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Week Three Monday 10-pack

The third week of the 2010 season provided plenty of memorable highlights and outcomes. 

From an overtime thriller in New Orleans to a couple of 0-2 underachievers getting things pointed in the right direction to what nearly became an overtime thrilled in Miami, we hope the next 14 weeks are just like this one.

Then again, some teams would prefer to forget all about Week Three.  For 10 story lines focusing on the good and the bad from Week Three, read on.


1.  Coughlin out, Cowher in?

Two years ago, the Giants started the season 0-2, giving up 80 points in
two games.  This year, after a sloppy Week One win against a grossly
overmatched Panthers team, the Giants have surrendered 67 in two even
sloppier losses.

Publicly, coach Tom Coughlin has taken the blame.  Privately, he has
begun the process of holding his players accountable.

Whether it works remains to be seen.  The Giants are becoming every bit
as dysfunctional as they were when Coughlin somehow pulled a Super
Bowl-sized rabbit out of his hat.  The championship season has become
largely forgotten, however, especially as the Giants become upstaged in their new
stadium by the look-at-me Jets, at whom New York and the rest of the
country are looking, both for what they do on the field, and what they
do off it.

After the Giants collapsed down the stretch and missed the playoffs,
co-owner John Mara blew a gasket.  This year, if the Giants fail to
qualify for the postseason, he’ll do more than talk tough.

Coughlin has one year left on his contract, and the Giants will have to
decide after 2010 whether to re-up Coughlin’s deal — or whether to move
on.  If they choose to thank the 64-year-old coach for his
contributions and pay him not to work for the franchise in 2011, the
most obvious candidate to replace him becomes Bill Cowher.

The 15-year coach of the Steelers, who resigned after the 2006 season,
recently said that he’s looking for the “right situation.”  And former
Steelers tailback Jerome Bettis, who called Cowher’s coming resignation
at the outset of the 2006 season, sad earlier this year that Cowher
covets” the Giants job.

Unless and until Coughlin can get his Giants to play disciplined,
winning football, a guy who led the Steelers with square-jawed intensity
could become the ultimate answer to the cross-town team led by a
player-coach who doesn’t actually play.

2.  Tebow takes a big step backward.

Entering the regular season, Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow occupied the
No. 2 spot on the depth chart, behind starter Kyle Orton and ahead of
Brady Quinn.  Per a league source, Tebow was under the impression that
he’d be the top backup all year.

After only two games, Tebow fell to No. 3.  Inactive for Sunday’s game
against the Colts, the elevation of Quinn prevented Tebow from entering
the game before the fourth quarter, essentially eliminating the team’s “Wild Horse”
single-wing package.  As it turns out, neither Quinn nor Tebow entered
the game at all.

Following the 27-13 loss to Indy, Bronco coach Josh McDaniels downplayed
the situation.

“Just made a decision after the week of practice,” McDaniels said. 
“Brady had a good week and it wasn’t anything about Tim — we just felt
like Brady was probably better equipped at this point to handle this
style of game plan, the style of defense that they played.  Again, they
get very few reps anyways, but the reps that they get — we felt more
comfortable doing that.”

Whether it’s a one-time thing remains to be seen.  The fact that Tebow
believed he’d be the No. 2 guy all year makes the move surprising.  The
possibility that he’ll stay at No. 3 shows just how far he has to go
before he becomes the full-time starter.


3.  Pink slips coming soon?

The desperation that has prompted so many quarterback changes could soon
result in a flurry of firings.  Coordinators could be the initial
scapegoats in some cities.  But with bye weeks beginning,
underperforming head coaches could soon find themselves staying home for
the rest of the year, with pay.

The Panthers have looked putrid, and if they hit their break at 0-5,
coach John Fox could be out the door.

The Browns, who are 0-3 but just as easily could be 3-0, face the
Bengals, Falcons, Steelers, and Saints before their bye.  And if the
Browns are 0-7, Eric Mangini may not get a chance to host the Patriots
and the Jets in consecutive weeks — which likely would drop Cleveland
to 0-9, anyway.

