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10 claps for Randy Moss

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We’ll accept Randy Moss at his word (for now) that he won’t be returning to the NFL.  And so it’s an appropriate time to reflect on his 13-year career.  Though Moss had more than his fair share of low moments, we’ll accentuate the positive (for now).

And there was plenty of positive.

So here’s one clap for Moss.  Ten different times.

Here are our (or at least my) 10 favorite Randy Moss memories, in chronological order.

1.  September 6, 1998.  Versus Tampa Bay.

Moss arrived from Marshall, which at the time had just moved from Division I-AA to low-level Division I-A.  And despite the large gap between the MAC and the NFL, Moss vowed to come to the pro game and “rip it up.”

He made good on that promise from the first game of his career.

Visiting the Metrodome, the Bucs opted not to use double coverage against the unproven player.  Four catches, 95 yards, two touchdowns, and a 31-7 score later, the Bucs wished they had.

2.  October 5, 1998.  At Green Bay.

The Packers, two-time defending NFC champions, hosted the upstart Vikings in a Monday night game at Lambeau Field.  It was widely expected that Brett Favre and company would put Moss and his cohorts in their place.

What unfolded instead was something former Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick would call a “game for the ages,” via the rookie’s official coming-out party on football’s national stage.

Moss racked up 190 yards on only five catches, adding two touchdowns in a 37-24 romp that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score suggested.

3.  November 26, 1998.  At Dallas.

Like many teams, the Cowboys made the mistake of passing on Moss in the first round of the 1998 draft.  Unlike every other team, the Cowboys told Moss they’d be picking him.

And so that huge shoulder chip Moss carried throughout his rookie season grew even bigger when he showed up in Texas Stadium and delivered three touchdowns on only three catches, averaging nearly 55 yards per reception.

Two of those came out of what would become routine — Moss running deep and coming up with the ball, even with one or two guys trying to keep it from happening.  The third featured Moss catching a short pass and then exploding down the sideline with the kind of burst rarely seen from someone whose hair isn’t on fire.

4.  December 12, 1999.  At Kansas City.

The Vikings of 1998 won 15 of 16 regular-season games, petering out in the NFC Championship at home.  The next season was, in comparison, disappointing, with the Vikings digging an early 1-2 hole and falling to 2-4 before waking up, thanks to the decision to bench Randall Cunningham and rely on Jeff George.

Traveling to Kansas City for a Sunday night game and clinging to playoff hopes with a 7-5 record, the Vikings fell behind the Chiefs, 21-0.  The Vikings tied the game in the third quarter at 21 on a 12-yard touchdown pass from George to Moss.  After a fumble by George was returned 44 yards for a touchdown and a fumble by Moss at the Chiefs’ seven with barely four minutes to play ended a scoring threat, the Vikings held the Chiefs.

Moss lined up deep, received the punt, and ran largely untouched 64 yards for the game-tying score.

But for a late field goal by the Chiefs to win the game, it would have been remembered as one of the biggest regular-season wins in Vikings history.

5.  October 1, 2000.  At Detroit.

On ESPN’s NFL Matchup, Merril Hoge became the first analyst to mention what many had noticed.  When the ball isn’t coming to Moss, he tends to loaf.

Moss responded that same week by catching seven passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-24 win at Detroit.

That’s the first time I’ve ever heard somebody criticize me,” Moss said after the game.

It wouldn’t be the last.  Ironically, however, it was Hoge who spoke out on behalf of Moss after Moss was criticized in 2009 for, you guessed it, loafing when the ball didn’t come his way.

6.  January 9, 2005.  At Green Bay.

Swept by the Packers via identical 34-31 scores during the season but back in the playoffs for the first time since a 41-0 Meltdown in the Meadowlands in January 2001, no one expected the Vikings to go to Lambeau and win.

But win they did, with Moss poofing out his afro and catching two touchdown passes, including the unforgettable faux mooning that left Joe Buck appalled and triggered a $10,000 fine.

And, of course, that fine gave rise to Randy’s “straight cash homey” catch phrase, along with an even more entertaining description of what his next touchdown celebration may entail.

7.  November 18, 2007.  At Buffalo.

The win over the Packers would be Moss’ last victory during his first stint with the Vikings.  Traded to Oakland in early 2005, Moss disappeared for two seasons.  With everyone assuming Moss was washed up, the Patriots stole him for a fourth-round draft pick during the 2007 draft.

