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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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Aaron Rodgers won’t play tonight

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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently lobbied for the reduction of the preseason by a couple of games, after the season-ending knee injury suffered by receiver Jordy Nelson in a meaningless exhibition last Sunday against the Steelers. While the preseason hasn’t officially been reduced (and likely won’t be absent an increase in the regular season), Rodgers as a practical matter has made it shrink, for him.

Per multiple reports, Rodgers won’t play in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Eagles. It’s an unusual move, given that the third preseason game routinely is treated like a dress rehearsal of the start of the regular season, with starters playing into the second half.

It’s a smart move, given that Rodgers surely is ready to go for Week One. Indeed, more and more NFL starters are likely prepared for games that could without going onto the field and risking injury in games that don’t. Long gone are the days when the offseason truly was an offseason; players now stay in shape and work on their craft throughout the calendar year.

While some view exposing key players to the risk of serious injury in games that don’t matter as a cost of doing business, business can still be done without assuming that risk. Of course, that may not be good for the NFL’s business of getting people to care about preseason games. However, fans should be care only to the extent that they’re holding their breath until players like Rodgers have escaped these meaningless games without a meaningful strain, sprain, tear, or break.

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Six years, $81.426 million for Julio Jones

Julio Jones AP

Like receivers Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant, receiver Julio Jones has signed a five-year deal. Unlike Thomas and Bryant, Jones had one year remaining on his rookie contract.

The new-money average beats Thomas and Bryant; at $71.25 million over five years, Jones eclipses the five-year, $70 million contracts signed last month by $250,000 per year, for an average of $14.25 million. But Jones actually has a six-year deal, worth $81.426 million. That’s a total average of $13.571 million.

Jones could have gotten more in 2016 if he’d played out the fifth year of his first NFL contract, but Jones would have carried the risk of injury through the 2015 season. So he gets less now than he could have gotten later, but he gets more than he would have gotten if he had torn an ACL or had some other serious injury.

The Falcons, who based on Jones’ own words apparently wouldn’t have faced a holdout in 2016 if the franchise tag had been used, were happy to absorb the injury the risk in lieu of paying more later.

Many details regarding the contract aren’t yet known. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the deal has $47 million in guarantees; how much of that is fully guaranteed at signing isn’t known.

Bryant got $32 million fully-guaranteed at signing and as a practical matter he’ll make $45 million over three years. Thomas got $35 million fully-guaranteed at signing.

For Jones, those nuances may not matter; in announcing the deal, owner Arthur Blank called Julio Jones a “Falcon for life,” which means he’ll get all $81.426 million — and maybe more.

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Report: Snyder, McCloughan met for two hours on Thursday

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Dysfunction take all sorts of shapes and forms. In D.C., the effort to reverse more than a decade of dysfunction is creating the perception of even more of it.

Via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post, CSN Mid Atlantic’s Brian Mitchell said during the team’s radio pregame broadcast that owner Daniel Snyder met for two hours with G.M. Scot McCloughan on Thursday. While it’s not known what they discussed, it’s safe to assume at least two of the items on the agenda were the short- and long-term future of quarterback Robert Griffin III with the team.

In recent days, a sense has emerged that the final days of Griffin’s time with the team have arrived, and that the only question at this point is how the relationship ends. He could, in theory, be traded. He could, in theory, be cut. He could, as a practical matter, be placed in bubble wrap so that he doesn’t suffer the kind of injury that would spill into next year, costing the franchise more than $16 million in cash and salary-cap space.

Whatever happens and however it unfolds, it feels like the franchise is looking for a way to move on from its franchise quarterback. For now, however, the process feels more like groping in the dark for a light switch. The problem for the team is that, as it continues to grope, the light switch simply may not be there.

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Falcons, Julio Jones agree to new deal

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The Falcons and wide receiver Julio Jones have agreed on a five-year contract extension, according to multiple Saturday evening reports.

The deal was first reported by SI.com’s Peter King.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported the contract is worth $71.25 million, with $47 million guaranteed. Those numbers eclipse the five-year, $70 million contracts fellow star receivers Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant signed earlier this summer.