Another potential candidate for a bye week “buh-bye” is Jaguars coach
Jack Del Rio.  As one league source explained it, multiple factions
currently are clashing in Jacksonville.  “If [Del Rio] survives the
season,” the source said, “he likely won’t survive the offseason.”

Whether Del Rio survives the season depends on whether the Jaguars can
turn things around, quickly.  Outscored by a total of 50 points in two
weeks, things get no easier next week, when the Colts come calling.  (It also doesn’t help that the Jags are stuck in a division with Indy, Tennessee, and Houston.)

In San Francisco, Mike Singletary could be on the hot seat, too — if
anyone there had the nerve to actually communicate the decision to fire him. 
(Would you?)

Then there’s Raiders coach Tom Cable, who faces some risk of being fired
every minute of every day, of every season.

4.  Time to change inherently unfair fumble rule.

While watching the Chargers-Seahawks game, which Seattle surprisingly
won, a play late in the first half reminded us of one of the most
inequitable rules in all of sport.

When an offensive player fumbles the ball out of bounds, his team keeps
possession.  But when an offensive player fumbles the ball out of the
end zone that his team is trying to invade, the ball is regarded as
having been recovered by the other team, and it’s placed at the 20.

NFL spokesman Michael Signora described it as a “long-standing rule, in
place for decades.”

That’s fine, but that doesn’t make it fair.

It simply makes no sense to punish the offensive team for getting so
close to the end zone, losing the grasp on the ball near paydirt, and
then losing possession even if the other team never actually recovers
it.  

Instead of giving the ball to the defense at the 20, the rule should
give the ball to the offense, at the opponents’ 20.  Some would argue
that possession should be awarded at the line used for the try after a
touchdown.  Either way, possession shouldn’t be handed over the defense
when the defense has done squat to secure possession.


5. Jets, Falcons seize control of their divisions.

With 13 games to go, a lot can — and will — happen.  But two teams
confidently can claim that, for now, they rule the four-team roosts in
which they reside.

Both the Jets and the Falcons went on the road and knocked off rivals
who had been 2-0.  So now the Dolphins will have to win in New York and
the Saints will have to win in Atlanta in order to avoid what amounts to
a three-game swing in the standings — 2-0 versus 0-2, plus ownership
of the tiebreaker.

Coupled with the Jets’ win over the Patriots, New York has come a
long way in only 13 days

Ditto for the Falcons, who lost a heartbreaker in Week One and suddenly
have broken the Saints’ hammerlock on the NFC South.  It likely was the biggest win of quarterback Matt Ryan’s three-year career.

Again, there’s a long way to go.  For now, though, the Jets and Falcons
have to be feeling pretty good about where they are.


6. Chiefs are for real.

When a team exceeds expectations, expectations eventually will be
adjusted.  For that reason alone, look for the Chiefs to continue to
downplay their success, in the hopes that no one will believe that
they’re a legitimate contender to win the AFC West.

But they are.  Already, the 3-0 Chiefs possess a two-game lead over the rest
of the division, and they’ve toppled the perennial top dogs from San
Diego.

Moving forward, the Chiefs benefit from a fourth-place schedule.  While
the Chargers play the Ravens and the Patriots, the Chiefs get the Browns
and the Bills. (All four AFC West teams play all four AFC South teams
in 2010.)  Those two games could end up making a huge difference, if the
race gets tight in late December.

The biggest question mark comes at quarterback, but that question mark
became an exclamation point, at least for a day, when Matt Cassel
completed 16 of 27 for 250 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception
– good for a passer rating of 111.7.

It’s the kind of triple-digit performance that became commonplace for
Cassel in 2008, when he replaced Tom Brady in New England.  Now that
Cassel could be clicking with Charlie Weis, the guy who helped make Tom
Brady into Tom Brady, there could be even more strong performances from the
player whom many regard as the weak link on a slowly-improving
franchise.

Until then, the Chiefs would prefer that we all regard them as
slowly-improving, with no reason to think that they may be headed in the
direction that their 3-0 record suggests they’re heading.

