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NFL morning after: An amazing Sunday, except the refs

An Arizona Cardinals fan celebrates their 27-6 win over the Philadelphia Eagles after their NFL football game in Phoenix Reuters

On Sunday afternoons during the NFL season, I’m sitting in my house with three TVs showing games in one room, plus another game showing on my iPad, with my laptop at the ready to check scores and stats. I have the Sunday Ticket package and I watch the Red Zone channel and the Game Mix channel, and I’m the fastest draw in the West when I need to change the channel. My wife brings me snacks so I don’t have to get up for even a minute. If anyone should be able to keep up with every single thing that happens on an NFL Sunday, it’s me.

And as this Sunday’s nine early games came to the late fourth quarter, even I couldn’t keep up with it all. What an amazing Sunday afternoon.

Don’t you wish we could see Sunday’s highlights as edited by Steve Sabol? Sabol, the NFL Films president who died of brain cancer on Tuesday, would have told an amazing story with the material the NFL gave him on Sunday. The nine early games featured three overtimes, three other games decided by a touchdown or less, a shocking upset by the Vikings, a tremendous defensive effort by the Bears and a Bills-Browns game that was, well . . . let’s just say there were eight really good games.

My choice for the best game of the day was that insane finish in Tennessee, where the Lions came back from 14 points down with 18 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime, only to end up losing 44-41. But the Chiefs-Saints battle was also lots of fun, and every time I looked at the Bengals’ 38-31 win over the Redskins I saw one of the league’s bright young stars (either Cincinnati’s A.J. Green or Washington’s Robert Griffin III) making a big play. There was no shortage of greatness on display on Sunday.

These are the days when you sit there on your couch and just say, This is why I love football. What a great day.

Here are my other thoughts from Week Three in the NFL:

The replacement officials need to pick up the pace. Games are simply taking far too long. Heading into this week the average length of games was about five minutes longer this season than last season, and maybe that doesn’t sound like much. But those delays while the officials are sorting things out are making some games really drag. The Steelers-Raiders game, in particular, felt like it was taking forever. If Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski had missed his game-winning field goal and the game had gone into overtime, it’s entirely possible that it still would have been going on into the start of Sunday Night Football.

The NFL needs to fine Bill Belichick heavily. I don’t care how bad the officials are — and they were bad during Sunday night’s Patriots-Ravens game — you simply cannot put your hands on an official. Belichick put his hands on an official. A fine of $100,000 might be enough to send the message that that simply cannot happen.

Still, the Belichick story shouldn’t overshadow the larger issue. The quality of the officiating in the NFL right now simply isn’t acceptable. The NFL has to fix it.

How did Matt Schaub get cleared so quickly? NFL teams are supposed to have an excess of caution about players suffering concussions, taking the time to have the medical staff check anyone who takes a hard hit to the head, and only clearing players to return to the field if everything is OK. So something seemed suspicious about Texans quarterback Matt Schaub missing only one play after taking a brutal and illegal helmet-to-helmet hit, a hit that had him crumpling to the ground and grabbing his head. I hope I’m wrong to be skeptical, but it sure didn’t seem like Schaub was out long enough to get the kind of thorough examination that a hit like that would warrant.

Jason Hanson should be a Hall of Famer some day. Hanson, the Lions’ 21-year veteran kicker, is the oldest player in the NFL at age 42, and has played 314 games with the Lions, the most games any player has played with one team in NFL history. But Hanson doesn’t just have longevity on his side, he has one of the most impressive kicking legs the game has ever seen. On Sunday against the Titans he went 4-for-4 on field goals, making kicks from 47, 53, 33 and 26 yards. That 53-yard field goal was the 51st field goal of his career from 50 yards or farther, the most any kicker has made in NFL history. Oh, and when Lions punter Ben Graham went down, Hanson stepped in and punted flawlessly, averaging 39.3 hards a punt and landing one of them inside the 20-yard line. Hanson probably won’t make it to the Hall of Fame because kickers are remembered for big field goals in big games, and the Lions haven’t been in many big games in Hanson’s career. But the Hall of Fame is supposed to be about individual greatness, and there’s been no greater kicker in NFL history than Jason Hanson.

Jamaal Charles is in very good company. Charles, the Chiefs’ starting running back, had 233 rushing yards and 55 receiving yards in Sunday’s win over the Saints, joining Jim Brown as the only players in NFL history with at least 225 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards in the same game. Charles and Brown are also the only NFL players with more than 230 rushing yards in two different games. And if Charles keeps running at his career 6.0 yards-per-carry average and gets 196 more rushing attempts, he’ll break Brown’s record for the highest yards-per-carry average of any running back in NFL history with at least 750 carries. For half a century, Brown has been the gold standard for NFL running backs. It’s amazing that Charles is putting himself in Brown’s company.

