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Week Four Friday 10-pack

It’s Friday morning.  And since the news flow often slows down on Friday morning, we need to fill space.

So we fill space with 10 story lines emanating from the upcoming slate of games.

It’s harder with two or three storyline-worthy teams on a bye, but we eventually found a way to milk the cow this week.


1.  Jets could soon be soaring.

After a disappointing Monday night loss to break in their half of the
New Meadowlands Stadium (it’s sort of like Fred and Barney sharing a
swimming pool
), the Jets have won two in a row against their primary
division rivals.  And they’ve done it with cornerback Darrelle Revis and
linebacker Calvin Pace injured, and with receiver Santonio Holmes on
suspension.

So what happens when those guys come back?

The Vikings could find out on Monday, October 11, when Holmes definitely
be back — and when Revis and/or Pace could be dressed and playing, too.

Considering the level of play that the Jets have achieved without them,
the Jets could be poised to run away with the division.  Until then,
they won’t even have to switch to missiles to shoot down the Bills.

2.  Last chance for Mangini?

The Browns have been competitive in each of their first three games.  But they’ve lost each one.

After this weekend’s visit from the Bengals, the Browns play the Falcons, Steelers, and Saints.  Then comes the bye week.

As a result, a loss to Cincinnati on Sunday would make an 0-7 start
likely, and team president Mike Holmgren could decide to part ways with
coach Eric Mangini.  And so Sunday’s game could be Mangini’s last and
best chance to preserve his job beyond October 31.

If the Browns don’t win in Week Four, and in turn don’t pull off an
unlikely upset of the Falcons, Steelers, or Saints, there’s a chance
that, when the Jets come to Cleveland on November 14, coach Rex Ryan
could be looking across the sideline at his identical twin, Browns
defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

3.  Running back injuries confirm 18-game season concerns.

With Colts president Bill Polian sparking a belated debate regarding the
wisdom of an 18-game season, one of the primary concerns is (or at
least should be) the impact of two additional games on the short-term
and long-term health of the players.

Indeed, with seven running backs (Steven Jackson of the Rams, Pierre
Thomas of the Saints, Jahvid Best of the Lions, Ray Rice of the Ravens,
Cedric Benson of the Bengals, Fred Taylor of the Patriots, and Knowshon
Moreno of the Broncos) already dinged up after only three games and
Reggie Bush of the Saints out with a broken leg, the league and
the union need to be very concerned about the potential consequences of
additional games on the players who take the brunt of the punishment in
the 16 games that already are played.

Though the move from 14 to 16 games in the ’70s occurred without much public discussion or debate, the three-channels television universe and the absence of talk radio and the Internet fueled that outcome.  Besides, players continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger.  When they hit each other, the bones and ligaments we all possess are at more risk than ever before.

4.  Team of destiny wanted.

Last year, it was obvious after three weeks that the Saints and Colts
were headed for big things.  New Orleans hung 45 on the Lions, winning
by 18, and 48 on the Eagles, winning by 26.  Held under 30 by the Bills,
the Saints still won by 20.

The Colts started more slowly, beating the Jags by two and the Dolphins
by four.  By Week Three, however, the Colts had taken down the defending
NFC champions (the Cardinals) by 21.

This year, none of the three remaining undefeated teams have rolled over
their opponents consistently.  The Steelers and the Chiefs won close
games in Week One and Week Two before notching 20-plus point victories in
Week Three.  The Bears have won by five points, seven points, and three
points.

The absence of a team that clearly and definitively is taking care of
its business has reinforced the sense of parity that could be laying the
foundation for a playoff run with plenty of teams still alive, and a
postseason in which anything can happen.

For now, the Steelers are the team most likely to emerge as the team to
beat, but first they have to beat the Ravens on Sunday.  If the Steelers
can’t — and if the Bears lose on the road against the Giants — the
off-this-Sunday Chiefs could be the only undefeated team left after four
weeks of action.

Somewhere, Pete Rozelle will be smiling broadly.

