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Packers make 4-0 look easy in blowout of Broncos

Denver Broncos v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The NFL now has two 4-0 teams. Both of them are in the NFC North. One of them, the Detroit Lions, had to fight tooth and nail to eke out their fourth win today. And then there are the Green Bay Packers.

The defending Super Bowl champions are showing the same thing through four games of the regular season that they showed through four games in the playoffs: They’re the best team in the NFL. Today’s 49-23 win over the Denver Broncos improved the Packers’ record to 4-0 and demonstrated just what a dangerous team this is.

Want great offense? Aaron Rodgers completed 29 of 48 passes for 401 yards, with four touchdowns — and he ran for two touchdowns, too.

Want great defense? Charles Woodson picked off a pass and ran it 30 yards to the end zone for the 11th interception return touchdown of his career, tying him with Darren Sharper for the second most in NFL history, one behind Rod Woodson.

For the Broncos, Kyle Orton did nothing to endear himself to the many Denver fans who want to see him benched for Tim Tebow. Orton, who threw three interceptions, is far from the only reason the Broncos are losing, but he’s not doing much to help them win, either.

But this game wasn’t about Orton and the Broncos, it was about Rodgers and the Packers, who are winning and making it look easy. Last year they hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy. This year they look even better.

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Excessive celebrations won’t result in longer PAT try

Baldwin Getty Images

The more we think about the supposedly simple change to the PAT procedures, the more complicated it all gets.

A reader posed an intriguing question regarding whether the new rule will result in fewer excessive celebration penalties during touchdowns, since the foul would move the two-point try to the 17 — or turn the single-point kick into a 47-yard field goal.

Unfortunately for those who hope to keep the “No Fun” in the NFL, penalty enforcement won’t change. Which means that an excessive celebration penalty following a touchdown will be enforced on the kickoff, not on the PAT.

So, basically, there won’t be any additional reasons for coaches to be upset with players who do dumb things after scoring touchdowns.

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Report: Belichick never believed Brady on deflation issue

Brady Getty Images

The popular theory regarding the somewhat surprising decision of the Patriots to not appeal the punishments imposed against the team by the NFL is that owner Robert Kraft and Commissioner Roger Goodell struck some sort of a behind-the-scenes deal, possibly one that entails reducing the four-game suspension imposed on quarterback Tom Brady. But there’s another theory that is simpler, both on the surface and beneath.

Maybe the Patriots just caved because they knew they couldn’t win and they didn’t want to do more damage to their relationship with their 31 business partners and the presiding body that binds them together.

Appearing recently on CSN New England’s Sports Tonight, Ron Borges of the Boston Herald offered up a tidbit that fits with the theory that the Patriots abandoned a fight they knew: (1) they wouldn’t win; and (2) would make things worse.

“[Coach Bill] Belichick never believed [Brady’s] story, from what I was told,” Borges said. “Because they all know. Why do you think all those retired quarterbacks, the Troy Aikmans of the world — Troy Aikman is about as nice a guy as I’ve ever met in football — nobody’s backed [Brady]. Nobody, not a single guy. Why do you think that is? Because they hate Brady? No. Because they’re not stupid. They know nothing’s done with those balls that the quarterback doesn’t want done.”

That’s pretty much what Brady said back in January, during that awkward are-you-a-cheater?-I-don’t-believe-so press conference that few found credible.

“When I pick those footballs out, at that point, to me, they’re perfect. I don’t want anyone touching the balls after that, I don’t want anyone rubbing them, putting any air in, taking any air out, to me those balls are perfect and that’s what I expect when I’m on the field,” Brady said.

So if he doesn’t want anyone to do anything to the footballs after that and if they do something to the footballs after that, they’re either making the footballs less perfect to Brady’s chagrin — or more perfect to Brady’s delight.

The Wells report has many flaws. The science is shoddy and suspect. And the team of high-priced sharks supposedly skilled and experienced in interrogating witnesses was unable to get a confession from a pair of maroons whose text messages made them seem guilty.

Even without a confession or a smoking gun from Messrs. Beavis and Butthead, the text messages made them seem guilty. Someone apparently was doing something to footballs that Brady had deemed to be perfect. Although the NFL historically failed to understand the dynamics of air pressure and historically failed to apply any sort of scientific principles to the pre-game inflation process and historically failed to properly supervise the footballs before kickoff and historically failed to ensure a clear chain of custody of the official game balls, the text messages point vaguely to misconduct. Although some league officials may have had an agenda against the Patriots during the AFC title game and after it (by leaking blatantly false PSI data to ESPN, which gave the situation a much more sinister feel), the text messages point vaguely to misconduct.

