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NFL morning after: Andrew Luck takes his star turn

Andrew Luck AP

You know that 13-play touchdown-scoring drive you saw at the end of the Colts’ win over the Packers on Sunday? That’s what a franchise quarterback is supposed to look like.

Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick who had the biggest pair of shoes to fill in the NFL when he took the place of Peyton Manning as the Colts’ quarterback, did every single thing you’d want a rookie quarterback to do if you’ve just put all of your faith in him as the man to lead your franchise for the next decade or so. He ran the no-huddle offense, he managed the clock, he checked down to tight end Coby Fleener when he needed to, threw deep to receiver Reggie Wayne when he needed to, even took off running and picked up a big first down on a third-and-7. Overall, Luck went 8-for-10 for 90 yards and a touchdown on the drive, which gave the Colts a 30-27 lead with 35 seconds to play.

This was a game in which the Colts, who were heavy underdogs, fell behind 21-3 at halftime. Coming after an impossibly difficult week in which they found out their coach, Chuck Pagano, was hospitalized with leukemia, it would have been easy for the Colts to go into the tank. But Luck wasn’t going to let that happen. He was simply great, completing 31 of 55 passes for 362 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, and adding 24 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown.

Although Manning’s Broncos lost in New England on Sunday, he was outstanding again, with 345 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. And yet no matter how well Manning plays, I doubt there’s anyone in the Colts organization who would take back the decision to release Manning and draft Luck.

With 1,208 yards this season and a 2-2 record, Luck is the first rookie in NFL history to average more than 300 passing yards and lead his team to at least two wins in his first four games. Luck is doing things rookie quarterbacks have never done before. This is what NFL teams dream their rookie quarterback might be able to play like. Luck looks like a star.

Luck was the player who impressed me most on Sunday, but there were a lot of other things I liked, and a few things I didn’t:

The other rookie quarterbacks are pretty good, too. All five of the NFL’s rookie starting quarterbacks — Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden and Seattle’s Russell Wilson — have shown a lot of promise. Griffin was knocked out of the Redskins’ loss to the Falcons early on Sunday, but he’s coming off a September in which he was named the league’s offensive rookie of the month. Tannehill threw for 223 yards and had no turnovers as the Dolphins beat the Bengals. Weeden’s Browns are 0-5, but he’s on pace for 4,121 yards this season, which would break the rookie record of 4,051 that Cam Newton set last season. And Wilson is the one rookie quarterback whose team has a winning record, after the Seahawks improved to 3-2 with a win over the Panthers on Sunday.

I love the intentional safety. What a smart call by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, leading 16-10 and facing a fourth down on his own 18-yard line with a minute left in the game. Instead of punting, which would have given the Panthers the ball somewhere around midfield, Carroll called for an intentional safety, which allowed the Seahawks to take a little more time off the clock and then take a free kick from the 20-yard line. Whether the score was 16-10 or 16-12, Carroll knew that his defense just had to keep the Panthers out of the end zone to win the game. And taking a little more time off the clock and moving the Panthers back a little bit farther would make that a little bit tougher. A smart strategic decision by Carroll.

Let’s eliminate the term “mild concussion” from the NFL vocabulary. That’s how Redskins coach Mike Shanahan described the injury Griffin suffered on Sunday, and I know Shanahan was just trying to say that Griffin has a good chance of playing next week, but still: The NFL needs to make it clear that there are no “mild” concussions. It was also disconcerting that the Redskins at first only described Griffin as “shaken up” before later acknowledging that he had, in fact, suffered a concussion. The NFL is investigating whether the Redskins’ handling of Griffin followed league protocols for players who suffer head injuries. If nothing else, the Redskins would be wise to stop brushing off concussions as “mild,” or as just a player being “shaken up.”

Chris Johnson stinks. I don’t know what on earth is wrong with Johnson, the Titans running back who held out from training camp last year until the team gave him a $53.5 million contract, but the reality is he’s just not a good football player anymore. Yes, he still has speed and is capable of breaking long runs, but NFL teams need a running back who can gain yardage consistently, not just break long runs occasionally. And when Johnson gained just 24 yards on 15 carries on Sunday against the Vikings, it marked the fourth time in five games this season that Johnson was held under 25 yards. Johnson is averaging just 2.9 yards a carry, a number that gets usually gets NFL running backs cut. He’s terrible.