And then Moss would only go on to have one of the greatest single seasons for any receiver of all time.

The highlight of the 23-touchdown effort came against the Bills.  For the first and only time in his career, Moss scored four touchdowns in one game, via 10 catches for 128 yards during a 56-10 romp.

8.  The 2008 season.

After quarterback Tom Brady suffered a torn ACL during the first game of the season, Moss could have mentally checked out.

But he didn’t.

Even though the Patriots ultimately failed to make the playoffs (despite winning 11 games), his decision to remain focused and committed with Matt Cassel at quarterback demonstrated a level of maturity that, unfortunately, was the exception and not the rule.  He’d finish with 11 touchdowns, less than half of his record-setting total in 2007, but Moss was a good soldier during what turned out to be a bad year.

9.  September 19, 2010.  At New York Jets.

Dubbed a “slouch” in the offseason by All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, Moss got a chance to show Revis what a slouch can do.

Drawing single coverage from Darrelle with one minute to play in the first half of a 7-7 tie, Moss blew by Revis and made an incredible one-handed catch in the end zone.

Revis would reinjure a hamstring on the play and miss the second half of the eventual Jets win, plus the next two games.

10.  October 11, 2010.  At New York Jets.

Only three weeks later, Moss was back in New York for the first game of his second tour with the Vikings.

With Antonio Cromartie holding him in check for much of the game, Moss eventually got behind the coverage for a 37-yard rainbow from Brett Favre, his 500th career touchdown pass.

The play gave Vikings fans flashbacks to 1998, even though coach Brad Childress would dump Moss only three weeks later. . . .

Before Super Bowl XLII, Moss said he didn’t really know how he wanted to be remembered.  And that’s fitting, because many football fans don’t really know how they’ll remember him.  Even though I’ll remember plenty of the bad things, including a stubborn, play-when-I-wanna-play unwillingness to get the absolute most out of a God-given skill set that superseded even Jerry Rice’s, it will be hard to forget these 10 moments, along with plenty of other great things he did on the field.

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Broncos’ offense faltering in Cincinnati

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It wasn’t long ago that the Broncos were regarded as having one of the best offenses in NFL history. But it sure feels like a long time ago.

The Broncos’ offense has been stagnating for weeks, and tonight in Cincinnati might be the worst performance yet.

Denver’s three drives have ended in three punts and an interception. On those four drives Peyton Manning is a very un-Peyton Manning-like 5-for-10 for 41 yards, with no touchdowns, one interception and a 21.2 passer rating.

The Bengals have scored 17 points in a row after Andy Dalton threw an early pick-six and are now up 17-7.

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Andy Dalton throws pick-six as prime time nightmare continues

Andy Dalton, Billy Winn AP

Andy Dalton in prime time is a disaster. Again.

On the Bengals’ second possession today against the Broncos, Dalton threw a bad pass that A.J. Green leapt into the air to try to bring down. Green couldn’t catch it, but Aqib Talib made a great diving catch and got the interception.

Then Talib got up, untouched, and raced to the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown. That gave the Broncos a 7-0 lead.

Even worse for the Bengals, when Green had to reach up for Dalton’s bad pass, he exposed himself to a hard hit from Broncos safety T.J. Ward. That hit appeared to injure Green, and he didn’t return to the field when the Bengals’ offense came back out on the next possession.

But Bengals running back Jeremy Hill made a spectacular 85-yard run on the first play of that next possession, allowing the Bengals to tie the score at 7-7.

It’s been a great start to tonight’s game. Even if Dalton in prime time is anything but great.

UPDATE 9:09 p.m. ET: Green has returned to the game.

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Blandino: No way to say if Graham scored a touchdown

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The Saints had a crucial call go against them on Sunday when tight end Jimmy Graham thought he scored a touchdown, only to have the officials rule that he had fumbled just before the ball crossed the goal line.

A day later, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino says he still doesn’t know whether they got that call right or wrong.

“This was very difficult,” Blandino said on NFL Network. “We really struggled with this one because it’s so close.”

Blandino said no replay angle conclusively showed whether the ball crossed the goal line before Graham lost possession.

“Where is the ball in relation to the goal line?” Blandino said. “You really can’t tell exactly where that ball is in relation to the gaol line. The ruling on the field is it did not break the plane. Do you see indisputable evidence that it did break the plane? We even had a closeup look that the network gave us and it just wasn’t clear cut, it wasn’t obvious that the ball broke the plane, so the ruling on the field stood.”

