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Lane Kiffin: "I feel very good, after a conversation with Jeff Fisher"

USC head coach Lane Kiffin is being sued by the Tennessee Titans after hiring away one of their assistants, Kennedy Pola. It’s a fascinating case on a number of levels, including the fact that Titans head coach Jeff Fisher is a USC alumnus who has always been supportive of the USC football program.

But while the lawsuit would seem to suggest that Fisher no longer views the Trojans program so favorably, Kiffin claims that he and Fisher are cool with each other.

“I don’t picture it as Jeff suing us,” Kiffin said today on ESPN. “It is a lawsuit, so I can’t comment very much on it. I feel very good, after a conversation with Jeff Fisher, that he now understands exactly what took place and I think he feels better about it.”

Asked whether he thinks there’s any significance to the fact that the Tennessee Titans are suing him just months after he spurned the University of Tennessee to take the USC job, Kiffin declined to answer.

“It’s a lawsuit,” Kiffin said. “I can’t comment on it.”

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Osweiler credits Peyton for halftime adjustments

Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler AP

Peyton Manning didn’t play for the Broncos last night, but he did help them win.

Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler told Sal Paolantonio of ESPN that the Broncos made halftime adjustments based on Manning’s observations of the first half. Manning was watching from inside and went into the locker room to tell Osweiler what he saw.

“Peyton was fantastic at halftime. He came up to me and — you know Peyton — of course, he had a list of things ready to talk about that he saw out there. I’m not going to go into specifics, but he certainly did help me, and he helped this football team get a win today,” Osweiler said.

The question, however, is whether Manning helped Osweiler take his job: Did Osweiler play well enough in the second half to keep Manning on the bench?

“I’m not sure about that,” Osweiler said. “The one thing I do know, though, this football team got a tremendous win tonight against a great opponent, in front of the best fans in the world, and I’m just going to enjoy this win tonight.”

And Manning played a part of it, even if he wasn’t on the field.

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Dolphins fire offensive coordinator Bill Lazor

Bill Lazor, Ryan Tannehill AP

After the Dolphins’ first ugly loss to the Jets this season, they fired head coach Joe Philbin. After the Dolphins’ second ugly loss to the Jets on Sunday, they’ve fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

Lazor was let go this morning, Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated reports. Quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor will take Lazor’s place as the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator for the rest of the season.

There’s been talk of dissension in Miami about the state of the offense, with interim head coach Dan Campbell seemingly having a different philosophy than Lazor. We noted yesterday that Lazor has limited quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage, and that may be contributing to Tannehill’s lack of development as a quarterback.

At 4-7, the Dolphins are in last place in the AFC East and likely heading for a major shakeup in the offseason. About the only good thing that could happen to the Dolphins down the stretch would be Tannehill showing some signs that he deserves his status as the franchise quarterback, and that wasn’t happening with Lazor calling the shots.

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Aaron Rodgers: We’ve got to buckle down our preparation

498896000 Getty Images

The Packers practiced on Sunday for the first time since their Thanksgiving loss to the Bears, which was their fourth loss in five weeks.

That losing skid has led to plenty of discussions about what’s going wrong in Green Bay, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. On Sunday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers pointed to the way the team is preparing for games as a place where they need to improve if they’re going to put themselves back on a winning track.

“It goes back to what you’re doing in your spare time and what you’re doing with your time in the facility,” Rodgers said, via “Being a pro is all about making sure you’re as ready as possible by the time the game hits. I think that’s the important thing for guys to remember here, especially young guys. We’re 15 games into the season, counting preseason. That’s a long grind for those guys, especially the rookies. This is the time where they really got to get through that wall, and the vets — the vets have had some [missed assignments] as well. So we’ve got to buckle down our preparation and make sure we’re ready to play.”

The team’s preparation was a topic of conversation on Thanksgiving with Cris Collinsworth of NBC saying during the game that the Packers had a players-only meeting recently that was centered on Rodgers’ issues with the team’s preparation. Rodgers said that there wasn’t a meeting and suggested something was conveyed incorrectly to the NBC crew before the game, but the message he’s delivering to his team is clear whatever the venue he’s using to express it.

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Texans owner impressed with job Bill O’Brien is doing

Bill O'Brien AP

The Texans are suddenly playing very good football, and owner Bob McNair said a lot of the credit goes to head coach Bill O’Brien for keeping the team together amid a disastrous start.

