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Patriots rally back to beat Jets 29-26 in overtime

New York Jets v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Patriots were the biggest favorite of Week Seven and it looked like they might also go down as the biggest upset victim.

After a listless offensive effort throughout the game and a defensive performance that allowed the Jets to score 13 straight fourth quarter points to grab a 26-23 lead, Tom Brady was able to rally his team in the final 97 seconds to send the game to a fifth quarter. He then hit Deion Branch and Wes Welker for decent gains and got a pass interference call against Kyle Wilson to set up Stephen Gostkowski for a 48-yard field goal to end the first possession of overtime.

That left the Jets with a chance to tie or win the game, but that chance disappeared when Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich sacked Mark Sanchez and recovered a fumble to grab a win that gives the Patriots sole possession of first place in the AFC East. To stay there, they will need to come up with a much better effort in future weeks.

The Jets outgained them 403-381 and threw for 47 more yards despite having an offense that’s been used as a punchline by many around the league. There were moments when the Jets showed why they’ve earned that status, namely a Sanchez pick and a terrible fourth quarter drop by a wide open Stephen Hill that could have kept a drive alive long enough for the Jets to score a touchdown, but the second half gave no hints about the Jets’ perceived second-tier status. The result is a painful one for the Jets as a result because it’s hard to praise their effort while ignoring the mistakes that let a winnable game get away.

We will wait to see if the loss of Shonn Greene is part of the pain. The running back left the game in the fourth to be evaluated for a head injury, but returned briefly in overtime before giving way to Joe McKnight.

New England can breathe a sigh of relief, but, once again, they’re left to answer questions about why they aren’t able to put away seemingly inferior opponents this season. There’s plenty of time for the Patriots to hit their stride, but there’s also a chance that the gap between them and some of their opponents isn’t as wide as we might have believed coming into the season.

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Panthers release Mike Tolbert

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 22:  Perry Riley #56 of the Washington Redskins wraps up Mike Tolbert #35 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers have released veteran fullback Mike Tolbert.

Tolbert, 31, was named to his third Pro Bowl last season. He spent the last five seasons with the Panthers.

“I feel very fortunate to have coached Mike for nearly his entire career,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said in the team’s announcement of the move. “He was someone we targeted in 2012 because we felt he would be a good addition to our offense and he was very productive for us. He brought great energy and leadership to our locker room and I wish him the best.”

The Panthers signed Tolbert to a two-year deal last March, just before the start of free agency. In his five seasons with the Panthers he had 13 rushing touchdowns and six receiving touchdowns, but his role in the offense shrunk significantly last season as he had just 35 carries and caught 10 passes.

Tolbert played his first four seasons with the Chargers, where Rivera had been the defensive coordinator before becoming head coach of the Panthers in 2011. He’s scored 45 total touchdowns in his nine-year career.

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John Lynch: DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead will fit new defense well

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 23:  Arik Armstead #91 and DeForest Buckner #99 of the San Francisco 49ers react to a play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The 49ers have settled on a new defensive coordinator and head coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed that Saleh will be shifting the defense to a 4-3 base similar to the ones being run in Seattle and Atlanta.

A new scheme will ask for different things of players returning from the 2016 season, including two of the team’s three first-round picks in the last two years. DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead were both selected to be defensive ends in the team’s 3-4, but General Manager John Lynch thinks that his predecessor’s picks will be able to find a home in their new scheme as well.

“I think they fit very well,” Lynch said on 95.7 The Game, via CSNBayArea.com. “And that’s one thing I think I want to make sure [to say] because I really believe it, I think Trent Baalke did a great job of getting guys that, yes, they were picked for one system, but I think they transition very well to our system.”

Lynch said the two former Oregon Ducks were asked to read and react last season, but that will change to “taking the fight to them” with Saleh calling the shots. Given how much work he has to do with the 49ers personnel, Lynch would welcome being right about Armstead and Buckner thriving in their new roles.

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Julius Thomas physical more than a formality

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Julius Thomas #80 of the Denver Broncos celebrates a third-quarter touchdown against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on November 9, 2014 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Before the Dolphins officially welcome tight end Julius Thomas to Miami, they’ll need to welcome him to Miami for a physical. Via Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, it’s happening on Tuesday.

And it’s more than an exercise in dotting i’s and crossing t’s. As Salguero notes, Thomas hasn’t played in 16 games at any point in his career. In 2016 alone, Thomas had a fractured tailbone, a back injury, an elbow injury, and an ankle injury.

