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Sunday night wrap-up: Rodgers is back, so are Packers

AP

Yeah, that stuff Aaron Rodgers was saying the other day about his own play not being up to par?

Never mind.

Rodgers was back to MVP Rodgers, and he dragged the Packers back to looking like champions along with him.

He was laser-sharp while carving up the Texans 42-24 Sunday night, completing 24-of-37 passes for 338 yards and six touchdowns, the same amount the Texans had allowed in their 5-0 start. (Watch the highlights here.)

And it wasn’t as if Rodgers stood back with clean pockets all day.

He stood in and took shots and delivered passes, he scrambled for first downs and more when plays broke down. He read through progressions, and found guys who weren’t the first choice.

In short, he was Rodgers again.

And as long as that’s the case, the 3-3 Packers are as good if not better than any team in the NFL.

Here’s another thing: They’re without their best wideout in Greg Jennings, although Jordy Nelson is quickly making that a debate. And a guy with bad hands (James Jones) has caught multiple touchdowns in three straight games.

Those things don’t happen in a vacuum, or with anything short of the best quarterback in the game throwing it to them.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. The Texans didn’t look like the undefeated team that really hadn’t been pushed.

Or maybe they did.

The Texans were able to beat five teams by an average of 15.2 points per game coming into this one, and it might not be an accident that all five were AFC teams. In fact, the toughest of the lot might have been the Jets game, and the Jets can play a physical style you see more often in the other conference.

But from Connor Barwin trying to play buck-buck like Fat Albert on a field goal, to Danieal Manning trying to punch out from the bottom of a pile, the Texans played without much composure, which doesn’t bode well for the games that matter in January, when somebody else might punch back.

2. It’s not exactly breaking news to say that J.J. Watt is having a phenomenal year.

But with two more sacks, pushing him to 9.5 in six games, it becomes more amazing with each passing week.

A 3-4 defensive end is simply not supposed to do be able to do this. The job description, as originally written, doesn’t come close to what Watt is capable of doing. Ends in the 3-4 are supposed to contain the run, be solid and clog lanes for outside linebackers to make the glory plays.

It’s not like a receiver leading the league in rushing, but it’s at least the equivalent of a tight end leading the league in receiving yards, and speaks to his singular talent.

3. The Packers can’t keep inside linebackers healthy, but that doesn’t cover up the fact that one of them is playing very well.

Desmond Bishop was lost for the year with a preseason hamstring, and his replacement D.J. Smith left the game with a knee injury after a suspect block by Texans left tackle Duane Brown.

But the other Packers inside linebacker, A.J. Hawk, has been more than just solid of late, playing very well against the run. The Packers (who were also missing nose tackle B.J. Raji) held Texans running back Arian Foster to 22 yards on 13 carries in the first half, when the run game was a viable option.

Hawk has taken a lot of criticism, and it’s easy to make a case that he’s overpaid. But he’s played well when the Packers needed him most.

4. One other quick note on the Brown hit on Smith.

The Texans have now ceded the moral high ground, and can no longer complain about linebacker Brian Cushing’s season-ending injury from a block of similar intent by Jets guard Matt Slauson.

You can’t have it both ways, fellas.

A wise man told me once there’s a difference between innocent and righteous. Just because it wasn’t flagged doesn’t make it right.

5. The Texans spent a lot of money ($48.75 million for five years) on cornerback Johnathan Joseph, and they’re  not getting a return on their investment lately.

There was no injury reported during the game, but he came out for a few plays for backup Alan Ball.

The Texans struggled last week in the secondary against the Jets, and if they were playing a team with actual receivers (and more of a quarterback), it might have cost them then.

It caught up with them Sunday night.

Joseph is a good cover player, but his two-week lapse is noticeable, and something they can’t afford.

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Report: Clay Matthews Sr. dies at 88

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One of the most prominent families in the NFL lost one of its patriarchs.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Clay Matthews Sr. died at age 88 following a long illness.