That’s perhaps why Belichick isolated Brady from the get go, telling reporters that the coach knew nothing about the preparation of the footballs, and that reporters would have to talk to Brady. Unless a deal was struck through the back channels to secure better treatment for Brady (if he accepts the obvious offer from Commissioner Roger Goodell to finally turn over that cell phone), the Patriots perhaps have decided that they should walk away from a fight they can’t win because they finally realize it’s also a fight they shouldn’t win.

Still, it’s also a fight the NFL has failed to convincingly win, thanks to a multi-million-dollar investigation that resulted in a puzzle pieces being jammed together to look like the lid of a different box. And that’s the biggest problem with this entire escapade. By failing to craft a report that withstood objective external scrutiny, Wells and company made it impossible for anyone to achieve a clear sense as to what did and didn’t happen. They were supposed to get to the truth. Instead, the developed a visceral sense of what the truth was, and they did an ineffective job of finding the truth and presenting it in a way that comes off as persuasive and accurate.

But if Belichick ultimately doesn’t believe Brady, there was no reason to keep fighting. And if Borges is right, the Patriots may have deeper issues to deal with regarding the relationship between franchise quarterback and coach and franchise quarterback and franchise.

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Michael Bennett: Playing for Pete Carroll is like playing for Willy Wonka

Gene Wilder AP

We have a feeling that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a pretty popular movie in the house when Martellus and Michael Bennett were growing up.

A couple of years ago, Martellus said that then-Bears coach Marc Trestman reminded him of Willy Wonka. That didn’t help Trestman all that much when Bears brass decided he was a bad egg after last season, but that left an opening for a Wonka-esque figure on the NFL sidelines. Enter Pete Carroll, or so says Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett.

“It’s like playing for Willy Wonka,” Bennett said on 750 The Game in Portland, via the Tacoma News-Tribune. “He’s crazy. He wants to be young. He just is one of those guys who’s always up beat, wants to have a good time, and let’s you be yourself.”

And the snozzberries taste exactly like snozzberries in the team’s cafeteria to boot.

Bennett went on to compare Carroll quite favorably to Greg Schiano, who coached the Bucs when Bennett was in Tampa and earned poor marks for letting men act like men. Bennett and Carroll haven’t been seeing much of each other of late as the defensive end has stayed away from workouts in a quest to shake more money loose from the team.

They haven’t decided to send him to the taffy-pulling room or anything nearly as severe, but Bennett’s just a year into his deal and that may make the idea of a raise nothing more than pure imagination on Bennett’s behalf.

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Friday morning one-liners

Danielle Hunter AP

Bills LB Ty Powell wants to be more than a special teams contributor.

Getting to know a bit more about Dolphins rookie G Jamil Douglas.

Patriots WR Julian Edelman posted a video of his workout with QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

WR Brandon Marshall and CB Antonio Cromartie are having fun with their matchups at Jets practice.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh likes the change in extra points.

The Bengals will have a spirited competition at cornerback.

Browns QB Johnny Manziel gets back on the field next week.

Staying healthy is a goal for the Steelers offensive line.

Texans DE J.J. Watt showed off a picture of a nasty bruise from last season.

The Colts waived former college basketball player and aspiring offensive lineman Demarco Cox.

A negative take on the Jaguars’ uniforms.

Titans G Andy Levitre visited an elementary school to promote both reading and physical fitness.

TE Jeff Heuerman’s future with the Broncos still looks bright despite his torn ACL.

Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star shares his thoughts on which Chiefs rookies looked the best at minicamp.

Concern about Raiders QB Derek Carr’s finger injury is low.

The Chargers are shuffling through third quarterback options.

Would the Cowboys consider bringing RB Ray Rice onto their roster?

A look at how the Giants might deal with the loss of T Will Beatty.

A breakdown of the Eagles offensive line.

Redskins QB Robert Griffin III and his wife welcomed a baby girl named Reese on Thursday.

A long Blackhawks game this week led to a remembrance of the longest Bears game in history.

Five things to keep an eye on during Lions OTAs.

K Mason Crosby likes working with Packers special teams coach Ron Zook.

