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Week 17 Monday 10-pack

Green Bay Packers quarterback Flynn hands off the ball against the Detroit Lions during the second half of their NFL football game in Green Bay Reuters

It’s the first Monday of the year, and it’s the last Monday 10-pack of the year.

I miss the days when football season ended before December 31.

As a setup goes, that’s all I got.  Let’s get on to the 10 takes from a 32-team season-ending Sunday.

1.  Packers should strongly consider franchising Flynn.

In 2008, after the first annual Brett Favre retirement, the Packers drafted two quarterbacks.  The gesture was interpreted by some (i.e., by us) as a bolting of the door behind Favre and the blocking of it with large pieces of furniture.

Brian Brohm, who entered the 2007 college football season as one of the top prospects, slid to the Packers in round two, pick 56.  LSU’s Matt Flynn was an afterthought, with pick number 209 in round seven.  Four seasons later, Brohm is long gone — and Flynn showed on Sunday that he’ll be the hottest commodity in the 2012 free-agent market.

If he gets there.

Like Matt Cassel of the Patriots in 2009, the Packers should think about slapping the franchise tag on Flynn, in order to trade him to a quarterback-needy team.  With Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III the best options in the draft, teams like the Redskins and Dolphins and Browns and maybe the Seahawks will be clamoring for a proven commodity like Flynn.

The risk, of course, is that Flynn would sign the franchise tag but no serious offers would come for his services, given that the starting point for a long-term deal would be the one-year guaranteed salary of $14.5 million or so in 2012.  If that would happen, the Packers would be stuck with a backup earning roughly $6.5 million more next year than starter Aaron Rodgers, who is due to earn a base salary of $8 million next season.

The other side of the coin is that Flynn will walk away with plenty of coins in his pockets — and zero compensation to the team that transformed him from a seventh-round pick into a guy who’ll be the most coveted quarterback not named Luck or Griffin.

2.  Rex should be on the hot seat.

Though it’s too early to fire Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has two appearances in the AFC title game in three seasons as a head coach, he deserves the pressure that goes along with the accountability for guaranteeing a Super Bowl win (and, even more importantly in New York, a win over the Giants) and failing to deliver.  Only so many times can a head coach protect his players and assistants by saying “put the blame on me” until someone decides to put the blame on him.

Yes, his players seem to still believe.  More importantly, the owner seems to still believe.  But the players and the owner may believe a little less in 2012 — especially if Rex emerges from a disappointing 2011 season (in light of the expectations fueled by Ryan) as brash and bold as ever.

Beyond the boundaries of his team, Rex has become a caricature.  (Some would say he already was one.)  If that sense ever makes its way into the locker room, and eventually it should, it’ll be time to move on.

Apart from all the words, it’s one specific action that could, as a practical matter, put Rex in a position to be coaching for his job in 2012.  The misguided decision to make receiver Santonio Holmes a captain, given that Holmes spent much of the year not acting like a captain, could come back to haunt Ryan.

Arguably, it already is.  And now Rex has a mess on his hands, especially since a guy who spent much of Sunday acting like he didn’t want to be with the Jets signed a long-term, big-money deal before the season.

3.  Steelers fleeced Jets on Holmes.

Speaking of Santonio, Steelers fans didn’t care much for the abrupt decision to trade Holmes to New York for a fifth-round pick in 2010.  With a four-game suspension for violation of the substance-abuse policy coming on the heels of Ben Roethlisberger’s misadventures in Milledgeville, it was perceived that the Steelers’ decision was driven less by football strategy and more by public relations sensitivities.

But the Steelers were looking ahead.  With Holmes due to miss the first four games of the 2010 season and one wake-n-bake away from a one-year suspension, the Steelers opted to unload a potential headache — especially since the Steelers knew they’d never tie their hands by giving Holmes a huge contract.

And so the Steelers didn’t simply get a fifth-round pick.  The Steelers also received the peace of mind that comes from dumping a wideout who would have been a major pain in the butt for the balance of 2010, and who simply no longer factored into their plans.

Meanwhile, the Steelers traded that fifth-round pick to the Cardinals for cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round pick.  And with that sixth-round pick the Steelers found their 2011 MVP in round six of the same draft.  Receiver Antonio Brown has become almost everything Holmes was as a player, without creating any of the headaches or other issues that go hand in hand with having Holmes on the team.