Jones caught 104 passes for a franchise-record 1,593 yards last season. He was entering the last year of his rookie deal.

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Bills play three QBs in first half, and all three play well

EJ Manuel,Tyrod Taylor, Matt Cassel AP

The Bills continue to hold an open and public quarterback competition, and on Saturday E.J. Manuel became the third different player to start in three preseason games.

By halftime, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor had played, too. And all had played well against a Steelers defense that’s very much a work in progress.

Manuel threw a 67-yard touchdown pass to Charles Clay on the second series after the running of Fred Jackson sparked a touchdown drive on the first. He gave way to Cassel, who then gave way to Taylor.

Taylor led an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive late in the half that was highlighted by 19-yard passes to Marquise Goodwin and MarQueis Gray. The Bills had a seven-minute drive with Cassel in the game that ended in a missed field goal.

Manuel was 2-of-2 for 83 yards, Cassel was 6-of-7 for 38 yards and Taylor was 11-of-12 for 101 yards in the first half.

Taylor started the second half.

Bills Coach Rex Ryan had a little fun with the situation and made all four quarterbacks on the roster captains for the game. As for where the competition goes from here, we’ll wait for Ryan to speak after the game — and probably over at least another week.

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Terrelle Pryor not expected to play on Saturday night in Tampa

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If the Browns decide to keep receiver Terrelle Pryor, it won’t happen because of anything he did on the field in a preseason game. Because he hasn’t done anything on the field in a preseason game.

The Browns have announced that Pryor is not expected to play on Saturday night in Tampa, due to a lingering hamstring injury. Pryor, who was claimed on waivers and converted to receiver during the offseason, has appeared in none of the team’s preseason games.

The goal for the Brown will be not to assess where Pryor is as of early September but where he could be at some later point in the season, or beyond. He has the physical skills to become an effective receiver, but he has spent his college and pro career playing quarterback.

Besides, it’s not as if the Browns boast an array of Randy Mosses at the receiver position.

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Steelers lose another kicker to injury

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The Steelers lost kicker Shaun Suisham to a torn ACL in the Hall of Fame in early August, forcing them to bring in Garrett Hartley to handle the kicking duties.

Hartley was injured in the second quarter of the team’s Saturday, apparently while making a kickoff. The team announced it as a right hamstring injury that will keep him out the rest of the game.

Because he was down, the Steelers were forced to go for it on a fourth and 17 play later in the quarter.

There’s a chance the Steelers would have added another kicker following next weekend’s roster cuts anyway. Now, Hartley’s injury could force them to act sooner — and be forced to continue their search into next weekend.

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Report: Gruden has power to choose his starting quarterback

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At a time when some wonder whether Washington is clumsily hiding behind the “concussion” label to justify going with a starting quarterback other than Robert Griffin III to start the season, coach Jay Gruden apparently has the authority to go with a starting quarterback other than Griffin for Week One, and beyond.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that Gruden has the power to choose his starting quarterback, despite the huge investment made three years ago in Griffin, along with the decision to pick up his fifth-year option for 2016 at more than $16 million. (It’s guaranteed for injury only until March.)

It’s tempting to say the situation could get messy. The reality is it could only get messier. Jeff Darlington of NFL Media reports Griffin doesn’t believe he suffered a concussion last Thursday against the Lions. The team originally said during the game that Griffin had been cleared to return. Then, the team said he had a concussion, prompting some in the media to wonder whether the “concussion” label had been used as a way to keep Griffin from meeting with reporters that night, given that Griffin already had had a rough week when it comes to talking publicly.

Griffin thereafter was cleared for Saturday’s game against the Ravens, via press release announcing the he would play. The next day, another press release said he wouldn’t play — and that he hadn’t been cleared.

As Brian Mitchell of CSN Mid Atlantic explained it this week on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, Gruden was hired to convert Griffin into a pocket passer, something Griffin apparently wanted to do. But it hasn’t worked. And at some point Gruden needs to use someone else, or he won’t be working as the team’s head coach.