Greg Schiano is right in the kneeldown controversy. Schiano, the Buccaneers coach who angered Giants coach Tom Coughlin last week by instructing his players to try to force a fumble while the Giants were kneeling down to run out the clock, did it again on Sunday against the Cowboys. Coughlin might not like it, but I do. Schiano coaches football the right way: Play hard until the game is over.

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Patriots awarded safety Don Jones on waivers from Miami

Don Jones AP

Six days before meeting the Dolphins in the regular season opener, the Patriots have added an ex-Miami defensive back.

The Pats were awarded second-year safety Don Jones on waivers from the Dolphins on Monday, the club said.

The 24-year-old Jones notched a team-best 11 special teams tackles in 2013 for Miami, according to club statistics. An Arkansas State product, Jones was a seventh-round pick of the Dolphins in 2013.

Jones’ addition gives the Patriots six safeties. He is listed as a third-stringer behind Duron Harmon on the club’s depth chart. And, of course, Jones brings an intimate knowledge of the Dolphins to Foxborough.

In a corresponding roster move, the Patriots waived second-year offensive lineman Chris Barker.

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Tedford’s status for Week One not determined yet

Tedford AP

Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford recently underwent an undisclosed medical procedure.  His return date is similarly unknown.

Via JoeBucsFan.com, Tedford wasn’t at practice on Monday.  Head coach Lovie Smith said a decision regarding Tedford’s status for the regular-season opener has not yet been made.

He’s getting better,” Smith said, via Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com.  “He stopped through this weekend.  We’re taking our time with him.  He’s getting better each day.  When he’ll be back here full-time, I don’t know.  When he’ll be available full-time, whether he’ll be available for the game this week and all those questions, we don’t have answered right now.  He’s getting better and we’ll see how all that plays out.”

Replacing Tedford will continue to be a group effort.

“In the meantime, the rest of our offensive staff will pick up for Jeff, similar to how we did it last week, with all of the guys really pitching in,” Smith said.

The Buccaneers host the Panthers on Sunday, with kickoff coming at 4:25 p.m. ET.  We continue to extend our best wishes to Tedford.

 

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Report: Raiders tab Derek Carr as starting quarterback

Derek Carr AP

The Raiders are going with a rookie at quarterback to begin the regular season.

Fox’s Jay Glazer reports the Raiders have switched starters in advance of Sunday’s opener at the Jets, with Derek Carr getting the nod over Matt Schaub.

According to Glazer, players have been informed of the decision.

The call to go with Carr comes after the second-round pick from Fresno State completed 11-of-13 passes for 143 yards and three TDs in the preseason finale vs. Seattle. Schaub sat out the game with elbow soreness.

Schaub, whom the Raiders acquired from Houston in the offseason, was just 24-of-47 passing for 218 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in exhibition play. He was sacked three times.

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Gronkowski’s announcement a little confusing

Gronk AP

Yes, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has declared that he has gotten the green light to play on Sunday from his doctors, after a torn ACL derailed his 2013 season.  The bigger question could be whether he got the green light from his head coach to disclose that he got the green light from his doctors.

When it comes to injury information, the Patriots notoriously disclose none of it.  Or, when it comes to Tom Brady’s chronic right shoulder problem, deliberate misinformation.  Last year, for example, Gronkowski was routinely listed as questionable as he continued to recover from multiple arm surgeries, hinting at a 50-50 chance he’d play even though, in hindsight, it was clear he wasn’t going to suit up early in the season.

This year, instead of keeping the Week One opponent guessing about whether he’ll play, Gronkowski has revealed on his own that he’ll play.  He either did so without the blessing of the boss, or as part of a deliberate plan to make the Dolphins think they’ll see more of Gronk than they actually will.

If it’s the former, Gronk could still be chafing from the questions that swirled last year regarding whether he was milking the arm injury, able to practice but unwilling to play.  Or maybe he’s feeling a heightened sense of urgency to play now that Tim Wright has arrived.  If it’s the latter, it’s hard out of character.

Regardless, it’s unusual for anyone from the team to be quite so forthcoming when it comes to injuries.  And it’s hard not to wonder whether, given Belichick’s Naval Academy upbringing and penchant for strategic gamesmanship, the Dolphins won’t see Gronkowski very much, and possibly not at all.

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Rams claim Case Keenum off waivers from Texans

Case Keenum AP

The Rams have another quarterback, just in case.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Rams claimed Case Keenum off waivers from the Texans.

Keenum was squeezed out in Houston when the Texans traded for Ryan Mallett, and he’ll slot in with the Rams behind Shaun Hill. Austin Davis was the only other quarterback on the Rams roster after the season-ending knee injury to Sam Bradford.

Keenum got eight mop-up starts for the Texans last year, and was the loser in each of them. But that’s hardly his fault, as he was merely the guy holding the wheel after the ship hit the iceberg and Matt Schaub was thrown overboard to save weight.

