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As Sunday kickoffs approach, here’s one interesting fact per game

Tony Romo AP

Every week, the research staff at Football Night In America puts together extensive notes and research for every game.  Every Sunday morning (ideally), I review those notes.  Carefully (ideally).

In order to ensure that I review the notes, I’ll try (ideally) to post one intriguing fact per game, every Sunday morning.

Rams at BearsMichael Bush has had 25 or more carries five times in his career.  His team has never lost when that’s happened, and he has rushed for 684 yards in those five games combined.

Bill at BrownsTrent Richardson became the first rookie to run for more than 100 yards and score a rushing and receiving touchdown since Samkon Gado in 2005.

Bucs at CowboysTony Romo has never lost to Tampa, winning all three times he has faced them.  In those three games combined, Romo has thrown 11 touchdown passes, zero interceptions, and has generated a passer rating of 144.8.

Jaguars at Colts:  With his next rushing touchdown, Maurice Jones-Drew will become the all-time leader in franchise history.  He’s currently tied with Fred Taylor at 62.

Jets at DolphinsReggie Bush, who has a 6.8-yard rushing average against the Jets, has three straight 100-yard rushing games at home.

49ers at Vikings:  Move over Joe Montana and Steve Young.  Alex Smith has thrown 216 passes without an interception, a franchise record.

Chiefs at Saints:  Lost in the Saints’ 0-2 start is the fact that Drew Brees is now only two games behind matching John Unitas with a touchdown pass in 47 straight games.

Lions at TitansMatthew Stafford has 2,504 passing yards since December 2011, most in the league.

Bengals at Redskins:  Since 2005, only Devin Hester has more punt-return touchdowns than Adam Jones.  (Making Hester’s total more impressive is the fact that he didn’t enter the NFL until 2006.)

Eagles at CardinalsDarnell Dockett has 28.5 sacks since 2007, the most of any defensive tackle in the league.

Falcons at ChargersPhilip Rivers is 200 passing yards away from 25,000 for his career.

Texans at Broncos:  The Texans are the only team to start each of the last three seasons 2-0, but the Broncos are 2-0 at home all-time against the Texans.

Steelers at RaidersDarren McFadden has 15 receptions so far this season, tying him with Reggie Wayne for the AFC lead.

Patriots at Ravens:  With 21 passing yards, Tom Brady will pass his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, who had 40,551 in his career.

Packers at SeahawksMarshawn Lynch has rushed for more than 100 yards at home in six straight games, with 712 yards rushing and six touchdowns.

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Dre Kirkpatrick pick-6 seals playoff berth for Bengals in 37-28 win over Broncos

Gio Bernard Getty Images

The Bengals intercepted Peyton Manning four times, including a 30-yard return for a touchdown by Dre Kirkpatrick with less than three minutes to play, as Cincinnati clinched a playoff berth with a 37-28 victory over the Denver Broncos on Monday night.

With the Broncos trailing 30-28 with 4:04 left to play, Manning took over at the Denver 20-yard line with an opportunity to lead yet another game-winning drive. Instead, Manning threw an awful pass while off-balance and without his feet set that floated into the flat into the waiting arms of Kirkpatrick, who returned the interception for the clinching score.

Manning just doesn’t have the arm strength anymore to make a throw while falling backward and without his feet set.

Denver drove 61 yards into Cincinnati territory before Kirkpatrick again intercepted Manning to seal the deal. It’s the sixth time in Manning’s career (including playoffs) he’s been intercepted four times in a game. Reggie Nelson and Adam Jones also picked off Manning for Cincinnati.

The New England Patriots also clinch home-field advantage in the AFC thanks to Denver’s loss.

Trailing 20-7 at halftime and being held to just 125 yards of offense in the first half, the Broncos scored a touchdown less than a minute into the second half thanks to a 77-yard kickoff return by Omar Bolden. The Bengals immediately responded with a touchdown of their own in less than two minutes set up by an 80-yard kickoff return by Adam Jones as the Bengals regained a 13-point cushion, 27-14, early in the third quarter.