Take a minute to appreciate Johnny Unitas. When Drew Brees threw a touchdown pass on Sunday night, making it the 48th consecutive game in which he had done so, he was breaking a record that Johnny Unitas set in 1960 — 1960! Think how different the NFL passing game was in 1960. In 1960, Unitas led the league with 25 touchdown passes. In 2011 there were nine different quarterbacks with more than 25 touchdown passes. The game has changed so much that it’s amazing any passing record could last for more than half a century, but Unitas’s record did. The Colts sure have had some great quarterbacks.

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Packers trade Lerentee McCray to Bills on way to 75 players

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Jordan Norwood #11 of the Denver Broncos carries the ball against Ed Dickson #84 of the Carolina Panthers during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers announced a series of roster moves on Tuesday that leaves them with 76 players on the roster.

It appears the final move to get to the 75-man limit has come via a trade. The Bills announced that they have acquired linebacker Lerentee McCray from Green Bay for an undisclosed 2018 draft pick.

McCray signed with the Packers in April after playing 24 games with the Broncos over the last two seasons. The Bills have lost linebackers Reggie Ragland and IK Enemkpali for the season and first-round pick Shaq Lawson is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.

There’s been no word from the Packers about the trade at this point. The Packers did announce that they released wide receiver Harvey Binford and placed tight end Kennard Backman, running back John Crockett, center Jacob Flores, tight end Mitchell Henry and guard Josh Walker on injured reserve.

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Dave Gettleman: Andy Lee trade something “we needed to do”

This  Jan. 3, 2016 photo shows Cleveland Browns punter Andy Lee (8) kicking against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of an NFL football game in Cleveland. The Cleveland Browns have traded Lee to Carolina for punter Kasey Redfern and a 2018 fourth-round pick. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane) AP

The Panthers traded for veteran punter Andy Lee on Monday, which made one of the team’s cuts on Tuesday an easy decision.

Veteran punter Mike Scifres has been released after getting hurt last week and setting the wheels in motion for the Lee trade. General Manager Dave Gettleman said Tuesday that the team felt they couldn’t go into the season with rookie Kasey Redfern as their punter and that led him to deal Redfern and a 2018 fourth-round pick for Lee.

“To have a team like this and to go into a season with a rookie punter is really rolling the bones,” Gettleman said. “Through conversations in the office, we decided to take a shot. Andy Lee is a Pro Bowl punter. People talking about checking boxes? Well, that’s a huge box to check. He’s an outstanding holder as well as a great punter, and it was just something we felt we needed to do.”

The Panthers also released defensive end Rakim Cox, safety Trenton Robinson and wide receiver LaRon Byrd on Tuesday and placed cornerback Leonard Johnson on the reserve/non-football injury list. That leaves them with 74 players, which either gives them a roster spot to fill or a head start on the cut to 53 players this weekend.

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Hroniss Grasu, Connor Shaw to IR as Bears go to 75 players

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 13: Hroniss Grasu #55 of the Chicago Bears moves to block against the Miami Dolphins during a preseason game at Soldier Field on August 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Dolphins 27-10.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bears have made the final roster moves needed to get the team to the 75-man limit on Tuesday and they are headlined by a pair of expected trips to injured reserve.

The team placed center Hroniss Grasu and quarterback Connor Shaw on I.R. due to injuries they suffered this summer. Grasu tore his ACL early in August, forcing the Bears to turn elsewhere for a starter in the middle of the offensive line after he held down the job down the stretch last season.

Shaw broke his leg against the Chiefs last week on a hit that he called “cheap BS” after the game. Coach John Fox said after the injury that he thinks Shaw has a bright future with the club and he’ll try to fulfill that expectation next year.

