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NFL morning after: What a crazy Sunday

Ravens' Boldin eludes Cowboys' Carr for a first down in the first half of their NFL football game in Baltimore Reuters

Was it even possible to follow all of the action in the NFL this Sunday?

If you were watching the Lions come from behind and beat the Eagles in overtime, did that make you miss the Cowboys’ failed comeback in Baltimore, where Dallas missed a game-winning field goal as time expired? Maybe you were watching the undefeated Falcons need a 55-yard field goal with one second left to beat a surprisingly game Raiders team. But if you were, did you miss the Dolphins improve to 3-3 with a surprisingly stout defense and a surprisingly effective rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill? And if you watched the Browns get their first win of the year, how were you supposed to follow along as the Jets blew out the Colts and made a statement that they’re a serious team, not a circus?

And that’s just some of the early-afternoon action. In the late afternoon games, the other New York team made a statement as the Giants pounded the 49ers. But if you were watching that game, you missed an absolutely amazing sequence of events — Russell Wilson throwing the second of his two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead the Seahawks over the Patriots, Robert Griffin III running for a 76-yard touchdown to seal the Redskins’ win over the Vikings and Jay Feely missing a 39-yard game-winning field goal, just moments after he had made a 61-yard field goal to force overtime for the Cardinals in a game they’d ultimately lose to the Bills — that all happened almost simultaneously.

This was an amazing Sunday of NFL action, but that’s what we’ve grown accustomed to. Week in and week out, the NFL is the best program on television. The NFL’s drama is more compelling than anything anyone could script. And we’ve still got 11 more regular-season Sundays to go.

Here are my other thoughts on the wild day in the NFL:

What Madden Curse? Lions receiver Calvin Johnson was the cover boy for this year’s Madden video game, but there’s no evidence of any curse. In Sunday’s win over the Eagles, Johnson caught six passes for 135 yards, and he’s now on pace for 1,786 this season — more than 100 yards better than his league-leading total last year. If anyone can kill the Madden Curse, it’s Megatron.

The NFL uniform police are pretty silly. Colts receiver Reggie Wayne wore orange gloves last week because orange is the color used to denote leukemia awareness, and Wayne wanted to honor coach Chuck Pagano, who’s battling leukemia. This week ESPN reported that the NFL told Wayne he couldn’t wear the orange gloves anymore. I realize uniforms are supposed to be, well, uniform, but there’s no reason that during a month when the league is painting everything pink for breast cancer awareness, there’s no reason they couldn’t have allowed Wayne to keep wearing the orange gloves.

Rookie quarterbacks continue to impress. It’s stunning how good these rookie passers are. Seattle’s Russell Wilson had 293 passing yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 133.7 passer rating — the highest passer rating of any quarterback in any game on Sunday afternoon — in a win over New England. Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns as the Browns beat the Bengals. Ryan Tannehill completed 21 of 29 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions as the Dolphins beat the Rams. Robert Griffin III had about as good a running game as you’ll ever see from a quarterback, gaining 138 yards and two touchdowns, as the Redskins beat the Vikings. The Colts’ Andrew Luck was the one rookie quarterback who didn’t lead his team to a win this week, but as we discussed last week, he’s already shown plenty of reasons to believe that he’s going to be an excellent quarterback for many years. There was a time when quarterbacks coming out of college needed some time to adjust to the pro game, but that time has passed. These rookie quarterbacks are ready to play, and play well, right now.

Larry Fitzgerald’s amazing career continues. Fitzgerald’s 93 receiving yards put him at 10,045 yards for his career. At 29 years and 44 days old, Fitzgerald has joined Randy Moss as the only receivers to top 10,000 yards before turning 30. What’s really impressive about Fitzgerald, however, is that he has played most of his career with subpar quarterbacks. Other than a few years with Kurt Warner, Fitzgerald has been stuck with the Josh McCowns, Matt Leinarts, Derek Andersons, Kevin Kolbs and John Skeltons of the world. To put up numbers like Fitzgerald while playing with quarterbacks like that is remarkable. It’s also remarkable that Fitzgerald has remained a perfect teammate who never, ever complains that the Cardinals’ quarterbacks aren’t getting the job done.

