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McCluster exits with elbow injury on controversial play

Dexter McCluster AP

In a play that was reminiscent of last year’s Victor Cruz maneuver at Arizona, Chiefs receiver Dexter McCluster left the ball on the field after injuring his elbow while falling to the ground.

McCluster suffered the injury after stretching out to catch a ball that was behind him, using his arm to brace his fall.  The arm extended awkwardly.

The officials ruled that McCluster was down, although it wasn’t as clear as it was on the Cruz play that McCluster was declaring himself down.

After a challenge from the Saints, the call on the field was overturned, giving the Saints possession at the spot of the recovery.  If the call had been ruled that way at the time, it would have been a touchdown for the Saints.

“I don’t agree with the ruling,” NBC officiating consultant Jim Daopoulos said in the viewing room.  “He was injured.  It’s like he’s saying, ‘I’m down.’  He’s not trying to gain any yardage.”

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Tagliabue gives Goodell some advice, indirectly

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A decade ago, Roger Goodell served as the right-hand man to former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  A “wingman,” one unnamed executive recently told Gabriel Sherman of GQ in a new profile of Goodell.

By 2005, Goodell wanted to be the guy with the wingman.

He was getting impatient,” Tagliabue told Sherman, who noted without specifically quoting a source that Goodell was “agitating” for Tagliabue to relinquish the throne.  At one point, Goodell reportedly considered leaving for ESPN.

Now, as Goodell tries to guide the league and his own career through murky waters in large part of his own making, Tagliabue would be a great person to give him some advice — especially regarding, for example, challenges like how to deal with anecdotal evidence that a team may be underinflating footballs.  But Goodell doesn’t take advantage of the experience, knowledge, and expertise of his predecessor.

“We haven’t talked much since I left,” Tagliabue told Sherman. “It’s been his decision. Bountygate didn’t help.”

Tagliabue is referring to his role as the hearing officer in the appeals of the Saints players Goodell suspended in 2012.  Tagliabue overturned all punishments, based in part on a belief that it was unfair to selectively enforce the rules regarding a broader cultural phenomenon against only one small group of players.  The point?  If a certain practice has become widespread in the sport, catching and severely punishing one violator in the hopes that everyone else will clean up their act isn’t the best way to solve the problem.

Coincidentally (or not), that could be one of the basic realities of the latest rules controversy undermining the sport.  If the Patriots were causing footballs to be underinflated in order to make them easier to throw, they surely weren’t the only ones doing it.

But the Patriots have become the only ones investigated for it, and they likely will be the only ones disciplined for it — if the NFL ultimately can develop proof that something improper was occurring.  Even if the NFL finds no smoking gun, the cloud of suspicion will reside over the Patriots, indefinitely.

“There’s a huge intangible value in peace. There’s a huge intangible value in having allies,” Tagliabue explained to Sherman.

The shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach won’t promote peace or the development of allegiances.  In the bounty scandal, Goodell created enemies in New Orleans.  Now, he’ll have to choose between preserving whatever credibility he has left in the wake of the Ray Rice case and preserving one of his staunchest supporters in Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who could be on the brink of an epiphany that eventually could lead to Goodell being interviewed about the challenges faced by his successor.

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Adam Vinatieri: If you’re going to make it harder for kickers, make it harder for everyone

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The NFL continued their experiments to make the placekicking part of the game less automatic at Sunday night’s Pro Bowl.

The uprights were narrowed by over four feet and extra points were pushed back to the 15-yard-line, which contributed to three missed kicks for Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. Vinatieri and Eagles kicker Cody Parkey, who made both his extra point tries, both said after the game that they weren’t in favor of the changes being extended beyond an exhibition game with Parkey saying that he felt like the league was “picking on” kickers. Vinatieri, meanwhile, said that the league should make other changes if they’re concerned with things being too easy for players.

“My answer to that is take the receiver gloves off the receivers and see how if they can make these amazing one-handed catches,” Vinatieri said, via ESPN.com. “Things might change. If we’re going to do it to make it harder on guys because they’re getting more accurate or more whatever, then maybe we should change a bunch of things.”

There’s some truth to the point that Vinatieri makes about receiver gloves helping the likes of Odell Beckham make ridiculous catches on a weekly basis, but until field goals join those catches on highlight films the league isn’t likely to treat the two things in remotely the same way.