Advantage Steelers.

4.  Texans-Bengals game could be the key to the AFC playoffs.

I’ve been concerned throughout much of the 2011 season that, once the Texans get to the postseason, a lack of playoff experience would keep them from being successful.  But their first opponent is the Bengals, a team with young players having no playoff experience and, by all appearances, no players having any positive playoff experiences.

So the Texans, who beat the Bengals last month after trailing 16-3 at the half and 19-10 after three quarters, will have a very good shot at holding off the No. 6 seed.  Taking a broader look at the AFC field, the outcome of that game could have a huge bearing on the determination of the eventual conference champion.

If Houston holds serve at home, it will be time for a return to Baltimore, where the Ravens’ eight regular-season wins included a trouncing of the Texans.  The Steelers, after most likely beating Denver, will head to New England.

Though Baltimore would have to face one of those two potent teams (either Pittsburgh at home, where the Ravens won 35-7 in Week One or the Patriots in New England, where the Ravens won in the playoffs two years ago, 33-14), the Ravens wouldn’t have to play both of them.  Which, for the Ravens, is nice.

If, in contrast, the Bengals upset the Texans, Cincinnati would head to Foxboro — and Pittsburgh would return to Baltimore with a burst of momentum and a shot at becoming the latest wild-card winner to catch a division rival flat-footed after a bye week and knock them out of the playoffs.  If Baltimore manages to beat the Steelers for a third time this year, the reward would be a trip to New England.

The converse is true for the Pats.  A win by the Bengals keeps New England from having to play both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  If Houston wins, the Patriots would have to face a Steelers team that gave New England one of its three 2011 losses before inviting the Ravens back to town.

One way or the other, the outcome of Saturday’s game will make the path to Indy considerably easier for New England or Baltimore, by sending the Steelers to one place or the other.

5.  Crossroads for Daniel Snyder.

The Redskins became the property of Daniel Snyder in 1999.  In the 13 seasons since then, Snyder has employed (excluding interim hires) six head coaches.  Other than Snyder’s boyhood hero, Joe Gibbs, no coach has made it more than two seasons on the job.

Mike Shanahan has just completed his second season on the job.  Recently, Shanahan has been subtly justifying his two losing seasons by explaining that much work needed to be done to improve the bad team he inherited.  And while there’s no indication that Shanahan will be fired, there likewise was no indication that the end was coming three years ago for Shanahan in Denver.

The bigger question for Snyder is whether he’s willing to stay the course not only now but after the 2012 season.  If Shanahan and G.M. Bruce Allen position themselves to land Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in the draft, it would be foolish to give Shanahan only one year to work with the new quarterback.

And so Snyder needs to realize that, by deciding to keep Shanahan now, Snyder essentially is deciding to keep Shanahan for 2013 — and possibly for 2014.

6.  Another Manning/Leaf dilemma coming?

Speaking (twice now) of Luck and Griffin, what once was a one-man show at the top of the draft quickly has become another Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf conundrum.  On Sunday’s Football Night In America, former Colts coach Tony Dungy explained that Colts vice chairman Bill Polian has shown a willingness to go against conventional wisdom in the draft, taking Edgerrin James in 1999 over Ricky Williams and Dwight Freeney over Albert Haynesworth in 2002.

Dungy even said he’d personally lean toward Griffin, the Heisman winner and architect of a 67-point explosion in Baylor’s bowl win.

Luck still has one more chance to create some separation, when Stanford takes on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.  Despite the obsession over measurables and the things a guy can do when not wearing pads, scouts seem to be influenced heavily by performances on the big stage.

What Luck does with it could ultimately determine whether Luck and Griffin will become another Manning and Leaf dilemma, which despite being a no-brainer in hindsight was a much closer call in 1998.

7.  Pay the Cruz.

Giants receiver Victor Cruz has made, in two seasons, the unlikely climb from undrafted free agent to superstar.  Nearly as shrewd as the Giants’ decision to give him a chance was their decision to sign him to a three-year contract.

And so Cruz remains contractually obligated to show up for mandatory offseason workouts and training camp in 2012, despite being slated to earn a paltry $490,000.

But the Giants need to send a message to the locker room that stellar play will be rewarded.  While they could force Cruz to continue to prove himself — and to bear the injury risk — for the final year of his rookie deal and a season as a restricted free agent, the best move would be to find a way to pay him a fair salary that reflects not only his skills and abilities but also the contributions he made during a season that seemed destined for failure again.

