Washington preps for fill-in role

PITTSBURGH — It’s been an uneven rookie season for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington, but he may be needed for a bigger role nonetheless.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh’s leading receiver, is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game at New Orleans, and if he can’t play, the Steelers expect Washington to help fill the void.

Smith-Schuster, who has 95 receptions for 1,274 yards, left Thursday’s practice with a groin injury. He did not practice Friday and did not speak with reporters. Antonio Brown, second on the Steelers with 90 catches for 1,112 yards and a team-best 13 touchdowns, was optimistic about Smith-Schuster’s availability.

“I think he’ll be there for us,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, Washington will look to continue his recent upswing.

Pittsburgh picked Washington in the second round of the draft with the hopes that the former Oklahoma State star could take over as the team’s primary deep threat for Martavis Bryant. However, Washington struggled through most of the season.

Washington had just five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown during the first four weeks. He only had eight receptions for 77 yards and a score through 11 weeks and was called out by Ben Roethlisberger for a drop at Denver in Week 12.

Gore will not retire

MIAMI — Even though Frank Gore’s ironman streak is about to end, he wants to keep going.

The injured Miami Dolphins running back has decided against retirement and hopes to play a 15th NFL season next year, a person familiar with the situation said Friday. The person confirmed the decision to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Gore had not commented publicly.

The NFL’s leading active rusher suffered a season-ending sprained foot last week against Minnesota , but the injury won’t require surgery. The 35-year-old Gore has played in 126 consecutive games with 122 starts in a row.

Those streaks are the longest by an NFL offensive skill player, and they’ll end Sunday when Miami plays Jacksonville .

Beckham out again

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will miss his third straight game with a quad injury.

The Giants announced on Friday that Beckham, linebacker Alex Ogletree, center Spencer Pulley and receiver Russell Shepard won’t play Sunday when the Giants (5-9) face the Colts (8-6) in Indianapolis.

Defensive lineman Kerry Wynn is questionable with a thumb injury.

Beckham didn’t practice this week. Ogletree (concussion), Pulley (calf) and Shepard (ankle) were injured in a loss to Tennessee on Sunday.

Beckham said Thursday he wants to play again this season. His last chance comes against Dallas in the regular-season finale.

Long returns to Bears

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Guard Kyle Long felt whole again Friday after returning to practice with the Chicago Bears for the first time since late October.

Following seven missed games after foot surgery, Long is hoping to come off injured reserve in time for the Bears’ first playoff game in January, if not before.

“It felt good to be in a helmet and running around,” Long said. “I don’t feel like a ghost in the building, which is nice.”

Long suffered a tendon injury to his right foot on Oct. 28 in Chicago’s win over the New York Jets, and then underwent surgery and rehab.

The Bears (10-4) play Sunday at San Francisco (4-10).

Coach Matt Nagy couldn’t commit to Long’s return for the playoffs or possibly even next week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. Long practiced Friday only on a limited basis and the team will monitor his recovery.

Bills extend QB Barkley

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills have signed quarterback Matt Barkley to a two-year contract extension, securing what’s been an unsettled backup spot behind rookie Josh Allen.

The signing announced Friday is a reflection of how Barkley performed in winning his one start this season and his role in helping mentor Allen. Coach Sean McDermott this week lauded Barkley for his support of Allen.

On the field, Barkley went 15 of 25 for 232 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-10 win over the New York Jets on Nov. 11. Barkley was Buffalo’s third starter in three consecutive games, with Allen missing four games with a sprained right throwing elbow.

Buffalo had signed Barkley only 10 days earlier after veteran backup Derek Anderson sustained a concussion.

The 28-year-old is completing his sixth NFL season since Philadelphia drafted him in the fourth round in 2013 draft out of Southern California.

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