Ultimately, Blandino said, when there’s no conclusive angle, the replay just has to stick with what the officials called on the field.

“Had they ruled touchdown, there was no evidence to overturn. Basically, the ruling on the field would have stood either way,” Blandino said.

Maybe some day we’ll have microchips in footballs that can tell us the instant a ball crosses the goal line. But with the replay system we have now, there was no way to say whether Graham scored or not.

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Reggie McKenzie talks up the Raiders’ rookie class

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Amid speculation that the Raiders could make sweeping changes and General Manager Reggie McKenzie could be on the chopping block, McKenzie would like to point out that he drafted some pretty good players this year.

McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle that first-round pick Khalil Mack and second-round pick Derek Carr have proven themselves to be the kind of players a franchise can be built around.

“Derek and Khalil stopped being rookies a little while back,” McKenzie said. “Now they are veteran players. They can carry this into next season and help build this team into winners. They’ve shown their teammates who they are as players and men off the field, and they’re definitely guys everybody can count on.”

McKenzie believes he has done the heavy lifting to get the Raiders into the right place, and they’re heading in the right direction.

“The foundation has been built,” McKenzie said. “That’s what it’s all about. The more young guys play, the more comfortable they get . . . and now they’re making plays. And we continue to grow that.”

McKenzie has every right to be proud of the players he’s drafted. But that doesn’t necessarily mean his job is safe. If a new coach (like, say, Jim Harbaugh) is willing to come to Oakland only on the condition that he gets final say over the roster, owner Mark Davis might push McKenzie aside. But McKenzie has made a good case for himself with this year’s draft.

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Lovie Smith on high draft pick: If you’re down here, you have to get something from it

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The Buccaneers are closing in on the top pick in the draft for the fifth time in franchise history, which gives the team something to look forward to as they put the finishing touches on an abysmal season.

Coach Lovie Smith said Monday that adding a good player at the top of the draft next year is something to be excited about, especially since he likes what he’s seen from this year’s rookie class.

“From a 2-13 record right now, I think that we’ve found out our draft class, we’ve played them and we like some things we’ve seen from the draft class,” Smith said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “Of course, Mike Evans, it goes without saying, Charles Sims, we’re seeing flashes from him, Austin Seferian-Jenkins — you know, our top three picks, amongst others. So that part is good. And if you have to be down here, you need to get something from it. We are going to get from our position — wherever it might be — we are going to get to add some more, we have a full allotment of draft picks, we have an excellent staff that evaluates guys. We are going to add some more players to the mix. We need some more players added to the mix. I am excited about that part. And again, if you have to be down where we are, why not get your choice of a few of the best players in the draft.”

If the Buccaneers were to find a quarterback with that top pick, it would probably help others join Smith in getting excited about what’s to come for the Bucs. That won’t fix things on its own as the Bucs need to sort out their offensive line and offensive coordinator as well, but Smith’s right about the need to make your pick count if you’re handing it in during the first hour of the draft.

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Report: Aldon Smith was drinking at scene of alleged assault

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The 49ers have already dealt with Ray McDonald for his part in a new sexual assault investigation.

But now they may have a bigger problem to deal with.

Part of an affidavit outlining allegations against McDonald includes a section in which the victim said she spent the day drinking with McDonald and outside linebacker Aldon Smith.

That’s only a problem as it pertains to Smith’s suspension for a 2013 DUI, for which he’s still on probation.

According to Tracey Kaplan of the San Jose Mercury News, the woman claimed McDonald sexually assaulted her at his home after she passed out by his pool. But she them claimed to have stayed at the house, drinking with Smith and McDonald.

Police have also seized home surveillance cameras and McDonald’s cell phone as part of their investigation.

While the 49ers finally had a moment of clarity and cut McDonald (shortly after being eliminated from the playoffs), they’ve stood firm by Smith throughout a series of transgressions.

There was some dispute at the time of Smith’s reinstatement that he hadn’t fulfilled his counseling requirements.

But if police place him at the scene of a crime drinking, it will put the 49ers in the uncomfortable position of making more excuses for a star after making an example of McDonald.

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Brandon Marshall on Dominic Raiola: Dirty player, worse person

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Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and Lions center Dominic Raiola will not be exchanging Christmas cards this year.