Bolden helped jump-start the Broncos attack with a 77-yard kickoff return to start the second half to put Denver in scoring position. Three plays and a pass interference call later, C.J. Anderson punched the ball in the end zone from 1-yard out to pull the Broncos within a score early in the third quarter.

Jones then returned the ensuing kickoff to the Denver 27-yard line to put the Bengals in business. Three plays later, Andy Dalton dumped a pass off to Giovanni Bernard for a 22-yard touchdown to once again give Cincinnati a cushion to work with.

Manning hooked up with Emmanuel Sanders for a pair of touchdowns, a 4-yard and 5-yard score, respectively, to rally Denver to take the lead, 28-27, late in the third quarter. After being held to just 88 yards passing with an interception in the first half, Manning was better in the second half to get Denver back in the game.

Cincinnati once again grabbed the lead on a 23-yard Mike Nugent field goal with 7:49 left to play.

The Broncos had a chance to get out of poor field position but had a 27-yard pass from Manning to Demaryius Thomas nullified due to a facemask call on Thomas against Kirkpatrick. Manning was sacked on the next play and by Taylor Mays and Denver had to punt while pinned deep in their own territory.

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Rex Grossman turns down return to Browns in favor of family

Rex Grossman, Cornelius Washington AP

With Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer both injured after Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, the Cleveland Browns needed to look for quarterback help for the final week of the season.

Rex Grossman spent a portion of the 2014 preseason with Cleveland and the Browns called to see if he was interested in returning for Week 17 and a game check of at least $56,000. According to Jeremy Fowler of, Grossman said thanks but no thanks.

Grossman apparently is bringing his whole family into town this week for the Christmas holiday and couldn’t work out the logistics of a return to the Browns. As an 11-year NFL veteran, Grossman would have been able to make at least $56,176 for a one-week return effort.

With Manziel and Hoyer hurt, and Grossman saying no, the Browns may have to start undrafted rookie Connor Shaw this week against the Baltimore Ravens.

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Pair of TDs from Peyton Manning to Emmanuel Sanders gives Broncos lead

Denver Broncos v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

A Denver Broncos Offense that gained just 125 yards in the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals rallied for 21 points in the third quarter to grab a 28-27 lead.

Following a 22-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Giovanni Bernard gave the Bengals a 27-14 lead, Peyton Manning engineered two lengthy scoring drives to give Denver the lead.

Manning hooked up with Emmanuel Sanders for a pair of touchdowns, a 4-yard and 5-yard score, respectively, to rally Denver to take the lead. After being held to just 88 yards passing with an interception in the first half, Manning has been much better after the break.

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Broncos, Bengals trade touchdowns set up by big kickoff returns

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Denver Broncos scored a touchdown less than a minute into the second half thanks to a 77-yard kickoff return by Omar Bolden. The Cincinnati Bengals immediately responded with a touchdown of their own in less than two minutes set up by an 80-yard kickoff return by Adam Jones as the Bengals regained a 13-point cushion, 27-14, early in the third quarter.

The Denver Broncos Offense looked listless in the first half as the Cincinnati Bengals built a 20-7 halftime lead.

Bolden helped jump-start the Broncos attack with a 77-yard kickoff return to start the second half to put Denver in scoring position. Three plays and a pass interference call later, C.J. Anderson punched the ball in the end zone from 1-yard out to pull the Broncos within a score early in the third quarter.

The Broncos had managed 125 yards of offense in the first half with Peyton Manning being intercepted once and held to 88 yards passing before the break.

Jones then returned the ensuing kickoff to the Denver 27-yard line to put the Bengals in business. Three plays later, Andy Dalton dumped a pass off to Giovanni Bernard for a 22-yard touchdown to once again give Cincinnati a cushion to work with.