The Patriots’ pass defense is a mess. After giving up six passing plays of 20 or more yards in Sunday’s loss to Seattle, the Patriots have now given up 33 such passing plays so far this season — by far the most of any team in the NFL. New England’s secondary just isn’t good enough, and if Bill Belichick can’t get it straightened out, I have a hard time seeing New England winning a playoff game against a good quarterback.

The Packers aren’t going down without a fight. The Texans entered Sunday looking like the best team in the league. The Packers took it to them on Sunday night in Houston. Coming off a disappointing loss to the Colts last week, the Packers needed to play their best game of the season. And that’s exactly what they did.

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Nick Perry’s shoulder could change Clay Matthews’ role

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Having Nick Perry around made it easier for the Packers to shift Clay Matthews inside.

But if Perry’s not able to go this weekend, it could force them to go back to the old plan.

According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, Perry is questionable for Sunday’s game with the Vikings because of a shoulder injury, and hasn’t practiced all week.

They could simply plug Mike Neal in, as he’s taken more snaps at outside linebacker since Matthews was moved inside two weeks ago. Or they could abandon the plan, and let Matthews go back to his natural position.

“It will adjust, no doubt,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of the plan. “Certain reps will go to different players, obviously. But we’re prepared for that. That’s really why you operate in the different personnel groups during the week, which we have. We’ll be ready to go either way.”

Matthews swears he’s not unhappy with the move, although it takes him out of his conventional pass-rushing role.

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Emmanuel Sanders back at practice

Denver Broncos v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

The Broncos got some good news on the status of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on Friday.

Sanders was cleared to practice through the league’s concussion protocol and took part in the team’s final practice of the week after missing work on Wednesday and Thursday. Sanders suffered a concussion early in the second half of last weekend’s loss to the Rams and will still need to get final clearance to play against the Dolphins from an independent neurologist, but that’s expected after he was listed as probable for Sunday.

Sanders hasn’t been the only one of Peyton Manning’s receiving targets to miss time this week. Tight end Julius Thomas also missed the first two days of practice with an ankle injury, but Troy Renck of the Denver Post reports that Thomas also had a helmet on while going through drills on Friday.

Renck cautions that Thomas appeared limited during the portion of practice open to the media and said Thursday that he’ll play if he can go. That and the fact that he’s been listed as questionable suggests he’ll be a game-time decision as the Broncos try to avoid their third loss in the last four weeks.

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Justin Pugh ruled out for Giants

Eli Manning, Justin Pugh AP

The Giants will have a different look on the offensive line on Sunday night.

Right tackle Justin Pugh has been ruled out of the game because of the quad injury that knocked him out of last week’s loss to the 49ers. It’s the first time that the 2013 first-round pick will miss a game since becoming a professional.

All indications are that Geoff Schwartz will get the start in Pugh’s place against the Cowboys. After watching Charles Brown struggle to stay in front of pass rushers last weekend, it’s not surprising that the Giants have opted to insert Schwartz at that spot for his 2014 debut despite the fact that they signed Schwartz to be a starting guard.

Schwartz may not be the only new face up front. Jordan Raanan of NJ.com reports that Adam Snyder is expected to replace rookie Weston Richburg at left guard. Richburg moved into the starting lineup when Schwartz went down with a toe injury in preseason and has struggled as a run blocker this season.

Linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) are also out for the Giants.

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Lions know no one man can stop Gronk

Gronkowski AP

As the Lions prepare to face Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on Sunday, they know expecting any one player — linebacker, safety or cornerback — to stop him is unrealistic.

It’s a team effort,” Lions free safety Glover Quin said, via Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News. “Everybody chips in. Obviously, when we get him in situations where he’s having to block, our defensive ends, we’ve got to rough him up. When we get him in situations where he catches the ball, we’ve got to make sure we’re hitting him. When we’ve got him in situations where we’re covering him, we’ve got to make sure we’re covering him. Hopefully, we get some pressure on the quarterback and that forces bad throws. There’s a lot that goes into stopping somebody.”