I think he’s doing a fine job,” McNair said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “We had a lot of work to do. I think he’s got everybody pointed in the right direction and on the same page working together. That’s what it takes: offense, defense, special teams all doing well.”

Yesterday’s win over the Saints was their fourth straight, moving them to 6-5 and tied with the Colts for the AFC South lead. While the Colts won the first head-to-head matchup and have a tiebreaker, the two will play again on Dec. 20, possibly with the division title and a playoff spot on the line.

“That’s what you have to do,” McNair said. “Now we got to go out and try to win five. They’re playing well. As I’ve said, if we keep playing with this level of energy and playing the way we are we are competitive with anyone.”

Of course, McNair deserves some credit for stabilizing things. But it’s also worth wondering how things might have turned out if he hadn’t second-guessed himself on his decision to bench quarterback Brian Hoyer for the departed Ryan Mallett after one game, a decision O’Brien has already admitted was wrong.

While there might be a ceiling with Hoyer at the helm, they’ve already seen what it was like to crash through the floor, and have climbed back through it nicely.

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Richard Sherman mocks idea that he struggles with smaller receivers

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 29:  Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks makes an interception against the Pittsburgh Steelers at CenturyLink Field on November 29, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers piled up 480 passing yards in Seattle on Sunday afternoon, but Antonio Brown wasn’t the big reason why they had so much success through the air.

Markus Wheaton went off for 201 yards on nine catches and Brown’s 51 receiving yards were also less than DeAngelo Williams and Martavis Bryant had on a day when Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman helped keep Brown from dominating the stat sheet. After the game, Sherman aimed his fire at those who predicted he’d have a hard time doing that against the shorter Steelers wideout.

“I don’t guard small receivers well, so I don’t know what I did,” Sherman said, via the Seattle Times. “But that’s not what I do. I’m not very good at guarding small receivers. That’s my biggest weakness. So I don’t know what I did. I don’t guard small receivers well, so obviously he just dropped a bunch of balls. … You see people who have never played the game, who have never coached the game, who have never even stepped foot on the field, talk about how you’re not good against smaller receivers. You can’t call that. You don’t have enough knowledge. You don’t have enough intimate details. You don’t even know the game. You have a very low football IQ. It’s tough to take those people serious, but we went out there and executed today.”

Sherman had his first interception of the season in the game on a deep ball intended for Brown that fell softly into Sherman’s arms after a bout of hand fighting ended with Brown on the ground. There were three other interceptions along the way to help the Seahawks’ cause, but the rest of the secondary will need to do better in the future against receivers of all sizes because giving up 480 yards through the air is a pretty good recipe for disaster most weeks.

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After Gronk knee injury, Brady says rules force low hits

Brock Osweiler AP

The Patriots had to finish last night’s game without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered an injury when he took a hit to the knee. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says those hits are the natural extension of the league’s emphasis on avoiding hits to the head.

Brady was asked if he thought the hit on Gronkowski was dirty, and Brady said he doesn’t think a player like Broncos safety Darian Stewart has any choice but to go low when trying to make a tackle.

“I hate to see it, but it’s really the only way for defenders to hit now. I bet if you asked a lot of players they’d probably rather you go high than low. You go low, that’s what happens. I don’t think it’s dirty, I just think that’s the way football is being played now,” Brady said.

Brady was visibly shaken after the game, although Gronkowski’s injury is not believed to be serious.

“It’s so hard to see guys get hurt like this,” Brady said. “Guys sacrifice their bodies and it’s hard to see your friends get taken down like that.”

And the NFL rules, while potentially reducing the number of head injuries, may increase the number of players taken down like Gronkowski was last night.

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Monday morning one-liners

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 29: Jeremy Maclin #19 of the Kansas City Chiefs begins to move to the fans in the end zone after a touchdown reception at Arrowhead Stadium during the second quarter of the game against the Buffalo Bills on November 29, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills’ decision not to send a lot of pressure on defense didn’t work out for them.

Dolphins coach Dan Campbell said the team’s offense is “anemic right now.”

Said Patriots CB Logan Ryan, “We know our offense is always going to give us a chance. We know our kicker is the best in the game. We had another shot, we weren’t able to execute. As a defense, we’re going to take that on the chin. It’s probably going to make us even better.”

