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NFL morning after: It’s the Texans and everyone else in the AFC

Baltimore Ravens v Houston Texans Getty Images

Is seven weeks into the season too early to declare home-field advantage wrapped up? Probably. But let’s be real about the state of the AFC right now: It’s the Texans and everyone else.

The Texans are so much better than the rest of the AFC that only a string of major injuries to key players (like Houston had last year) can prevent them from clinching home field for the playoffs, probably with a couple games left in the regular season. The road to the Super Bowl goes through Houston.

Entering Sunday, the Texans and Ravens were tied for the best record in the AFC at 5-1, and their meeting at Reliant Stadium looked like a possible AFC Championship preview. But on Sunday the Texans absolutely humiliated the Ravens, jumping out to a 29-3 halftime lead and coasting through the second half to win 43-13. If the Ravens are the second-best team in the AFC, then I don’t know if there’s ever been a bigger gap between the first and second-best teams in either conference in NFL history.

The Texans are such a complete team. They pass the ball well with Matt Schaub throwing to receivers Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter and tight end Owen Daniels. In Arian Foster they have one of the NFL’s best running backs. Defensive lineman J.J. Watt is my choice for Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL right now. Johnathan Joseph has been slowed by a groin injury this season, but when he’s at full speed he’s among the NFL’s best cornerbacks — and he looked like he’s getting closer to full speed when he picked off Joe Flacco and returned the interception 52 yards for a touchdown on Sunday.

All of that is half of the reason the Texans are so far ahead of the pack in the AFC. The other half is that every other team in the AFC is deeply flawed. Only the Texans, Ravens and Patriots have winning records, and it’s looking like a year when 8-8 may be enough to make the playoffs in the AFC. All those AFC teams hovering around .500 may look to some people like just the kind of parity everyone likes about the NFL, but it looks more like mediocrity to me.

The Texans’ loss to the Packers a week ago is a strong demonstration of how much better the NFC is than the AFC this season: If the Texans were in the other conference, they wouldn’t be the favorites to earn home-field advantage. But as the one and only really good team in a mediocre conference, the Texans have the clearest path to the Super Bowl of any team in the NFL.

Here are my other observations from the seventh Sunday of this NFL season:

Chris Johnson may be the most inconsistent player in NFL history. Johnson was absolutely sensational for the Titans in Sunday’s win over the Bills, carrying 18 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns, including one 83-yard run on which he looked like he could give Usain Bolt a competitive race. Johnson’s game-breaking ability is unmatched; previously in his NFL career Johnson has had touchdown runs of 91, 89 and 85 yards, and he’s the only player in NFL history with four career touchdown runs of 80 yards or longer. But for the Titans, it’s maddening that a player with the talent to run like that has so many absolutely terrible games. In the first six weeks of this season, Johnson had four different games in which he failed to gain even 25 yards. In those four games, Johnson’s total stat line is 48 carries for 69 yards and zero touchdowns. How can a player who’s good enough to gain 195 yards on 18 carries in one game be bad enough to total just 69 yards on 48 carries in four other games? It’s inexplicable.

Browns rookie defensive lineman Billy Wynn committed one of the dumbest penalties of the year. On a fourth down from the Colts’ own 22-yard line in the second quarter, the Indianapolis offense stayed on the field. Obviously, all they were going to do is try to draw the Browns’ defense offside: No NFL team ever goes for it on fourth down in that situation. Which obviously means that all the Browns had to do was not jump offside. And yet Wynn jumped offside, giving the Colts a free first down. Penalties don’t get much dumber than that.

Wynn’s penalty wasn’t even the Browns’ dumbest fourth-down decision. Browns coach Pat Shurmur made one of the bonehead calls of the year when he sent out his punter on fourth-and-1 from the Colts’ 41-yard line while trailing 17-13 with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter. That’s a situation where you have to go for it. You simply cannot give the ball away because you don’t trust your offense to gain one yard with the game on the line. The Browns, of course, ended up losing by that same 17-13 score. Shurmur is coaching for his job right now, and these are the decisions that get coaches fired.

We’re running out of superlatives for Robert Griffin III. Even in defeat, Griffin is doing amazing things as the Redskins’ quarterback. After Griffin completed 20 of 28 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns, plus 89 yards rushing, players on the Giants’ defense declared Griffin the best quarterback they’ve faced this season. Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora described Griffin as “flat-out unbelievable.” It’s amazing how good this guy is, at just 22 years old.

Last year we were running out of superlatives for Cam Newton. If you want to make the case that no one should get too excited about Griffin, all you have to do is point to Newton. Last year Newton was doing many of the same things Griffin was doing, making plays with his arm and his feet in an unbelievable rookie season for the Panthers. But this year Newton just doesn’t appear to be the same player. It’s not that Newton has been terrible, but in games like Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, he just hasn’t been able to make plays when the Panthers need him. Becoming a great pro quarterback is a lot of work, and while Newton may achieve greatness eventually, he’s not there yet. Maybe a full year of film on Newton has better prepared NFL defenses to stop him, or maybe Newton let all the fame get to his head last year. But he’s not playing as well as he did in 2011.