Since becoming a full-time starter in 2013, Thomas has missed 16 total games — a full season of missed playing time in four NFL campaigns. His best year came in 2013, when he caught 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He added 12 more (but with 299 fewer yards) in 2014. In two seasons with Jacksonville, Thomas has a total of nine touchdown receptions.

A reunion with former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase could get Thomas back into the end zone more often. Salguero pointed out on Tuesday’s PFT Live that Thomas would arrive with more experience in the Gase system than any other player on the roster.

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Panthers release veteran defensive tackle Paul Soliai

Soliai AP

The Panthers like to keep themselves deep on the defensive line, but carved into that depth Tuesday.

According to a tweet from his agent, the Panthers are releasing veteran defensive tackle Paul Soliai.

The Panthers gave Soliai a two-year, $7 million contract last year, and there were times last season when he wasn’t even active for games.

The 33-year-old has been a solid run-stopper, but the Panthers are particularly deep at defensive tackle, with Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short and 2016 first-rounder Vernon Butler.

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Pat Shurmur expects “great improvements” from Laquon Treadwell

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 11:   Laquon Treadwell #11 of the Minnesota Vikings during warm ups before taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on December 11, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

In 2015, fifth-round Vikings rookie receiver Stefon Diggs had a major impact in his first season. In 2016, first-round Vikings rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell did not.

With offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur going from “interim” to “permanent” (as permanent as the job ever is), Shurmur expects Treadwell to take a major step in 2017.

“[Treadwell] is going to be like any young player that’s going from year one to year two. This is going to be an offseason that is very critical,” Shurmur recently said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “He’s had a chance now to go through the process once. He’ll have a feel for what it’s going to feel like and we’re anticipating he’s going to come back and be raring to go and make great improvements.”

Treadwell, the fourth receiver taken in round one last April, had one catch for 15 yards in nine games with one start. A hamstring injury and an ankle injury marred the balance of his rookie year. Shurmur nevertheless sees the glass as half full.

“He came in and kind of had little nagging things that kind of kept him from full-time early,” Shurmur said. “But when he got in the games the things he did well when he got in the game, he didn’t get targeted often, but he blocked well and he competed. That’s really the starting point for any young player.”

Treadwell arrived with the size and strength to allow former offensive coordinator Norv Turner to bring back the “Bang 8.” Early in camp, Treadwell showed a willingness to mix things up. Ultimately, it was a major disappointment, in all respects.

And so at a time when plenty of rookie receivers make an immediate impact, Treadwell’s rookie year falls squarely into the “disappointment” category. Whether he clicks with Shurmur’s new-look offense will go a long way toward determining whether the Vikings get a return on their investment.

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Geoff Schwartz announces he’s retired

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - JANUARY 30:  Football player Geoff Schwartz attends day one of the Kia Luxury Lounge presented by ZIRH at Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts on January 30, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Kia) Getty Images

After offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz was released by the Lions before the start of the 2016 season, he thought he’d get a look from another team looking for experienced help on their offensive front.

That call never came, however. Schwartz chalked it up to the injuries that limited him to 13 games with the Giants over the previous two seasons and also credited those injuries with sapping him of his desire to continue playing. Schwartz has known he was done playing for a while and formally announced his retirement in an essay of SB Nation on Tuesday.

“I loved the process of getting myself ready to play a game. It started in late February and continued all through the season. The workouts, the diet (didn’t always love that, but it worked), the film study, and most of all, the locker room camaraderie,” Schwartz wrote. “The payoff of that process was Sundays. Some players dreaded game day, the pressure was too much. I enjoyed that pressure. I thought it always brought out the best of me. I always told myself I’d play as long as someone wanted me or until I didn’t love the process anymore. Well, both of those happened, almost at the same time.”

Schwartz entered the league as a seventh-round pick of the Panthers in 2008 and made his regular season debut the next year. He played 74 games for the Panthers, Vikings, Chiefs and Giants.

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49ers hire John Benton as offensive line coach

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

John Benton’s stay with the Broncos was a short one.

Benton was hired as the assistant offensive line coach in Denver after Vance Joseph was named the Broncos’ new head coach, but he won’t be on Joseph’s staff in 2017. Benton was granted permission to interview with the 49ers for their offensive line job and it apparently went well.

A day after Alex Marvez of Sporting News reported that Benton was finalizing a deal to join Kyle Shanahan’s staff, Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area reports that the agreement is in place. The move reunites Shanahan and Benton, who coached the offensive line in Houston when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator of the Texans for four seasons.

Benton spent seven years with the Texans overall and has also coached the offensive line for the Rams and 49ers over the course of his career.