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NFL offered photo of Marshawn’s crotch grab for sale

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While the NFL was fining Marshawn Lynch $20,000 for grabbing his crotch in the NFC Championship Game, the NFL was also asking fans to pay $149.95 for a collection of Seahawks photos that included a picture of that same grab of that same crotch.

The league has now admitted it screwed up by offering that photo for sale and says it will not be sold.

“Any play that results in a fine may not be used commercially,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN.

This isn’t the first time the NFL has tried to profit off photos of plays for which players were fined. In 2010 the league also sold pictures of a James Harrison hit on Mohamed Massaquoi and a Brandon Meriweather hit on Todd Heap, even though Harrison and Meriweather had been fined for those very hits.

It’s hypocritical, obviously, of the NFL to do that. Maybe Lynch will have something to say about the NFL’s hypocrisy at Super Bowl Media Day. But probably not.

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Tom Brady: I personalized things last week, but I’ve moved past it

Tom Brady AP

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady found himself in the middle of the biggest story inside and outside football last week as the quarterback of a team accused of playing the AFC Championship game with under-inflated footballs and he admitted Monday that he took that personally.

During an appearance on WEEI on Monday morning, Brady said that he spent a lot of time last week trying to figure out what happened with the balls because he felt like the whole situation was falling on his shoulders but that he’s putting that process on hold to prepare for Sunday’s game.

“It’s all speculation,” Brady said. “I’ve tried to wrap my head around it, too. I’ve done that and I’m trying to move past that, because I continue to try to rehash things. I personalized a lot of things and thought this was all about me, and my feelings got hurt. Then I moved past it, because it’s not serving me. What’s serving me is try to prepare for the game ahead. I’ll deal with whatever happens later. I’ll have my opportunity to try to figure out what happened and figure out a theory like everyone else is trying to do. But this isn’t the time for that. Honestly, I’m not interested in trying to find out right now, because we have the biggest game of our season ahead.”

During an interview with ESPN at halftime of the Pro Bowl, Brady said he doesn’t expect to speak to NFL investigators until after the Super Bowl and said Monday that he doesn’t plan on talking about ball deflation at all this week, a plan that’s unlikely to move the hordes of people asking him about ball deflation this week.

“It’s really about this week and ignoring what anyone may say or think or do or feel,” Brady said. “Everyone has had an opinion to this point. Everyone can speculate all they want on what happened. That’s their right, that’s their opinion. Part of playing professional sports is dealing with the good and the bad. Coach has taught us for a long time to ignore the noise and focus on what we control. That’s what we’re going to do.”

Brady and the Patriots head to Arizona on Monday.

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NFL announces partnership with YouTube

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The NFL is embracing online video.

The league, which has been slow and cautious about allowing its content to appear online and has often ordered highlight clips removed for copyright violations, has now decided that it makes more sense to use online video to reach as wide an audience as possible. As a result, the NFL and YouTube announced a partnership today that will result in an NFL YouTube channel that makes videos directly viewable on Google searches.

Realistically, it’s all but impossible for organizations like the NFL to prevent all of their copyrighted material from being posted online. So it makes more sense to form a partnership with the biggest provider of online video in the world than to keep futilely fighting online video.

The partnership also guarantees that kickoff times and broadcast information for every NFL game will be prominently displayed in Google searches. The league’s YouTube channel has already launched, and currently features a Super Bowl preview, Pro Bowl highlights, and big plays from the 2014 season. Some day, it may expand to include the league’s enormous NFL Films video archive. That would be a treasure trove for NFL fans. This announcement has great potential.

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Mike Westhoff thinks Pats are clean, this time

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One week ago this morning, the world was waking up to #DeflateGate.  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, sounding still not quite fully awake for his Monday morning visit to WEEI in Boston, laughed the whole thing off as “ridiculous.”

While it may indeed now be “ridiculous,” it’s for reasons far different than Brady meant.  On Sunday, PFT pointed out that much of the blame for the distraction and debacle belongs to the NFL, which apparently set a trap without quite knowing what to do with the beast whose foot they caught in it.  Throw in the involvement of former Jets executive Mike Kensil, who now works for the league office, and the whole thing takes on a Hatfield-McCoy dynamic, with one of the Hatfields now walking around with a badge.

But former Jets special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff has chimed in on this one, and he has reluctantly exonerated the Patriots.

