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Play-calling becomes focal point of Tebow debate

Detroit Lions v Denver Broncos Getty Images

A certain percentage of Tebowmaniacs will continue to believe that the object of their affection has the skills to be a Hall of Fame quarterback, no matter how many times he plays as poorly as he did on Sunday against the Lions.  And for many of the folks who are convinced that Tim Tebow has the skills to be truly great, the failure to achieve such results will be blamed on something other than the flaws inherent to his game.

According to an excellent summary of the situation by Arnie Stapleton of the Associated Press, the battleground has become the plays called by the Broncos.  Some, such as former Bucs and Broncos safety John Lynch, think that the team isn’t doing enough to help Tebow.  Lynch, who called the 45-10 trouncing of the Broncos by the Lions for FOX and also conducted an exclusive! interview of Tebow for the pregame show, argued during the broadcast that the Broncos needed to call some high-percentage passes to get Tebow in an early rhythm.

Raiders coach Hue Jackson, whose team will face the Broncos on Sunday, says he believes the team is trying to maximize Tebow’s talents.  “I think they are trying to build an offense for him,” Jackson said.  “They’re trying to move him around in the pocket a little bit.  And then they’re using his legs in their running game so that he’s the primary ball carrier at times.  So, I think they’re giving him opportunities to display his abilities.”

Either way, the Broncos are on the defensive.

“I mean, look at all the young quarterbacks in the league, how many come out right away and start lighting it up from the first game on?” offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said.  “There aren’t many in the history of this game that do that. They all struggle early on, it’s an adjustment to them.

“He’s a young quarterback. So, there’s going to be growing pains.”

That’s fine, but if that’s the case, why is Tebow apparently on a short leash?  And so the question remains whether the team is committed to Tebow, or whether the team is committed to simply giving Tebow a chance to get the team’s attention.

The most accurate assessment could be that the team simply wants to let Tebow play long enough to allow enough of the Tebowmaniacs conclude on their own that it’s time to find a new hero.

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T.O. sues attorney for bingo hall losses

Terrell+Owens+Cincinnati+Bengals+v+Carolina+Bkr0gbboieEl Getty Images

Earlier this year, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported that at least 25 NFL players faced potential discipline for acquiring interests in an electronic bingo operation that violates the league’s gambling policies.  One of those players was involuntarily retired (for now) receiver Terrell Owens.

According to CourthouseNews.com, Owens has now sued an attorney who allegedly encouraged him to invest $2 million “in an Alabama entertainment center that included a gaming hall with electronic bingo, which is an illegal gambling operation in Alabama, and a violation of NFL policy.”

The project apparently collapsed when the devices to be used were deemed to violate Alabama law.  Owens claims among other things that the lawyer failed to explain the risks.  He alleges negligence and breach of fiduciary duty.

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Saints complain about absence of Josh Freeman from injury report

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Buccaneers updated their injury report to disclose that quarterback Josh Freeman fully participated in practice on Thursday with a thumb injury.  The move didn’t happen because of a mistake or oversight on the original version; per Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune, the update came after the Saints complained to the league office.

That’s what coach Raheem Morris said after Freeman showed up on NFL Network with his thumb in a bandage, even though he wasn’t on the Wednesday injury list.

“Ask the Saints, they reported it,” Morris said.  “You know, he might not be playing against the Saints, I don’t know.  I’ll go Belichick on you guys.”

Morris previously explained that Freeman suffered the injury against the Bears on October 23.  “He sprained it in the Chicago game, came in and practiced during the bye week and didn’t miss anything this week,” Morris said.  “I can make a big deal out of it if you want me to.”

Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com reports that Freeman was added to Thursday’s report after the Bucs received a call from the league office.  Per Yasinskas, the league office also instructed the Bucs to put safety Tanard Jackson on the report, based on a policy that requires the player to be listed if he left the prior game with an injury — even when there is an intervening bye week.

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A.J. Smith fires back at LaDainian Tomlinson

A.J. Smithangry AP

When we passed along LaDainian Tomlinson’s remarks about Philip Rivers earlier Thursday, we guessed that they wouldn’t play too well in San Diego.

Chargers G.M. A.J. Smith did not disappoint.

Smith took issue with the notion that Rivers is distracted and struggling this season because of the pressure inherent in being ‘The Guy.’

“I agree with what LT said about it’s hard being the guy,” Smith told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. “But I think it’s a lot harder when it’s no longer your team, and you’re not the guy.”

Boom. Roasted.  (We guess that Smith no longer has the “utmost respect” for Tomlinson.)

Rivers was apprised of Tomlinson’s words and was a little less direct, but no less pointed.

