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Special Monday 10-pack: Winners and losers in free agency

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Only six days ago, the free-agent market opened.  One of the biggest classes of veteran players, with some of the biggest names, landed on the market.

Apart from the Peyton chase, much of the dust has settled.

And so now we’re required by the laws of football analysis to tell you who won and who lost, even though we won’t really know the answer until they start playing games.

Which, you know, will feature winners and losers.

1. Winner:  Eagles.

Last year, with a compressed offseason and a new defensive coordinator who had been an offensive line coach for 14 prior seasons, the Eagles foolishly embarked on a spending spree, bringing in a bunch of big-name players and setting the stage for a Wonderlic pick-sixer blurting out the dreaded “Dream Team” label.

Apart from the challenge of getting a bunch of new employees on the same page quickly, the move surely caused some of the men already under contract to wonder why they weren’t getting a share of the free-agency windfall.

This year, the Eagles have focused on taking care of their own, which is a much better way to ensure that a true spirit of team will take over the locker room.

Perhaps most importantly, the Eagles have set the stage for receiver DeSean Jackson to turn back the clock to 2009, when he wasn’t concerned about staying healthy and/or getting paid.  The Eagles have addressed those concerns via a long-term deal that, in comparison to some of the too-heavy contracts given to lesser receivers and in light of Jackson’s rocky recent history, looks like a win-win.

Maybe that means “win” will be a more common term in the term’s vocabulary this season.

2.  Winner:  Packers.

G.M. Ted Thompson rarely makes a big splash in free agency.  The biggest exception came in 2006, when at the very public urging of quarterback Brett Favre the team signed cornerback Charles Woodson.

Other than that, the Packers under Thompson take a very conservative approach, building through the draft and using free agency on a limited basis, with low-cost talent addressing specific needs.

It’s not sexy this time of year.  But this isn’t the time of year when championships are won.  Unlike downtrodden organizations (such as the Packers themselves in 1993, when Reggie White chose Green Bay from a long list of suitors), the Packers don’t need to do anything to fire up the fan base or breathe life into the franchise.

It’s the right approach for this specific team.  The Packers have won, once again, by doing nothing.

3.  Winner:  Bills.

Speaking of downtrodden organizations, no team needed a big-ticket free agent like Mario Williams more than the Bills.  And they went all in, pulling out all the stops and persuading Williams to spend two nights in town and eventually getting the job done.

It gives Buffalo and the Bills a major boost, igniting intense local interest and legitimate national attention.  It also makes good football sense; defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt now has a player around whom the team’s new 4-3 defense can be built.

It wasn’t cheap, and it may prove to be a mistake.  But it was a risk the Bills needed to make if they ever hope to become relevant again.

4.  Winner:  Patriots.

At first, it looked like the Pats would follow the Pack’s “closed for business” approach to the early days of free agency.  But with needs at receiver, they’ve added a player in Brandon Lloyd who’ll have a far bigger impact than Chad Ochocinco (then again, the bar is low), and they’ve given Wes Welker a little cause for concern by landing a candidate to play slot receiver in Anthony Gonzalez.

They’ve also addressed an area of need on defense, adding the once-promising Trevor Scott to the rotation of recently underachieving pass rushers.

The Pats could still use a true deep threat to clear out all the underneath traffic.  But even if Lloyd is the biggest addition, the team that nearly won the Super Bowl in 2011 will be contending again in 2012.

5.  Winner:  Chiefs.

Yes, they were denied admission to the Peyton chase.  But let’s not forget that, despite all the dysfunction and key injuries of 2011, the Chiefs weren’t far away from winning the weakest division in the NFL.

Unlike most teams, the Chiefs found bargains even before the market softened, adding running back Peyton Hillis to a one-year, fire-under-butt-lighting $2.6 million contract, tight end Kevin Boss for three years and $9 million, right tackle Eric Winston, and backup quarterback Brady Quinn.

Hillis and Quinn played for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in Cleveland, adding some familiarity to the new Romeo Crennel regime.  Winston addresses a key area of need, and Boss gives the Chiefs a second pass-catching tight end, which apparently is now a mandatory requirement for any team that hopes to be highly successful in the passing game.