7.  Dallas Desperadoes deliver for Wade.

Backed against the wall, the Dallas Cowboys proved the value of a single
NFL weekend by avoiding an 0-3 start, pulling into a three-way tie for
second place in the NFC East, and getting themselves back on track for a
season that still could end with a Super Bowl.

Desperation suited the Cowboys well on Sunday in Houston, and now
they’ve got time during their bye week to continue to tweak the offense
and refine the defense and prepare to continue the push toward and
beyond .500.

At a time when the NFL is considering a move from 18 games, it’s
important to remember the impact of a single NFL game when a total of
only 16 are played.  The significance of each and every contest makes
each and every one dramatic and memorable; for the Cowboys, who
faced full-blown implosion after only two weeks, a single game changed
everything.

If the season is “enhanced,” that quality could quickly be diminished.

8.  Steelers could run the table.

We know it’s way too early to say this, but we’re going to say it
anyway.

The Pittsburgh Steelers could go undefeated.

It’s unlikely.  Eventually, they’ll surely lose.  But if they can get past the
Ravens on Sunday in the last game without Ben Roethlisberger and if he
pumps up an offense that is complemented by the best defense in the
league, the Steelers will be unstoppable.

If they get to 16-0, it won’t have happened against a slew of patsies. 
They play at Miami and at New Orleans, and they host the Patriots and
the Jets.

Still, there’s already something special about this team, and it could
become even more special if Roethlisberger helps light up a scoreboard
that rarely will reflect many points from the opposition.

9.  Vick’s historic redemption tour continues.

As the football-watching world waits for Mike Vick’s triple-digit
passer-rating performances to drop dramatically, as they always have done in the past, Vick has instead put his
foot harder on the gas, authoring his best performance to date with the
Eagles.

In a 28-3 win at Jacksonville, Vick completed 17 of 31 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 119.2.

In 10 quarters, Vick has thrown six touchdown passes and not a single
interception.

He’ll face his toughest test yet next week, when Donovan McNabb returns
to Philly for a game that Eagles fans will want to win more than any
non-playoff game in franchise history.  And regardless of how well
McNabb does or doesn’t play, another strong showing from Vick could make
McNabb’s performance moot.

Meanwhile, at some point we need to acknowledge that we’re witnessing
one of the most compelling stories in league history.  Rather than
merely returning to the level he occupied before missing two years while
in prison, Vick could be on the verge of reaching new heights — and of
becoming the franchise quarterback he never quite became in Atlanta.

10.  Saints need to lose their blind spot for Garrett Hartley.

Kicker Garrett Hartley forever will occupy a position in the pantheon of
Saints stars, thanks to his delivery of the franchise’s first NFL title
via a 40-yard overtime kick in the NFC Championship and a trio of
40-plus-yard field goals in the Super Bowl.

But kicker remains one of the most fungible positions in football, and
if a guy can’t do his job there are plenty of others who can, and who will.

The challenge for coach Sean Payton and G.M. Mickey Loomis will be to
forget about the things Hartley did in the past, and to focus on what
he’s doing now.

Or, more importantly, on what he’s not doing.

Two missed field goals in Week One allowed the Vikings to hang around
much longer than they should have, and a redirection from 49ers
defensive tackle Ray McDonald may have prevented Hartley from being the
goat in Week Two.

The goat he was on Sunday, when he missed an overtime chip shot after
knuckling the game-tying kick that forced the extra session.

Peter King reported on Sunday night that the Saints will bring in
kickers this week
.  It shouldn’t simply be a shot across Hartley’s bow. 
Kickers need to be much more reliable than Hartley has been.  And if
Hartley continues to receive extra consideration for what he did in last
year’s Super Bowl, the Saints won’t win another one this year.

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Gruden says the “clock’s ticking” on Griffin

Gruden AP

Two years ago, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III took the NFL by storm with a combination of running and passing that kept defenses off balance and guessing all year long.  Until he was injured while running.

Since then, an effort has been made to make Griffin more of a passer and less of a runner.  And it hasn’t worked.