Marshall said after Raiola was suspended for stomping on the leg of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson that cheap shots are par for the course from Raiola.

“This guy is a dirty player, and he’s a worse human being. He has no respect for himself,” Marshall said, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN.

Marshall said his issues with Raiola go far beyond just one incident. According to Marshall, who has long been open about seeking treatment for mental illness, Raiola has approached Marshall on the field to insult him about his mental health issues. Marshall says that before a game two years ago, Raiola walked up to Marshall and made jokes about Marshall taking medication.

“I’m just warming up, just standing there. He’s like, ‘Go take your medicine. You freaking weirdo, you freaking crazy guy,’” Marshall said of an encounter with Raiola.

Raiola has a laundry list of incidents that have gotten him in hot water over the course of his NFL career, and the NFL noted in announcing his suspension that stepping on Ferguson was far from his first offense. Marshall thinks it’s past time that the NFL does something about Raiola.

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Johnny Manziel ruled out for Week 17

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Johnny Manziel’s rookie season is officially over.

Browns coach Mike Pettine announced Monday that the quarterback has been ruled out of the team’s season finale against the Ravens because of the hamstring injury he suffered against the Panthers on Sunday. Pettine called it a “pretty significant” injury that would have kept Manziel out for several weeks if the Browns season had several weeks left in it.

Pettine also said that Brian Hoyer’s shoulder injury would continue to be evaluated over the course of the week and that Connor Shaw would get first-team reps to prepare him for the possible start.

“If he does [play], I wouldn’t be surprised he plays well,” Pettine said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Pettine added that the team was considering other quarterback options in the event they need to add another player to the roster before Week 17.

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Jim Harbaugh works hard to keep it on the high road

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Jim Harbaugh seemed to the heading for the curb, but managed to steer back onto the high road.

The soon-to-be-former 49ers coach seemed to come close to talking about his own status with the team, something he’s avoided so far.

Via Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Harbaugh was asked if it was hard to resist responding to the anonymous reports about him.

“Yeah, that’s a good question,” Harbaugh said, before laughing. “That’s a good question. . . .

The high road’s the only road I know. I’ll keep on that.”

When reporters tried to follow up, Harbaugh replied: “I think we’ve covered the ground pretty well.”

Sadly, we have not.

Harbaugh also declined to elaborate on a report from Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, who said Harbaugh’s status would be known within 48 hours of the end of the season.

“Well, as you know, I’ve not participated in any of these speculations and unnamed sources, the rumors, I would ask you to have Jay Glazer go back and ask his sources for more clarification,” Harbaugh said. … “I haven’t participated and I don’t intend to now. And this has been a good 12 months of this kind of thing. No reason to start now.”

Oh, there’s plenty of reason, Jim. The truth shall set you free. It’ll be cathartic for you.

You do get the feeling (or maybe it’s hope for a Festivus miracle) that at some point the tightly wound Harbaugh is going to snap, and a stream of truth so torrential will be unleashed, that we’ll all be drenched.

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Cowboys won’t rest starters this week

Tony Romo, Jason Garrett AP

The Cowboys have clinched the NFC East and they still have a shot at grabbing a first-round bye.

They’ll need to get some help from the 49ers and Rams (or a Lions-Packers tie) to make that happen, but even getting those results in the NFC West won’t help if they don’t beat Washington. If they were to win and get all three games to break their way, they’d wind up as the top seed in the conference.

On Monday, coach Jason Garrett said that the Cowboys will do their best to take care of what they control. With all three other games with bearing on their possible slot in the playoffs kicking off later in the day, the Cowboys won’t have the option of altering their lineup based on scoreboard watching and Garrett said, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News, that the Cowboys would play their starters their usual amount in Week 17.

We’ll see if that holds come Sunday for running back DeMarco Murray and other players with current injury concerns, but the Cowboys have every reason to play anyone without such worries because of the benefits that would come with getting the bye.

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NFL to suspend Raiola for one game

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Lions center Dominic Raiola said his stomp on the leg of Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson was inadvertent. There will be nothing inadvertent about the NFL’s reaction.

Per a league source, Raiola will indeed be suspended one game for the infraction. Raiola will get the official word later this afternoon.

Raiola was fined $10,000 last month for striking Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore in the back of the head. In that same game, Raiola escaped punishment for deliberately diving at Moore’s legs during a kneel-down play.