Next up, don’t be surprised if Crennel lures another former Brown to Kansas City, with linebacker Kamerion Wimbley on the market.

6.  Loser:  Dolphins.

Peter King of chronicles a decade of bizarre personnel moves by the Dolphins, but the organization is now developing another troubling reputation:  anyone with options won’t opt for Miami.

It began last year with owner Stephen Ross clumsily pursuing coach Jim Harbaugh, which painted a vivid picture of disloyalty to coach Tony Sparano.  It continued in 2012 when Ross tried, and failed, to lure coach Jeff Fisher to town.  And it spread to the ranks of players in 2012, with Peyton Manning showing tepid interest at best in joining the team (even though some believed it was a done deal that he’d be a Dolphin).  Then, Matt Flynn’s decision to play for the Seahawks instead of former Packers coordinator/Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin did more than raise eyebrows — especially when followed by Steelers safety Ryan Clark proclaiming that “no one” wants to play for the Dolphins.

It’s possible that Philbin simply wasn’t all that interested in Flynn, and that Philbin knows  Flynn’s pair of high-end performances (one in 2010 and one in 2011) won’t translate to being an effective week-in, week-out starter, once opposing defenses have a chance to study enough of his film and figure him out.  If that’s the case, the Dolphins shouldn’t have even brought him to town for a visit.  By doing so, it creates the impression that they wanted him — and that yet again they failed to get their man.

Correct or not, there’s now a perception that no one of significant consequence wants to work for the Dolphins.  And the harder Ross tries to turn the page by making a “big splash,” the more likely it is that he’ll continue to swing the bat and hit himself in the face with it.

7.  Loser:  Saints.

With Bountygate lingering, the Saints had even more reason to work out a new, long-term deal with Drew Brees.  And yet the Saints continue to fail to find a middle ground with their franchise quarterback.

There’s a chance Brees simply wants too much.  But here’s the problem:  He deserves it.  The best NFL quarterback of the last six years, if he wants to max out his contract, then he should.

And as to the idea that he needs to leave some money behind so that the Saints can field a competitive team given the salary cap, here’s one important point:  It never stopped the Colts from being competitive when Peyton got every last dollar he could.

And while it’s good that the Saints kept receiver Marques Colston, they lost Robert Meachem.  And while it’s good that they lured Ben Grubbs away from Baltimore, the lost Carl Nicks.

More importantly, they’ve yet to do anything to address needs on defense, which could become even more significant once the suspensions come down.

8.  Loser:  Vikings.

Good teams can afford to sit on the sidelines in the early days of free agency.  The Vikings are not a good team.

With plenty of cap room and a tenuous stadium situation and a fan base that may choose to do things other than attend or watch Vikings games this season, the franchise needed to make a splash.  Not a Mario Williams cannonball; but something more significant than a John Carlson dog paddle.

It’s doesn’t mean the Vikings should go hog wild.  But they should have made it a priority to land one big-name player, even if it meant overpaying a little.

The offseason is about selling hope.  Teams like the Packers, Patriots, Giants, and Steelers can afford to do nothing in March; the hope is implied.  For teams that have fallen, March is an opportunity to prove that they’re at least trying to get up.

9.  Loser:  Ravens.

The Ravens had four players in the PFT Hot 100 free-agency list.  Three already have bolted for greener pastures:  defensive end Cory Redding, linebacker Jarret Johnson, and guard Ben Grubbs.

To make matters worse, guard Evan Mathis opted to stay with the Dream Team in lieu of joining a team that, on paper, seems to have a better chance of making its dreams come true.

Then there’s the lingering possibility that someone will make restricted free agent cornerback Lardarius Webb an offer the Ravens can’t afford to match.

Though there’s a long way to go before September, it’s hard not to think that, at least for now, the Ravens have faded a bit closer to the pack in the AFC.

10.  Loser:  Bengals.

By capping 2011 with an unlikely playoff berth, it can’t be said that Paul Brown Stadium routinely was less than full due to the fact that the team was bad.  Instead, the fan base is fed up with owner Mike Brown.