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Broncos’ offense faltering in Cincinnati

Denver Broncos vs the San Diego Chargers Getty Images

It wasn’t long ago that the Broncos were regarded as having one of the best offenses in NFL history. But it sure feels like a long time ago.

The Broncos’ offense has been stagnating for weeks, and tonight in Cincinnati might be the worst performance yet.

Denver’s three drives have ended in three punts and an interception. On those four drives Peyton Manning is a very un-Peyton Manning-like 5-for-10 for 41 yards, with no touchdowns, one interception and a 21.2 passer rating.

The Bengals have scored 17 points in a row after Andy Dalton threw an early pick-six and are now up 17-7.

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Andy Dalton throws pick-six as prime time nightmare continues

Andy Dalton, Billy Winn AP

Andy Dalton in prime time is a disaster. Again.

On the Bengals’ second possession today against the Broncos, Dalton threw a bad pass that A.J. Green leapt into the air to try to bring down. Green couldn’t catch it, but Aqib Talib made a great diving catch and got the interception.

Then Talib got up, untouched, and raced to the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown. That gave the Broncos a 7-0 lead.

Even worse for the Bengals, when Green had to reach up for Dalton’s bad pass, he exposed himself to a hard hit from Broncos safety T.J. Ward. That hit appeared to injure Green, and he didn’t return to the field when the Bengals’ offense came back out on the next possession.

But Bengals running back Jeremy Hill made a spectacular 85-yard run on the first play of that next possession, allowing the Bengals to tie the score at 7-7.

It’s been a great start to tonight’s game. Even if Dalton in prime time is anything but great.

UPDATE 9:09 p.m. ET: Green has returned to the game.

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Blandino: No way to say if Graham scored a touchdown

graham AP

The Saints had a crucial call go against them on Sunday when tight end Jimmy Graham thought he scored a touchdown, only to have the officials rule that he had fumbled just before the ball crossed the goal line.

A day later, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino says he still doesn’t know whether they got that call right or wrong.

“This was very difficult,” Blandino said on NFL Network. “We really struggled with this one because it’s so close.”

Blandino said no replay angle conclusively showed whether the ball crossed the goal line before Graham lost possession.

“Where is the ball in relation to the goal line?” Blandino said. “You really can’t tell exactly where that ball is in relation to the gaol line. The ruling on the field is it did not break the plane. Do you see indisputable evidence that it did break the plane? We even had a closeup look that the network gave us and it just wasn’t clear cut, it wasn’t obvious that the ball broke the plane, so the ruling on the field stood.”

Ultimately, Blandino said, when there’s no conclusive angle, the replay just has to stick with what the officials called on the field.

“Had they ruled touchdown, there was no evidence to overturn. Basically, the ruling on the field would have stood either way,” Blandino said.

Maybe some day we’ll have microchips in footballs that can tell us the instant a ball crosses the goal line. But with the replay system we have now, there was no way to say whether Graham scored or not.

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Reggie McKenzie talks up the Raiders’ rookie class

Reggie McKenzie AP

Amid speculation that the Raiders could make sweeping changes and General Manager Reggie McKenzie could be on the chopping block, McKenzie would like to point out that he drafted some pretty good players this year.

McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle that first-round pick Khalil Mack and second-round pick Derek Carr have proven themselves to be the kind of players a franchise can be built around.

“Derek and Khalil stopped being rookies a little while back,” McKenzie said. “Now they are veteran players. They can carry this into next season and help build this team into winners. They’ve shown their teammates who they are as players and men off the field, and they’re definitely guys everybody can count on.”

McKenzie believes he has done the heavy lifting to get the Raiders into the right place, and they’re heading in the right direction.

“The foundation has been built,” McKenzie said. “That’s what it’s all about. The more young guys play, the more comfortable they get . . . and now they’re making plays. And we continue to grow that.”

