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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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John Elway expects new contract to be finished before season

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John Elway has just one year remaining on his contract as General Manager and Vice Preside of Football Operations for the Denver Broncos. And despite the Broncos first expressing a desire to get Elway a new deal since the middle of the last season, Elway still is without an extension on his contract.

But Elway sees the issue as a formality.

According to Arnie Stapleton of the Associated Press, Elway fully expects a new contract will come together before the start of the season this fall.

We’re continuing to work at it. I don’t see any problems with that. I look forward to being here with the Broncos for a long time,” Elway said.

He later added that he’s “not going anywhere.”

The Hall of Fame quarterback has already cultivated a successful second career with the franchise after leading the team to two Super Bowl titles in the late 1990’s. Since taking over the job as G.M. in 2011, the Broncos have made the Super Bowl twice and won a third Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 50 over the Carolina Panthers.

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Raiders are holding Marshawn Lynch out of OTAs, for now

AP

In some cities, there is wringing of hands and/or gnashing of teeth regarding the decision of key players to treat voluntary workouts as voluntary. In Oakland, the team is keeping recently-acquired running back Marshawn Lynch out of the OTA fray, for now.

He’s doing great, he’s doing great,” coach Jack Del Rio said, via Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. “He’ll continue to do the things that we’re asking him to do. He’s really soaking up the system. He’s doing a great job fitting in.”

Although the Raiders are choosing not to put Lynch in a helmet and on the practice field, Del Rio knew that Lynch would show up for the Phase Three sessions.

“He said, ‘Coach, this is home for me, so it’s not like I’m going home and I won’t be here,’” Del Rio said. “He’s committed to being here. He’s excited to be a Raider. We’re excited to have him.”

For now, the Raiders don’t want to get too excited about rushing into action a running back who hasn’t played in more than a year. In time, we’ll all see Lynch wearing a silver helmet and pounding into and through the line.

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Joe Woods doesn’t plan to make major changes to Denver defense

AP

The Denver Broncos have a great defense. New defensive coordinator Joe Woods knows that, and he plans to keep it that way.

“The foundation of our defense is going to stay the same,” Woods told reporters on Wednesday. “Our first two years, we played a high level defense. We did a good job. There’s a few things that we definitely need to improve on. But my big deal is, I don’t want to come in and change the fingerprints or the foundation of our defense. All I said is I want to sprinkle a little sugar on it. It’s something that will give us a little change up, make offenses work at the line of scrimmage. That’s all we’re doing.”

One area that requires improvement relates to an uptick in first-drive points allowed in 2016. In all aspects of the game, linebacker Von Miller has faith in Woods.

“We’ve always had great defensive coordinators,” Miller told reporters. “From [Dennis Allen] to Jack [Del Rio] and Coach [Wade] Phillips, all of the defensive coordinators that we’ve had, we’ve always been good and we’ve always been able to rush the passer. Joe Woods has been with us for three years now. He knows us. He has a great mind. He knows how to relate to guys, especially the secondary. That’s the strength of our defense. He brings a calm voice. . . . It’s just a special environment here, especially on defense. We’ll come out here and work hard. Whatever happens, we’ll be OK with.”

The defense needs to be better than OK (along with the offense) if the team that won Super Bowl 50 and then missed the playoffs hopes to contend again in 2017.

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Rich McKay: Falcons stadium will be ready to go for August 26

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They can probably go ahead and tear down the Georgia Dome.

Falcons CEO and president Rich McKay tells PFT Live in an interview to be aired Thursday morning that the team’s new stadium will be ready to go for the preseason home opener, on August 26.

McKay also said there’s no truth to persistent rumors that the unique retractable roof will remain closed for the entirety of the first year of the stadium’s operation. McKay said that the unprecedented multi-piece roof, with an array of 500-ton segments that slide open and closed simultaneously, will function as planned in 2017.

The extended interview will McKay will be played in two parts, beginning at 7:00 a.m. ET and ending at 7:35 a.m. ET. In addition to discussion regarding the stadium, McKay answered a variety of questions regarding the rule changes passed earlier this week in Chicago, given that he also serves as the chairman of the Competition Committee.