Even though the team is laying a solid foundation of youthful players, Bengals fans think it’s not because of Brown but in spite of him.  And with a huge cap surplus for 2012, the Bengals haven’t done much to persuade anyone that they’re willing to spend.

The good news is that, after several days of inaction, the Bengals have gone bargain shopping, adding offensive lineman Travelle Wharton and defensive back Jason Allen.  They also managed to keep free-agent safety Reggie Nelson, who had attracted an offer from the Jets.

But this is the one playoff team that needed to at least chase a marquee free agent.  They didn’t have to land the guy.  Mike Brown simply needed to show that he’s willing to move from the nickel slot machines over to the no-limit poker table.

The Bengals may once again be competitive in 2012.  The fans won’t embrace the franchise they way they should, however, until they see large chunks of their money being reinvested in players who can help the team compete for a championship.

11.  Loser/Winner:  Redskins.

I know.  I said there would be only 10 winners and losers.  But I didn’t say anything about the team that lands in both categories.

The $36 million in unexpected cap charges for treated the uncapped year too literally makes the Redskins losers.  Their refusal to shrug their shoulders when they did nothing wrong makes them winners.

Their ability to still find a way to spend money makes them winners.  Their decision to give so much money to the likes of Pierre Garçon and Josh Morgan makes them losers.

Their willingness to move up to No. 2 and get the franchise’s first true franchise quarterback since Sammy Baugh possibly will make them winners.  Mortgaging the future by giving up three first-round draft picks and a second-round pick possibly will make them losers.

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Broncos will be without T.J. Ward, Sylvester Williams this week

T.J. Ward AP

They might not be Rob Gronkowski-level players, but the Broncos also left last night with some injuries that will take some key contributors out.

According to Mike Klis of KUSA, the Broncos will be without strong safety T.J. Ward and defensive tackle Sylvester Williamsfor a while” after they suffered high ankle sprains on the same play last night.

The two of them even shared a cart ride from the sidelines to the locker room, after being helped off following a first-quarter run.

“Got rolled with Sly on the same play, in the same area on the same tackle,” Ward said.

Missing two key pieces will force the Broncos to adjust, but they have put together a deep defense, and have been able to withstand the absence of pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware.

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Peyton Manning won’t be back “anytime soon”

Peyton Manning AP

After Sunday night’s unlikely win over the previously 10-0 Patriots, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak didn’t say that Peyton Manning will return to the lineup only when he’s “100 percent,” or words to that effect. Kubiak probably didn’t need to.

According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Manning won’t be playing “anytime soon.”

Last week, the Broncos announced that Manning would miss at least two games due to the foot injury that has caused him to miss the last two. He’s still in a walking cast, and he is expected to wear it until at least Friday of this week.

Even after shedding the cast, Manning will still need to further rehab a partially-torn plantar fascia tendon. It’s a painful condition, and there’s no indication that rest and rehab will get Manning to the point where he can perform without limitation.

Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler is performing at a high level, making it easier to perform without Manning and harder to justify not rolling with Osweiler’s hot hand. While Manning remains determined to play again in 2015, he’s smart enough and sufficiently self-aware to understand what’s currently happening. And he apparently has no problem with it — even if at this point he’s trying to get healthy enough to play only in the event that Osweiler eventually isn’t.

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Minor knee strain for Rob Gronkowski

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 23:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots reacts after missing a catch during the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on November 23, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

The early word was that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski avoided a serious injury when he hurt his knee in Denver on Sunday night and further tests have done nothing to change that outlook.

PFT has learned, via a league source, that the Patriots star suffered a minor knee strain. The time frame for his return is expected to be a week or two.

While playing without Gronkowski for any amount of time is a negative for the Patriots offense, this qualifies as good news given how dire the injury appeared to be when Gronkowski first went down on Sunday night. The reactions of Gronkowski and other members of the Patriots gave the impression that it might be a long time before Gronkowski would be back on the field, so a couple of weeks is far easier to swallow for a team that has their sights set on the Super Bowl.