Now?  Coach Jay Gruden sounds willing to consider having Griffin run some more as a last-ditch effort to make him more productive.

“It’s a production-based business,” Gruden told Albert Breer of NFL Media.  “We haven’t won many games lately with him.  We gotta figure out a way to get in the end zone.  We just have to score.  I don’t care how we do it.  If it’s running the zone-read, I don’t care.  Quarterback sneaks, I don’t give a damn.  We gotta find a way to utilize him where we can get productive drives and stay away from negative plays and have some consistency.”

Consistency and the absence of negative plays could help Griffin rebuild his shattered confidence.  Which Gruden may have further shattered while discussing Griffin’s shattered confidence on the record.

“His biggest thing, he’s been coddled for so long,” Gruden said of Griffin.  “It’s not a negative, he’s just been so good, he just hasn’t had a lot of negative publicity.  Everybody’s loved him.  Some adversity is striking hard at him now, and how he reacts to that off the field, his mental state of mind, how it affects his confidence, hopefully it’s not in a negative way.  I read Drew Brees said after a couple interceptions, ‘I’m never gonna lose confidence, I’m gonna come out firing all the time.’”

And then Gruden may have stomped the shattered pieces of confidence into powder.

“He’s auditioned long enough,” Gruden said of Griffin.  “Clock’s ticking.  He’s gotta play.  We’ll see. . . .  We want Robert to excel, we really do.  But the last two games, it hasn’t been very good, anywhere.  We gotta play better around him.  And the biggest thing for us as playcallers, and for him, we just have to come together and jell with plays he’s comfortable with.  That takes time.  But we don’t have a lot of time.”

Griffin’s time could run out because of the backup who won two games before Griffin returned from injury.

“We have a guy behind him that played pretty well, and people are looking, ‘OK, he’s 2-0,’” Gruden said regarding Colt McCoy.  “There’s always pressure on the quarterback to perform.  And if you don’t perform, like any other position, somebody’s behind you pushing you.”

The way Gruden has been talking lately, maybe McCoy will end up pushing Griffin to the bench.  Or maybe right out of town.

Unless Griffin pushes another head coach out of town first.

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Refs missed a Cutler fumble, but replay couldn’t fix it

cutler AP

One of the limitations of instant replay was demonstrated on Sunday in Chicago, where Jay Cutler fumbled, only to have the officials wrongly rule it an incomplete pass — and to have the referee unable to do anything about it on a replay rule.

As explained by NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino in a video distributed by the league, players on the field stopped when they heard an official blow a whistle for what he thought was an incomplete pass by Cutler. Replays clearly showed that Cutler had fumbled, not thrown a pass, but that didn’t matter because if the players stopped playing when they heard an official blow a play dead, there’s nothing instant replay reviews can do about it.

“The problem is, everybody has stopped,” Blandino said. “The rule is, if the ruling on the field is an incomplete pass or down by contact but it’s really a fumble, in order to give the ball to the recovering team, that recovery has to happen in the immediate continuing action. So players can’t stop as a result of the dead ball ruling, as a result of the whistle.”

Blandino acknowledged that video of the play clearly showed Cutler had fumbled, and a Vikings player was the first to pick it up — but only after everyone had stopped playing because of the whistle.

“It is a fumble, you can see that,” Blandino said. “The referee ruled incomplete pass. It should’ve been a fumble.”

Bears fans saw a similar play last year, when an Aaron Rodgers fumble that most of the players on the field thought was an incomplete pass was picked up by the Packers and run in for a touchdown. The difference in that play was that the players stopped because they thought it was an incomplete pass, not because an official blew a whistle. On that play, the officials on the field correctly ruled that Rodgers had fumbled, and they correctly allowed the play to keep going even though most of the players on the field thought it was an incomplete pass.

“What we teach is do not blow the whistle,” Blandino said.

Unfortunately, the ref in Sunday’s game didn’t follow that teaching.

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Week 12 injury report roundup

Larry Fitzgerald, Mohammed Seisay AP

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week 12 of the 2014 season.