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LeGarrette Blount “definitely” wants to stay in New England

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 07: New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount celebrates during the Patriots victory parade on February 7, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime in Super Bowl 51. (Photo by Michael J. Ivins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Running back LeGarrette Blount left the Patriots as a free agent in 2014 to sign with the Steelers in a move that didn’t work out.

Blount got in trouble off the field before the start of the regular season and grew unhappy with his role on the field during the year, culminating in his decision to leave the sideline early during a game against the Titans. The Steelers released him and he went back to New England, where he gained more yards in five games than he did in 11 in Pittsburgh.

Blount’s success has continued in New England and he ran 299 times for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns during the 2016 season. He saw a bit less time in the postseason offense, but that hasn’t made him start pining for another employer.

“I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England,” Blount said on NFL Total Access on NFL Network. “I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I’ve become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is. We’ll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I’m in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to.”

Blount signed for $1 million last year and earned a bit more in incentives, which is probably the neighborhood the Patriots would like for another contract given their other options in the backfield and success plugging in a variety of backs over the years. Assuming that works for Blount, an extended stay in New England seems like a pretty good bet.

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Should Steelers use exclusive or non-exclusive tag on Le’Veon Bell?

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts prior to the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

Last night’s erroneous analysis of the running back franchise tag calculation from NFL Network, which pushed the idea that the release of Adrian Peterson will reduce the tender even though it won’t, provided one valuable service, albeit indirectly and unintentionally.

The #fakenews brought to light the fact that the exclusive franchise tender for running backs in 2017 will be dramatically lower than the non-exclusive tender. Which means that the Steelers can use either one on running back Le’Veon Bell, at the exact same cost. So which one would they/should they use?

The difference matters only if another team would be inclined to sign Bell to an offer sheet and surrender a pair of first-round draft picks if the Steelers don’t match. Given the position he plays, his injury history (three weeks ago, Bell said he still doesn’t know if he’ll need surgery to repair a groin muscle injured during the playoffs), and multiple substance-abuse policy suspensions, it’s highly unlikely that anyone (even one of the teams at the bottom of the first round) would cough up that kind of compensation for Bell.

Still, with the non-exclusive tag, Bell would be allowed to visit other teams and negotiate with them. With the exclusive tag, he’d be blocked from talking to anyone except the Steelers.

If the Steelers choose to use the non-exclusive tag, the message to other teams could be that Pittsburgh would be willing to trade Bell for something less than two first-round picks — and Bell would have the ability to shop himself via negotiation with interested parties. The decision that Pittsburgh makes in this regard therefore could say plenty about whether the Steelers are willing to move on from Bell, at the right price.

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John Lynch called Matt Millen to see what not to do

MattMillenGettyImages Getty Images

When the 49ers hired former NFL safety and broadcaster John Lynch to become their General Manager, the easy punch line was that it sounded a lot like the Lions hiring Matt Millen.

But Lynch touched base with Millen as he embarked on his new gig, to make sure his team didn’t turn into the same kind of joke.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, Lynch said he had a conversation with Millen about what not to do.

“Matt Millen and I had a great conversation the other day,” Lynch said during an interview on 95.7 The Game. “I found it was very interesting to talk to him. He shared with me some of the things that he would’ve done differently. I think you can learn a little bit from everything and everyone, but ultimately you go to put your head down and go to work.

“We’ve put together a really, really quality team that I’m excited about. We’re in full stride and working every day to knock down things on our list. It’s a big list, and we’re ambitious on how aggressive we want to attack that. But it’s going very well.”

Among Lynch’s moves was hiring the guy who replaced Millen in Detroit as a senior personnel executive. And while Martin Mayhew’s 47-81 record as G.M. wasn’t sterling, it was better than Millen’s 31-61.

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Colin Kaepernick needs an agent fairly soon

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 24:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently parted ways with his agents. Per NFLPA records, he has yet to hire a replacement.

He’ll need to move fairly soon. As Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group recently pointed out, the window for opting out of his contract in San Francisco opens on March 2 and closes on March 7.

Apart from needing an agent to file the right paperwork to opt out on time (then again, former 49ers receiver Terrell Owens had an agent to file the proper paperwork and there still was a snafu), Kaepernick needs an agent to talk to other teams during the two-day window before free agency opens on March 9, because teams can’t talk directly to players during that window — even if the players are self-represented.

Of course, it may not matter for Kaepernick; there’s no indication that a land rush for his services will unfold when free agency opens, in part because some owners will view the potential fallout from embracing a player who engaged in a season-long National Anthem protest as making him radioactive, from a business standpoint.