Jets WR Devin Smith rebounded from a poor Week 11 with a touchdown catch in Sunday’s win.

The Ravens look back at the last time they played without QB Joe Flacco.

Bengals RB Jeremy Hill showed flashes of his rookie year production in Sunday’s win.

Pride is the biggest thing on the line for the Browns on Monday night.

Steelers players didn’t take issue with the team’s unsuccessful fake field goal.

The Texans defense continues to play at a high level.

DL Kendall Langford got his Colts teammates fired up at halftime.

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles was penalized twice for throwing passes once he was past the line of scrimmage.

The Titans fell short on offense against the Raiders.

Snow provided good footing for the Broncos run game.

WR Jeremy Maclin has had a positive impact on the Chiefs offense.

CB David Amerson earned praise from his Raiders teammates.

Chargers TE Antonio Gates had two touchdowns a week after a poor showing.

Sunday’s Giants loss kept the Cowboys breathing in the NFC East race.

Said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, “I just didn’t think we played well or we slept-walked, whatever the word is. We just didn’t function very well early on.”

Any discussion of the disappointing Eagles season has to start with the roster.

QB Kirk Cousins’s “You like that!” has caught on with his Redskins teammates.

Their first-round pick hasn’t played, but the rest of the Bears rookie class has done well.

Lions WR Calvin Johnson is closing in on another 1,000-yard season.

The Packers hope to have C Corey Linsley and WR Jared Abbrederis back this week.

Vikings LB Anthony Barr had a strong performance in Sunday’s win.

All eyes are on QB Matt Ryan after another Falcons loss.

Panthers QB Cam Newton checked out LeBron James while the team was off this weekend.

Dispatching defensive coordinator Rob Ryan didn’t lead to a better outing for the Saints.

RB Doug Martin wasn’t a big part of the Buccaneers’ offensive game plan in the second half.

The Cardinals don’t mind winning ugly.

Said Rams DT Michael Brockers, “It’s frustrating to see. You work every day, you work hard every day to come out and try to get a victory. And it doesn’t happen. Yeah, it’s frustrating. Right now, it’s a bad time to be a Ram.”

Counting down 12 reasons why the 49ers season has been such a disappointment.

Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin came up big on third down.

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Pats president insists Jamie Collins illness didn’t come from facility

Jamie Collins AP

We still don’t know much about the illness that has kept Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins off the field for four weeks.

But team president Jonathan Kraft went out of his way last night to say it wasn’t the team’s fault.

During a pregame appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Kraft went to great lengths to dispel the notion that Collins’ virus (which has been reported to be not MRSA) came from the team facility.

“I think, without getting into too much detail, I don’t think that, fortunately, this was a situation where that could happen,” Kraft said, via Adam Kurkjian of the Boston Herald. “Jamie’s getting better and getting stronger every day.

“I know people in non-football life that end up with really bad viruses that get knocked out of their professional lives for a while. You hate to see it happen to a professional athlete. It obviously resonates much more loudly than it does in our normal lives, but this was something that doesn’t have us worried about the physical infrastructure at the facility.”

Even when asked about the team’s rivalry with Peyton Manning before the game, Kraft circled back to the topic of Collins.

“I just want you to know, we take really good care of the physical facility,” Kraft said. “We always have a heightened sense of intensity around the cleanliness there. There wasn’t anything related to Jamie’s particular issues that had to do with the facility.”

Collins returned to practice Friday, so it’s possible that he could make his return to the field soon. But he was away from the team facility for a few weeks while ill, which made the speculation about whether it might spread to teammates natural, which Kraft is obviously sensitive to.

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Dashon Goldson: We go as far as Kirk Cousins takes us

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 29: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins drops back to throw while tackle Trent Williams #71 of the Washington Redskins blocks defensive tackle Jay Bromley #96 of the New York Giants in the fourth quarter at FedExField on November 29, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

It has been a season of peaks and valleys for Kirk Cousins with Sunday bringing perhaps the highest point of the year.

Cousins was 20-of-29 for 302 yards in a 20-14 win over the Giants that lifted the Redskins into first place in the NFC East. Cousins threw for one touchdown and ran for another during the contest, which saw the Redskins jump out to a 20-0 lead and hold on in the face of a late Giants rally. Cousins’s 28-yard strike to tight end Jordan Reed for a key first down had a lot to do with that and the impact of the quarterback’s confidence was a topic of conversation among his teammates after the game.