5.  Time for Texans to prove themselves.

When the Texans toppled the Colts to open the season, the team that has
played eight years without a playoff berth seemed to be destined to
finally bust through to the postseason.  But then the Texans struggled
to beat a Redskins team that suddenly has inherited the stink of the
Rams, and the Texans lost fairly convincingly to in-state rivals who
were on the ropes, in danger of being punched through.

So are the Texans a contender, or did they merely give the first game of the season the Daytona 500 treatment?

Beating the Raiders won’t mean conclusively that the Texans are legit,
but losing will mean that Houston isn’t ready to hang with the likes of
the Colts and the Titans in arguably the best division in the
conference, if not the league.

6.  Desperation shifts from Dallas to New York.

Last week, a strong sense of desperation emerged in Dallas, where the
Cowboys had lost their first two games — and faced falling to 0-3 at
the hands of an upstart team from Houston that had started the year 2-0.

The Cowboys found a way to push the dark cloud away last week, and it
now has settled in New York, over the Rubble half of the Fred-and-Barney
pool.  (That’s the third Flintstones reference of the day.  And it’s not even 1966.)

The Giants, after beating the Panthers (who have turned out to be
toothless, de-clawed, malnourished house cats), have been spanked by the Colts and
Titans in successive weeks.  Only 14 days after losing decisively in
Indy, the Giants cannot afford to be embarrassed again before a national
audience.  (On NBC.)

With their backs firmly pressed against the wall and the Bears
overachieving their way through two of their three wins, look for the
Giants to get their act together, if only for a night.

And who knows?  Three years ago, the Giants lost their first two games
and gave up 80 points in the process.  More than four months later, they
only won the Super Bowl.

7.  Fins, Pats face “must” wins.

Yeah, it’s only Week Four.  But with the Jets, Dolphins, and Patriots
getting an early start on their round-robin routine, neither the
Patriots nor the Dolphins can afford to drop to 0-2.

The Dolphins need it even more; they play the Jets in New York on
December 12 and the Pats in New England on January 2.  Already in danger
of being swept by the Jets, the Dolphins can’t afford to lose at home
to New England, if the Dolphins have genuine designs on winning the
division.

The Patriots need this one, too.  But they still get the Jets and the
Dolphins at home.  For the Dolphins, the season could potentially be over less than a
month after it began.

8.  Loss to Browns could help the Bengals in the long run.

The Bengals, despite their 2-1 record, don’t project the same vibe as
they did a year ago.  With a good defense (Week One at New England
notwithstanding) and a capable running back, the Bengals have relied too
heavily on the passing game.

Though T.O. has thrown the offensive line under the bus without overtly
throwing the offensive line under the bus, questions persist regarding
quarterback Carson Palmer.  Whether he has lingering elbow issues or he
simply has lost his zip on the ball, the Bengals seem to be in the same
style of denial that plagued the Panthers in 2009, when they refused to
face reality regarding quarterback Jake Delhomme.

And so a loss to the Browns could help jar the Bengals into facing
reality.   Eventually, they need to ask themselves whether Palmer
truly represents the future of the franchise at the quarterback
position.

With a base salary of $11.5 million due to Palmer in 2011, we’ve got a
feeling that, win or lose on Sunday, the notoriously frugal Bengals will
think long and hard about paying that much money to a guy who has no
career playoff wins, and whose best days may be fading far behind him.

9.  Snyder’s biggest test could be coming.

For more than 11 years, Daniel Snyder has owned the Redskins.  And for
most of that time, Snyder has been impatient when it comes to the men
who are coaching the team.

After two years, Norv Turner was dumped.  (A playoff appearance likely
saved him in 1999.)  Marty Schottenheimer lasted a season.  Steve
Spurrier made it for two.  But for his resume and Hall of Fame bust, Joe
Gibbs may not have made it four years.  Jim Zorn lasted only two.

And throughout most if not all of Zorn’s final year, Snyder was wooing
(or at least planning to woo) Mike Shanahan, the presumed savior of the
franchise.

In Week One, it appeared to be a brilliant move, thanks to an unexpected
win over the Cowboys.  But after blowing a 17-point lead against the
Texans and somehow losing by 14 against the Rams, the Redskins face what
could be a very long day at Lincoln Financial Field.