Scott Chandler could see a larger role while Gronkowski heals up and the Patriots will hope to get wide receiver Danny Amendola back in time to face the Eagles in Week 13 as well.

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Report: Marcus Williams sprained MCL filling in for Revis

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 29:  Marcus Williams #20 of the New York Jets intercepts a pass intended for Kenny Stills #10 of the Miami Dolphins on November 29, 2015 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jets cornerback Marcus Williams got bumped up to the starting lineup for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins with Darrelle Revis out with a concussion, but the Jets may have to look elsewhere if Revis isn’t cleared in time to play in Week 13.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that Williams suffered a sprained MCL in the victory over Miami, leaving his status as “week-to-week” for a return to the lineup.

Williams had an interception of Ryan Tannehill early in the victory, which gives him a team-high five for the season. Those interceptions have come in less than 250 defensive snaps, so the Jets will be without a playmaker in their secondary as long as Williams is out of the lineup.

With or without Revis and Williams, the Jets secondary should have its hands full next Sunday. Odell Beckham will be lined up across from them and the Giants have not been shy about feeding their most dynamic offensive player this season. That habit is unlikely to change with the Giants in serious need of a win in the battle for MetLife Stadium bragging rights.

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Tom Coughlin expects Geoff Schwartz to be placed on injured reserve

Odell Beckham Jr. AP

After guard Geoff Schwartz left Sunday’s game with a leg injury, the Giants initially said that he would be able to return to the game before updating his status to say that he would miss the rest of the game after fracturing his leg.

Given the point we’re at in the season, it sounded like a season-ending injury but Schwartz held out hope on Twitter that he would be able to return to the team this season. Coach Tom Coughlin didn’t sound anywhere near as hopeful when he spoke to the media on Monday, however. While the coach didn’t rule anything out, he said he’s preparing to lose Schwartz for the rest of the year.

“No, but it’s not good,” Coughlin said, via Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News. “He has a fracture above the plate on his leg. I’m sure he’ll have to be put on IR.”

Schwartz started at left guard Sunday as the Giants covered for the absence of Justin Pugh by flipping Schwartz to that side and starting John Jerry at right guard. Bobby Hart entered the game after Schwartz’s injury.

The Giants were also starting Dallas Reynolds at center in place of Weston Richburg, which could leave the Giants with a lot of patchwork to do against the Jets this week. Coughlin says he hopes to have at least one of them back this week, but that he doesn’t “have any evidence” that will be the case at this point.

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Chiefs stepping up as a group without Jamaal Charles

Chris Conley, Knile Davis, Spencer Ware AP

“Next man up” is an easy thing for coaches to say, when inevitable injuries or bad news starts to pile up.

But the players who actually have to implement that slogan are still human beings, and sometimes it takes weeks for it to become a reality.

So the Chiefs don’t mind admitting it took them a moment to overcome the shock of losing running back Jamaal Charles to a torn ACL, or any of the other hurdles they’ve overcome along the way to five straight wins and the thick of the AFC playoff race.

“Without a doubt. You look at how much we’ve used Jamaal Charles, and he’s the focal point of this offense, it kind of left us with our palms up like, ‘Where do we go from here?’” tight end Travis Kelce said, via Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports. “But Charcandrick [West] has done an amazing job and Spencer Ware’s done a phenomenal job stepping in for both of them. It’s fun, it’s exciting when you see a guy step up into the shoes of Jamaal Charles. It just makes it that much more fun when you have success and win.”

The Chiefs were en route to a 1-4 when Charles went down with a torn ACL. But after a week for the shock to subside, they began playing the way they were capable of with one of the most dynamic runners in the game. Much of that has to do with West, but he missed yesterday with a hamstring injury and Ware ran for 114 yards and a touchdown. But it took some getting used to.

“Knowing that Jamaal isn’t back there, you start to concentrate a little more knowing you don’t have a guy as special and things like that,” Kelce said. “Not saying you don’t block your tail off for Jamaal, but there’s that consciousness in the back of your head that, ‘OK, if someone goes down, we have to make something out of it.'”

Of course, there’s also a pretty good role model for bouncing back still on the field with them as well.