Browns at Falcons

Browns tight end Jordan Cameon (concussion) and wide receiver Marlon Moore (hamstring) are out, with linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee, doubtful) likely to join them on the sideline. Safety Johnson Bademosi (concussion) and linebacker Jabaal Sheard (foot) are both questionable. The Falcons have ruled out cornerback Robert Alford (wrist) and tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring), but the rest of the 53-man roster is healthy enough to play.

Buccaneers at Bears

It’s a four-man injury report for Tampa and all four — linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring), running back Doug Martin (ankle), running back Charles Sims (ankle) and cornerback Alterraun Verner (hamstring) — are questionable. The Bears ruled out defensive end Trevor Scott (knee), linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring) and wide receiver Chris Williams (hamstring) while listing tackle Eben Britton (illness), cornerback Demontre Hurst (knee) and tackle Jordan Mills (ribs) as questionable.

Bengals at Texans

Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (hip,collarbone) is set to return after being listed as probable, but linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) is out again this week. Defensive end Margus Hunt (ankle) is also out. The Texans will wait to make a call on running back Arian Foster (groin, questionable) for a second straight week and they’ll continue to be without cornerback Kareem Jackson (knee).

Jaguars at Colts

The Jaguars ruled out defensive end Andre Branch (groin) and linebacker Jeremiah George (ankle), but the rest of the roster is healthy heading into Sunday. The Colts ruled out tight end Dwayne Allen (ankle), tackle Gosder Cherilus (shoulder) and cornerback Greg Toler (concussion). Defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle, probable) is set to return.

Packers at Vikings

It will be a week without tight end Brandon Bostick (hip) for the Packers. Cornerback Jarrett Bush (groin), linebacker Jay Elliott (hamstring), defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) and linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder) are all questionable. The Vikings added running back Ben Tate this week because Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon were banged up. Asiata (concussion) won’t play, but McKinnon (back) is probable. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee), wide receiver Greg Jennings (rib), tackle Matt Kalil (knee) and wide receiver Jarius Wright (hamstring) are questionable.

Lions at Patriots

The Lions will wait to make a final determination on running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and they’ve ruled out defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) and guard Larry Warford (knee) for another week. New England listed tackle Marcus Cannon (hip), defensive end Dominique Easley (knee) and safety Nate Ebner (finger) as questionable. Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) is probable, though.

Titans at Eagles

Cornerback Marqueston Huff (hamstring) is unlikely to play for the Titans, who will wait to make final calls on wide receiver Justin Hunter (knee), linebacker Derrick Morgan (knee), safety Daimion Stafford (shoulder) and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (back) after listing them as questionable. Quarterback Nick Foles (collarbone) remains out, but the rest of the Eagles on the injury report, including offensive lineman Matt Tobin (concussion), are probable.

Rams at Chargers

The Rams will try to win against another AFC West team without defensive tackle Alex Carrington (knee), cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (groin), cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) and wide receiver Damian Williams (hamstring). They hold out hope for tight end Jared Cook (back), tight end Cory Harkey (quadricep) and long snapper Jake McQuaide (back) after listing them as questionable. Chargers safety Jahleel Addae (concussion) and center Rich Ohrnberger (ankle, back) are both questionable and quarterback Philip Rivers (chest) is probable.

Cardinals at Seahawks

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee, questionable) will be a game-time decision after missing practice all week. Defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) is out. The Seahawks expect to have linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe, probable) back in the lineup, but cornerback Marcus Burley (hamstring), linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) and center Max Unger (knee, ankle) have all been ruled out. Guard James Carpenter (ankle) is questionable.

Dolphins at Broncos

The Dolphins ruled out linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) and have little hope that cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle, doubtful) or tight end Charles Clay (knee, doubtful) will play. Running back Lamar Miller (shoulder, knee) and guard Daryn Colledge (back) are both questionable. The Broncos ruled out running backs Ronnie Hillman (foot) and Montee Ball (groin), but wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) was listed as probable after practicing on Friday. Tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) didn’t practice and is listed as questionable.