None of this means Cousins is the answer. Last year, the 2012 fourth-round pick seemed to outplay Griffin in the preseason. Then, after Griffin suffered an ankle injury and Cousins initially showed promise, he played poorly, eventually yielding to Colt McCoy.

It feels like the revolving door will continue to spin at quarterback, until the team makes another bold move to find the team’s first true, entrenched, year-to-year franchise quarterback since Joe Theismann.

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Vick knows enough about new team to find Martavis Bryant

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Michael Vick made his Steelers debut on the second series of the team’s Saturday preseason game in Buffalo and, even after an abbreviated week of practice work in unfamiliar surroundings, knew exactly where to go with the ball.

Vick threw a 63-yard pass to Martavis Bryant on his first play as the Steelers moved inside the Bills’ 20-yard line. Three plays later with the Steelers facing third down, Vick lofted a pass intended to Bryant into the end zone and Bryant drew a pass interference penalty to extend the drive.

The Steelers, by the way, are really going to miss Bryant during his four-game suspension to start the season.

Vick visited the Steelers Aug. 25 and signed with the team after a workout with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. The team needs a veteran backup because Bruce Gradkowski was placed on injured-reserve and because third-year quarterback Landry Jones has done little to make the team believe he can produce if Ben Roethlisberger was to suffer an injury.

Vick, 35, figures to get more work today and in next week’s preseason finale, and as long as he’s healthy and catches up to the playbook he’ll likely open the season as the primary backup to Roethlisberger despite being unemployed into the final week of August.

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Redskins, Trent Williams agree to big-money extension

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Maybe the timing is coincidental, or maybe the Redskins just needed to change the conversation away from the mess they have at quarterback. Either way, the team has made Trent Williams the highest-paid offensive tackle ever.

Per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Williams and the Redskins have agreed to a five-year, $66 million contract that includes more than $43 million in guarantees and $32 million at signing.

That’s a lot of money.

Williams, 27, has been to three straight Pro Bowls and his preseence at left tackle gives the Redskins one thing they don’t need to worry about amidst another mess of injuries and miscommunication.

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NFL admits ref wrongly applied new rule on defenseless receivers

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The NFL implemented a new rule this offseason protecting receivers from being hit in the head immediately following an interception. But when a referee applied that rule this offseason, it was not done correctly.

NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino admitted as much in a video distributed to the media, saying that in an unnecessary roughness penalty called on Bills safety Aaron Williams last week against the Browns should have been enforced under the old rule that already protected the intended receiver from taking a hit while he’s in a defenseless position. Instead, the referee applied the new rule as if the hit had taken place after the interception, awarding the ball to the Bills when it should have stayed with the Browns.

“We talked about the new rule that was instituted this year, the intended receiver in that action during an interception gets the defenseless player protection,” Blandino said. “But this is not the intended receiver after an interception. This is a receiver trying to catch a pass. This receiver has always been protected under the defenseless player rule. This foul should be enforced on the previous spot, and the offense should keep the football. It was not enforced correctly. The defense kept the football.”

No one is going to get too worked up about that because no one cares who wins or loses in the preseason, but a call like that could cost a team a game if it’s called wrong in the regular season. The officials have to work out some kinks in the preseason, too.

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No one knows who Washington’s Week One starter will be

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Washington coach Jay Gruden has insisted all offseason that Robert Griffin III will be the team’s Week One starter. And the closer we get to Week One, the less believable those statements become.

In fact, reports coming out of Washington are now indicating that Kirk Cousins will not only start tonight’s third preseason game but will also start the regular-season opener against the Dolphins. ESPN reported this morning that the team plans to start Cousins for Week One, while Albert Breer of NFL Network says there’s been no decision yet on the Week One starter.

The reality is that even if the report about Gruden planning to start Cousins is right on the money, that doesn’t mean much, because plans can change. And nothing we’ve seen coming out of Washington in the last few weeks would suggest that this is a team that will make a plan and stick to it.