In each of the last two games, a long-yardage catch-and-run from Cruz gave the Giants the upper hand.  It’s only right to put a lot more money in the guy’s pockets.

8.  Broncos should get Quinn ready to play Sunday.

Tebowmania landed with a thud 15 days ago, with the Patriots providing the rest of the league with the blueprint for turning the page on the NFL’s flavor of the month.

As a result, Tim Tebow has played worse than poorly the last two weeks, with as many turnovers against the Bills and Chiefs (six) as Tebow had in his 10 prior games combined.

Enter the Steelers, who have made crafted their legacy over the past two decades by methodically building a lead and then gradually choking off the opposing offense.

As a result, if the Broncos want to have a realistic shot at advancing, it may be prudent to be ready to pull off a Rocky-style switch to southpaw, by switching from the southpaw to Brady Quinn.

This isn’t a long-term indictment of Tebow.  It’s a recognition of the fact that, at least for now, he has bumped up against his ceiling.  The goal on Sunday is to win one game, and it could be that the only way to do that will be to know when to flip the switch from the unconventional quarterback to the guy whose abilities would defy the Steelers’ preparation.

9.  MJD deserves high praise.

Every year, there’s a sense that Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has reached the limit of his abilities, and that a regression is coming.  Every year, he simply continues to play at a high level.

This year, on a team with no passing offense to draw safeties away from the box, Jones-Drew piled up 1,606 rushing yards, more than 240 yards better than Ray Rice, who finished at No. 2.  Jones-Drew added 374 receiving yards, which gives him 1,980 yards from scrimmage.

At a time when former USC tailback Reggie Bush is still trying to become the best running back in the game, the former UCLA running back who entered the league in the same draft as an afterthought to Bush is what Bush has always wanted to be.  Unfortunately for Jones-Drew, the Jaguars may not be able to develop a decent passing game before the window closes on his prime.

10.  Packers defense is even worse than the Patriots.

All year, the media has harped on the Patriots’ porous defense, barely noticing the Swiss cheese sieve in Green Bay.

At the end of the season, the numbers don’t lie.  The Patriots gave up 411.1 yards per game, and the Packers gave up 411.6.

The Packers also finished with a worse pass defense, giving up 299.8 yards per game.  The Pats surrendered, on average, 293.9.  That’s 34.1 yards per game more than the third-worst pass defense, the Saints.

Fittingly, the three worst pass defenses are complemented by the three best pass offenses.

And so, if the top two seeds make it to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl (or if the Saints get there instead of the Packers), it could be time to reduce the field from 100 yards to 50, put up nets at either end, and just call the game what it will be — arena football.

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Steelers hand kickoff return duties to LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount, Thomas DeCoud, Luke Kuechly AP

The Steelers have been miserable running back kickoffs this season, averaging just 17.5 yards a return. As a result, they’ve made a change on the special teams depth chart.

Dri Archer, who has been the primary return man so far this year, is being replaced with running back LeGarrette Blount. Archer is a 5-foot-8, 173-pound rookie with great speed, but he’s frequently been taken down by the first person to reach him on kickoff coverage. The Steelers hope the six-foot, 250-pound Blount will be able to break some tackles and break some long returns.

Things didn’t work out as well as they wanted before, so they switched it up,” Blount said. “I’m excited about it. It’s going to be fun. We’re hoping that we can get everything done the way that we want to get it done, and we hope that we can be effective with it so we can keep it going.”

Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith said he’s still a big believer in Archer’s skills, even though it’s been disappointing that Archer’s longest return this season was just 23 yards.

Blount did a good job returning kickoffs in New England last year, averaging 29.1 yards. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said kickoff returns are something “we have to get better at,” and he’s hoping Blount is the man to make that happen.

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Week Eight skill-position injury report — final

Giovani Bernard AP

Here are the skill-position players in Sunday games listed on the final Week Eight injury report. Key fantasy starters are bolded. Inactives are announced 90 minutes before kickoff.

The final injury report for Monday night’s Washington-Dallas game will be released Saturday.

Sunday’s Lions-Falcons matchup will start at 9:30 a.m. ET, so set your lineups — and alarms — accordingly.