Matthews played parts of four seasons for the 49ers (1950, 53-55) and helped father a long line of productive NFL players.

Bruce Matthews was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007 following a 19-year career that saw him named a first-team All-Pro a whopping 10 times with 14 Pro Bowl selections at tackle for the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Oilers/Titans. Clay Matthews Jr. was a three-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl section in 19 seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons.

Bruce and Clay Jr. each have two sons make the NFL as well. Bruce is father to Jake and Kevin Matthews. Jake is the left tackle for the Atlanta Falcons while Kevin played parts of five seasons for the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers.

Clay Jr. is father to Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III and Casey Matthews, who played linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings.

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Crown of helmet rule could be expanded

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Several years ago, the NFL adopted a rule that prohibits players from lining up an opponent and ramming him with the top of the helmet. With few exceptions, the rule — which would have made illegal one of the greatest highlights of the 1970s — has been honored.

The rule could now be expanding. The Competition Committee has proposed expanding the prohibition to include not just the crown of the helmet but the hairline.

A total of 24 votes from ownership will be needed to pass the rule. Given that the rule enhances player safety, and in light of the current focus on making the game safer, it’s hard to imagine at least nine owners opposing this change.

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Chargers steadily selling out (a small) stadium

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The Chargers will avoid the sight of empty seats in their first season in Los Angeles.

They just won’t set any speed records when doing so.

According to an ESPN report, the franchise has sold all but about 600 of its season tickets for 2017. However steady the progress, selling out a 30,000-seat StubHub Center has been a process unlike what the Rams experienced when making their Los Angeles return in 2016.

The Rams sold all 70,000 of their season tickets in six hours.

The Chargers have taken longer to sell less.

They began accepting $100 refundable deposits on Jan. 12 and announced season-ticket prices on Feb. 14. They opened business to existing season-ticket holders (those from Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego) on Feb. 22 and to other customers on March 9, a club source said Thursday evening. So, it’s been two weeks since the public sale opened.

This was never a competition with the Rams. The Chargers know what they’re up against in a new market.

Their team slogan, “Fight for L.A.,” was chosen for a reason.

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Report: Seahawks to sign linebacker Michael Wilhoite

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Even with the signing of Arthur Brown last week, the Seattle Seahawks still see a need for depth at linebacker.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Seahawks are addressing that need by signing former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite.

It has essentially led to a swap of middle linebackers between the two teams as backup middle linebacker Brock Coyle signed with the 49ers in the first few days of free agency.

Wilhoite has appeared in 65 games with San Francisco over the last five seasons and has started 34 games in the last three seasons. However, unless he can transition to playing strong-side linebacker in Seattle’s 4-3 scheme, Wilhoite is joining the Seahawks as a backup to Bobby Wagner and special teams contributor.

Mike Morgan – Seattle’s starting strong-side linebacker from last season – remains unsigned.

Wilhoite recorded 55 tackles in 16 games played for the 49ers last season. He joins Kevin Pierre-Louis, Dewey McDonald, Ronald Powell and Brown as depth at linebacker behind Wagner and K.J. Wright.

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Competition Committee proposes change to hiring procedures for coaches

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The NFL has plenty of rules that often are ignored. Unless those rules are going to be enforced, they should be changed.

Case in point: The current rules prohibit teams from hiring head coaches employed as assistants by other teams whose postseasons have not yet ended. Twice in the last three years, however, the worst-kept secret in the NFL centered on a team having a deal in place with an assistant from a Super Bowl team.

And so the rule could be going away. The Competition Committee has proposed a rule change permitting a club to “negotiate and reach an agreement with a head coach candidate during the postseason prior to the conclusion of the employer club’s season.”

It’s a rule that is long overdue. It was overdue two years ago, when the Falcons had a wink-nod deal in place with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. And it’s even more overdue now, after the 49ers had a wink-nod deal in place with former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Will it be a distraction for the assistant coach? Nope. If anything, it will remove the potential distraction that arises when a guy who knows that, if his team keeps winning, he won’t get hired. That happened five years ago, when the Buccaneers decided they could no longer wait for former Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

And, yeah, that’s Gantt in the background of the photo. After putting up a photo of the new guy earlier, I need to find a way to make it up to the rest of the crew.

