurant, Los Betos Mexican Food, told ESPN that it does not have surveillance set up at its drive-thru.

Winston believes that the driver was mistaken about the number of passengers in the car and where Winston was sitting in the vehicle, something former Florida State teammate Ronald Darby corroborated in a statement. Darby was also with Winston the night an alleged 2012 sexual assault took place at Florida State. Uber drivers are not required to keep a log of the number of passengers in their vehicle at one time.

“I put my statement out there discussing this allegation, and I’ve gotta respect the process [of the league investigation]. I’ve been vindicated several times on the past situation,” Winston said when he was asked why he and Darby found themselves at the center of another sexual-assault allegation. “So my statement on those accusations stand firm too. As always, it’s always a growing process in everything. And I’m going to continue to grow.”

Asked how multiple allegations have affected his family, he said: “One thing about my family is that we’re very strong in our faith, and we’re very strong in believing that nothing in our past can control our future.

“Since I got to Tampa Bay and how I’ve grown the past few years — [that’s] meant a lot to my family, seeing my development through college. I think that’s more important than what could be said from any outside source.”