Byes: 49ers, Giants.

OUT

Bills RB Fred Jackson (groin).

Browns WR Rodney Smith (hamstring).

Cardinals TE Troy Niklas (ankle).

Chiefs WR Donnie Avery (groin).

Colts WR Reggie Wayne (elbow).

Eagles WR Brad Smith (groin).

Lions TE Eric Ebron (hamstring).

Lions TE Joseph Fauria (ankle).

Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (ankle).

Panthers RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh).

Panthers WR Corey Brown (concussion).

Raiders WR Vincent Brown (hamstring).

Ravens TE Owen Daniels (knee).

Saints RB Khiry Robinson (forearm).

Saints RB Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder).

Seahawks RB Derrick Coleman (foot).

Seahawks TE Zach Miller (ankle).

Seahawks WR Bryan Walters (concussion).

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin).

DOUBTFUL

Bengals WR A.J. Green (toe).

Bills WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring).

Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle).

Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew (foot).

Titans TE Taylor Thompson (knee).

QUESTIONABLE

Bills WR Marcus Easley (knee).

Buccaneers QB Josh McCown (right thumb).

Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson (rib).

Chiefs WR Junior Hemingway (hamstring).

Colts RB Trent Richardson (hamstring).

Colts TE Jack Doyle (knee).

Eagles RB Darren Sproles (knee).

Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).

Jets WR Greg Salas (ankle, wrist).

Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle).

Panthers RB Chris Ogbonnaya (groin).

Patriots RB Shane Vereen (illness).

Patriots WR Matt Slater (shoulder).

Raiders RB Marcel Reece (quadricep).

Saints TE Jimmy Graham (shoulder).

PROBABLE

Bears TE Martellus Bennett (hamstring).

Bears WR Chris Williams (illness).

Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (ribs).

Bills WR Sammy Watkins (groin).

Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (foot).

Cardinals WR John Brown (ankle).

Chiefs RB Cyrus Gray (hand).

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (ribs).

Dolphins TE Charles Clay (knee).

Dolphins TE Dion Sims (neck).

Eagles RB Chris Polk (hamstring).

Falcons WR Julio Jones (ankle).

Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart (foot).

Jets RB Bilal Powell (foot).

Jets RB Chris Johnson (ankle).

Jets WR Eric Decker (hamstring).

Lions RB Theo Riddick (hamstring).

Packers RB James Starks (ankle).

Patriots QB Tom Brady (ankle).

Rams PK Greg Zuerlein (illness).

Rams RB Benny Cunningham (knee).

Rams WR Kenny Britt (ankle).

Ravens WR Steve Smith (not injury related).

Seahawks Marshawn Lynch (not injury related).

Seahawks RB Robert Turbin (shoulder).

Seahawks TE Luke Willson (groin).

Titans QB Jake Locker (right hand).

Titans RB Shonn Greene (hamstring).

Vikings TE Chase Ford (foot).

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NFLPA says NFL won’t cooperate with its Ray Rice investigation

Ray Rice Press Conference Getty Images

The NFL Players Association has begun its own investigation into the Ray Rice case. The NFL apparently thinks that’s one investigation too many.

According to the NFLPA, the NFL isn’t cooperating with the NFLPA investigation, which is being conducted simultaneously with both the league-sanctioned investigation by former FBI Director Robert Mueller and Rice’s appeal of his indefinite suspension.

Richard Craig Smith, the attorney leading the investigation for the union, told the Associated Press that the NFL has not provided documents and witnesses and the Ravens have refused to cooperate at all. In the NFLPA’s view, that calls into question the NFL’s public statements that it favors transparency on the Rice matter.

The NFL hasn’t commented and hasn’t committed to assisting in the NFLPA’s investigation.

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Ryan Shazier probable for Sunday vs. Colts

Dennis Pitta, Ryan Shazier AP

One of the Steelers’ defensive starters is set to return.

Rookie left inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (sprained MCL) is probable for Sunday’s game vs. Indianapolis, according to the injury report.He has practiced fully in each of the last two days.

The Steelers’ first-round pick in May, Shazier has missed the last four games, with Sean Spence taking his place in the lineup. An Ohio State product, Shazier has recorded 20 combined tackles in his three starts. In his first two games, Shazier played 124-of-138 defensive snaps for Pittsburgh, per Pro Football Focus. He suffered his injury in the Steelers’ Week Three win at Carolina.