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Decision on Josh Gordon lawsuit coming soon

Gordon Getty Images

Five days ago, the NFL suspended Browns receiver Josh Gordon for the entire 2014 season.  Within the next day or two, a decision will be made regarding whether Gordon will challenge the suspension via the court system.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Gordon’s legal team plans to reach a conclusion in the immediate future.  If suit is filed, expect it to come swiftly — and to include a motion for what the law calls a preliminary injunction.

Identical to the move that blocked the StarCaps suspensions for months even though the players ultimately failed to secure a court order overturning the outcome of the internal appeal, Gordon would ask a judge to prevent the NFL from implementing the suspension until the case ends.

If it happens, it will be a tall order.  Courts routinely consider various factors when deciding whether to freeze the status quo in place until a lawsuit ends.  Key considerations include a showing that the player will suffer irreparable harm if he later wins the case, since he can’t go back and play the games he missed, along proof that the player has a strong likelihood of eventually securing a victory.

It won’t be easy for Gordon, unless his legal team finds an obscure Ohio law that the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and testing program violates.  Still, even if there’s a slim chance of Gordon delaying the suspension via the court system, not spinning the Wheel of Wapner guarantees a Blutarskiesque outcome.

Then again, suing could make it harder to persuade the NFL to move quickly and favorably when Gordon applies for reinstatement.  That’s a real consider for Gordon; with plenty of discretion available when the time comes to determine whether he’s cleared to return early in the 2015 offseason, angering the league could delay a green light.

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Rams sign 10 to practice squad, none of them Michael Sam

michaelsam AP

If Michael Sam signs on a practice squad, it won’t be with the Rams.

At least not this week.

The Rams announced 10 signings to their practice squad, and none of them were the seventh-round pick vying to become the first openly gay player in the NFL.

The team signed linebacker Denicos Allen, wide receiver Emory Blake, safety Christian Bryant, defensive tackle Matt Conrath, safety Matt Daniels, quarterback Garrett Gilbert, tackle Sean Hooey, linebacker Kevin Reddick, wide receiver Justin Veltung and guard Brandon Washington.

Eight of those guys were in Rams camp, while Allen was with the Panthers and Reddick with the Saints.

So Sam’s quest for employment will continue, away from the team that knows him best.

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A healthy Cam Newton is a life preserver for Panthers

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is already big.

But he cut an even more imposing figure Monday, wearing a heavily padded flak jacket to protect the hairline fracture in a rib that kept him out of the preseason finale.

“I told him in the event of a water landing he can be used as a flotation device,” center Ryan Kalil cracked, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review.

Newton apparently didn’t look perfectly loose during the portion of practice open to media, but that stands to reason. After taking a nasty shot in the third preseason game against the Patriots, he’s done little since then.

“He threw a few more passes today than we expected,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s all right. He’s sore, but it’s not like it was when it first happened.”

There’s little doubt he’ll play Sunday against Tampa, as he’s demonstrated his toughness during his three years there.

The question is how much the time he missed this offseason (both because of ankle surgery and the recent rib issue), will impair a Panthers offense that’s breaking in an entirely new receiving corps and a mostly-new offensive line.

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Eagles add fifth-rounder Ed Reynolds to practice squad

Ed Reynolds, Jaylen Watkins AP

The Eagles didn’t have room for fifth-round safety Ed Reynolds on their initial 53-man roster, but he’ll continue to get chances to show them what he can do on the field.

Reynolds was one of eight players added to the team’s practice squad. The former Stanford Cardinal defender missed a chunk of offseason work because of the school’s late end date and wasn’t able to catch up over the summer. With three safeties and special teamer Chris Maragos on the 53-man, Reynolds could get a look sooner rather than later if injury strikes in the secondary.

The Eagles also brought back quarterback G.J. Kinne, who has gained some experience in the offense while spending the last two summers with the team. Kinne’s chances of advancing to the active roster aren’t so good since the Eagles have Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley in the fold as well.

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho, guard/center Josh Andrews, tackle/guard Kevin Graf, defensive lineman Wade Kelilikipi, wide receiver Will Murphy, running back Matthew Tucker and wide receiver Quron Pratt are the others that have been added to the practice squad in Philly.

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Ras-I Dowling signed to Raiders’ practice squad

New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

A former Patriots second-round pick is among 10 players signed to the Raiders’ initial practice squad.

Cornerback Ras-I Dowling, whom New England took with the first pick of Round Two in 2011, is the most experienced of the 10 signees announced by Oakland on Monday.

Dowling (6-1, 210) appeared in nine games for New England from 2011 through 2012. He was most recently with the Jets, who released him on August 24.