The Bears also waived linebacker Jarrett Grace, waived/injured linebacker Lamin Barrow and placed linebacker Roy Robertson-Harris on the reserve/non-football injury list.

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Dion Jordan opening season on non-football injury list

Minnesota Vikings v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

Defensive end Dion Jordan has been cleared to make his return to the practice field by the NFL, but his knee hasn’t allowed that to happen this summer and we’ll be well into the regular season before it can happen.

Jordan has been placed reserve non-football injury list by the Dolphins, which means he won’t be allowed to practice or play for the team for at least the first six weeks of the season. Jordan had knee surgery before being conditionally reinstated from his suspension by the league.

He’ll be joined on that list by linebacker Zach Vigil, who was placed on the NFI list on July 29 because of a back injury. Vigil played in all 16 games last season and had 18 tackles and a blocked punt to show for his efforts.

The two moves leave the Dolphins with 75 players on their active roster ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to get to that number.

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Sean Lee has MRI on knee, Cowboys expect him to play in opener

Seattle Seahawks running back Christine Michael (32) is tackled by Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Sean Lee, left, during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) AP

The Cowboys will be without quarterback Tony Romo for the start of the regular season, a state of affairs they’ve grown more familiar with than they’d like over the years.

Painful though it has been for the Cowboys, Romo’s missed time pales in comparison to that of linebacker Sean Lee. Lee has never played all 16 games in a season, which makes his absence from practice since last Thursday’s game against the Seahawks a worrisome trend for a defense that’s already missing pieces they expected to play a major role.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Tuesday, via multiple reports from Dallas, that Lee has been dealing with a knee injury and that he had an MRI Monday to evaluate the extent of the issue. Lee had arthroscopic surgery on his knee during the offseason and missed all of the 2014 season with a torn ACL.

Garrett said the results were positive for the Cowboys and that the team doesn’t believe it will be a long-term injury that costs Lee time in the regular season. History says the knee or some other body part will provide further cause for concern about Lee’s condition this season, but, for now, it looks like he’ll be on the field when the games count.

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ESPN won’t show national anthem before 49ers game

Colin Kaepernick AP

One of the most-discussed moments of Week One of the NFL season will be the national anthem before the Monday night 49ers-Rams game, when Colin Kaepernick is expected to continue his protest and remain seated while other players are standing. But that moment won’t be televised.

ESPN told Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated that it normally does not show the national anthem for the late game of the Week One Monday Night Football doubleheader and won’t show it this year either.

That decision is a mistake. Just because the national anthem isn’t ordinarily shown doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be shown when there are extenuating circumstances, and in this case there are certainly extenuating circumstances. Telling the story of that game will include showing Kaepernick, showing the other players, and covering any reaction Kaepernick gets from the fans, positive or negative.

Kaepernick’s stance has thrust the national anthem into the national news. ESPN should allow viewers to see that news being made.

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Chargers waiving quarterback Zach Mettenberger

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 28: Zach Mettenberger #4 of the San Diego Chargers warms up before the game against the Minnesota Vikings on August 28, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Titans released quarterback Zach Mettenberger this offseason, there were teams other than the Chargers who wanted him.

Today, the Chargers decided they no longer did.

According to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chargers have waived Mettenberger as part of their first cuts to 75.

Mettenberger played for Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee, but not particularly well. He was 0-10 as a starter there, though that had as much to do with the Titans as Mettenberger.

The Bengals and Giants each put in waiver claims on Mettenberger in May, and it will be interesting to see if anyone has any interest in him this time around.

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Jaguars to start Kelvin Beachum at tackle, Luke Joeckel at left guard

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 08:   Luke Joeckel #76 of the Jacksonville Jaguars in action against the New York Jets during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 8, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jaguars once used the second pick in the 2013 NFL Draft on Luke Joeckel, hoping he’d become their left tackle of the future.

Now, he’s the left guard of the present.

According to Mark Long of the Associated Press, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said he’s decided to start free agent acquisition Kelvin Beachum at left tackle and Joeckel next to him at left guard in the regular season opener.

Neither of them will play in the preseason finale.