The 6-1, 237-pound Shazier posted the best vertical jump (42 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 10 inches) among linebackers at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. At 22, he is one of the building blocks for a defense in transition.

While Shazier looks ready to return, starting nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) and right cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) remain out for the 4-3 Steelers.

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Week Eight injury report roundup

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week Eight of the 2014 season.

Lions vs. Falcons (in London)

The Lions listed running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (foot) as doubtful, but there’s still a chance for wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle, questionable). No such chance remains for tight ends Eric Ebron (hamstring) or Joseph Fauria (ankle). The Falcons hope to get wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot, questionable) back in the lineup and also listed defensive tackle Jordan Babineaux (foot) as questionable.

Seahawks at Panthers

Seattle will cross the country without running back Derrick Coleman (foot), defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle), cornerback Byron Maxwell (calf), tight end Zach Miller (ankle), center Max Unger (foot), linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe) or wide receiver Bryan Walters (concussion). Everyone else on their injury report is probable. The Panthers raise the Seahawks one on the number of players ruled out. Cornerback Bene’ Benwikere (ankle), linebacker Chase Blackburn (knee), wide receiver Corey Brown (concussion), guard Amini Silatolu (calf), guard Trai Turner (knee), running back Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) and running back DeAngelo Williams (ankle) are all going to miss the game. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya (groin) and Jason Williams (hip) are both questionable.

Ravens at Bengals

Owen Daniels (knee) is out after having arthroscopic surgery, leaving the Ravens without their top two tight ends. Left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee) and left guard Kelechi Osemele (back) should return to the lineup after being listed as probable. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) is doubtful after missing practice all week and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee) is questionable. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (neck) is probable.

Dolphins at Jaguars

The Dolphins are waiting to see what linebacker Koa Misi (ankle, questionable) can do, but they don’t think defensive back Jimmy Wilson (hamstring, doubtful) will be able to play. The Jags have issues on defense with cornerback Alan Ball (biceps) and defensive end Andre Branch (groin) ruled out and cornerback Dwayne Gratz (hip, questionable). The offense should have running back Toby Gerhart (foot, probable) back.

Rams at Chiefs 

The Rams could be short at cornerback with Janoris Jenkins (knee) and Trumaine Johnson (knee) both questionable. Cornerback Brandon McGee (foot) has already been ruled out, as has center Tim Barnes (shoulder). The Chiefs hope to get safety Eric Berry (ankle, questionable) back in the lineup. Wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin) and cornerback Christopher Owens (knee) will both miss the game.

Bears at Patriots

The Bears are unlikely to have linebackers Jon Bostic (back, doubtful) and Lance Briggs (ribs, doubtful), but cornerback Kyle Fuller (hand/hip) is probable. Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot, questionable) trended in the wrong direction as the week played out. The Patriots won’t have defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) and they listed running back Shane Vereen (illness) questionable after he missed Friday’s practice. As always, several other Pats, including concussed offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork, are questionable.

Bills at Jets

Bills running back Fred Jackson (knee) was officially ruled out and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring) is doubtful. The team hopes safety Aaron Williams (neck, questionable) can play and they have no worries about wide receiver Sammy Watkins (groin, probable). The Jets are 1-6, but they’re pretty healthy. Linebacker Trevor Reilly (knee) and wide receiver Greg Salas (ankle, wrist) are questionable and the only players on the injury report listed as anything but probable.

Vikings at Buccaneers

Vikings center John Sullivan (concussion) is probable, but the team will wait to make a call on guard Vlad Ducasse (knee). Linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) is doubtful and tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen/groin) remains out. The Bucs return from their bye week with linebacker Jonathan Casillas (hamstring), tackle Anthony Collins (knee), safety Dashon Goldson (ankle), wide receiver Vincent Jackson (rib), quarterback Josh McCown (right thumb) and safety Keith Tandy (hamstring) questionable to play on Sunday.

Texans at Titans

Questionable linebackers are all the rage in Houston. Jadeveon Clowney (knee), Brian Cushing (knee), Brooks Reed (groin) and John Simon (ankle) all got that designation with Cushing looking the least likely to play come Sunday. Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (knee) and tight end Taylor Thompson (knee) are doubtful and linebacker Quentin Groves (ankle) is questionable. Quarterback Jake Locker (thumb) is probable, but he’ll just be holding a clipboard if all goes well for Tennessee.