Redskins at 49ers

Defensive end Chris Baker (chest) and tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring) are out for the Redskins, who listed two offensive linemen — guard Shawn Lauvao (concussion) and left tackle Trent Williams (knee, ankle) — as questionable. Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (biceps) won’t make his return this week and right tackle Anthony Davis (concussion) is out as well. Cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring), wide receiver Bruce Ellington (ankle), tight end Vance McDonald (hip) and linebacker Dan Skuta (ankle) are all questionable for the home team.

Cowboys at Giants

Cornerback Tyler Patmon (knee, ankle) is out, but the Cowboys are otherwise free of injury concerns as they return from the bye week. The Giants ruled out defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf), right tackle Justin Pugh (quadricep) and linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) with Geoff Schwartz (toe, probable) expected to take Pugh’s spot in the lineup.

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Roman Harper fined $8,268 for unnecessary roughness

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Panthers safety Roman Harper has drawn a $8,268 fine from the NFL for an unnecessary roughness penalty in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta, the league confirmed to PFT on Friday.

Harper was flagged for unnecessary roughness after tackling Falcons wide receiver Roddy White around the helmet in the third quarter. As White was falling, both of Harper’s hands contacted White’s helmet, and Harper punctuated the tackle with a little push to the head with his left hand. This started a brief confrontation between Harper, White (who struck the safety in the facemask) and Falcons tailback Antone Smith (who shoved Harper). Ultimately, Harper drew the 15-yard penalty.

A ninth-year pro, the 31-year-old Harper has started all 11 games for Carolina this season, recording 41 tackles and three interceptions.

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Report: Chiefs to sign Jason Avant

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Chiefs went an 11th game without a touchdown catch by a wide receiver in Oakland on Thursday night and Friday has brought a reported change to the receiving corps.

It’s a familiar face to head coach Andy Reid.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Chiefs are signing Jason Avant, who worked out for the team on Friday. The Chiefs haven’t made an announcement, but Avant’s agent Doug Hendrickson congratulated his client on finding a new team.

Avant was released by the Panthers earlier this week after catching 21 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown in 11 games for the team. Avant was critical of the team’s offensive approach at the end of last week’s loss to the Falcons, though the Panthers explained the move as one designed to get more playing time for younger receivers.

It was Avant’s first year with the Panthers after spending the first eight years of his career with the Eagles. The first seven of those years came when Reid was in charge of the team and Avant had 259 catches for 3,199 yards and 10 touchdowns as a regular in the team’s offense.

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Tickets to be free for Jets-Bills in Detroit

Ford Field AP

Tickets for Monday night’s Jets-Bills game at Detroit’s Ford Field will be free, general-admission seats, the Lions announced Friday.

Bills season-ticket holders are being offered free tickets beginning today, as are Lions season-ticket owners. All other ticket giveaways will begin Saturday, according to the Lions.

Monday night’s game will start at 7 p.m. Eastern. The NFL moved the game to Detroit on Thursday because of heavy snow in the Buffalo metropolitan area.

The Lions also announced they would hold an in-game raffle to benefit the American Red Cross of Western and Central New York Disaster Relief Fund.

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Patrick Willis undergoes toe surgery, declares it successful

St. Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Patrick Willis had surgery today.

And judging by the smile on his face, it was a successful one.

The 49ers linebacker had surgery on the toe problem that landed him on season-ending injured reserve.

“Surgery went well thank u all for the support and heartfelt wishes. Determined to get back on that field and be better than ever. Road back starts now! #alwaysbelieve,” he wrote on Instagram.

This has been an upside down year for the 49ers in many respects, and losing Willis will be tough.

Rookie replacement Chris Borland has played solidly, but things aren’t the same without their leader in the middle, as the 49ers scrap for a playoff berth.

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Rodney McLeod not fined for hit that concussed Emmanuel Sanders

Denver Broncos v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

During the Rams’ 22-7 victory over the Broncos last Sunday, safety Rodney McLeod knocked Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders out of the game with a concussion when he hit Sanders while Sanders was trying to catch a ball from Peyton Manning.