“If it’s anybody that walks the edge on the rules, it’s these guys,” Westhoff told the Toronto Sun (via Tom Curran of CSN New England).  “Sometimes they remind me a little bit of Enron — they’re always the smartest guys in the room, until some day maybe they’re not.  That’s how I feel about them. . . .

“Did they do it? I honestly don’t think they did.  To tell you the truth, I’m not so sure they’re not sitting around today thinking, ‘I wish we’d thought this up,’ knowing them. . . .  As much as I hate to, I’m going to defend them.  And trust me, I hate to defend them. [Spygate] was only a part of it.  The number of things that were like this?  There’s only a handful of them that have been made public.”

“Trust me, what I’m tellin’ you.  There are quite a few others.  Clock violations.  You can go on and on.  There’s a whole sh-tload.”

The truth is there’s “a whole sh-tload” for many (if not most . . . if not all) teams.  Westhoff worked for the Jets when former strength coach Sal Alosi (supposedly acting alone) created a wall of humanity on the sideline with the goal of impeding the opponents’ gunners on punt coverage.  Other teams have done other things; in the recent Bill Walsh:  A Football Life documentary, Bill Parcells talked about his strong suspicion that the 49ers took down the communication lines early in playoff games at San Francisco, when the 49ers already had their first 15 plays scripted.

The current case has received much greater attention and scrutiny because of the profile of the team, coach, and quarterback involved — and because of Spygate.  But that made it all the more important that the NFL crafted a clear, reliable plan for connecting underinflated footballs to deliberate misconduct.  Apparently, the NFL didn’t.

Which in some ways makes this a lot like the Ray Rice case, only with different players and different details.  The incompetence of an organization shows itself in many ways, especially when the organization is confronted with an unusual situation.  The NFL’s handling of unusual situations in recent months has been quite unusual indeed, and the impact of this specific incident on the Patriots could be the tipping point for prompting one of the most influential owners in the sport to demand significant changes at 345 Park Avenue.

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Andrew Luck: Nothing doing on contract front

Andrew Luck AP

There has been talk of a fat new contract in the offing for Colts QB Andrew Luck, but Luck said Sunday that he has as much need for a pen to sign for millions as he has need for a razor.

An ESPN report indicated that the Colts have been “working on the parameters” of an offer that would make Luck the highest-paid player in the league this offseason, but owner Jim Irsay said after the AFC Championship game that such a deal was not part of his “thought process” at this point. Luck sent a similar message after the Pro Bowl.

“There’s nothing there right now,” Luck said, via the Indianapolis Star. “I didn’t think about it all during the season and it’s only been a few days since it ended. I haven’t thought about it. I will have conversations with my agent just because you have to prepare, but I’m not sure where that report came from.”

Luck can’t sign an extension until the start of the new league year in March, so things could change. The Colts don’t have much pressure to do something now, though. Luck is signed for one more year on his relatively small rookie deal and they will obviously be executing their fifth-year option on his contract, so it will be at least 2017 before there’s a chance of losing Luck. That’s not much of a chance thanks to the franchise tag, one more reason why the Colts have time to figure out how they want to go forward with their quarterback.

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Bears keep it in the family with defensive line coach hire

Drew Brees, Stephen Paea AP

The Bears have shown a preference for assistant coaches that worked with head coach John Fox in Denver, including their hire of special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers.

So it’s no surprise that they found another former Broncos assistant to coach the defensive line, especially when that defensive line coach is also the older brother of the guy running the special teams.

The Bears announced the hiring of Jay Rodgers late on Sunday as they continue filling out Fox’s initial staff in Chicago. The elder Rodgers spent the last three years coaching the defensive linemen in Denver and was on the Broncos’ staff for six years overall.

Rodgers coached a pair of Pro Bowlers in DeMarcus Ware and Elvis Dumervil during his time with the Broncos and the Broncos were the league’s stingiest defense against the run for the last three seasons.

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After dunking at the Pro Bowl, Graham asks NFL to change the rule

jimmygraham AP

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham got to do what he loves to do after scoring touchdowns at the Pro Bowl: He dunked the ball over the goal post.

Graham, whose dunk during the 2013 season knocked a goal post off balance and led to a rules change for 2014, wants the league to change the rule back and allow players to dunk in celebration again.