Seven of the Raiders’ practice squad members are rookies: tailback George Atkinson III, defensive end Denico Autry, linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu, linebacker Spencer Hadley, offensive tackle Dan Kistler, wide receiver Seth Roberts and tight end Scott Simonson.

Second-year offensive guard Lamar Mady and first-year defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin round out Oakland’s practice squad.

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RG3: We fixed what we needed to fix on offense

Jay Gruden Robert Griffin III AP

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III served as a talking point last preseason because no one had seen him play since tearing his ACL and he was a talking point again this summer because he was playing.

Griffin took too many hits in a game against the Browns and played poorly against the Ravens, leading to concerns about how quickly he’s picking up the offense installed by new head coach Jay Gruden this offseason. Griffin played down those concerns by pooh-poohing “doubters” and saying people were overreacting to preseason performances, a theme he stuck with on Monday when he said that all the work the team did in the offseason would now “come to fruition.”

“We fixed what we had to fix in practice,” Griffin said, via CSNWashington.com. “That’s for us to know and you guys to find out.”

We’ll all find out Sunday when the Redskins square off against the Texans. Any struggles in that game will lead to even more doubters for Griffin and Washington and they won’t have the preseason caveat to use as an explanation.

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Ryan Succop signs one-year deal with Titans

Cleveland Browns v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The word on Monday morning was that the Titans were interested in signing kicker Ryan Succop.

The deal is done on Monday afternoon. Succop visited with the team and Terry McCormick of 247Sports.com reports that he reached agreement on a one-yet deal.

Travis Coons, who outlasted Maikon Bonani in preseason, will be dropped from the roster with Succop coming aboard. Succop was cut by the Chiefs over the weekend in favor of the younger Cairo Santos, who flashed good leg strength to go with his cheaper salary during the preseason.

Succop has made 81 percent of his field goals and all of his extra points since taking over as Kansas City’s kicker in 2009. He’ll get a chance to kick against his former team in the regular season opener.

Succop wore No. 6 in Tennessee, a number that is currently taken by punter Brett Kern. No word on whether Succop will try to persuade Kern to give it up with a monetary offer or fictional arm wrestling match.

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Lions coach doubts orientation’s reason Michael Sam’s unemployed

South Dakota State v Missouri Getty Images

Most of the practice squad jobs around the league are filled, or will be by the end of the day.

So it stands out that Michael Sam still doesn’t have a job on one of them.

But while some teams might fear the attention that comes with employing the league’s first openly gay player, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he doesn’t think Sam’s sexual orientation is the reason he’s not signed yet.

I doubt that seriously,” Caldwell said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

The Rams figured to be his best chance, but they haven’t made a move to bring him back. Some teams will cross him off the list because he’s legitimately a bad scheme fit. The Lions weren’t interested in him initially because they like their defensive ends taller, and Sam lacks the speed to play in a 3-4 as an outside linebacker.

“He wasn’t here on our squad, we didn’t play against [the Rams) to have an opportunity to look at them,” Caldwell said. “But what I would assume is the case is the fact that he doesn’t fit in with whomever’s system, or anybody’s system right now in terms of being able to come in and play for them at this point in time. If he could, if it benefits someone, and he still may. A lot of things happen here in the next three or four days, anyway. But he still may, he may still get that opportunity.”

Sam was in familiar surroundings in St. Louis, but he also landed with one of the deepest and most talented lines in the league. Other teams lack their depth, and Sam played well enough in the preseason that a football-simple answer seems unlikely.

That only leaves our worst suspicions, which appear more true by the minute.

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Chargers sign Ricardo Mathews

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco reached into his past to find some help on the defensive line.

Telesco was in the Colts organization when they drafted defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews in the seventh round of the 2010 draft and he saw enough to like about Mathews to sign him to a contract with the Chargers for the 2014 season.

Mathews had 51 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 52 games, six of them starts, for the Colts. He signed with Houston in April and spent the summer with the Texans before being released as they dropped to 53 players. Mathews should settle into a reserve role behind Sean Lissemore in San Diego.

San Diego waived running back Marion Grice to open up a roster spot for Mathews.

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Rolando McClain to start in the middle for the Cowboys

Rolando McClain AP

Maybe it’s just the state of the Cowboys’ defense, or maybe Rolando McClain can really play.

Either way, the twice-retired No. 8-overall pick is a starter again, after not playing since 2012.

According to Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Bruce Carter said he was starting on the strong side, McClain in the middle and Justin Durant on the weak side.

Durant spent most of the preseason practicing in the middle, though he has the versatility McClain doesn’t. But team owner Jerry Jones declared McClain “very impressive” this preseason, and that endorsement means a lot.

But they were clearly hoping McClain could win the job, based mostly on the lack of impact players on their defense.

If McClain is engaged and motivated, he could be a solid player for them. Remaining that way has always been the challenge, however.

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