Eagles at Cardinals

Center Jason Kelce (hernia), linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf) and running back Darren Sproles (knee) are all questionable. It’s a surprising positive for Kelce and a negative for Kendricks, who the team hoped would be returning this weekend. Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (knee, questionable) has a chance to play, which is a bit of a positive surprise as well given the initial timeline for his injury.

Raiders at Browns 

The Raiders ruled out tight end David Ausberry (foot), wide receiver Vincent Brown (hamstring), cornerback Keith McGill (groin), defensive end LaMarr Woodley (biceps) and safety Usama Young (knee). Another four players — guard Khalif Barnes (quadricep), running back Marcel Reece (quadricep), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and defensive end Justin Tuck (knee) — are questionable. It looks like the Browns should have defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle, probable) back in the lineup, but defensive end Phil Taylor (knee) remains out. Safety Jim Leonhard (ankle) and defensive end Billy Winn (quadricep) are both questionable.

Colts at Steelers

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne (elbow) is out for the Colts, while tight end Jack Doyle (knee) and running back Trent Richardson (hamstring) are questionable. Defensive tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder), cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) and safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) are out for Pittsburgh, but it looks like linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee, probable) should return to the lineup. Tackle Marcus Gilbert (concussion) is questionable.

Packers at Saints

The Packers will be without defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) and cornerback Sam Shields (knee) is unlikely to play after being listed as doubtful. Safety Morgan Burnett (calf) is questionable and the Packers, who like to check every box) listed running back James Starks (ankle) as probable. Center Jonathan Goodwin (knee, ankle), linebacker Kyle Knox (ankle) and running backs Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder) are all out for New Orleans. They have the same number of questionable players, with decisions pending on defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (concussion), tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder), linebacker Ramon Humber (ankle) and cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee, shoulder).

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Blandino says ref made right call on Broncos non-fumble

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 4.08.21 PM

The Broncos appeared to catch a huge break on Thursday night when the on-field ruling of a fumble by kickoff returner Andre Caldwell was reversed on instant replay, with the referee saying Caldwell was down before he lost control of the ball. On Friday, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said that was the right call.

In a video released by the league, Blandino says Caldwell’s forearm hit the ground before he lost the ball.

“The forearm was down and the player still had control of the loose ball,” Blandino said. “You’ll see it get pulled loose after the forearm hits — not the elbow, and the referee made an incorrect announcement by saying the elbow. He should have said the forearm. . . . The arm was down before the ball got pulled free. You can see the forearm coming down, the player still in control of the football — slight movement does not constitute a loss of control. . . . That’s why the call was overturned. It’s close, but in the referee’s judgment, and we agreed, the forearm was down before the ball came loose.”

Blandino noted that although San Diego’s Ladarius Green started to pull the ball from Caldwell’s hand before Caldwell was down, Caldwell hadn’t actually lost the ball until his forearm had already hit the ground.

“Slight movement does not constitute a loss of possession — that’s in the rulebook. Loss of control means the ball being pulled loose,” Blandino said.

Complicating matters was that former NFL referee Mike Carey, now the rules expert for CBS, said on the live TV broadcast that replays confirmed that the call on the field was correct. When rules experts like Carey and FOX’s Mike Pereira look at the same replay as the referees — but come to a different conclusion than the referee about what the replay says — that contributes to a climate around the NFL in which it’s perceived that no one knows exactly what the complex rulebook says.

Blandino’s explanation probably won’t placate Chargers fans, who feel that the call was a huge turning point in the game: If the fumble hadn’t been overturned on replay, the Chargers probably would have scored just before halftime and gone into the half leading 10-7 or 14-7. Instead Denver kept the ball, drove down the field and scored, and it was the Broncos who led 14-7 at halftime. It was a huge call, and the NFL says it was the right call. It’s understandable if Chargers fans disagree.

Screen cap via NFL.

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Mike McCoy: Jason Verrett wouldn’t have played if he wasn’t ready

San Diego at Denver Getty Images

Chargers coach Mike McCoy met the media on Friday and there were more questions about how the team handled a pair of injuries from Thursday night than there were about why they couldn’t handle the Broncos.