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Eagles propose allowing teams to have second helmet

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Several years ago, the NFL eliminated the ability of teams to have multiple helmets, based on the notion that keeping players in the same helmet all year long in some way helps manage or minimize concussions. The NCAA, with teams like Oregon that have a different helmet every week, clearly disagrees.

The Eagles do, too. They have proposed te rule change that, if passed, would allow teams to have an alternate helmet in a color that matches their third uniform.

Barring convincing medical evidence that having multiple helmets a health risk beyond the health risk already assumed when playing football, it makes sense to let teams have a second helmet. And I say that fully aware of the potential abominations that Nike will concoct if/when it acquires the ability to do so.

Then again, the Eagles previously did a pretty good job of screwing up an alternate helmet without Nike’s help.

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Report: Bears finalizing deal with Mark Sanchez

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Whatever cure is required for the quarterback situation in Chicago, it seems, won’t be found at this late stage in free agency. The best hope for remedy on the current roster comes in the form of Mike Glennon, he of 11 passes the past two seasons combined.

Depth, though, is depth.

The Bears appear on the brink of adding some.

Veteran journeyman Mark Sanchez is on the cusp of signing with the Bears, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported. This will be the fifth NFL team for the ex-USC quarterback, who has bounced from the Jets to Eagles to Broncos to Cowboys and now Bears since 2014.

Sanchez, 30, completed 10 of 18 passes in his lone season with the Cowboys, notching 93 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

But it’s all relative.

Elsewhere on the Bears’ QB depth chart today, Glennon threw 11 passes in 2016, and Connor Shaw threw none. So 11 compared to Sanchez’ 18.

See, things are starting to look up. And Donald Trump won’t tweet about this one.

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Joe Greene didn’t want to play in Pittsburgh

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Strange as it may sound to folks who have followed football for most of the last five decades, the Steelers at one point stunk. They stunk bad. The turning point, in hindsight, came with the hiring of coach Chuck Noll in 1969.

When Noll and the Steelers made defensive tackle Joe Greene the fourth overall pick in the ’69 draft, no one knew that things were going to change. As a result, Greene wasn’t happy to learn he’d be coming to Pittsburgh.

Greene explained his adverse reaction to becoming a Steeler during a Thursday visit to PFT Live. He also talked about the one time that he was actually intimidated on an NFL field, via a story that is well worth your time.

It will also be worth your time to check out Greene’s memoir, Mean Joe Greene: Built By Football. It’s available early next month; you can pre-order it now.

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Rams add DT Tyrunn Walker

AP

The Rams aren’t necessarily among the NFL teams that scream in need of defensive-line help.

On Thursday, they add a veteran and will hope he helps.

Los Angeles announced it agreed to terms with veteran defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker. He started eight games in 2016 for the Lions but underperformed, going from starter to a reserve player who was benched for a midseason game. He’ll work to gain favor with a fresh start on a line featuring Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Dominique Easley.

Walker, 27, played 353 defensive snaps in 2016. He appeared in 15 games, finishing the season with 26 tackles and no sacks.

The 2012 undrafted free agent from Tulsa missed all but four games in 2015 to a broken leg.

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‘It’s good?’ Possible bonus for kickoff between uprights

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Two referees stand beneath the goal post before a field-goal or extra-point attempt, waiting there to determine if a kick sails beyond the crossbar and between the uprights for a successful conversion.

Imagine that for kickoffs, too

Such is one rules-change proposal that will be considered next week at the NFL owner meetings. This one, proposed by Washington owner Dan Snyder, stands to reward a team whose kickoff is ruled “good” with field position, as its opponent would start the ensuing drive at the 20-yard line as opposed to the expected 25.