Vikings rookie DE Danielle Hunter is learning how to use his size and speed at the NFL level.

A visit to Ellen DeGeneres’s television show offered Falcons owner Arthur Blank the chance to buy an $8,000 dress.

Said Panthers K Graham Gano of the new extra point placement, “I expect to make every kick, and that’s not something that will change. Nothing will change mentally or form wise.”

Saints rookies took a tour of New Orleans.

Which Buccaneers will be the most improved in 2015?

Cardinals G Mike Iupati bought a house once owned by NBA player Amar’e Stoudemire.

LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar represented the Rams at an event honoring St. Louis high school student-athletes.

49ers WR Dres Anderson got schooled on NFL life by his father Flipper Anderson.

Seahawks LB Kevin Pierre-Louis says he’s medically cleared for OTA work.

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John Harbaugh thinks weather will dictate more two-pointers

OWINGS MILLS, MD - SEPTEMBER 08:  Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens answers questions during a news conference at the teams training facility on September 8, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland. Earlier in the day the Ravens terminated the contract of running back Ray Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely after the release of video showing Rice striking his then-fiancée in a hotel elevator.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Even though the distance for two-point conversions didn’t change this week, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said he think we’ll see more of them.

With extra points moved back to the 15, the kicks aren’t that much more difficult, but Harbaugh said there will still be a difference.

It is going to encourage more two-point conversion tries,” he said, via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. “There’s no question about it, especially in windy stadiums. Maybe later in the year when it means the most will probably see the most attempts.

“I know one thing, we’re going to spend more time defending two-point conversions and practicing two-point conversions because it’s going to be a bigger part of the game.”

Harbaugh’s a former special teams coach, so it figures that he’s going to have a different perspective on any changes in the kicking game. And he said he needs time to study the possibilities.

“I’m really interested in finding out more of the specifics — penalties, what if we jump offsides, what if they jump offsides,” Harbaugh said. “I can’t wait to see the details.”

Coaches are creatures of habit, so even the small act of shaking up their practice routines is notable. And if the weather encourages more coaches to abandon what is still a safe point for the chance at an extra one, then the league will have gotten the bump it was looking for.

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Kelvin Benjamin to miss some OTA time with hamstring injury

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 21:  Kelvin Benjamin #13 of the Carolina Panthers during the game at Bank of America Stadium on September 21, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Panthers take the field for OTAs next week, they’ll do it without last year’s first-round pick.

Via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is nursing a hamstring injury and won’t participate next week.

Benjamin had a solid rookie season, with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. His numbers tapered off late in the season, but they hope the addition of second-rounder Devin Funchess will help, giving quarterback Cam Newton a pair of big targets to help the offense develop.

While Benjamin’s hamstring’s not a major concern, the time lost is still at least an inconvenience. The Panthers have traditionally been slow starters, and Newton missed all of last year’s OTA season while recovering from ankle surgery, which may or may not have contributed to that.

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Dante Fowler set for ACL surgery next week

Dante Fowler Jr. AP

It’s been a couple of weeks since Jaguars first-round pick Dante Fowler tore his ACL while taking part in his first NFL practice and that means it is just about time for Fowler to have surgery to repair the injury.

Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union reports that Fowler’s surgery has been scheduled for next week.

The Jaguars ruled Fowler out for the season a day after he suffered the injury, leaving him with almost a full year before the team will start their preparations for the 2016 season. The plan is for Fowler to spend much of that time rehabbing at the team’s facility while also taking part in meetings with the rest of the defensive linemen in order to keep him mentally in the mix while he recovers physically.

Fowler is optimistic about his ability to bounce back to form after the injury, a feeling that’s supported by the similar recoveries we’ve seen from a lot of other players in recent years. That doesn’t make the loss of his rookie season any easier to swallow, but the long view still holds promise for the Jaguars and Fowler.

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Dang, even Bud Grant’s making #DeflateGate jokes now

CANADA - DECEMBER 03:  Bombers' Bud Grant looks as if he just swallowed the canary. He had just won his fourth Grey Cup in six years of coaching Winnipeg.   (Photo by Barry Philp/Toronto Star via Getty Images) Getty Images

Bud Grant might be old school, and he might be old, but he’s certainly got the hang of this social media thing.

Specifically, the former Vikings coach has learned how to troll folks on Twitter.