The Jaguars didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which would have cost them $11.9 million. That means Joeckel’s entering a contract year, at a new position.

Issues of expectations and pride aside, it’s also going to be interesting to see if Joeckel is any good at playing guard. There were a few moments Sunday against the Bengals when he looked overwhelmed and/or ended up on the seat of his pants. But he was lined up across from star defensive tackle Geno Atkins, and he does that to people sometimes.

Joeckel was clear this offseason he wanted to win his old job back, but today’s announcement makes it clear he didn’t.

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Kaepernick was right about police vs. cosmetology training

Trains_bearded_addition_985 Getty Images

Of the various things 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s said during a lengthy media availability on Sunday, the one that resonated the most with many (including me) entailed the comparison of legally-required training for those who are supposed to keep us safe to those who are supposed to keep us looking presentable.

“There is police brutality,” Kaepernick said. “People of color have been targeted by police. So that’s a large part of it. And they’re government officials. They’re put in place by the government so that’s something that this country has to change. There’s things we can do to hold them more accountable, make those standards higher.

“You have people that practice law and our lawyers and go to school for eight years, but you can become a cop in six months and don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist. That’s insane. Someone that’s holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun and are going out on the street to protect us.”

It was an eye-opening claim, one that I had decided on Monday to research: In California, where Kaepernick lives and works, does a cosmetologist have more training than a police officer?

Before I could actually start the project, I received the letter to the 49ers and the NFL from the San Francisco Police Officers Association, and I noticed that the wide-ranging response to Kaepernick’s assertions did not include a challenge to his facts regarding police versus cosmetology training. Which told me that Kaepernick was factually correct; otherwise, the SFPOA would have pointed it out.

Indeed, he was correct. Police officers in California must attend (either before being hired or upon hire) an 888-hour Basic Police Academy, which requires roughly six months to complete. Cosmetologists in California have a 1,600-hour training requirement before they can even take the test required to secure a license.

Regardless of anyone’s opinions regarding the manner in which Kaepernick chose to express his concerns, it’s fair to ask the question of whether the persons on the front lines of law enforcement, making life-and-death decisions regarding themselves and others in the heat of the moment, have sufficient training, education, and overall fitness for this critical job. If they do, great. If they don’t, then improvements are required.

Even though the vast majority of police officers fulfill their obligations professionally, honorably, fairly, and appropriately, some don’t — and the mere fact that they wear the uniform and display the badge doesn’t make them immune from criticism, scrutiny, and ultimately consequences for failing to meet or exceed the standards that apply when deciding whether to protect themselves by using deadly force.

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Free agent defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill suspended four games

sammiehill AP

Veteran defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill doesn’t have a team at the moment.

If he finds one soon, he’ll miss a month of action.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Hill has been suspended four games for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. The suspension is apparently for a missed test as opposed to a failed test.

Of course, since the league hasn’t announced the suspension, someone has again breached the confidentiality of the substance abuse program with the help of one of their employees.

Hill started at nose tackle for the Titans last year, but other than a visit with the Seahawks, there hasn’t been much reported interest in the 29-year-old, who spent his first four seasons with the Lions.

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Saints add Khalif Barnes to offensive line mix

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 22: Khalif Barnes #69 of the Oakland Raiders looks on during the preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings on August 22, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Raiders 20-12. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Saints haven’t been happy with the play of their offensive line this summer, which is the impetus behind several developments in New Orleans.

The team is giving 2015 first-round pick Andrus Peat a look at left guard after he failed to impress on the other side of the line, leaving Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete to take their competition to the right side. All three will be in action on Thursday as coach Sean Payton said the team will play their starters for at least some of the first quarter of Thursday’s game against the Ravens.

“We’re going to play a lot of our guys early on in this game, and I think it’s important that those guys get work at those positions,” Payton said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “So, our plan early in the first quarter is to play our starters and then make a transition at some point. There’ll be a handful of players who we’ll continue to give more snaps to, and [Peat] would be a candidate along with the right guard position. A lot of it will just be dependent on kind of the numbers and where we’re at at the start of the second quarter.”