This is not the first time something like this has been discussed. Last November, the Ravens banged the drum for a one-point scoreboard incentive on such straight-shot kicks. (Note: We need to find a name for these. Kickoff conversions?)

Snyder’s rule proposal is a tamer version, albeit one that still incentivizes touchbacks and thereby furthers the NFL’s player-safety cause.

Potential drawbacks to the rule, other than its ease for video gamers, appear few. One potential concern that could be raised, however, is whether or not the monitoring of a “good” kickoff will compromise the crew’s ability to position itself properly for a returned kickoff.

Currently, one referee stands near the goal post for kickoffs. If kickoffs are to be judged like field goals and extra points, a second official would have to join him or her. If a converted kickoff is a one-person ruling, this concern is rendered moot.

Secondly, there is the matter of doing too much. Last year, the league made the extra point more interesting — and, some might argue, too interesting — when turning a gimme try into a 33-yard attempt. “Kickoff conversions” would be the latest example of making a wrinkle of something that once was routine.

Too many wrinkles can be off-putting.

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Dan Snyder wants to be able to opt out of “Color Rush”

Washington did not play a Thursday night game last season, which means Washington did not wear a “Color Rush” uniform. Dan Snyder would like to keep it that way.

Among the 2017 NFL rules proposals announced today is one by Washington which would change league bylaws to allow teams to opt out of the Color Rush uniforms.

Under current rules, teams playing on the “Color Rush” Thursday night games have to wear the uniforms. Washington didn’t have to because its only Thursday game was on Thanksgiving afternoon, so the only visual evidence we have that Color Rush uniforms were designed for the team is the promotional photo you see here.

In general, the league doesn’t like to allow teams to opt out of league-wide endeavors like “Color Rush,” so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Snyder’s fellow owners vote down his idea. But if an owner doesn’t like how “Color Rush” looks on his team, it’s a little odd that the league can force it on him.

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Saints re-sign DL Darryl Tapp

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Two days after the Saints acquired linebacker Manti Te’o, they re-signed someone they hope can make his New Orleans debut a bit easier.

New Orleans added more help up front, striking a one-year deal with defensive end Darryl Tapp. This depth signing caps an active two-week stretch for the Saints’ defensive line, as it also secured Nick Fairley and Alex Okafor.

Tapp is entering his 12th NFL season and second in New Orleans. The 32-year-old hasn’t missed a game the past three years. In 2016, he logged 17 tackles and half a sack while playing 292 defensive snaps.

The Saints look to improve the NFL’s 27th-ranked defense from 2016.

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NFL to consider 15 new rules, 6 new bylaws, 3 new resolutions

AP

NFL owners will vote on a wide variety of potential new rules, new league bylaws and new resolutions, covering everything from whether a player can leap over the line of scrimmage on a field goal to whether a team can opt-out of the league’s “Color Rush” uniforms.

2017 rule proposals

1. By Philadelphia: Gives additional protections for long snappers on kick plays.

2. By Philadelphia: Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays.

3. By Philadelphia: Expands the “crown of helmet” foul to include “hairline” part of helmet.

4. By Philadelphia: Amends the challenge system by granting a third challenge if a club is successful on at least one of its initial two challenges, and expands reviewable plays outside of two minutes of each half.

5. By Washington: Eliminates the limit of three total challenges per team per game and eliminates the requirement that a team be successful on each of its first two challenges in order to be awarded a third challenge.

6. By Washington: Moves the line of scrimmage to the 20-yard line for any touchback where the free kick travels through the uprights.

7. By Buffalo and Seattle: Permits a coach to challenge any officials’ decision except scoring plays and turnovers.

8. By Competition Committee: Makes permanent the rule that disqualifies a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.

9. By Competition Committee: Changes the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line for one year only.

10. By Competition Committee: Reduces the length of preseason and regular season overtime periods to 10 minutes.

11. By Competition Committee: Gives a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection.

12. By Competition Committee: Makes crackback blocks prohibited by a backfield player who is in motion, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped.