The best guess is that if Cousins plays great tonight, he’ll start Week One. If Cousins struggles, that opens the door to Griffin, assuming he’s medically cleared to play. And the wild-card possibility is that Colt McCoy could play better with the backups tonight than Cousins plays with the starters, and Gruden will decide to go with McCoy.

Whatever decision Gruden makes, he’d better get it right. Gruden’s first season as a head coach was a 4-12 campaign marked by a season-long quarterback controversy. If Gruden’s second season goes the same way, he may not get a third season.

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Animal Rescue League pulls event from Heinz Field over Vick signing

Michael Vick AP

The Steelers are continuing to face backlash from dog lovers over the signing of Michael Vick.

The latest comes from the Animal Rescue League, which has pulled an October event from Heinz Field because it doesn’t want to have any connection to Vick, who was convicted of a felony for his involvement in a dog fighting ring.

“While we understand that Mr. Vick has made an effort to atone for his past mistakes and has worked to help strengthen animal abuse laws, we do not believe that it is appropriate for him to continue a high-profile and influential public career,” the organization said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Our hope is that the very public discourse taking place across Steeler Nation this week raises awareness of the brutality and inhumanity of dog fighting. With increased community knowledge of the issue, we can all play a role in helping to end dog fighting once and for all.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says the team stands by its decision to sign Vick this week. Even if that costs them some dog-loving fans.

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Kirk Cousins starts tonight, in what really might be his biggest game

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When Joe Theismann claimed this week that Washington’s upcoming preseason game was the biggest game of Robert Griffin III’s life, it seemed like extreme hyperbole.

But tonight’s game really might be the biggest yet for Kirk Cousins.

Cousins, who according to multiple reports has been declared tonight’s starter in Griffin’s place, now gets a great opportunity to perform with Washington’s first-string offense. In the first two weeks of the preseason, with Griffin as the starter, the offense has looked terrible. If Cousins looks poised and efficient and leads the starting offense on multiple scoring drives, coach Jay Gruden may have no choice but to make Cousins the starter for the regular season.

On the other hand, if Cousins struggles tonight just as mightily as Griffin has struggled, everyone will say it shows that Washington’s entire offense is a mess, and it goes far beyond the starting quarterback.

Theismann, the former Washington quarterback who is now the team’s preseason TV commentator, said on NFL Network that he believes Cousins will in fact be the Week One starter if he plays well tonight.

“[Griffin’s] future depends on what happens with Kirk,” Theismann said. “. . . If Kirk goes out and plays well, you have to assume that he’s going to be the guy who has to start because he hasn’t missed any time.”

Today could be the day that Griffin loses the starting job in Washington, for good.

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Gruden said Friday that RG3 was cleared, would play if he felt ready

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Hours before the team announced on Friday that a doctor was keeping Robert Griffin III out of Saturday’s preseason game with a concussion, Washington coach Jay Gruden said that Griffin had been given final medical clearance from multiple doctors, and that the big remaining question was whether Griffin himself felt ready.

“He’s cleared from all the doctors, the neurologists — they’ve been cleared. We still want to talk to the player and make sure he’s ready to go mentally and our trainers make sure they feel like he’s ready to go also. Being cleared from the doctor doesn’t mean the player feels 100 percent so we’ve got to make sure he feels ready to go, too,” Gruden said on NFL Network, in an interview taped at 2 p.m. on Friday.

Only a few hours later, the team said a doctor had checked Griffin and declared him unable to play. So what happened? The team hasn’t offered a full explanation. Given that Gruden said the remaining issue was whether Griffin “feels ready to go,” the most likely answer would seem to be that Griffin told the doctor he had a headache or some other symptom associated with a concussion, and as a result the doctor said Griffin couldn’t go.

Gruden’s comments put Griffin in a tough position. Fair or not, when a coach says a player will play if he feels ready, and then that player doesn’t play, there’s a perception that it’s the player’s fault for not being willing to tough it out and get on the field.

The doctor’s Friday evening statement suggested that Griffin could still need a week or two to recover. Of course, at this point we can’t trust anything we hear about Griffin’s status.

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