McCoy was asked about the decision to play cornerback Jason Verrett after he missed last Sunday’s game with an injured shoulder. Verrett left the game after aggravating the injury and reports on Friday are that Verrett stands to miss an extended period of time as a result. McCoy said the team didn’t rush Verrett back into the lineup.

“If he wasn’t ready to go, we wouldn’t have put him out there,” McCoy said, via Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.

Whether it was too soon or not, the result will be a painful one for the Chargers if they have to go without the rookie because he’s played a big role in their 5-3 start to the season.

McCoy also faced questions about whether safety Jahleel Addae suffered a concussion in the second half when he got up from a hit and staggered for a couple of moments. Addae said he suffered a stinger and was cleared to return to the game after being evaluated on the sideline. McCoy also said Addae suffered a stinger while adding that medical evaluations were ongoing and that he hadn’t spoken to the trainer since the team returned to San Diego.

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Judge blocks New Jersey sports betting

sports_betting_board_78396227 Getty Images

Well, if you’d wagered that a federal judge would block New Jersey’s plan to trot out sports wagering this weekend, it’s time to collect.

Per multiple reports, Judge Michael Shipp has granted a temporary restraining order preventing New Jersey from implementing a plan to launch sports betting this weekend at racetracks and casinos.

The order presumably will last until the litigation filed by the NFL and other sports leagues on Monday is resolved.  Which probably will result in a ruling that New Jersey’s plan cannot proceed.

The NFL long has opposed the expansion of legalized sports betting.  This is Round Two with New Jersey, which failed in a prior effort to circumvent a 1992 federal law aimed at stopping new states from adding sports wagering.

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Pats will soon get a close look at the one who got away

Sanders AP

During 2013 free agency, the Patriots signed then-restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet, willing to give up a third-round pick if it meant getting the player away from Pittsburgh on a one-year, $2.5 million deal.

The Steelers matched, but many believed that New England’s gesture would be rewarded in 2014, when Sanders hit the open market with the ability to sign with anyone.

It didn’t happen.  Sanders instead landed in Denver, and now the Patriots are nine days away from hosting Sanders, Peyton Manning, and the rest of the Broncos.

So why isn’t Sanders a Patriot?

“They were in the mix, it just didn’t get done with anyone,” agent Steve Weinberg told Tom Curran of CSN New England.  “[Sanders] went on several visits — Jacksonville, Tampa, Kansas City, and I was talking to New England the whole time.  But the process went real slow.”

Complicating matters for the Patriots was Sanders’ decision to hire Weinberg to replace Jordan Woy, who had represented Sanders when he signed the offer sheet in New England.

“If Emmanuel hadn’t switched agents, he may have ended up [with the Patriots],” Weinberg told Curran.  “New England was competitive throughout the process.  Had they been aggressive from the beginning it would have gotten done, but, in this market, nobody knew what to do with the wide receivers. New England expressed interest during the [pre-free agency] negotiation period.”

Instead, the Patriots have to figure out how to slow down a guy who scored a touchdown on Sunday night and three more on Thursday night.  And how to get the most out of a receiving corps that would have benefited from the presence of a player who generated a season-high 98 yards against New England last year with the Steelers.

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Shane Vereen questionable due to illness

New York Jets Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

Shane Vereen wasn’t at Patriots practice on Friday, a new development after the running back had been on the field each of the first two days of the week.

The good news for the Pats is that Vereen isn’t injured. The bad news is that he’s sick enough that his status is up in the air for Sunday’s game against the Bears.

The Patriots listed Vereen as questionable for the game because of his illness, which could leave them without the player that’s moved into the lead running back role with Stevan Ridley out for the season. It would also cost Vereen a chance to play against his brother, Bears safety Brock Vereen. Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray and James White are the other running back options for New England.

As expected, the Patriots ruled out defensive end Chandler Jones because of a hip injury. Offensive linemen Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming and defensive lineman Dominique Easley are also questionable.

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Saints rule out two RBs; Jimmy Graham questionable

Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas AP

The Saints will be down two tailbacks Sunday night vs. Green Bay.

According to the injury report, the club has ruled out Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder).

Mark Ingram figures to be the Saints’ featured back against the Packers, with Travaris Cadet likely the top pass-catching option out of the backfield. And with Ingram and Cadet the Saints’ only two healthy backs, it’s possible a transaction could be coming for New Orleans. The club has tailback Edwin Baker in reserve on the practice squad.