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said that keeping tabs on Gronkowski will be one of the primary concerns of everyone on Detroit’s defense.

“He’s an exceptional player,” Austin said. “He’s a big man and he can do so many things. He’s outside, he’s inside, he blocks, he runs, he catches the ball well, and he runs after the catch. You have to account for where he is because he such a dynamic player.”

In the last three games, Gronkowski has 22 catches for 325 yards and five touchdowns. Stopping Gronkowski won’t be easy, but it may be necessary if the Lions want to pull an upset in New England.

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Jordan Cameron practices Friday but ruled out

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

One of the AFC’s Pro Bowl performers from a season ago has returned to practice after more than a three-week absence.

Browns tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion) was on the field Friday as the Browns worked out ahead of Sunday’s matchup at Atlanta, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer observed.

The 26-year-old Cameron has missed the last three games after suffering his third concussion in less than two years in the October 26 win vs. Oakland. Overall, he’s hauled in 13 passes for 250 yards and one touchdown in six 2014 contests. Earlier in the campaign, Cameron was plagued by a shoulder injury, further hurting his production.

The Browns’ offense is already slated to have wideout Josh Gordon back in the lineup on Sunday after a nine-game suspension. The Browns’ final injury report, posted later today, could tell us more about Cameron’s status for Week 12.

UPDATE 1:21 p.m. ET: According to Cabot, Cameron has been declared out of Sunday’s game.

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Jonas Gray not at practice Friday

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One of last Sunday’s breakout performers wasn’t spotted at practice Friday.

Patriots tailback Jonas Gray was not seen working out with New England this morning, Lee Schechter of ESPNBoston.com reported.

Gray was not on the injury report on Wednesday or Thursday. He rushed for 201 yards on 37 carries in New England’s 42-20 victory at Indianapolis on Sunday night.

The Patriots’ final injury report will be released later Friday. New England (8-2) hosts Detroit on Sunday.

Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, James White and the newly signed LeGarrette Blount are the Patriots’ other backs.

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Steven Jackson, Julio Jones practicing Friday

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Two of the Falcons’ key skill-position players returned to the practice field Friday.

Wide receiver Julio Jones and tailback Steven Jackson were both spotted at the club’s Friday workout, Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reported.

The Falcons’ leading receiver, Jones (67 passes, 912 yards, three TD receptions) had missed the first two practices of the week because of illness, while Jackson (128 carries, 467 yards, four rushing TDs) was also out sick on Thursday.

On Thursday, coach Mike Smith had indicated Jones would play vs. Cleveland on Sunday even if he missed Friday’s practice.

The Falcons (4-6) share the NFC South lead with the Saints.

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Bills fans having a hard time getting refunds for Sunday’s game

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At a time when the NFL has made plenty of missteps, the league did the right thing by moving Sunday’s Jets-Bills game to Detroit.  Now, the onus falls on the Bills to do the right thing by the customers who bought tickets to the game that won’t be used.

For season-ticket holders, the money will be credited to next year’s invoice — unless a refund is specifically requested by December 2.  While convenient to accept the credit, it amounts to a potentially massive no-interest loan to the Bills, who will retain the use of the cash for several extra months.  (The Bills also will likely receive a large insurance payment for the interruption to the business resulting from the loss of a home game, which when combined with the interest earned on the money retained from season-ticket holders could give the Bills a net financial gain.)

For those who had purchased tickets to only the Jets game, refunds will be provided.  According to the Buffalo News, however, the Bills have given the wrong phone number to call in order to obtain a refund.

“Information on the Bills Website instructs ticket holders to call 1-877-228-4357,” writes Tiffany Lankes of the Buffalo News.  “But that’s actually the phone number for a domestic violence crisis center in Ohio, which has been receiving a barrage of calls from Bills fans.”

The Bills’ website, as of this posting, is still displaying the wrong number.  The correct number to call is 1-877-228-4257.  The Bills’ ticket office will reopen on Monday.

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PFT Live: Browns talk with Mary Kay Cabot, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Josh Gordon AP

The Browns welcomed wide receiver Josh Gordon back to the team this week as his 10-game suspension came to an end in time for him to help their push for a possible division title or playoff spot in the final six weeks of the season.