Regardless of politics, the fact remains that NFL teams need to persuade fans to part ways with their money and time. With a certain percentage of the fan base automatically alienated by Kaepernick’s arrival, some teams will look elsewhere when the time comes to add a quarterback, regardless of his past accomplishments, his current/future potential, and the ongoing effort by plenty of teams to upgrade at the position.

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Lions hire former Texans coordinator George Godsey

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 30:  Brock Osweiler #17 of the Houston Texans talks with offensive coordinator George Godsey on the sideline in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at NRG Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images) Getty Images

Sometimes when you’re looking for a job, you have to look on the other side of the ball.

According to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com, former Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey has been hired by the Lions for a job that sounds kind of made up on the fly.

His new title is defensive assistant/special projects. That has a certain air of mystery about it, like he’s a football spy or something.

Godsey worked with Lions General Manager Bob Quinn in New England, providing the hook. But he’s always been on offense, going back to his days as a quarterback at Georgia Tech to his first coaching gig at Central Florida with George O’Leary.

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Report: Cardinals have no interest in Jay Cutler

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 24:  Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears walks off of the field after losing to the Washington Redskins at Soldier Field on December 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Washington Redskins defeated the Chicago Bears 41-21.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) Getty Images

In this week’s installment of his Monday column for TheMMQB.com, Peter King spent some time discussing quarterbacks who will be or are expected to be on the move this offseason.

Jay Cutler was on that list as the general feeling heading into the new league year is that the Bears will part ways with the veteran. King floated the Cardinals as a destination for Cutler to serve as a backup, citing coach Bruce Arians being the league’s “biggest proponent of the deep ball” and the possibility of Carson Palmer departing after the 2017 season.

It doesn’t look like that thought balloon has much air in it, though. Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports that the Cardinals have “zero interest” in bringing Cutler to the desert this offseason.

The Cardinals haven’t been shy about talking about the need to set themselves up for when Palmer moves on, but that talk has seemed to focus more on quarterbacks younger than Cutler. For his part, Cutler may be able to find a situation where he’s able to at least compete for the starting job and that may be a more appealing option than resigning himself to a backup role with the Cardinals or anyone else.

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Jimmy Garoppolo on his future: Your guess is as good as mine

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 07: Jimmy Garoppolo of the New England Patriots holds the Vince Lombardi trophy during the Super Bowl victory parade on February 7, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t know whether he’ll remain with the Patriots or get traded this offseason, and he doesn’t sound like he has a strong preference either way.

Garoppolo appeared on Adam Schefter’s podcast and made a point of saying that he’ll accept whatever his future holds, whether that’s another year as Tom Brady’s backup in New England, or a new home in some other NFL city.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Garoppolo said.

Garoppolo can’t stop the Patriots from trading him, nor can he force the Patriots to trade him. He could, however, exert pressure one way or the other: He could make noise about not wanting to be a backup for another year and say publicly that he wants to start, which might spur the Patriots to trade him because they don’t want an unhappy camper. Or if he wants to stay put for another year, he could announce that he won’t sign a contract extension with any team that trades for him and will test free agency in 2018, which would make teams hesitate to acquire him.

But it appears that Garoppolo isn’t trying either of those tactics. Instead, he’ll just wait and see where he ends up.

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Could Darrelle Revis come home to Pittsburgh?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 27:  Darrelle Revis #24 of the New York Jets looks on before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on September 27, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

Regardless of the outcome of his criminal case in Pittsburgh, the Jets still have a decision to make about cornerback Darrelle Revis. They already owe him $6 million fully guaranteed for 2017; if he’s on the roster on March 10, they’ll owe him another $2 million in the form of a roster bonus.

As Brian Costello of the New York Post explains it, the Jets ultimately need to make a football decision about Revis — especially since the criminal case seems to be a bit on the flimsy side. If they cut him, he’ll become a free agent.

So how about returning home to Pittsburgh, for reasons other than a court date? The Steelers were one of the teams reportedly interested in Revis two years ago, along with the Browns, Packers, Chiefs, and Ravens.

Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the Steelers shouldn’t want Revis. Based on how he played last year, that’s easy to understand. But what if a change of scenery, a return home, a new position (safety), and a desire to prove the doubters wrong (you know, those who had the audacity to notice that he didn’t play well last year) gives him the kick in the pants he needs as he enters the twilight of his career?

There’s another potential benefit for joining the Steelers. With a criminal case pending in Pittsburgh and with the local legal system apparently inclined to throw a bone to the locals who play with pigskins, becoming a Steeler could help Revis get the same kind of discretion exercised in his favor that Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter recently enjoyed.

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