McLeod was flagged for the hit during the game, although the chance for repeated viewings it didn’t look like McLeod violated the league’s rules on contacting a defenseless receiver. The league often fines players it feels were guilty of such penalties, but PFT has confirmed with the league that McLeod has not been fined.

It doesn’t sound like that will be greeted as bad news by Sanders. The receiver said after Friday’s practice that he thought it was a clean hit while also wishing McLeod made more of a play on the ball.

“I think it was a legal hit. Obviously, [McLeod] didn’t hit me in the head or lead with the head. He hit me with the shoulder. But in terms of the intentions of targeting, I feel like the guy could have had an opportunity to go for the ball, but I think his intentions the whole time were to come over and deliver a blow. That’s the only thing that I’m not too happy about,” Sanders said, via ESPN.com. “I feel like the National Football League, although it is a violent game, you’re also supposed to protect your brother. And most free safeties, they like interceptions. Obviously, his intent was to try and make a statement, and I guess he did.”

Sanders has been listed as probable to play Sunday after practicing on Friday for the first time this week.

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Union questions Harold Henderson’s neutrality

Peterson Getty Images

On Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed former NFL executive Harold Henderson to resolve the appeal filed by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson under the personal conduct policy.

The NFL Players Association does not believe that the action satisfies its request for a neutral third-party arbitrator.

“A long-time NFL Executive and current legal consultant cannot, by definition, be a neutral arbitrator,” the union said in a statement released to PFT.

The NFL appointed Henderson without addressing the union’s request for a neutral third-party arbitrator.  The league previously appointed former U.S. Judge Barbara Jones to handle the appeal of Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension.

Judge Jones ultimately required Goodell to testify at the Rice appeal hearing, over the strenuous objection of the NFL.  That ruling may or may not have influenced the NFL’s willingness to appoint a true outsider to handle Peterson’s case.

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Lions trying to pull one of the bigger surprises of Belichick’s tenure

Denver Broncos v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Patriots are seven-point home favorites Sunday vs. Detroit. That may not sound like a lot of points — just a touchdown and an extra point. And the Lions, at 7-3 and tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North, are tougher-than-usual underdogs.

But with the Patriots, those seven points can seem like 70.

According to Spreadapedia.com, and as noted for “The Linemakers” of Sporting News, the Patriots have recorded 50 wins and just four losses as home regular-season favorites of seven points or more in Bill Belichick’s 15 seasons as head coach — a 92.6 percent success rate.

By contrast, since Belichick became New England’s coach in 2000, all other NFL clubs have won about four in every five games as seven-point regular-season home favorites (681-175-2, 79.5 percent). It should be noted two sizable favorites lost just last Sunday — Washington (-7) and New Orleans (-8.5).

The Patriots, meanwhile, are 2-0 as favorites of seven or more this season. Since 2000, the lone regular-season underdogs of seven-plus points to knock off New England were the 2006 Jets (+10.5), the 2008 Dolphins (+12.5), the 2011 Giants (+9.5) and 2012 Cardinals (+13.5).

In the playoffs, the Patriots are 9-2 straight-up as home favorites of at least seven points, with the only defeats to the 2010 Jets (+9.5) and 2012 Ravens (+8).

Interestingly enough, the Patriots aren’t great bets as big home favorites, covering in just 24-of-54 regular-season games and just 5-of-11 playoff contests when laying seven points or more since 2000.

Still, there’s a difference between wedging the door open with your foot and having said door slammed on said foot.

In short, in a league where big favorites generally take care of business, the Patriots almost always get the job done.

Which is why they’re the Patriots.

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Ricardo Lockette fined $10,000 after last week’s ejection

Ricardo Lockette AP

Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette joined running back Marshawn Lynch in returning a lost wallet earlier this week and now he’s joined Lynch as the recipient of a fine from the NFL.