13. By Competition Committee: Replaces the sideline replay monitor with a hand-held device and authorizes designated members of the Officiating department to make the final decision on replay reviews.

14. By Competition Committee: Makes it Unsportsmanlike Conduct to commit multiple fouls during the same down designed to manipulate the game clock.

15. By Competition Committee: Makes actions to conserve time illegal after the two-minute warning of either half.

2017 bylaw proposals

1. By Washington: Amends Article XVII, Section 17.1 to eliminate the mandatory cutdown to 75 Active List players.

2. By Washington: Amends Article XVII, Section 17.14 to place a player who has suffered a concussion, and who has not been cleared to play, on the club’s Exempt List, and be replaced by a player on the club’s Practice Squad on a game-by-game basis until the player is cleared to play.

3. By Washington: Amends Article XIX, Sections 19.8(B) and 19.9(B) to permit clubs to opt out of the “color rush” jerseys created for Thursday Night Football.

4. By Competition Committee: Liberalizes rules for timing, testing, and administering physical examinations to draft-eligible players at a club’s facility for one year only.

5. By Competition Committee: Changes the procedures for returning a player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness to the Active List to be similar to those for returning a player that was Designated for Return.

6. By Competition Committee; The League office will transmit a Personnel Notice to clubs on Sundays during training camp and preseason.

2017 Resolution Proposals

1. By Philadelphia: Amends the NFL’s On-Field Policy to allow clubs to have an alternate helmet in a color to match their third uniform.

2. By Competition Committee: Permits a club to negotiate and reach an agreement with a head coach candidate during the postseason prior to the conclusion of the employer club’s season.

3. By Competition Committee: Permits a contract or non-contract non-football employee to interview with and be hired by another club during the playing season, provided the employer club has consented.

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Goodell wants to cut five minutes of down time from NFL games

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell thinks the league can make games about five minutes shorter without eliminating anything fans will miss.

Goodell said on NFL Network that he believes some of the league’s ideas for cutting delays during the game can reduce the length of game from last year’s average of three hours and seven minutes to an average more like three hours and two minutes.

“We were 3:07 and change this year,” he said. “We think we probably can get probably close to five minutes of down time out of the game, so that would get somewhere in the 3:02 range.”

Goodell said he worries that if the league doesn’t eliminate down time, fans will decide to turn games off.

“There’s a lot of wasted time in there,” Goodell said. “You don’t want to give them an excuse to step out and do something else.”

Some of the NFL’s ideas include fewer commercial breaks (though not fewer commercials, as each break will now be one commercial longer), speeding up replay reviews and moving more quickly between touchdowns, extra points and kickoffs.

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Robert Kraft thanks Mexican, American authorities for finding jerseys

Tom Brady’s Super Bowl jerseys are back in New England, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement thanking authorities in both the United States and Mexico for tracking the stolen jerseys down.

“We want to thank the FBI, the Mexican authorities and the many different local agencies that were involved in the investigation and ultimate recovery of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey,” Kraft said. “Working along with the Patriots and NFL security, those agencies collectively coordinated an investigation that also led to the recovery of Tom’s missing Super Bowl XLIX jersey. It was great to have both jerseys returned to Gillette Stadium today. I don’t know that any agency could have accomplished this independently, but collectively multiple agencies – both in the U.S. and in Mexico – worked together to achieve the goal of retrieving the stolen property. It is another example of the importance of teamwork and what can be accomplished when everyone works together. We appreciate the effort of everyone involved and look forward to returning these jerseys to Tom when he gets back to New England.”

By stressing the importance of American-Mexican cooperation, Kraft could be subtly attempting to distance himself from President Trump, whom Kraft has described as a friend. The Patriots have received some criticism for the support that Kraft, Brady and Bill Belichick have given to Trump.

An employee of a Mexican newspaper who has attended multiple Super Bowls on press credentials has been identified as the suspect in the thefts, although he has not been criminally charged.

Photo via Patriots.com.

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