“This team is going to win with him,” Goldson said, via the Washington Post. “We only go as far as he takes us. I just wanted him to understand that. As a quarterback, he’s got to be a leader, a little more vocal and take charge in what’s going on on the offensive side and as a team. Period.”

The peaks of Cousins’s season will make for some interesting contract decisions in Washington at the end of the season, especially if he can steer the team into the playoffs over the next five weeks. The schedule, starting with next Monday’s home game against Dallas, makes that look like a real possibility and it would look even better if Cousins can level out the rollercoaster the team has been on this season.

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Tyler Eifert says he’s OK after suffering stinger

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 29:  Tyler Eifert #85 of the Cincinnati Bengals makes a catch in front of Marcus Roberson #47 of the St. Louis Rams at Paul Brown Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert missed a lot of time in his first two seasons because of injuries, including a stinger in his rookie season that likely jumped to many minds on Sunday when he left the team’s victory over the Rams with the same injury.

Anyone worried about things playing out in a similar way this time will likely be cheered by the tight end’s comments after the game. Eifert didn’t return to the contest after exiting in the third quarter, but suggested that he may have returned if the Bengals weren’t up by so much on their way to the 31-7 win.

“I’m OK,” Eifert said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “There’s protocol with the stinger. I’ve had it before, I’ve dealt with it before. Just want to make sure you get your strength back and feeling back in your arm. Whether I would have come back or not, they just kind of said, ‘All right you’re done, we are not even going to worry about it.’ If I had to come in, probably, but I’ll be fine.”

Eifert had three catches for 40 yards, including his 12th touchdown of the year, before getting hurt on Sunday. It sounds like he should be trying for No. 13 against the Browns next Sunday.

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Bruce Arians on officials: “They can’t count to three”

Bruce Arians AP

Most coaches will tiptoe around officiating questions, for fear of getting fined by the league.

Bruce Arians is not most coaches.

The Cardinals boss was frank when discussing the officials in yesterday’s win over the 49ers, particularly when asked about a sequence when his team lost a down when a penalty was assessed against his opponent in the first quarter.

“The officials were struggling,” Arians said, via Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. “Mightily. They can’t count to three.”

Arians said officials tried to explain what happened.

“I got tired of them because they were just running out of them,” he said. “It was a FUBAR on their part. They can try to explain it. They’re wrong.”

While that might not make Arians any friends in Dean Blandino’s office, it’s also as succinct an appraisal of this year’s consistent struggles applying the rules as any we’ve heard.

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Alex Boone: Those refs sucked

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  Referee Peter Morelli #135 makes a call on the field during the NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cardinals found their way past the 49ers on Sunday with a little bit of help from penalty flags on their game-winning drive.

The most controversial was a roughing the passer call on 49ers defensive lineman Quinton Dial, which Dial said was caused by Carson Palmer “ducking into” him and drawing a flag that negated a sack and moved the ball to midfield. That came a couple of plays after the 49ers were flagged for sideline interference, which was harder for most to question based on where Torrey Smith was standing and even Smith said he was wrong after the game. 49ers guard Alex Boone wasn’t so concerned with such things.

“I’m not really too worried about getting fined. I thought those refs sucked,” Boone said, via the San Jose Mercury News. “You call running into a player when nobody even touched you? If you don’t like what we say, then don’t like what we say, don’t throw a flag for it. That’s what I’m sick about this league. This is supposed to be a man’s game. Be a man. That’s what pisses me off, that guys like that work in this league and work on this field, and we have to deal with it. Whatever. It was a terrible call. They had terrible calls all game. I don’t care what the league says. I don’t care what Roger [Goodell] says. It’s the truth. You don’t like it, get the hell out of here.”

The 49ers were called for 13 penalties overall, leaving wide receiver Anquan Boldin to say “we were playing two teams today.” The Cardinals weren’t holding their tongue about the officiating after the game either. While discussing the officials’ bungled handling of a 12 men on the field penalty against the 49ers in the first half, coach Bruce Arians said the officials were “struggling mightily and that “they can’t count to three” before criticizing their attempt to explain their error away.