“Based on what you told me,” Rivers said, “he has to be speaking from experience. . . .  I don’t feel that burden, nor has it had anything to do with the struggles. . . . People say, ‘It’s your team.’ I’ve never bought into that.”

Translation: Stop projecting, LaDainian.  Weren’t you done talking about the Chargers?

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Help us prepare for Friday’s NBC SportsTalk

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When anyone not in the media asks for help doing their job, it’s called laziness.  For us, it’s called interaction.

And so, at a time when I’m hoping to interact with some TV shows tonight, I’m encouraging any input you may have on topics you’d like to see discussed on Friday night’s NBC SportsTalk (VERSUS, 6:00 p.m. ET), with Peter King, Russ Thaler, Gregg Rosenthal, and yours truly.

King and I are always looking for items to debate in the “You’re wrong and here’s why” segment, which I’m hoping will eventually be named “Peter’s wrong and here’s why.”  Also, Peter and I put together top-five (or bottom-five) lists on things like best receivers, teams, comeback quarterbacks, etc.

So let’s interact.

I’ll check back after my programs are over.

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Chris Johnson says he’s still the same guy

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Though his first three NFL seasons, Titans running back Chris Johnson generated 4,598 yards rushing, at an average of five yards per attempt and more than 1,500 yards per year.  Through seven games of his fourth season, Johnson has 302 yards.  He’s averaging a measly 2.8 yards per carry.

Several possible reasons for his slide have been identified.  The Titans have a new offense, a new offensive coordinator, and a new quarterback.  Also, Johnson has a new contract, which for many veteran tailbacks extinguishes the fire that drove a guy to take a pounding in order to get paid.  Then there’s the fact that Johnson held out until the days before the start of the regular season.

Nearly two months after getting paid, Johnson discussed the change in his production with Jim Rome on his radio show.  Johnson insists that the money hasn’t changed him.

“I’m still the same,” Johnson told Rome.  “I’m still hungry because like honestly I feel like I just got this big contract but if God is willing to let me continue playing all these years and things like that I still want another contract. . . .  I feel like if I wasn’t playing hard and laying down, the coaches and the players they would have had something to say about it.  They can see I’m practicing as hard as I can practice and I’m playing very hard.

“I know for a fact I’m the same guy.  Throughout workouts and things like that, same speed.  When things are not working out how they had been working out a lot of people like to point to I’m not the same guy, not as explosive, lost a step, things like that.  I can assure you that’s not what’s going on right now.”

So what’s going on?  Johnson acknowledged that he struggled early in the season because he wasn’t ready to hit the ground sprinting when his holdout ended.

“I feel I came in not in football shape,” Johnson said.  “Like I was in shape but not in football shape.  So I feel like I’ve been in football shape for a couple weeks now, so I don’t feel like that’s the reason why the running game’s not where it’s supposed to be at right now.”

Still, Johnson offered no explanation for his lingering inability to perform like he has in the past, even though he’s now supposedly in football shape.  Watching him play, he seems to not have that same ability to blast through a hole and rocket to the end zone, outrunning even any defensive backs who initially appeared to have an angle on him.

Johnson likely hasn’t gotten complacent, in large part because he hadn’t really taken much of a pounding.  His game is premised on speed, not power.  Right now, he seems to have neither.  As a result, he’ll have fewer chances to turn things around, since Javon Ringer is earning the ability to take touches away from Johnson.

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Chiefs take a look-see at Leigh Bodden

David Nelson, Leigh Bodden AP

Six days ago, the Patriots abruptly cut cornerback Leigh Bodden.  Three days ago, no one claimed his services on waivers.  At that point, he became a free agent.

Per a league source, Bodden visited the Chiefs on Wednesday.  He has not yet been signed.

Though the knee-jerk reaction by many will be that Chiefs G.M. Scott Pioli is interested because he signed Bodden while in New England, Bodden joined the Pats after Pioli left.  Instead, Bodden’s link comes from his time in Cleveland, playing for Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

Bodden is eligible to recover the balance of his $3.9 million base salary from the Patriots as termination pay.  If he signs with a new team, he gets to keep that money, too.

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Jaguars failing to meet lowered expectations

Jaguars head coach Del Rio takes a deep breath following the team's third fumble during the first half of their NFL football game against the Ravens in Jacksonville Reuters

PFT is looking at every team’s state of the franchise during their bye week. 

We looked at Carolina earlier this week. Now up: The Jacksonville Jaguars.

Lowered expectations won’t cut it

The minute Jack Del Rio cut David Garrard, there were lowered expectations for this Jaguars team. When Del Rio went to rookie Blaine Gabbert in Week 3, the bar was set even lower.