Also joining Thursday’s show will be Bob Glauber of Newsday, who’ll have some things to say about the Giants, the Jets, and whatever else comes up.

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In response to Sheldon Richardson, Brandon Marshall takes the high road

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Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson took a shot at former teammate Brandon Marshall on Tuesday, saying that there were “15 reasons” for the team’s failures in 2016. Marshall responded by taking the high road.

“Last year was an extremely difficult season for all of us,” Marshall told Kimberly A. Martin of Newsday. “Players and coaches fought their tails off trying to get our season turned around and it didn’t happen for us. It was disappointing, but now it’s a fresh year for Sheldon, for myself, for the Jets, and now I’m a Giant and I’m so excited for this opportunity.”

Some would say it’s easy for Marshall to be positive, given that he now plays for a playoff team, and Richardson, who also called Marshall a “drama queen” and a “locker room cancer,” is still stuck with the Jets.

“I’m working my butt off to learn the plays,” Marshall said. “It’s like I’m starting all over again from scratch. I feel like a rookie, and I kind of like that feeling. And hopefully I can do my job this year to the best of my ability to bring that Lombardi Trophy back where it belongs. That’s my only focus right now and I’m excited to be a New York Football Giant.”

Bob Glauber of Newsday wasn’t as charitable as Marshall when it comes to Richardson.

“Richardson is hardly one to throw shade at a teammate, current or former, especially given his tenuous standing with the Jets,” Glauber writes. “He already has been suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, and was suspended for the first game of the 2016 season for violating the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. Last year’s sanction was in response to a July 2015 arrest for driving his 2014 Bentley Flying Spur at speeds up to 143 miles per hour near his home in suburban St. Louis. Police found a loaded semi-automatic handgun under a floor mat.”

Glauber says Richardson “was the much bigger problem than Marshall” last year, and that the Jets viewed Marshall as part of the solution, not part of the problem. Richardson remains part of the problem, which could be why the Jets continue to try to make him not part of the Jets.

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Blake Bortles knows he has to stop the stupid turnovers

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Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles threw 16 interceptions and lost six fumbles last season. He knows that’s not going to cut it on a Tom Coughlin-led team.

Bortles said at Jacksonville’s Organized Team Activities that his top priority right now is being safe with the football.

“If you don’t turn the ball over, you’ll win football games,” Bortles said, via Mike Kaye of WTLV. “That’s our focus. Turnovers are going to happen. We get that. You have to make sure to minimize them as much as possible and stay away from the stupid ones.”

Bortles said Coughlin, who became the Jaguars’ front office boss this offseason, is already making his presence felt.

“To have a guy like that in the building that you can talk to – I’m sure [Head Coach Doug Marrone], having another head coach in the building, a former head coach in the building who has been successful and has done some good thing – I think it’s good for everybody,” Bortles said. “It allows everybody to have somebody to talk to, to help out. He has a ton of good information.”

And atop that list of good information is that if you don’t take care of the football, you won’t be around for long.

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Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott did not suffer a concussion

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Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott sustained a head injury in an automobile accident on Sunday. The team insists that Elliott did not suffer a concussion.

Via the Associated Press, running backs coach Gary Brown said Wednesday that Elliott bumped his head during the accident, in which he was a passenger, but that Elliott did not sustain a brain injury.

Coach Jason Garrett said Elliott will miss Thursday’s OTA session due to lingering soreness and neck stiffness. He’s expected to practice with the team next week.

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Giants ink Devin Taylor

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Defensive end Devin Taylor started 16 games for the Lions last year, before becoming an unrestricted free agent. He lingered on the market longer than expected, but he now has landed with a new team.

Per a league source, the 27-year-old Taylor has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Giants.

Taylor had 4.5 sacks in 2016. A year earlier, with 15 games appearances and no starts, Taylor registered 7.0 sacks.