It gets no easier with the Packers and Colts coming to town, followed by trips to Chicago and Detroit.

Yes, Detroit, where the Lions managed to beat the Redskins in 2009, for
their first win in 22 games.  After a bye, the Redskins have the Eagles
again, the Titans, the Vikings, the Giants twice, and the Cowboys
again.

It all easily could add up to a losing season.  Though the outcome may
be better than 4-12, it easily could be yet another two-digit collection
of losses.  And then Snyder will have to find a way to resist the urge
to act, and to instead commit to staying the course.

Given the open and obvious salivating for Shanahan, there’s no way
Snyder can make a change after only one year.  Based on his history,
however, Snyder surely will approach 2011 with questions swirling in his
mind as to whether there might be another guy out there whose name
Snyder should pencil onto the top of the latest version of his wish
list.

10.  Rams have a chance to make some noise.

Based on their pattern of three wins in 2007, two in 2008, and one in 2009, the Rams were on track to go 0-16 in 2010.

Already, they’ve blown that trend out of the water by climbing to 1-2.

This weekend, the Rams have a chance to break a 10-game losing streak to
the Seahawks, a string that dates back to 2004, when St. Louis took
three games from their division rivals, include two in the usually
impenetrable Qwest Field.

If they can — and if the Cardinals lose in San Diego — the Rams will
find themselves in a  three-way tie atop the division after four weeks.

With three of the next four games against the Lions, Bucs, and Panthers,
the Rams could be on the right side of .500 at the bye.  And that could
give them the confidence they need to make a serious run at the
division crown and the postseason home game that goes along with it.

Sure, they likely won’t win the division.  But the fact that they won’t
be dead in the water with 25 percent of the season in the books is
nothing short of stunning.

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Joe Mays to have surgery on injured wrist

Chiefs Training Camp AP

The Kansas City Chiefs will have to get by without the services of linebacker Joe Mays for the immediate future.

According to Dave Skretta of the Associated Press, Mays is set to have surgery on a wrist injury suffered last week against the Carolina Panthers.

Mays was penciled in as the second starting inside linebacker for Kansas City alongside Derrick Johnson. He is expected to have surgery later this week. Though no timetable is given for Mays’ expected return, the Chiefs will have to move forward without Mays for the time being.

Mays appeared in 14 games, making 13 starts, for the Houston Texans last season. He compiled 67 tackles, a sack and three passes defended on the season. The injury likely means linebackers James Michael-Johnson and Josh Mauga will be called upon to fill the void in the meantime.

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49ers replacing turf at Levi’s Stadium

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

After being forced to move practice out of Levi’s Stadium due to poor turf conditions on Wednesday, the San Francisco 49ers have decided to replace the playing surface altogether ahead of Sunday’s preseason game with the San Diego Chargers.

The 49ers cut short a public practice open to fans at their brand new stadium on Wednesday after several players continued to slip on the loose surface.

According to Janie McCauley of the Associated Press, the 49ers are working to re-sod the surface ahead of Sunday’s game.

“The 49ers organization would like to apologize to any fans who were inconvenienced by today’s practice ending early,” the team said Wednesday. “We have determined the appropriate measures necessary to have the field ready for Sunday and look forward to hosting the San Diego Chargers.”

It’s not unusual for stadiums with grass fields to need their field replaced during a season. It is unusual for it to happen after one game in the middle of August.

It appears as those some of the grass at the stadium just didn’t take hold to the ground strongly enough to provide a stable surface. After Sunday’s game against San Diego, the 49ers do not play at home again until Sept. 14. It could give the stadium a couple extra weeks for the new sod to take hold and provide a safe surface for the players.

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Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount play into fourth quarter vs. Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

On the same day they were cited for marijuana possession, Steelers tailbacks Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount both played into the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh’s 31-21 preseason loss at Philadelphia.

Bell (nine rushes, 23 yards) and Blount (seven rushes, 32 yards) were the only Steelers tailbacks to carry the ball against the Eagles.