That isn’t likely to help Del Rio keep his job.

Everything was building towards 2011. The team spent a lot of money in free agency. It’s year three of G.M. Gene Smith’s rebuilding plan.  The Jaguars are competitive, but 2-6 is 2-6.

Gabbert giving cause for concern

Yes, he’s a rookie. Struggles are to be expected.  Then again, Cam Newton, Christian Ponder, and Andy Dalton are rookies as well.  They are all playing much better.

Gabbert’s play has regressed as the season has worn on. There hasn’t really been one game or moment for him where he’s looked like a franchise quarterback. The team hasn’t passed for 100 net yards in three weeks.

Excuses aplenty abound. He doesn’t have great weapons. Sometimes you have to trust your eyes, however. Gabbert looks a lot more like Jimmy Clausen or J.P. Losman than a promising prospect.

Continue reading »

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DeMarcus Ware not talking about the sack record

Dallas Cowboys v New York Jets Getty Images

With 12 sacks in seven games, DeMarcus Ware is on pace to finish the year with an NFL-record 27 sacks this year.

But he’s not going to talk about his chances of topping Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5.

“As a pass-rusher, you’re always aware of what you have but you just don’t talk about it,” Ware told the Dallas Morning News. “You just get out there and keep working. At the end of the season, you just hope that you are where you need to be.”

But while Ware isn’t going to talk up his sack numbers, one person who has noticed is Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who’s preparing to face Ware on Sunday.

“He’s an amazing football player and of course they know it and move him around to do things with him to give him his chance to be effective,” Carroll said. “He’s very much a problem and the kind of guy you have to have a mindfulness throughout the game plan because he can strike you at any time.”

Considering that the Seahawks have allowed a league-high 28 sacks this season, it would be a surprise if Ware doesn’t strike at some time on Sunday.

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Harbaugh: Steelers-Ravens rivalry takes you to “dark place”

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

There’s just something different about Ravens-Steelers.

I’ve called it the best rivalry in the NFL more than once because the games between the two AFC North rivals are always intense, memorable, and meaningful.

In a conversation with NFL.com’s Albert Breer, Ravens coach John Harbaugh puts the matchup in perspective.

“It’s almost surreal,” Harbaugh said. “All of a sudden, everything’s different. You go into this dark place. It’s like you’re in this globe, in a good way, and suddenly there’s nothing outside of that moment, outside of that stadium.

“It’s unique to these games, and yet, both teams are so comfortable in that place. It’s where we’re supposed to be. It’s where they’re supposed to be. It’s hard to describe.”

That did the trick pretty well.

Part of football’s appeal: It can sometimes be played in a dark place. The Ravens and Steelers matchup embody the game’s mix of hitting, toughness, and competitive play at the highest level. It’s a blast to watch.

Week One’s matchup didn’t live up the rivalry’s usual high standards.  This one means more.

Something tells me Sunday night will be different.

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Oliver Luck thinks it’s “stupid” for fans to think teams will “Suck for Luck”

Oliver Luck, Dana Holgorsen AP

Like Giants quarterback Eli Manning, the first pick in the 2004 draft, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has a father who played pro football.  Though Oliver Luck, former West Virginia quarterback and current Athletics Director in Morgantown, didn’t enjoy the same success as Archie Manning, the elder Luck spent half a decade as an NFL quarterback.

In a Thursday interview with SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio, Oliver Luck addressed the concept of teams intentionally losing to land the rights to his son, a practice that has become known as “Suck for Luck.”

“I think it’s just stupid,” Oliver Luck said, firing off the last word with a strong hint of contempt in his voice.  “You know, I played for five years in the NFL, and I never have seen a player take a play off, because these guys are playing for their livelihoods.  And the coaches are coaching for their livelihood.  And I absolutely think it’s stupid that fans would believe a team intentionally lose a game.”

But as the 2011 season unfolds, it’s becoming apparent that any sucking for Luck won’t be overt.  Teams that are playing badly will stay the course, with the Dolphins sticking with quarterback Matt Moore and coach Tony Sparano, and the Colts keeping quarterback Curtis Painter and coach Jim Caldwell.

The players never have to know that any affirmative effort to not win games is occurring.  The coaches don’t have to know, either.  Instead, if ownership and the front office choose to do nothing to reverse the fortunes of a very bad team, the team presumably will remain (you guessed it) very bad.