Should the Saints still find their guards lacking, they could turn to veteran Khalif Barnes. Payton announced Tuesday that Barnes, a 2005 third-round pick by the Jaguars, has signed with the team after spending the last seven years with the Raiders. He has experience as both a guard and a tackle.

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Brandon Tate cut, Andrew Billings to IR as Bengals hit 75 players

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 18: Brandon Tate #19 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs for a first down after making the catch during the first quarter of the preseason game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on August 18, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) Getty Images

Brandon Tate has been the primary kick and punt returner for the Bengals for most of the last five seasons, but he won’t be continuing that streak in 2016.

The Bengals announced Tuesday that they released Tate as they made the cut to 75 players. Tate joined the Bengals on waivers in 2011 and has played in every one of the team’s games over the last five years. He averaged 9.2 yards per punt return, scoring one touchdown, and 24.3 yards per kickoff return while also catching 33 passes.

In addition to cutting Tate, the Bengals placed rookie defensive tackle Andrew Billings on injured reserve. Billings had surgery to repair a torn meniscus this month and will have to make another attempt at winning playing time in 2017.

Defensive tackle Brandon Thompson will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, which leaves him ineligible to play or practice in the first six weeks of the year, and wide receiver Mario Alford was waived/injured to round out the team’s moves.

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Lions put Brandon Pettigrew on reserve/PUP as part of roster moves

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 13: Brandon Pettigrew #87 of the Detroit Lions is helped off the field by trainers after being injured in the second quarter against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on December 13, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Lions got to today’s 75-man roster deadline, by parking a couple of guys who hadn’t practiced yet this season anyway.

Via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, the Lions placed tight end Brandon Pettigrew and wide receiver Corey Fuller on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, which will keep them off the field for at least the first six weeks of the regular season.

Pettigrew tore his ACL last December and isn’t ready to contribute yet. Even with Eric Ebron hopeful for the opener, with Andrew Quarless suspended the first two games of the regular season, the Lions are extremely thin at tight end at the moment.

Fuller is coming off foot surgery. The Lions also released cornerback Brandon McGee, who was signed last week, getting them to the 75-man limit.

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Browns won’t rest starters this week

FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2016, file photo, Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson, right, talks with quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) on the sideline during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla. Griffin will be Cleveland’s 25th starting quarterback in the last 17 years. During that span, the Browns have had two winnings seasons.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File) AP

The Browns released linebacker Paul Kruger and traded punter Andy Lee on Monday, continuing the offseason theme of clearing out players acquired under previous regimes ahead of Hue Jackson’s first season as coach.

With veterans leaving the team, the Browns are left with a fairly inexperienced group of players in line for significant playing time during the regular season. That group has had some high points in the first three preseason games but the bright spots have been intermittent, which likely made Jackson’s decision about whether to play his starters in Thursday’s preseason finale a pretty easy one.

“I think we need to play them,” Jackson said, via ESPN.com. “I think we need to get better as a football team.”

Jackson didn’t say how much any of the players will play against the Bears, but it’s hard to argue with his opinion that the team needs as much work as it can get before the start of the regular season.

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Buccaneers down to 75 players

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 13: Donteea Dye #17 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers misses a pass as Brian Dixon #20 of the New Orleans Saints defends during the second half of the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) Getty Images

The deadline to get to 75 players falls on Tuesday afternoon, but there won’t be any last minute sweating in Tampa because the Bucs are already there.

The team made a round of cuts over the weekend and announced two more on Tuesday morning to reach the limit. Wide receiver Donteea Dye was waived/injured and offensive lineman Joel Hale was waived.

Dye hurt his hamstring in the team’s game against the Browns last Friday, ending his bid for a second year as a backup receiver and kick return option. Dye had 11 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown in 10 games last year and had one catch for 20 yards in preseason.

His departure leaves the Bucs with 10 receivers, many of whom will be on field this Thursday trying to grab spots on the lower rungs of the depth chart.

Hale signed with the team in July and was trying to convert to the offensive line after playing defensive tackle at Ohio State.

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