PFT has confirmed with the league that Lockette has been fined $10,000 for the actions that led him to be ejected from last Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs. At the tail end of a long De’Anthony Thomas punt return, Lockette responded to a shove from Chiefs defensive back Kurt Coleman by throwing a punch that connected with Coleman’s helmet. Lockette was penalized and ejected from the game as a result.

While Lockette has no one to blame but himself for throwing the punch or getting tossed from the game, he can grumble a bit about the circumstances that led to the punch.

Upon replay, officials ruled that Thomas stepped out of bounds well before he was tackled on the Seattle 40-yard-line and there likely wouldn’t have been an altercation had they made the correct ruling on the field in the first place.

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Rob Gronkowski fined $8,268 for bouncer move

New England Patriots v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Rob Gronkowski is going to have to work a lot of weekends as a bouncer to make up for this one.

The league office tells PFT that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was fined $8,268 for unnecessary roughness during last week’s game against the Colts.

The fine stemmed from his “blocking” Colts safety Sergio Brown out of bounds and into a cameraman late in their Sunday night win.

Gronkowski joked afterward he had thrown Brown “out of the club.”

Now he gets to make a donation instead of paying the cover charge.

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Larry Fitzgerald officially questionable for Sunday

Larry Fitzgerald AP

The Cardinals practiced without wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald again on Friday, making it an entire week of missed practices for the veteran.

That’s not enough to rule him out for Sunday’s game against the Seahawks, however. Fitzgerald is listed as questionable and coach Bruce Arians said, via Darren Urban of the team’s website, that the team will monitor him over the weekend before making a game-time decision about his status on Sunday afternoon.

Fitzgerald has maintained an optimistic attitude about his chances of playing all week and said that his knee has been feeling better, but the Cardinals have to weigh how much he can help them in a diminished state against the possibility that playing him against Seattle leaves him compromised moving into the future.

The 9-1 start to the season has left the Cardinals in a very strong position heading into the final six games, but three of those games are against the Seahawks and 49ers so they definitely don’t want to lose sight of the end goal by taking too many risks this weekend.

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The Ibillarod: Bills send snowmobiles to get players to stadium

Wintry Weather AP

As the Bills are trying to get to Detroit to practice tonight, they’ve had to employ some unique measures to get to the airport.

With many players snowed in by this week’s blizzard, the team sent out snowmobiles to collect some of them, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. They finally collected all 53 players, and are en route now.

There has been a driving ban in greater Buffalo after this week’s storms, which dumped nearly eight feet (FEET!) of snow in some places.

Not all were lucky enough to get a ride, as wide receiver Chris Hogan tweeted that he was walking to Ralph Wilson Stadium, where buses were ready to take players to the airport.

What would have been better is a dog sled, as they could have had themselves an Ibillarod. Either that, or sent out the St. Bernards with flasks for the stragglers, and those who don’t get to escape to balmy Detroit.

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Lions hope fewer plays leads to more productive offense

Matthew Stafford, Alex Okafor AP

The Lions are coming off their worst offensive showing of the season in a 14-6 loss to the Cardinals, a game that marked the first time since 2009 that the Lions failed to score a touchdown.

That leaves the team with an average of just under 19 points per game, which ranks 26th in the league and is down almost six points from last year’s totals. That certainly wasn’t the desired outcome when the team hired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi away from the Saints in the offseason and it leaves them vulnerable to falling out of playoff position even if their defense remains the stingiest in the league in terms of points allowed.

Lombardi’s got a plan he hopes will get the offense going again. He’s taken some plays out of the playbook in order to give the unit more time to practice the remaining plays against more defensive looks so that they’re better prepared for Sunday.

“We have probably somewhere upwards of 200 reps a week that we’re working on in practice and then you have some walk-through reps,” Lombardi said, via the Detroit Free Press. “You have a certain number of calls or maybe you get this one play repped against one or maybe two defenses, so if you have less calls you can kind of show more situations and you’re not just talking about them. It’s just a matter of practicing fewer plays and then they’re able to handle all the different looks that come up.”

They’ll get their first test of how well things are working out against the Patriots this weekend. If all goes well, the Lions will improve their chances of improving on last season’s dismal finish to the season.

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