“We just keep fighting,” said safety Eric Berry, who has come back after being diagnosed with lymphoma last year. “A lot of us have been through a lot of different things, on and off the field, and we just bring those experiences to the field and just keep pushing on and something is going to crack.”

So far, it’s the people the Chiefs are playing, five weeks in a row.

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Dan Campbell: Firing Lazor was my decision

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 22: Interim head coach Dan Campbell of the Miami Dolphins looks on during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Sun Life Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Dallas defeated Miami 24-14. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

During his appearance on PFT Live Monday, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald said that the decision to fire offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was made by interim head coach Dan Campbell and not executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum or anyone else in the front office.

Campbell said the same thing during his Monday press conference while discussing Lazor’s departure from the team. Campbell called it 100 percent his decision and that it came after he shared his feeling with Tannenbaum and team owner Stephen Ross. Campbell pointed to the team’s lack of balance offensively — 61 called passes in Sunday’s loss to the Jets and nine runs — as the reason why he wanted to make a change.

“We have to find a way to become a more physical offense,” Campbell said, via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “We need more of a physical presence. How ever we establish that, that’s what I’m looking for. I don’t think we scare anybody in the AFC East and that bothers me. We need to find a way, even if it is two yards and a cloud of dust. … I am a more run-oriented person. I want to be more balanced. I like a more balanced approach.”

Campbell certainly isn’t the first to point out the lack of balance on offense for the Dolphins, but, then, you’d have to be blind not to pick it up. Excluding penalties that resulted in no official play, the Dolphins have dropped back to pass more than twice as often as they’ve run the ball this season and those numbers weren’t much closer during the 2014 season under Lazor either.

New offensive coordinator Zac Taylor said Monday he’s on board and that the team will “streamline what we do” to create more balance on offense moving forward. If the results aren’t any better, the end of the season will likely bring more changes to the coaching staff in Miami.

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Kelly denies any contact with USC

Chip Kelly AP

We know that USC isn’t hiring Chip Kelly to be its football coach, and Kelly said Monday that he never was going to be.

During his usual Monday press conference, the Eagles’ head coach said he never spoke to anyone connected with USC, which Monday announced that interim coach Clay Helton will become the school’s full-time coach. Kelly refuted a prior report that someone connected to USC had met with Kelly in Philadelphia last Friday to gauge his interest in the job.

“I wasn’t even in Philadelphia Friday,” Kelly said.

This is all part of the business and of the coaching carousel. Kelly said he understands that but reaffirmed his commitment to the struggling Eagles by saying he’s never been involved with any other job since taking over the Eagles in early 2013.

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Mike Pouncey day-to-day with minor foot injury

Mike Pouncey AP

Dolphins center Mike Pouncey got some good news with today’s medical checkup.

Pouncey, who was carted off the field on Sunday with what looked like it could be a serious injury, actually isn’t hurt badly at all. Dolphins head coach Dan Campbell said today that Pounce had suffered only a minor foot injury and is considered day-to-day.

Campbell did say the Dolphins will likely sign another center, just in case Pouncey has to miss a game. He also said Pouncey’s absence may affect how often the Dolphins are able to use a shotgun formation.

The Dolphins fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor today, in another move that may affect how the offense runs for the rest of the season.

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Despite Lions’ surge, Caldwell doesn’t regret waiting for Cooter

Jim Caldwell, Chip Kelly AP

The Lions’ season turned around quickly when they fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and promoted Jim Bob Cooter to that role midseason.

But head coach Jim Caldwell said he doesn’t regret waiting this long to make the move, despite the fact they’re 3-1 since then and just dropped 45 points on the Eagles.

“No,” Caldwell said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “That’s probably the simplest way [to answer that]. Like I said, it’s not that easy. It’s a difficult transition what we’re going through right now, even just in terms of our offensive system and how it’s functioning. It’s an unusual change.”

The Lions were 1-6 before Caldwell made the move, and the results have been dramatic. Quarterback Matt Stafford said he loved Cooter’s more aggressive play-calling, though that’s not the only reason things have turned around.