In other Saints injury news, tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder) is officially questionable for Sunday night. He was questionable entering last Sunday’s loss to Detroit but still played. However, he was held without a catch and played less than half the snaps for the Saints (2-4).

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Brian Cushing on playing Sunday: We’ll see how it goes

Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans Getty Images

Earlier this week, Mike Florio of PFT reported that Texans linebacker Brian Cushing would miss at least one game because of issues with his surgically repaired knee.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien said there was “no accuracy to that report” on Thursday, but the linebacker was listed as questionable Friday after missing practice for the third straight day and sounded like there was a pretty good chance he winds up on the inactive side of that question come Sunday.

Cushing said “we’ll see how it goes” over the weekend while pointing out how much his knee has gone through with two surgeries in the last two offseasons and that he hasn’t been the player he wants to be so far this season.

“We’re going to make the best decision for myself (and) the team,” Cushing said, via ESPN.com. “I think we all can agree the last couple weeks I haven’t really been myself. It’s been really hard on me. Any time I go out there I want to put the best of myself out there to help the team win. If it’s to a point where I’m really not with my play and where I am with my health, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Cushing said he was feeling better after a restful week, which leads you to believe that he’d be feeling even better if he got the weekend off as well. The Texans have a game against the Eagles and then a bye in Week 10, so there’s time ahead to get Cushing rest while limiting the amount of time he’d have to miss on Sundays.

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Kyle Fuller expected to play with broken hand

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Bears defense hasn’t had many bright spots this season, but rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller has been one of them.

That made the fact that he suffered a pair of injuries last weekend a troubling development for the unit. Fuller broke his right hand and suffered a hip pointer during the loss to the Dolphins, but he has been able to practice with a brace on the hand and the team listed him as probable for Sunday’s date with the Patriots.

The news is less positive at linebacker. Jon Bostic and Lance Briggs were both listed as doubtful for the game, leaving them both on track to miss a third straight contest.

Right tackle Jordan Mills is somewhere in the middle. He was a full participant on Wednesday, a limited participant on Thursday and out altogether at Friday’s practice as he deals with a foot injury that has left him questionable for this week. Michael Ola would start if Mills can’t go.

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Fox not too concerned about Broncos’ scoreboard operator

foxrivers AP

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning made a point of calling out the scoreboard operator in Denver last night, noting that messages on the scoreboard were encouraging the fans to make noise while Manning was trying to audible. But Broncos coach John Fox doesn’t sound too concerned about that.

“There is a lot of stuff that goes on at one of these games,” Fox said, via ESPN. “There are a lot of people that work really hard to make sure that our great fans are entertained. Obviously people like when you win. There are a lot of people that have a lot of responsibilities for each one of these things. And look, you’re never perfect. I’m never perfect. Our product sometimes comes under attack, and rightfully so. But all in all, it’s about the fans – [that] they have a great experience. Sometimes it’s not perfect. You’re going to make mistakes and that happens. We’ve moved on. We had a real big win, a nice big spotlight, and now we’re on to New England.”

The scoreboard operator used pictures of Manning and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to get fans to alternate between cheering and booing, which Manning didn’t find funny. Fox was asked if he felt that’s a serious problem.

“I think you take everything seriously, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to be perfect,” Fox said. “There are people working really hard. We’re all trying to do what’s best for the organization and sometimes it’s not perfect. That’s the way of life.”

Manning may want to have a word with the scoreboard operator, but Fox isn’t going to lose any sleep over it.

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O’Brien: Clowney has “a good shot” at suiting up Sunday

Jadeveon Clowney AP

After a six-game absence, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft could be back in the lineup Sunday for Houston.

Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (knee) “has a good shot to play on Sunday,” head coach Bill O’Brien said Friday, according to Drew Dougherty of Texans TV.

The 21-year-old Clowney suffered a meniscus tear in Houston’s season-opening win vs. Washington and has not played since. He’s listed as one of the starters at outside linebacker in the Texans’ base 3-4 scheme.

The Texans (3-4) are two games behind Indianapolis in the NFC South. The Texans are favored at 2-5 Tennessee on Sunday. The Titans have changed starting quarterbacks, with rookie Zach Mettenberger given the top job.

The Texans’ final injury report will be released Friday afternoon.

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