While promoting his latest garage sale, Grant sent out of photo of some autographed footballs, which appear more probable than not to not be inflated to a range between 12.5 and 13.5 PSI.

A sticky note is attached to one which reads: “These balls are not from New England (Air pump broken :( ).”

So not only is the 88-year-old Grant making #DeflateGate jokes, he also dropped a frowny face at the end of it.

We may have reached the end of the internet, or perhaps a glorious new beginning.

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League to share survey results with St. Louis, San Diego, Oakland

Questionnaire Getty Images

Now that the NFL’s 32 business partners have seen the information, it’s time to share it with the people trying to throw money and new buildings at them.

According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the league’s home market studies of St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland were given to owners this week, and will now go to the groups trying to keep the Rams, Chargers and Raiders where they are.

Those marketing surveys in St. Louis included fan questionnaires and focus groups which asked about ticket preferences, PSLs and premium seats, and whether they’d support a different team. Local business leaders were also polled to see the interest in buying luxury suites and premium seating or sponsorships.

The basic studies have been completed,” NFL Los Angeles point-man Eric Grubman said. “The information we’ve gotten, we’ve shared it with the clubs. We’re getting ready to share it with representatives from the markets. We wanted the clubs to be able to digest it before we gave it to the markets.”

St. Louis leaders Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz are expected to share whatever they learn from the league with the public once they know it, but at the moment they haven’t received the package.

Once they have the data, civic leaders can presumably adjust their plan (i.e. try to shake the money tree and see what else might fall out). But Grubman said in each of the markets, he’s gathered there are plenty of people eager to keep the teams.

“I’ve got to tell you, in each of these three markets there is not a time when I’m there that I don’t sense the tremendous support and appreciation of the fans for the team,” Grubman said.

Now they just have to see if those fans are sufficiently committed to doing what it takes to keep the teams, and at what level.

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Reggie Bush wants to return punts this year

Reggie Bush

Early in Reggie Bush’s NFL career, he returned punts in addition to his offensive duties and he showed a knack for it while returning four punts for touchdowns in his first three seasons with the Saints.

Bush continued returning punts through the end of his tenure in New Orleans, but six 2011 opportunities with the Dolphins are the last time he’s been seen in that role. Bush signed with the 49ers this offseason and he may get a chance to turn back the clock. Bush was fielding punts at Thursday’s practice and said it was his idea to get back on special teams.

“It was my idea,” Bush said, via CSNBayArea.com. “I told the coaches I wanted to return punts again. And they were excited about it. We’re still working at it, still chipping away. And we look forward to being an all-around great special teams.”

Bush said he didn’t think he’d “gotten rusty” after several years of leaving punt return duties to other players and that he’s looking forward to having another avenue to getting the ball in his hands.

Carlos Hyde is expected to be the No. 1 back for the Niners this year, leaving Bush and Kendall Hunter to pick up complementary touches out of the backfield. However that works out for Bush, returning punts would offer him another chance for him to impact games and for the 49ers to maximize their return on investment in Bush’s services.

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Chargers’ Nick Novak thinks new rule makes kickers more valuable

Nick Novak AP

NFL kickers have been split on the league’s new rule moving extra points back 13 yards, with some saying it’s an unnecessary attempt to make them less relevant, while others say it will reward the league’s better kickers.

Count Chargers kicker Nick Novak in the latter camp.

“I think it makes my job that much more exciting,” Novak told U-T San Diego. “There could be games where I may not get any work, just lighting up the scoreboard and scoring touchdowns, which is a good thing. Now, I have the privilege of kicking 33-yard field goals, maybe four of five a game — I call them field goals because they’re from 33 yards. And I may kick four or five field goals. My workload is going to go up. It’s exciting to showcase what I can do. I think it increases the value of a kicker, too.”

Novak may be right, although the reality is that a 33-yard extra point is still an easy kick for every NFL kicker. A kicker who would struggle with the longer extra point wouldn’t be in the NFL in the first place, and so this new rule won’t change kickers’ jobs much one way or the other.

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Dennis Hickey: “Reasonable expectation” Branden Albert is ready for regular season

Branden Albert Getty Images

In February, Miami Dolphins tackle Branden Albert was uncertain if he would be ready to play in time for the team’s 2015 season opener after tearing his ACL and MCL last November.

However, Miami general manager Dennis Hickey now believes that Albert has a decent chance to be ready to play in time for the Dolphins’ Week 1 game at Washington.