McKenzie has every right to be proud of the players he’s drafted. But that doesn’t necessarily mean his job is safe. If a new coach (like, say, Jim Harbaugh) is willing to come to Oakland only on the condition that he gets final say over the roster, owner Mark Davis might push McKenzie aside. But McKenzie has made a good case for himself with this year’s draft.

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Lovie Smith on high draft pick: If you’re down here, you have to get something from it

Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Buccaneers are closing in on the top pick in the draft for the fifth time in franchise history, which gives the team something to look forward to as they put the finishing touches on an abysmal season.

Coach Lovie Smith said Monday that adding a good player at the top of the draft next year is something to be excited about, especially since he likes what he’s seen from this year’s rookie class.

“From a 2-13 record right now, I think that we’ve found out our draft class, we’ve played them and we like some things we’ve seen from the draft class,” Smith said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “Of course, Mike Evans, it goes without saying, Charles Sims, we’re seeing flashes from him, Austin Seferian-Jenkins — you know, our top three picks, amongst others. So that part is good. And if you have to be down here, you need to get something from it. We are going to get from our position — wherever it might be — we are going to get to add some more, we have a full allotment of draft picks, we have an excellent staff that evaluates guys. We are going to add some more players to the mix. We need some more players added to the mix. I am excited about that part. And again, if you have to be down where we are, why not get your choice of a few of the best players in the draft.”

If the Buccaneers were to find a quarterback with that top pick, it would probably help others join Smith in getting excited about what’s to come for the Bucs. That won’t fix things on its own as the Bucs need to sort out their offensive line and offensive coordinator as well, but Smith’s right about the need to make your pick count if you’re handing it in during the first hour of the draft.

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Report: Aldon Smith was drinking at scene of alleged assault

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The 49ers have already dealt with Ray McDonald for his part in a new sexual assault investigation.

But now they may have a bigger problem to deal with.

Part of an affidavit outlining allegations against McDonald includes a section in which the victim said she spent the day drinking with McDonald and outside linebacker Aldon Smith.

That’s only a problem as it pertains to Smith’s suspension for a 2013 DUI, for which he’s still on probation.

According to Tracey Kaplan of the San Jose Mercury News, the woman claimed McDonald sexually assaulted her at his home after she passed out by his pool. But she them claimed to have stayed at the house, drinking with Smith and McDonald.

Police have also seized home surveillance cameras and McDonald’s cell phone as part of their investigation.

While the 49ers finally had a moment of clarity and cut McDonald (shortly after being eliminated from the playoffs), they’ve stood firm by Smith throughout a series of transgressions.

There was some dispute at the time of Smith’s reinstatement that he hadn’t fulfilled his counseling requirements.

But if police place him at the scene of a crime drinking, it will put the 49ers in the uncomfortable position of making more excuses for a star after making an example of McDonald.

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Brandon Marshall on Dominic Raiola: Dirty player, worse person

Chicago Bears Brandon Marshall Addresses The Media After Accusations Of Domestic Violence In His Past Getty Images

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and Lions center Dominic Raiola will not be exchanging Christmas cards this year.

Marshall said after Raiola was suspended for stomping on the leg of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson that cheap shots are par for the course from Raiola.

“This guy is a dirty player, and he’s a worse human being. He has no respect for himself,” Marshall said, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN.

Marshall said his issues with Raiola go far beyond just one incident. According to Marshall, who has long been open about seeking treatment for mental illness, Raiola has approached Marshall on the field to insult him about his mental health issues. Marshall says that before a game two years ago, Raiola walked up to Marshall and made jokes about Marshall taking medication.

“I’m just warming up, just standing there. He’s like, ‘Go take your medicine. You freaking weirdo, you freaking crazy guy,’” Marshall said of an encounter with Raiola.

Raiola has a laundry list of incidents that have gotten him in hot water over the course of his NFL career, and the NFL noted in announcing his suspension that stepping on Ferguson was far from his first offense. Marshall thinks it’s past time that the NFL does something about Raiola.