As much as anything, they’ve cut down on turnovers (three in four games after 18 in the first seven), and protected Stafford better and run the ball more, all things which lead to the opportunity for a more wide-open offense.

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Report: Bills lose Alex Carrington for rest of season

<> of the New England Patriots of the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on November 23, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Getty Images

The Bills came into Sunday’s game with injury issues on their defensive line and it appears they only got worse during their 30-22 loss to the Chiefs.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that defensive end Alex Carrington tore his quad tendon and will have surgery on Monday to repair the injury. Per the report, Carrington’s season is over.

Carrington started in Kansas City because Mario Williams missed the game with a foot injury he suffered in the team’s Week 11 loss to the Patriots. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams also announced last week that he will have knee surgery and miss the rest of the season, so the Bills will need to dig a bit deeper on the depth chart for help up front on defense over the final five weeks.

Carrington was a third-round pick of the Bills in 2010 and played for the Rams in 2014 before returning to the Bills as a free agent during the offseason.

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Colts place Ahmad Bradshaw on IR for third straight year

Ahmad Bradshaw, Jude Adjei-Barimah AP

The Colts have turned their season around with an old quarterback.

But he won’t be able to rely on his old running back the rest of this season.

The Colts announced that Ahmad Bradshaw was going on injured reserve, after suffering a wrist injury against the Buccaneers.

This is his third straight season which has ended on IR, playing just 17 games for the Colts over that span. In 2013, it was a neck injury, with a broken leg sidelining him last year.

He came back on Oct. 14, and caught three touchdowns in six games. The Colts filled his roster spot by bringing back running back Zurlon Tipton.

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Dwayne Harris: We took win for granted

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 29: Wide receiver Dwayne Harris #17 of the New York Giants carries the ball against linebacker Preston Smith #94 of the Washington Redskins in the third quarter at FedExField on November 29, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham said after Sunday’s loss that there was “no explanation” for the lack of fight that his team showed during the first three quarters of a game that could have given them a comfortable lead in the NFC East.

One of his fellow wideouts has some explanation, although it’s not one that Beckham or anyone else in the organization should be happy to hear. Dwayne Harris said he thinks that the team’s lack of fire was caused by overlooking the challenge that the Redskins presented after beating them the last five times they played.

“I think we were ready to play but we probably took this team a little bit for granted because … I don’t know,” Harris said, via “I don’t know everyone else’s mindset but we came out slow. I think everyone was ready to play but we came out too slow.”

Every season brings several results that make it clear that no NFL team can afford to go into a game expecting that they can just go through the motions and get a victory. The Giants should know that better than anyone given how many times they’ve dropped games to mediocre or worse competition in the Tom Coughlin era, to say nothing of the times they’ve stepped up to win games as underdogs.

It’s not a mistake that they should make again over the final five weeks, but making it once might have been enough to dash their hopes of winning a division title.

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Report: Rob Gronkowski may only miss one game, if that

Brock Osweiler AP

Given his history and his importance to their offense, it’s natural that the Patriots held their breath when tight end Rob Gronkowski was carted off last night.

They can apparently exhale.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Gronkowski is “unlikely to miss more than one game,” and may not miss that one.

The Eagles would certainly take the absence, as it would leave Tom Brady with precious few possibilities to throw to. But it’s good news for the Patriots as they look to the playoffs, and because Bill Belichick looks like he secretly enjoys messing with reporters who ask injury questions.

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Jack Del Rio told alma mater no thanks when they called

Jack Del Rio, Dyrol Prioleau AP

Chip Kelly apparently wasn’t the only NFL head coach who was approached in some fashion about the Southern Cal opening.

According to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, the Trojans called Raiders coach Jack Del Rio about the opening, but he told them he wasn’t leaving his current gig.

Del Rio was a natural name for their short list, since he was a two-sport star at USC, as a linebacker and a catcher on the baseball team.

But with him just embarking on his second stint as a head coach (he was 68-71 in nine years with the Jaguars), it was likely too soon for him to consider going back to the alma mater.

The Raiders are 5-6 this year and on the fringe of the AFC playoff chase, with a promising young quarterback and hints of stability.

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