Arians did say he was just fine with the roughing penalty, though, so struggling mightily might just be in the eye of the beholder after all.

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Belichick is “proud” of team, but otherwise doesn’t have much to say

Bill Belichick AP

On Thursday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick had plenty to say. On Sunday night, he did at first.

“I was really proud of the way our team fought tonight,” Belichick said after New England’s 30-24 overtime loss in Denver. “I thought we gave tremendous effort and played really hard. Obviously there were some things that we could have done better, could have coached better, could have played better, but guys really played hard and I have all the respect in the world for this football team, the way they competed so proud of what — the way they went at battle tonight, disappointed in the end result, but have to get back to work this week for Philadelphia.”

Beyond that, Belichick pretty much shut it down.

Asked about the offensive pass interference penalties being called this season (tight end Rob Gronkowski now has five), Belichick said this: “I think you should talk to them. Talk to the League. I’m sure they have all the answers on that, so talk to them.”

Regarding how the team will move forward with all of the injuries sustained on offense: “I don’t know. I’ll work on that this week.”

On the low hit that injured Gronkowski: “Look, I’m not going to talk about the play.”

As to the suspect clock error that really wasn’t a clock error at the end of regulation: “About what? Yeah.”

It’s understandable that Belichick was feeling a little frustrated and, in turn, not inclined to say much. The Patriots blew a 14-point lead, losing to a team whose quarterback was making his second career start. Typically, Belichick confuses and confounds an inexperienced signal-caller.

Instead, Brock Osweiler and the Broncos put together the kind of memorable night that both ended New England’s quest for perfection and launched what could be a new era for the franchise, with Brock Osweiler becoming the latest successor to the position once held by current Broncos G.M. John Elway.

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Odell Beckham: We need to have more fight

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 29: Wide receiver Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants scores a fourth quarter touchdown past cornerback Will Blackmon #41 of the Washington Redskins at FedExField on November 29, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Odell Beckham made another deposit on his highlight reel Sunday with a diving touchdown catch in the fourth quarter against the Redskins.

It left the opposition marveling at Beckham’s ability. Tackle Trent Williams said Beckham’s catch “wasn’t human” and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher called Beckham a “special player,” although it was easier for those players to be generous with compliments since Beckham’s amazing catch and his other eight grabs on the way to 142 total yards came in a 20-14 Redskins victory.

Beckham shrugged off opportunities to discuss his own accomplishments after the game and focused on his team’s failure to show up for a game that could have put the division firmly in their back pocket. Beckham said there was “no explanation” for why the team would be flat for a big game after having a bye week off to get ready for the contest and laid out what needs to happen to avoid a repeat.

“We need to come out with more fight,” Beckham said, via the New York Post. “It’s a team thing. We win as a team and we lose as a team. I’m going to come into work tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and for the rest of the week and this year and give it my all. Each and every single day. There is no time to slack off or to do anything like that — it’s actually time to take it to another notch. We will be on track.”

Next week brings a home game against the Jets, which offers plenty of motivation on top of the playoff race. We’ll see if that’s enough to interest the Giants since just the playoff implications weren’t enough to spark them in Week 12.

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Panthers, last undefeated team, haven’t lost in a year

Cam Newton AP

Last night, the Panthers became the only undefeated team in the NFL when the Patriots lost to the Broncos.

Today, they get to celebrate their anniversary.

As pointed out by Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, it was one year ago today, Nov.30, 2014, when the Panthers last lost a regular season game.

That was an ugly 31-13 defeat at Minnesota, a result which dropped them to 3-8-1.

While that might have ended many seasons, the Panthers kept going, winning their last four games to finish 7-8-1 and go to the playoffs as NFC South division champions.

Coupled with this year’s 11-0 start, that’s 15 straight regular season wins.

That leaves them five games clear of Atlanta for the NFC South title with five to play, and two games up on Arizona in the chase for home field advantage in the playoffs.

Their remaining schedule is favorable, too, with this week’s trip to 4-7 New Orleans followed by a home game against the 6-5 Falcons, trips to the 5-6 Giants and Falcons before their finale against the 5-6 Buccaneers.

So while the possibility of going 16-0 is tantalizing, the Panthers and their fans should also stop to enjoy the fact that any disappointment being felt in Boston today (or half the NFL) is something they haven’t had to endure in a year.

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