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Johnny Manziel ruled out for Week 17

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Johnny Manziel’s rookie season is officially over.

Browns coach Mike Pettine announced Monday that the quarterback has been ruled out of the team’s season finale against the Ravens because of the hamstring injury he suffered against the Panthers on Sunday. Pettine called it a “pretty significant” injury that would have kept Manziel out for several weeks if the Browns season had several weeks left in it.

Pettine also said that Brian Hoyer’s shoulder injury would continue to be evaluated over the course of the week and that Connor Shaw would get first-team reps to prepare him for the possible start.

“If he does [play], I wouldn’t be surprised he plays well,” Pettine said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Pettine added that the team was considering other quarterback options in the event they need to add another player to the roster before Week 17.

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Jim Harbaugh works hard to keep it on the high road

San Diego Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh seemed to the heading for the curb, but managed to steer back onto the high road.

The soon-to-be-former 49ers coach seemed to come close to talking about his own status with the team, something he’s avoided so far.

Via Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Harbaugh was asked if it was hard to resist responding to the anonymous reports about him.

“Yeah, that’s a good question,” Harbaugh said, before laughing. “That’s a good question. . . .

The high road’s the only road I know. I’ll keep on that.”

When reporters tried to follow up, Harbaugh replied: “I think we’ve covered the ground pretty well.”

Sadly, we have not.

Harbaugh also declined to elaborate on a report from Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, who said Harbaugh’s status would be known within 48 hours of the end of the season.

“Well, as you know, I’ve not participated in any of these speculations and unnamed sources, the rumors, I would ask you to have Jay Glazer go back and ask his sources for more clarification,” Harbaugh said. … “I haven’t participated and I don’t intend to now. And this has been a good 12 months of this kind of thing. No reason to start now.”

Oh, there’s plenty of reason, Jim. The truth shall set you free. It’ll be cathartic for you.

You do get the feeling (or maybe it’s hope for a Festivus miracle) that at some point the tightly wound Harbaugh is going to snap, and a stream of truth so torrential will be unleashed, that we’ll all be drenched.

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Cowboys won’t rest starters this week

Tony Romo, Jason Garrett AP

The Cowboys have clinched the NFC East and they still have a shot at grabbing a first-round bye.

They’ll need to get some help from the 49ers and Rams (or a Lions-Packers tie) to make that happen, but even getting those results in the NFC West won’t help if they don’t beat Washington. If they were to win and get all three games to break their way, they’d wind up as the top seed in the conference.

On Monday, coach Jason Garrett said that the Cowboys will do their best to take care of what they control. With all three other games with bearing on their possible slot in the playoffs kicking off later in the day, the Cowboys won’t have the option of altering their lineup based on scoreboard watching and Garrett said, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News, that the Cowboys would play their starters their usual amount in Week 17.

We’ll see if that holds come Sunday for running back DeMarco Murray and other players with current injury concerns, but the Cowboys have every reason to play anyone without such worries because of the benefits that would come with getting the bye.

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NFL to suspend Raiola for one game

Raiola Getty Images

Lions center Dominic Raiola said his stomp on the leg of Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson was inadvertent. There will be nothing inadvertent about the NFL’s reaction.

Per a league source, Raiola will indeed be suspended one game for the infraction. Raiola will get the official word later this afternoon.

Raiola was fined $10,000 last month for striking Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore in the back of the head. In that same game, Raiola escaped punishment for deliberately diving at Moore’s legs during a kneel-down play.

Raiola will have immediate appeal rights, with the hearing held quickly and a ruling coming as soon as Wednesday.

If the suspension is upheld, the Lions won’t have their starting center for Sunday’s NFC North championship game against the Packers. But they will have him for the first game of the postseason.

Three years ago, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was suspended two games for a post-play stomp on the arm of former Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith.

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