With Colts owner Jim Irsay already talking about drafting Andrew Luck and with the organization knowing very well what it’s like to have a franchise quarterback and, as they learned pre-1998 and in 2011, to not have a franchise quarterback, it’s hardly stupid to think that Irsay and Bill Polian have decided that nothing will be done to try to shake up the roster or the coaching staff in the hopes of winning a few games.

That’s how the slide to the bottom is going to happen.  The folks who ultimately run the teams that are sliding will get out of the way, quietly rooting for the season to come to rest at a spot that delivers the first pick in the draft.

That’s anything but stupid.  Given that a guy like Andrew Luck will make a team competitive for a decade or longer, it’s brilliant.

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Tomlinson on Rivers: It’s hard to be ‘The Guy’

Miami Dolphins v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

LaDainian Tomlinson has watched his old teammate Philip Rivers struggle from close up (when the Jets faced the Chargers) and from afar on television.

LT2 thinks he may know why Rivers hasn’t been playing well.

“He seems distracted, for some reason. Like on the sideline, he seems like he’s just distracted. And I’ve always said this: It’s hard to be ‘the guy.’ When they say this is your team, it’s hard to be the guy, because you get all the questions of what’s wrong and what’s right.

“And then you get your teammates who expect certain things from you, and when that doesn’t happen, you get strange looks in the locker room,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson speaks from experience.  His struggles at the end of his tenure in San Diego are well documented.  When he left, teammates from Rivers to Antonio Gates alluded to issues with Tomlinson’s leadership style.

While these comments from Tomlinson appear well-intended on the surface, they may not play that way in San Diego.  It’s as if Tomlinson is saying to Rivers: It’s not so easy to lead, is it?

“It’s hard to be that guy when it’s your team, so that may have a little bit to do with what’s going on, too,” Tomlinson said.

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Peyton Hillis on track to return for Browns

Indianapolis' Jacob Lacey tackles Cleveland's Peyton Hillis during an NFL football game in Indianapolis Reuters

A rough season for Peyton Hillis didn’t get any better this week after he stiffed a local Boys and Girls Club for an event called “Halloween with Hillis.”

Hillis has apologized, but only one thing is going to get him back in the good graces of Browns fans: Playing again.  Playing effectively wouldn’t hurt.

It now sounds like the Browns cautiously expect Hillis to return from a hamstring injury against the Texans this Sunday. He practiced on Thursday, which is great news for a team that lost Montario Hardesty to injury last week.

Cleveland is 3-4, but no one takes them seriously because they don’t have a win over a quality opponent.  A victory in Houston would change that.

(Not that we expect it to happen.)

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Tom Brady: Giants rush the passer better than anybody in the NFL

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

As he prepares to face the Giants on Sunday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says he’s preparing for the best pass-rushing defense in the NFL.

“They get pressure probably better than anybody in the league,” Brady said. “They lead the league in sacks. Damn near everybody on that D-line can rush the quarterback. So we’ve got to be able to be balanced, we’ve got to execute, certainly, better than we did last week.”

In that game last week, the Steelers sacked Brady three times. And in the Patriots’ last three games, Brady has been sacked a total of 10 times. Brady is on pace to get sacked 32 times this season, which would be his most in any season since 2003.

The Giants have a league-high 26 sacks. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is fifth in the league with 8.5 sacks, and Osi Umenyiora is tied for eighth in the league with 6.0 sacks. Brady is right: The Patriots have to execute better than they did last week.

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Senator John McCain wants hearings on HGH testing

US Senator John McCain addresses the sec Getty Images

To date, two Congressional committees have expressed an interest in taking action aimed at forcing the NFL and NFLPA to implement an August agreement to conduct HGH testing.  Now, former Presidential candidate John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants a Senate committee to get in on the act, too.

Senator McCain told Dan Patrick earlier today that public hearings should be held promptly to ensure that testing will commence.

“I always worry about Congress being involved in things, because I’m a conservative,” McCain said.  “But I think that if I were chairman of the Commerce committee, which I . . . I’d be hauling these guys up before Congress to explain why we are not enforcing an agreement” to conduct HGH testing.

The Commerce committee currently is chaired by John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.).  Senator Rockefeller expressed concern regarding the NFL’s labor situation before the lockout commenced.  He has yet to make any comments about HGH testing.

“It seems to me since they made an agreement, they have to come up with compelling proof that these tests shouldn’t be conducted, rather than saying it has to be proved that they can be,” McCain added.

He’s right.  And we’ll separately explain soon what could happen if the NFLPA and NFL don’t turn their agreement to conduct HGH testing into actual HGH testing.  Even though it’s the NFLPA that seems to be dragging their feet, the situation could play out in a manner that harms the NFL’s interests significantly.

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