On Friday’s edition of PFT Live, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer will join Mike Florio to talk about what kind of impact people should be expecting from Gordon this weekend. Beyond the specific questions about what Gordon can do after such a long spell away from the field, they’ll also talk more generally about what the Browns need to do in order to get a win that would give a healthy boost to their postseason chances.

Florio will also be taking questions from PFT Planet, so send them in on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or give a call to 888-237-5269 during the show to let us know what’s on your mind this Friday.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Belichick: LeGarrette Blount’s role is “totally up to him”

LeGarrette Blount AP

Running back LeGarrette Blount is back in New England as the newest member of a deep group of running backs.

The Patriots have last week’s hero Jonas Gray, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, James White and James Develin in the backfield along with Blount, who was released by the Steelers on Tuesday after leaving the Patriots to sign with them as a free agent in the offseason. Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked how Blount, who had 266 yards on 65 carries for the Steelers would fit into that mix.

Belichick was circumspect about specifics, but said that how much Blount plays will ultimately be up to Blount.

“That’ll be up to him, just like everybody else,” Belichick said, via WEEI.com. “When he gets an opportunity, how much he can take advantage of it, how much he can be productive, what he can do with those opportunities will determine how many more there are. It’s totally up to him. He knows that. We’ve talked about that. He knows that’s the way it is and I think he’s excited about it.”

Blount knows as well as anyone how running backs can fall into and out of favor in New England. There were 10 weeks last season, including the playoffs, that saw Blount get 10 or fewer carries and eight weeks when he had 11 or more so there’s little reason to believe anyone has much of an idea about how Blount’s return to New England will play out at this point.

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DirecTV announces Jets-Bills is available on Sunday Ticket

Buffalo Bills v New York Jets Getty Images

Monday night’s Jets-Bills game will be available to NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers, as well as on the local CBS affiliates in the Buffalo and New York City markets.

DirecTV announced this morning that Jets-Bills, which was pushed back from Sunday afternoon to Monday night because of the snowstorm in Buffalo, will be on NFL Sunday Ticket. That only makes sense, as Sunday Ticket subscribers are paying for the privilege of seeing every NFL game. It wouldn’t be fair to Jets or Bills fans who live outside New York that they wouldn’t be able to see the game.

However, it took a bit of maneuvering to reach this point. In fact, DirecTV was telling customers this morning that they wouldn’t be able to see the Jets-Bills game on Sunday Ticket, before reversing course and saying the game would be on Sunday Ticket after all. But now it’s official: If you have DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket, you can watch Jets-Bills on channel 706 on Monday starting at 6 p.m. Eastern.

The NFL’s contracts with CBS, ESPN and DirecTV made it a bit difficult, as ESPN pays for the exclusive right to televise NFL football on Monday night. ESPN probably isn’t thrilled that some viewers of its regularly scheduled Ravens-Saints game will be siphoned off and will be watching Jets-Bills instead.

This was the right call. Fans who pay for Sunday Ticket are paying a lot of money because they want to see every NFL game. This morning’s announcement ensures that they can.

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Jay Cutler wants to keep on rolling (out)

Jay Cutler AP

When the Bears self-scouted over the bye week, they realized that quarterback Jay Cutler was a bit of a sitting duck.

So last week against the Vikings, they rolled him out more and used more shotgun formations, and being able to throw on the move helped him get back on his feet.

It was a subtle change, but one Cutler hopes they stick with.

It was great,” Cutler said, via John Mullin of CSNChicago.com. “We got to keep doing it. We got to keep doing it in different ways, showing different looks, get off the spot as much as we possibly can because it helps with everything. It helps the pass rush, get some easy balls out to the flat, out on the outside lets the guys run, it’s got to be something in our offense that we do more of.”

Cutler was sharp as ever last week, completing 72.1 percent of his passes.

Of course, the challenge this week is repeating against guys who know his weaknesses well.

Against former Bears head coach Lovie Smith and former Vikings head coach and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, he’s facing two coaches who will instruct the Buccaneers everything they learned from years of coaching with and against Cutler.