“That was amazing. For me, it made the entire week,” Graham said. “Hopefully, one day they’ll look back and change this rule so I can do it in a real game. And hopefully one day in the Super Bowl.”

The NFL rarely goes back on excessive celebration rules, so it seems unlikely that Graham will get his wish. But it would make more sense for the league to modify the rule so that players can dunk as long as they don’t touch the goal post: The point of the rule was to prevent games from being delayed by a goal post knocked off kilter, so as long as a player doesn’t touch the goal post when he dunks, it shouldn’t be against the rules.

The game, after all, should be fun. And for Graham, it’s fun to pay tribute to his basketball background when he scores a touchdown. At the Pro Bowl, he could do that again.

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Monday morning one-liners

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Looking back at one of the Bills’ unsuccessful trips to the Super Bowl.

It’s apparently not too early to predict all seven rounds of the Dolphins draft.

What kind of impact can Patriots RB Shane Vereen have in the Super Bowl?

Longtime Jets beat writer Paul Needell died at the age of 57.

The offensive line went from a weakness to a strength for the Ravens.

Former Bengals RB Ickey Woods’s career as a pitchman continues to grow.

A call for the Browns to cut WR Josh Gordon to show they are serious about accountability.

Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons was miked up during Pro Bowl week in Arizona.

Texans DE J.J. Watt added to his highlight reel in the Pro Bowl.

Colts QB Andrew Luck and WR T.Y. Hilton hooked up for one more touchdown on Sunday night.

Talent will have more to do with the Jaguars’ results than the identity of the play callers.

Titans S Michael Griffin is expecting a close Super Bowl.

The Broncos should move forward in their defensive coordinator search this week.

Seven free agents who could interest the Chiefs.

Raiders FB Marcel Reece showed off his kicking leg at the Pro Bowl.

Said Chargers S Eric Weddle, “Obviously, I play to win a Super Bowl. I play for my teammates and the organization. I just hope we don’t waste the guys we have on this team and they give us a shot to win the Super Bowl.”

How will the Cowboys move forward at linebacker?

Giants WR Odell Beckham had a couple more highlights at the Pro Bowl.

Eagles RB Darren Sproles helped his team to a Pro Bowl victory.

A review of the Redskins’ outside linebackers.

A hand injury didn’t ruin Bears G Kyle Long’s trip to the Pro Bowl.

The sight of several Lions on Pro Bowl rosters is a sign of how well their season went in 2014.

A Pro Bowl touchdown was cause for Packers WR Jordy Nelson to celebrate with everyone.

The Vikings hope former C Mick Tingelhoff makes the Hall of Fame.

The Falcons coaching staff will have a lot of pieces in place when their new head coach is announced.

Panthers TE Greg Olsen had a pair of touchdowns in the Pro Bowl.

Saints TE Jimmy Graham brought back the goalpost dunk on Sunday night.

David Garrard is a fan of new Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

Said Cardinals DL Calais Campbell of his Pro Bowl impressions, “Just how cool everybody is. These are all the superstars of the game, and guys you admire, just getting to know them and seeing how cool they are.”

Are the Rams right to want Sam Bradford back in 2015?

49ers coach Jim Tomsula has roots in Pennsylvania.

Seahawks T Russell Okung said things feel the same as last year’s Super Bowl thus far.

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Carroll will tell Marshawn not to grab his crotch

chrismorgan AP

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has heard the NFL’s warning that Marshawn Lynch will get a 15-yard penalty if he grabs his crotch during the Super Bowl. And Carroll says Lynch will hear from him about it.

“I haven’t talked to him about the thing that just came up from the league and the things about the game and all that yet, but that will be addressed and I expect him to have a great Super Bowl week,’’ Carroll said. “I think he’s going to have a great time doing this and playing in this game come game day.’’

While Carroll doesn’t want Lynch doing anything that will give the team a penalty, Carroll doesn’t sound too concerned about the other question facing Lynch this week: Will he answer questions from the thousands of credentialed media in attendance?

“First off, let’s not miss that he is a very unique individual and he has a way that we have embraced, that we understand Marshawn and we support him every way that we can,’’ Carroll said. “But he is a very unique guy, and he’s got his own way of looking at things, and he’s also a very private person, too. That’s why the media thing is as it is. It’s not something that he is going to express a whole lot to you. I’ve said this before, that there’s a great deal spoken in his silence as well.”