Raiola will have immediate appeal rights, with the hearing held quickly and a ruling coming as soon as Wednesday.

If the suspension is upheld, the Lions won’t have their starting center for Sunday’s NFC North championship game against the Packers. But they will have him for the first game of the postseason.

Three years ago, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was suspended two games for a post-play stomp on the arm of former Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith.

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Steven Jackson undergoing further testing on quad

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The Falcons didn’t need much from running back Steven Jackson to knock off the Saints on Sunday and it’s not clear yet whether they’ll have him in the lineup at all when they try to do the same to the Panthers in Week 17.

Jackson left the win over the Saints in the first half with a quad injury and didn’t return, finishing the day with four carries and one reception. Coach Mike Smith said Monday that Jackson was having further tests done to evaluate the injury, which means we’ll be waiting until later in the week for an idea about whether or not he’ll play against Carolina.

Devonta Freeman was the most effective back in New Orleans, running five times for 36 yards and a touchdown and catching three passes for 48 more yards.

Smith said Safety William Moore is also having tests done on his injured shoulder after leaving Sunday’s game. Moore was on injured reserve with the designation to return for an injury to the same shoulder earlier this season.

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Hoyer, Manziel are both hurt, so Connor Shaw may start

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All season we’ve been asking whether the Browns would start Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel. At the end of the season, the answer may be neither.

Undrafted rookie quarterback Connor Shaw, a member of the practice squad, may be called up to the active roster and forced to start Sunday’s season finale against the Ravens. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reports that Manziel’s hamstring injury, which forced him out of Sunday’s game, and an injury to Hoyer’s shoulder suffered after Manziel went out, could leave Shaw as the only option.

A three-year starter at South Carolina, Shaw was signed by the Browns in May and had some good performances in the preseason this year. Perhaps he can have another good performance in the season finale, and add a new element to the Browns’ inevitable quarterback controversy in 2015.

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Jay Cutler will start season finale for the Bears

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Meet the new Bears starting quarterback, same as the old Bears starting quarterback.

Jimmy Clausen suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss to the Lions and the Bears ruled him out for Week 17 on Monday, leaving the team in need of someone to lead their offense against the Vikings. Coach Marc Trestman’s options were Jay Cutler, benched a week ago after a string of poor games that have led to plenty of questions about the future of the coach, quarterback and General Manager Phil Emery, and rookie David Fales.

Trestman has opted to go with the devil he knows.

“Jay gives us the best chance this week. So that’s why he’ll be out there,” Trestman said, via ESPNChicago.com. “Jay said ‘I’ll be ready to go.’ He empathizes with what Jimmy had gone through last night. He’s ready to go. He’ll be in this afternoon to get started.”

Going with Fales would have given the Bears a chance to see the sixth-rounder in action while also protecting Cutler from the possibility of an injury that could hamper attempts to trade him this offseason, although no one’s really sure at this point if that’s the route the Bears will go or who will be making the decisions about such moves. They went the other way, though, and the season will end with the same starting quarterback that took the field in Week One.

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Chip Kelly not miffed about playoff structure

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The Eagles will finish with a winning record, but they won’t make it to the playoffs. The Panthers or Falcons will secure a spot with a losing record. That doesn’t bother Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly.

“Should we move to the [NFC South] so we can get in a different division?” Kelly said to reporters on Monday when asked about the situation. “No, that’s just the rules. People that complain about rules that are already in existence. . . .
We didn’t do enough. We didn’t win enough games against the right opponents to put ourselves in the playoffs. We knew the rules of engagement before the season started. To sit here after it is over and say, ‘Let’s change the rules so this can happen,’ that’s just the way it is. There may be a year where we’re in a situation where we’re not in great shape and we win our division and we get a chance to go. People said it about Seattle a couple years ago, and then Seattle won their wild-card game.

“It’s still about winning each week and doing what you’re supposed to do. We already knew the rules before the season started. That’s the way it expressed itself. We didn’t do enough to win to get ourselves in the playoffs. That’s on us. That’s not on anybody else, or what the structure of setup is.”

It’s the right attitude. The rules are the rules, and the Eagles knew the rules. Everyone knew the rules. Until they change, one team from each of the eight divisions will host a playoff game, whether they “deserve” it or not.

The Eagles may deserve it in relation to Carolina or Atlanta. But that doesn’t matter, because one of those teams will become the best in its division, regardless of the final won-loss record.

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