Frazier’s Vikings sacked Cutler often, but Smith probably has even more valuable insight as to which buttons to push against his former quarterback.

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New Jersey sports betting ruling could come Friday

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With New Jersey temporarily prevented from launching sports betting until a final ruling comes in the challenge filed by five major sports leagues against the plan, that final ruling could be coming as soon as Friday.

Via Brent Johnson of NJ.com, Judge Michael Shipp heard oral arguments on Thursday regarding New Jersey’s latest effort to circumvent federal law that prohibits the expansion of sports betting beyond states that had sports betting prior to 1990, like Nevada.  After New Jersey’s first attempt to legalize sports betting failed, New Jersey passed a law that simply decriminalizes the state’s existing ban on sports betting.

Among other things, the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, and NCAA contend that legalized betting will create open the door for some games to be “fixed.” That seems to be a flimsy contention; with millions already changing hands illegally, the temptation to fix games already exists.

The bigger concern for the NFL likely flows from the reality that legalized gambling would put more pressure on the league to do everything it can to get all calls right, from using full-time officials to using instant replay in all circumstances to putting chips in footballs to show when the ball has cross the goal line to anything and everything else that potentially would push the error rate to 0.0 percent.  It also would compel the league to adopt a more meaningful and exacting injury-reporting system, so that anyone and everyone would have complete information about a player’s health — and that there would be no inside information of any kind.

Whatever Judge Shipp decides, the loser certainly will appeal the case to the next level.  If New Jersey ultimately prevails, it’s unlikely that the Super Bowl would ever return there.  It also would potentially take New Jersey out of play for the next home of the Giants and Jets when MetLife Stadium inevitably becomes obsolete in another 15 or 20 years.

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Drew Brees is 0-for-Baltimore, Ravens don’t want to hear it

Cincinnati Bengals  v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

Drew Brees has done a lot of amazing thing on the football field.

But he’s never beaten the Ravens.

Granted, he’s only played them three times, but has lost all three, once with the Chargers and twice with the Saints.

“I am aware. I played them in ’03, ’06 and ’10. Thanks for reminding me,” Brees said, via Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. Every time I step on the field, I want to win. But certainly, you want to say that you’ve beaten every team.”

Likewise, Saints coach Sean Payton hasn’t checked the Ravens off his list yet, but Ravens players don’t want us discussing it.

“Didn’t I tell you all about the no-hitter?” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “You guys are the worst. I don’t even know to answer that.”

While the small sample size skews the data, he has completed just 59.6 percent of his passes against the Ravens, his second-lowest of any opponent. He has six touchdowns and seven interceptions against them, far beyond his normal ratio.

Of course, he’s nearly 10 points off his passer rating from last year as well (from 104.7 to 95.9), in part because he’s not getting the big chunk plays he has in the past. Losing Brandin Cooks for the season isn’t going to help that, or necessarily help against a team with a vulnerable secondary.

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Marvin Lewis: Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you go to the top

Marvin Lewis AP

The Bengals and quarterback Andy Dalton made the rebound they needed to make between Weeks 10 and 11, putting a dreadful performance against the Browns behind them in time to come up with a comfortable win in New Orleans last weekend.

It’s the kind of swing that can drive fans mad, especially when there were already doubts about whether Dalton, who posted a 2.0 quarterback rating against the Browns, can be consistent enough to win a playoff game for the first time in decades. Coach Marvin Lewis said Friday that the blame for that loss should be spread far beyond Dalton while also saying that it is sometimes darkest before the dawn.

“Sometimes you gotta hit rock bottom before you can go all the way back up to the top, and we certainly were at rock bottom a few weeks ago on Thursday night,” Lewis said on NFL Network.

Sunday brings a date with the Texans, who brought the Bengals to rock bottom in the playoffs in each of Dalton’s first two seasons. Dalton threw four interceptions and no touchdowns in those games and he also lost his lone regular season game against Houston in his rookie season, so this would be a good time to show that he can put together a string of good performances for the Bengals.

If things go the other way, Lewis will have a hard time convincing people that rock bottom is a way station on the road to anything other than another disappointing loss.

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