In an interview with Alex Marvez and Mark Dominik on Sirius XM NFL Radio, Hickey said there is a “reasonable expectation” Albert will be good to go.

“It’s been a long rehab but he’s really attacked it every day,” Hickey said. “Reasonable expectation is for him to play opening day and so, still a lot of rehab to go but we really like his progress. He’s out there with him team working out and we’re really encouraged by what we’re seeing with him.

Albert suffered the knee injury in a game against the Detroit Lions in early November and missed the rest of the season. Ja’Wuan James started the final seven games for Miami in place of Albert last season.

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Virtual reality trainer arrives

Arnold

In February, Saints coach Sean Payton said that virtual reality training for quarterbacks could be coming. It’s now here, and not just for quarterbacks.

As explained by Stephanie Loh of U-T San Diego, former Stanford kicker Derek Belch has developed a goggles-and-headset system that immerses the user in a game situation, based not on a video game presentation but actual football video.

Five major college programs already have begun using the product of Belch’s STRIVR labs, and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is very impressed.

“It was one of the few times in your coaching career when you’re watching something and you think, ‘This is a game-changer. This is gonna change the way we teach young men,'” Bielema said.

Belch, who left his job as a graduate assistant with Stanford to focus on the STRIVR project. His partner is former Stanford and NFL quarterback Trent Edwards.

And it’s not just a tool for training quarterbacks. After an NFL head coach tried it out, Belch and Edwards decided to make it into a defensive trainer, too.

“Pete Carroll was one of the last guys to see it,” Belch told Loh. “He put it on right away, and as soon as he looked around, the first thing he said was, ‘You could do this for defense.’ After Pete said that, we thought, ‘We have to find a way to use this for defense before the next person sees it.'”

For coaches who have restricted access to players, the system allows for built-in coaching that doesn’t run afoul of applicable limitations.

“During the summer, NCAA rules become very limiting on how much time you can spend with kids and how much football you can talk,” Bielema told Loh. “This, here’s what it is: You can hear us talking and speaking [during a play] and take reps with no countable hours. [Y]ou’re looking at hundreds of different snaps, and it’s like they’ve just been through a practice, but it’s also saving their legs.

“It’s of incredible value to incoming and younger players that need to see the reps to escalate their learning curve. It’s worth its weight in gold.”

It’s as expensive as plenty of gold. Per Loh, the entry-level package costs $250,000. They hope to eventually make it cheaper, so that every college and high school can eventually afford it.

The next step is other sports, from hockey to basketball to baseball. Which means that Belch and Edwards could end up making a lot of money.

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Report: Cowboys put Daniel Thomas through a workout

Miami Dolphins v Denver Broncos Getty Images

The Cowboys, who must replace departed feature back DeMarco Murray, have taken a look at a tailback selected nine picks before Murray in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Daniel Thomas, a Dolphins reserve for the last four seasons, went through a workout with Dallas on Thursday, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun and National Football Post reported.

Thomas (6-1, 235) has rushed for 1,480 yards and 10 touchdowns on 409 carries in 52 regular season games, all with Miami, which picked him near the end of Round Two four years ago (No. 62 overall).

Then, early in Round Three, Murray was the next back off the board, landing with the Cowboys. But after four productive seasons highlighted by a superb and rugged 2014 campaign, Murray signed with Philadelphia. The Cowboys didn’t draft a running back last month, which suggests they are confident they can get by with holdovers Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams as well as ex-Raiders tailback Darren McFadden, their lone free agent signee at the position to date.

If signed, Thomas would likely compete for a reserve role, with the same said for Felix Jones and Ben Tate, who also worked out for Dallas on Thursday.

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Raiders sign fifth-round pick Neiron Ball

Neiron Ball AP

The Raiders have finished another contract with a drafted rookie, signing Florida linebacker Neiron Ball, the club announced Thursday.

A fifth-round pick, Ball (6-2, 236) notched 49 tackles (33 solo) and two sacks last season for the Gators. After the draft, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio described him as a linebacker capable of lining up “on the line or off the ball,” per a transcript from the club.

Oakland has reached deals with 7-of-10 draft selections. The Raiders’ lone unsigned draft picks are Florida State defensive tackle Mario Edwards Jr. (Round Two), Miami (Fla.) tight end Clive Walford (Round Three) and Kansas cornerback Dexter McDonald (Round Seven).

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