Afterwards, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin shed some light on why Bell and Blount played.

“From my perspective, in terms of their participation tonight, I didn’t view it as punishment to send them home to be quite honest with you, to not play in this preseason game. I would rather them play more than anticipated than to remove them from the game,” Tomlin said, according to a transcript of his remarks from the club. “That’s why we took the stance that we took tonight.”

Tomlin called the Bell and Blount incident “conduct  . . . detrimental to our efforts. They’ll be dealt with appropriately.”

However, Tomlin said the club’s lackluster play Thursday night wasn’t related to the backs’ legal issues.

“We are not going to make any excuse for that performance. We are going to own that. What happened yesterday had nothing to do with how we performed tonight,” Tomlin said.

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Justin Britt looks set to win Seahawks starting right tackle job

San Diego Chargers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks hoped Justin Britt would develop into their starting right tackle when they selected him in the second round of the draft out of the University of Missouri in May.

Turns out he may ascend to the starting role even earlier than anticipated.

Britt appears set to win the job over veteran tackle Eric Winston to replace departed starter Breno Giacomini. After an up and down preseason debut against the Denver Broncos, Britt fared much better against the San Diego Chargers last week. Seattle’s coaching staff has been pleased with Britt’s progress throughout the preseason and signs are pointing toward him starting the season opener against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 4.

“His progress has been really solid,” head coach Pete Carroll said Thursday. “He’s making great strides to be a legitimate starter. I’ve said before it’s all in his makeup that really kind of substantiates that he’s able to do this and handle this so it’s gone great so far”

The right tackle job has been one of few truly open competitions for starting roles on the Seahawks this offseason.

Britt was initially expected to be in competition for the job with second-year player Michael Bowie.

Bowie stated eight games as a rookie for Seattle with seven starts coming at right tackle. However, Bowie showed up to training camp 20 pounds overweight, according to Carroll. He then suffered a shoulder injury that would require surgery and was waived/injured by Seattle before being claimed by the Cleveland Browns.

Once Bowie injured his shoulder, the Seahawks signed Winston to a one-year deal to compete with Britt for the job. Up until this point, Britt has predominantly worked with the first-team offense for the entirety of training camp. If he’s able to put together another strong performance against the Chicago Bears on Friday night, the starting job will certainly be his for the taking.

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Steelers’ starters struggle in tune-up at Philadelphia

Pittsburgh Steelers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Last season, the Steelers were compromised by an 0-4 start.

And with the regular season a little more than two weeks away, it’s clear the 2014 Steelers have some things to clean up before the gates open.

In Thursday night’s 31-21 loss at Philadelphia, the Steelers surrendered 482 yards. Eagles star tailback LeSean McCoy riddled the Steelers for 50 yards on six touches in the first quarter, and Philadelphia quarterbacks combined to complete 31-of-43 attempts for 309 yards for the game.

The Steelers’ first-team offense didn’t manage a single point until about four minutes left in the third quarter, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 27-yard TD pass to tight end Heath Miller. By then, though, the Eagles’ defense was playing backups.

With Roethlisberger still a blue-chip quarterback, the Steelers’ offense should be a strength this season. And on their best, the Steelers are quite capable of garnering their first playoff spot since 2011.

But Thursday’s loss had to be an uncomfortable one for Pittsburgh. Yes, the game didn’t count, but here was an elite offense making Pittsburgh look . . . well, pedestrian. Maybe it’s nothing. But even if it’s nothing, it was a cringeworthy nothing.

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Jason Worilds leaves with knee injury

Jason Worilds AP

Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds has been ruled out for the remainder of Thursday’s preseason game at Philadelphia with a right knee injury, the club said.

Worilds was credited with a sack of Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez early in the third quarter, but the play was nullified by a penalty. On the next play, Worilds appeared to be no longer in the game, and the Eagles scored a touchdown. The Steelers then ruled him out the rest of the way.

The 26-year-old Worilds had a breakout 2013 season, recording a career-high eight sacks. He’s playing under the one-year transition tender.