So Carroll doesn’t want Lynch drawing a 15-yard penalty for grabbing his crotch on the field. But if Lynch does nothing more than grab his crotch on Super Bowl Media Day, Carroll won’t have a problem with that.

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Vontaze Burfict recovering from microfracture surgery

Vontaze Burfict AP

As the regular season wound down, there was word out of Cincinnati that linebacker Vontaze Burfict might need to have a second surgery on his knee after landing on injured reserve following an initial operation in October.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis confirmed last week that Burfict had another operation, but stopped short of revealing all the details of the surgery. It turns out that Burfict needed to have microfracture surgery, an operation that’s designed to regrow cartilage in the knee and comes with added fears about how Burfict will respond for the 2015 season.

His surgeon Neal ElAttrache was cleared to talk about the surgery and told Ian Rapoport of NFL Media that he’s not worried about that aspect. He said the goal is for Burfict to be ready to go full speed at training camp, but he wouldn’t rule out a return in time for mandatory minicamp.

“I don’t see any reason, if this thing heals like we want and we think it will, why he won’t be back like he was,” ElAttrache said. “Microfracture has a bad connotation, but there are plenty of guys who have come back and been able to play like before. But it’s not really news when it works out.”

There’s a long way to go before anyone will know if it works out. Burfict will be on crutches for several weeks and it will be three months before he can start running, so the Bengals have to have a plan for how to go forward on defense if things don’t work out with Burfict.

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Joe Lombardi: “Added layers of complexity” in coaching Calvin Johnson

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One of the things that offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi learned during his first season with the Lions is that getting the ball to Calvin Johnson isn’t as easy as just telling him to run down the field and throwing the ball in his direction.

Lombardi learned that the way he could use Johnson was impacted heavily by the way that other teams defended him, pointing to a game against the Vikings when the Lions installed a new play during halftime in order to beat the coverage that Minnesota was sending Johnson’s way. That taught Lombardi to always have a few calls in reserve for use against unexpected defensive looks.

“I don’t want to say [Johnson] makes it more difficult because he really makes it easier,” Lombardi said, via the team’s website. “But there are added layers of complexity when you have a player that can be that dominant. If they play like this than maybe we go to this. There is definitely a comfort level in watching film during the week and saying this is who they are, this is what they are going to do and I’m not sure you can ever do that with him.”

Tackling that learning curve in 2014 should make things easier in 2015, especially if Johnson is able to avoid the injuries that cost him three games and limited him in several others. While the Lions Offense had its issues over the course of the year, Lombardi was able to feed Johnson and Golden Tate often enough for both men to finish with more than 1,000 receiving yards and that offers reason for optimism about a more productive second season in Detroit.

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Jets players enjoy seeing Patriots in another controversy

New England Patriots v New York Jets Getty Images

We’ve found someone more skeptical of Bill Belichick’s #DeflateGate claims than Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Jets Pro Bowlers Nick Mangold and Sheldon Richardson said after the Pro Bowl they weren’t surprised to hear their division rivals involved in another controversy.

“That’s the Patriots,” Richardson said, via Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post. “I’m not surprised at all. If they ain’t winning with controversy, they ain’t winning. . . .

“It’s funny when they say, ‘We keep it professional and clean cut.’ Because they don’t. They don’t at all.”

Mangold was also skeptical of the fact 11 of the 12 balls the Patriots put into play were all under-inflated, while none of the Colts’ were.

“All 12 of [the Patriots’] balls having something wrong with them does tell you something is amiss,” Mangold said. “It does seem like it’s always something with the Patriots. It does seem that way.”

And it does seem like the Jets would be all too happy to enjoy their rivals’ misfortune.

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Giants matriarch Ann Mara recovering after a fall

2014 Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation's "Champions for Children Gala" Getty Images

The Giants didn’t have a season to remember, but things got worse for team matriarch Ann Mara recently.

Via Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News, the matriarch of the team is recovering after slipping on ice and hitting her head.

The 85-year-old Ann is the wife of late Giants owner Wellington Mara, and the mother of team co-owner John Mara. She’s still hospitalized

While she’s not very public, her son John did mention her at the end of the season, when discussing a disappointing season.

“She is not very happy with me right now, believe me,” John Mara said. “She suffers through this probably even more so than I do.”

We wish her a speedy recovery.

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