The Lions made Taylor, who played college football at South Carolina, a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft. He’s perhaps best known for drawing a controversial facemask penalty that gave the Packers one last heave to the end zone on a Thursday night in Detroit. Aaron Rodgers delivered a game-winning touchdown pass with a Hail Mary throw that nearly scraped the rafters at Ford Field.

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Browns hire Ryan Grigson

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Former Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson has found his new NFL home, in Cleveland.

Grigson has been hired by the Browns, joining the team he once gave a first-round draft pick for Trent Richardson.

“Ryan brings valuable experience to our personnel group,” Browns G.M. Sashi Brown said in a statement. “He was raised as a road-scout and has been evaluating talent in this league for almost 20 years. We place a premium on that experience and on his passion for football. Ryan has much to offer to any personnel department and we are pleased that he chose to join our staff.”

Grigson’s title in Cleveland will be Senior Personnel Executive. It’s his first job since being fired after five years as the G.M. in Indianapolis.

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Kenny Stills on possible 2017 anthem protest: “We’ll see when the time comes”

AP

stillAlthough unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick continues to be the name and face most commonly attached to last year’s National Anthem protests, plenty of other players followed his lead. Those players included Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills.

And while Kaepernick reportedly will be standing in 2017 (if/when he’s on an NFL team), Stills has made no such commitment. Asked by reporters on Wednesday whether Stills plans to engage in anthem protests in the coming season, Stills said this: “I guess we’ll see when the time comes. I’m doing my best to continue to work and make an impact in the community, and I feel like that’s the most important part about what I’m doing right now.”

It’s obvious that Stills, who signed a four-year, $32 million contract in the offseason, will do whatever he thinks he needs to do in order to make a positive impact — and that he would have done what he did last year even without the support of the organization.

“It was a relief that we knew that Mr. [Stephen] Ross was going to be standing behind us; but no, it was something that the decision that we made it was going to be something we were doing regardless,” Stills said. “And that’s no disrespect to the organization or Mr. Ross, but it’s something that we felt strongly about and so we stood by that decision.”

For Stills, it’s much more than making a visible gesture aimed at raising awareness of societal problems. It’s about actions.

“I think here locally we’ve done everything that we can and we’re going to continue to do that,” Stills said. “The ride-along that we did last year with law enforcement is something that we’re going to try to do again this year and something that we’re trying to expand on throughout the league, and so I just try to focus on the positive things that we’ve done here and try and spread the message to other guys and other teams. . . .

“I mean I try to do my best to just do the right thing in all situations and that’s how I handle it. I’ve gotten more involved this past year and that’s something that I just . . . I can’t hold back on because it’s something that is true to my heart and so that’s kind of how I handle every situation I come across.”

While many may disagree with some of the methods aimed at raising awareness, it’s hard to take issue with the idea of devoting time and effort to solving problems in communities and improving communication among groups that have a history of friction that has at times bubbled over into hostility and violence. For that, Stills should be praised. As to Kaepernick’s role in addressing similar issues, here’s hoping that those who take issue with what he did during the playing of the national anthem can at some point recognize other less controversial steps he has taken to address some of the very real challenges society is confronting.

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DeShone Kizer sees an accelerated learning curve

AP

Regarded as the quarterback with the highest ceiling in the 2017 draft, Browns rookie DeShone Kizer now embarks on an effort to get to his maximum abilities as quickly as he can. He believes that playing in Cleveland will get him there even faster.

“It is exactly what I expected when I got brought over to this club,” Kizer told reporters on Wednesday. “Coach Jackson, during the . . . pre-draft process, that is exactly how he goes about his quarterbacks and he has held up to it and he has gone even further. With that, it allows me to start my learning curve a little faster. When you have the guy who is calling the plays, the guy who has created this offense and he knows the language inside and out, teaching your everyday fundamentals, it definitely pushes you a little quicker than if it was someone else who has to then go through him. I’m at the top of the command in terms of the guys who are coaching me so it is going to allow me to get out there and compete little faster than otherwise.”