The Steelers have not played well in their third exhibition game of the summer, and starters have played well into the third quarer on both sides of the ball.

UPDATE 9:56 p.m. ET: Ken Laird of TribLive Radio in Pittsburgh reports Worilds was icing his knee.

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X-rays negative on LeSean McCoy’s thumb

McCoy AP

A sprain, not a break.

That’s the word on tailback LeSean McCoy’s right thumb.

According to the Eagles, X-rays on McCoy’s thumb came back negative, and he has been ruled out of the rest of Thursday’s exhibition against Pittsburgh.

Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports the injury is a sprain.

McCoy racked up 24 yards rushing on just four carries and caught a 22-yard TD pass in the first quarter before departing to get his thumb examined. He does not figure to play much, if at all, in the team’s final preseason game next Thursday.

The Eagles begin the regular season on Sunday, September 7 vs. Jacksonville.

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After scary moment, Jeremy Maclin returns to game

Jeremy Maclin AP

In what looks to be a good turn of luck for a player who’s coming back from a right knee injury that sidelined him last season, Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin stayed in Thursday’s exhibition vs. Pittsburgh after momentarily looking to have injured the leg again.

With about 10 minutes left in the second quarter, Maclin went down trying to make a sharp cut, and he grabbed his knee as he lay on the ground. However, Maclin reportedly was able to get up and walk off the field, and he was then seen walking on the sideline.

Then — happily — Maclin was back on the field on the Eagles’ next series. And he even started the drive with a nine-yard catch. In the end, it appeared to be just a brief scare for Maclin, one of the club’s key passing game players.

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Adrian Peterson misses a pair of practices

Peterson AP

The Vikings don’t plan to use running back Adrian Peterson much, if at all, during the preseason.  For the past two days, they haven’t used him at all during practice.

According to Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Peterson has missed practice the last two days due to an undisclosed personal matter.  He is expected to travel to Kansas City with the Vikings for the team’s third preseason game of 2014.

Peterson hasn’t touched the football during the preseason since 2011, when he had 14 carries for 81 yards during the third preseason game, against the Cowboys.

This year, the Vikings have their first new offense since 2011.  It could take some time for Peterson to get comfortable in the attack, given the absence of preseason reps.

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LeSean McCoy returns to sideline after having right thumb X-rayed

LeSean McCoy AP

Eagles tailback LeSean McCoy left the club’s sideline in the first quarter of Thursday’s exhibition vs. Pittsburgh to get X-rays on his right thumb, the club’s official Twitter feed said.

The club said McCoy’s return was “unknown.” He was not on the field when the Eagles got the ball back late in the first quarter.

Before going inside to get checked out, McCoy showed no ill-effects from a toe injury that’s bothered him, racking up 50 yards on six touches. On his final play before departing, McCoy turned a short reception into a 22-yard TD.

Now, the focus turns to whether he’s suffered a hand injury. Perhaps of note: he was able to palm the ball with his right hand as he celebrated in the endzone right after the touchdown.

UPDATE 8:25 p.m. ET: Here’s some promising news for Eagles fans: Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports McCoy is having his hand taped on the Eagles’ sideline. And according to Jeff Darlington of NFL Media, McCoy still is wearing his pads.

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Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount both see action early for Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

As expected, the Steelers didn’t bench Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount for Thursday’s exhibition at Philadelphia after both were cited for marijuana possession.

In fact, Bell started and Blount played on the Steelers’ first drive. And it was an especially eventful drive for Bell, who rushed three times for 11 yards while dishing out and taking a good deal of punishment. While he showed excellent power finishing out a seven-yard run, he later took a hit to the head/neck area from Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans on a passing play.

Ryans was penalized on the play, and Bell left for one snap, giving way to Blount, who rushed for five yards on his first carry. However, Bell then re-entered the contest. The Steelers’ drive would end in a punt.

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Griffin stands by his “doubters” tweet

Griffin AP

Some folks conjure imaginary friends.  Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III has crafted some imaginary enemies.  On Wednesday, he chastised his unidentified — and possibly non-existent — “doubters” via Twitter.  On Thursday, Griffin dug in even deeper.

“As far as I’m concerned, I said what I needed to say,” Griffin said Thursday, via the Associated Press.  “It is what I believe, and what our household deems necessary to go out every day and be successful.”

Griffin added that he’ll continue to periodically communicate through Twitter, reasoning that his followers follow him for a reason.

“There are 1.1 million people on Twitter that want to hear what [I] have to say,” Griffin said, going scoreboard on his seven-figure collection of Twitter users who receive any and all of his tweets and retweets.  “And it’s not that we tweet all the time, but anytime we tweet something it gets blown up, but it is what it is.”

If Griffin has concocted a narrative that many doubt him in order to provide extra motivation for himself and his teammates, that’s fine.  The perception that he’s thin-skinned, however, will serve as chum in the Internet shark tank, inviting plenty of real doubt, hate, and vitriol to replace the exaggerated and/or fabricated collection of criticism that prompted his tweet.

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Chris Polk out for Eagles on Thursday night; Lance Moore expected to sit for Steelers

Chris Polk AP

The Eagles and Steelers will be several players short on Thursday night in Philadelphia.

Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin (hamstring), wide receiver Josh Huff (shoulder), linebacker Jake Knott (hamstring), tailback Chris Polk (hamstring), wide receiver Brad Smith (hamstring) and center Julian Vandervelde (back) will not play, the club’s website reported.

Polk, a second-year pro from Washington, is in a competition for a roster spot in a crowded RB corps.

The Steelers have announced the following players are not expected to play: wide receiver Lance Moore (undisclosed), tight end Eric Waters (concussion), center/offensive guard Cody Wallace (finger), long-snapper Greg Warren (knee), safety Will Allen (hamstring), running back Tauren Poole (hamstring), fullback Will Johnson (hamstring), wide receiver Shaquille Richardson (knee), linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (undisclosed).

UPDATE 6:51 p.m. ET: According to Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Eagles cornerback Cary Williams will also miss tonight’s game.

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Marrone mad after Bills brawl at practice for second straight day

Marrone Getty Images

Bills coach Doug Marrone said after fights broke out at Wednesday’s that he didn’t want to see that anymore. Apparently his players weren’t listening.

More fights broke out at today’s practice, and Marrone was not pleased. Marrone yelled at players for getting into it, and when defensive end Jerry Hughes said something back to his coach, Marrone went off, spewing profanity at Hughes and asking, “Do you want to play on this team?

Marrone also told Hughes, “If you’ve got a problem with me, you need to come and tell me.” The two talked after practice, and Marrone later said Hughes wasn’t the only one he was disappointed with.

“That’s directed at anyone who doesn’t want to be part of the team,” Marrone said. “I told Jerry that I love the way he practices and I love the way he plays special teams and how he goes about it. And we’ve got to get some other guys who are starters to do that.”

Some coaches believe that fights at training camp can be a good sign of a tough team, but Marrone doesn’t see it that way.

“I’m going to say it again, and I’m not going to answer another question on it: We’re responsible for the integrity of the game,” Marrone said, via ESPN. “Can you figure it out? Figure it out. We’re responsible for the integrity of the game. There is no use for fighting in the game of football. Period. End of discussion. Move on.”

Marrone sounds ready to move on from a fight-filled training camp, which concluded with today’s practice.

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Derek Carr won’t play this week

Derek Carr, George Johnson, Andre Fluellen AP

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr made a quick return to practice after suffering a concussion and rib injury during last weekend’s game against the Lions, but he hasn’t recovered enough for the team to play him against the Packers.

Steve Wyche of NFL Media reports that coach Dennis Allen said that Carr won’t play on Friday night because his bruised ribs are still sore. Allen added that Carr has been cleared after his concussion.

The injury likely eliminates what little chance Carr had of starting for the Raiders when they face the Jets in Week One. Barring an injury of his own, you can put Matt Schaub’s name into the lineup for that game.

His performance there and in the following weeks will determine how long it is before Carr gets his chance to lead the Raiders offense. If Schaub looks anything like he did with the Texans last season, it probably won’t be long.

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