It’s no accident that Jackson is spending plenty of time with Kizer.

“I will continue to do so,” Jackson told reporters on Wednesday. “I have to find out probably more about him than I do any of the guys. He is not going to get too far away from me, I know that. He has done a good job. He just has to keep getting better. He has improved from day to day. . . . There is a lot thrown at him now, but he is doing a good job. He has been better than some guys I have been around – in two days of competing against our defense and all of the different things our defense does, which is only going to make our guys better, with all of the things we get to see every day.”

It feels like only a matter of time before Kizer ends up getting a chance to show what he can do on the field, which will be the best way for him to get to his ceiling, wherever and whatever it may be.

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Odell Beckham weighs in on recent reporting

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Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has spent plenty of time in the news in recent days, between his absence from OTAs to his reported intention to show up on Thursday to his new shoe deal to his decision to work out with Johnny Football instead of Beckham’s football team.

He apparently didn’t like something about one of the things that someone has written or said, because Beckham has taken to Twitter by declaring, “‘If they don’t have a story these days they’ll make one…’ I might get that tatted.”

Images of Beckham and fellow 2014 first-rounder Johnny Manziel emerged on Wednesday, after Beckham missed two of 10 offseason OTA sessions with the Giants, with the New York Post headline explaining that “Odell Beckham chose Johnny Manziel over Giants practice.” Beckham reportedly intends to show up for voluntary drills on Thursday, at which time reporters will be present to ask him about any and all recent developments — and at which time he’ll be able vent as much as he wants about the nerve of some people to point out the comings and goings for a celebrity athlete who is, based on that Nike deal, enjoying the financial fruits of being a celebrity athlete.

Maybe he’ll also be sporting a new tattoo that could take up plenty of real estate on his torso, his limbs, or elsewhere.

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Dolphins sign Charles Harris

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The Dolphins have signed all their 2017 draft picks.

First-round defensive end Charles Harris became the final member of the draft class to agree to terms on a contract with the team on Wednesday. Like all first-round picks, Harris’ deal is for four years with a team option for a fifth season.

Harris was the 22nd overall pick last month after wrapping up a career at Missouri that saw him rack up 34.5 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks. That pass rushing prowess made him a popular mock draft choice for the Dolphins before they made him their actual pick in Philadelphia.

Harris will join Cameron Wake, William Hayes and Andre Branch at defensive end for the Dolphins and seems like a good bet for a role as a rotational pass rusher at the very least during his rookie season.

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Patriots release Devin Street

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With receiver Andrew Hawkins joining the Patriots, the Patriots needed to make a corresponding roster move. Receiver Devin Street was moved off the roster.

The Patriots announced on Wednesday the release of Street, who had been claimed off waivers from the Colts on May 2.

A fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2014, Steelers previously spent time on the Patriots practice squad before joining Indy’s active roster last season, appearing in five games. For his career, he has 36 regular-season appearances and two starts.

Street will be subject to waivers. If unclaimed, he’ll become a free agent.

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Michael Floyd: I couldn’t be in a better position right now

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Wide receiver Michael Floyd is back in his hometown after signing with the Vikings and having the remainder of his house arrest sentence for last year’s DUI transferred to Minnesota so he can begin working with the team, something that coach Mike Zimmer said is a good thing because of the support system the team has in place for Floyd.

Part of that support system is the presence of college teammates Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph, who is hosting Floyd at his house while he re-acclimates himself to life in the Twin Cities. While Floyd isn’t crazy about the idea of helping out with diaper changes for Rudolph’s twin daughters, he’s otherwise happy to be home after bouncing from being released by the Cardinals to a stint with the Patriots last season.

“Everything I’ve been through was eye-opening,” Floyd said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “The stuff that you go through, positive or negative, grows you as a person. I couldn’t be in a better position right now.”

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said that Floyd is behind his teammates after signing late in the offseason, but called the wideout a fast learner “that can make plays.” If that proves to be true on the field, Floyd should find plenty of playing time on an offense that’s looking to take a step forward from last year’s output.

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