The Jets aren’t going down without a fight. After they lost their best player, Darrelle Revis, to a season-ending knee injury and then lost their next game 34-0 to the 49ers, I thought the Jets would be one of the worst teams in the league the rest of the season. But I was wrong. The Jets are playing tough, competitive football. On Sunday in New England the Jets were (at least according to the Vegas lines) the biggest underdogs in the NFL. And yet they took the Patriots to overtime. Rex Ryan turns a lot of people off with all his bluster, but the guy is a damn good coach.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano had the biggest win of the day. Not because his team beat the Browns to improve to 3-3 and surpass last year’s win total, but because he was sent home after four weeks in the hospital while undergoing treatment for leukemia. For Pagano, that’s an important step to getting where he wants to be: Back to coaching his team.

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Dan Quinn anticipates having Julio Jones Thursday

Julio Jones AP

Wide receiver Julio Jones was listed as out of practice on Monday with hamstring and toe injuries as the Falcons started a short week leading into Thursday night’s game against the Saints.

That development was followed by reports of some doubts inside the team about the wideout’s availability for the game. They aren’t expressing those doubts publicly, however.

Coach Dan Quinn said Tuesday that he anticipates Jones will be on the field to face New Orleans and Jones said it was his plan to play, although he left open the possibility that things could go the other way.

“If I can go, I am going to go,” Jones said, via the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “I am going to have to be really down bad not to go out there and play. If I feel like I am putting myself in danger as far as going out there and not being able to make a defender miss, then I won’t go. If I feel like I can do that and help my team by drawing coverage and doing my job, I’m going to go.”

Jones’s torrid production slipped a bit the last two weeks, but a matchup with the Saints defense offers the possibility of more huge numbers if he’s feeling well enough to play.

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Jared Allen “trying to get feeling back in my foot” with pinched nerve

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptexzwfmytgxy2yzmteyzmy2mwyzodk0yzdhmwziyjm5 AP

The Panthers got their most important player back on the field Tuesday.

Now they have to wait to see when they’ll get their newest one back.

Veteran defensive end Jared Allen didn’t practice Tuesday, and told reporters he was still feeling (or not feeling) the effects of a pinched nerve in his back.

I’m just trying to get feeling back in my foot,” Allen said, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review.

He maintained that he was still “ready to rock,” and that he planned to play Sunday against the Seahawks, saying “If I can walk, I can play.”

The 33-year-old defensive end didn’t get a sack in his Panthers debut before the bye week, though they’ll need production from him with Charles Johnson on the injured reserve/designated return list for another six weeks.

Going against a Seahawks offensive line that hasn’t protected well, the Panthers could use all the pressure they can get. Ryan Delaire had a pair of sacks in his Panthers debut, as the former Washington practice-squader provided the burst Allen hasn’t yet.

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Michael Irvin on Greg Hardy: I don’t mean to be insensitive, but he’s too good not to sign

Michael Irvin #88 Getty Images

Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin expressed an uncomfortable truth about the NFL when discussing Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy: If you’re a good enough player, no one cares what kind of person you are.

Irvin said on 105.3 The Fan that Hardy, who returned to the field on Sunday after missing 19 games over two seasons after a domestic violence accusation, is so good that the Cowboys ought to sign him to a long-term contract, despite the off-field issues.

“I know a lot of people are mad at this dude, but I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the first game.’ To come back in the first game and do what that dude did, that was crazy,” Irvin said.

Irvin said that while Hardy is facing criticism over his rap video, it’s the perfect time for the Cowboys to sign him to a good deal.

“I’m sorry everybody and I don’t want to be insensitive, but while everybody’s mad about the video, we should sign him to a long-term deal now,” Irvin said. “It was so impressive to see that, it was mind-boggling impressive.”

Irvin said he thinks if Hardy had been on the Cowboys last year, they would have won the Super Bowl. And that’s why Hardy is a player Irvin wants the Cowboys to sign, no matter how bad a guy he is.

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Report: Taylor’s injury forced Bills to check passport status of available QBs

Tyrod Taylor AP

The Bills host the Bengals Sunday, then go to London to play the Jaguars on Oct. 25.

The trip to London was a factor in the team’s search for help at quarterback over the last 48 hours, Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reported Tuesday.

Citing an NFL source, Carucci tweeted that the Bills checked the passport status of available quarterbacks.

Apparently, Tyrod Taylor is hurt pretty bad,” the source told Carucci.

E.J. Manuel would be the starting quarterback if Taylor can’t play this week.

Bills coach Rex Ryan told reporters that Taylor “is pretty beat up.” The Bills signed Josh Johnson on Tuesday.

Johnson had been signed, then cut, then signed again by the Colts over the last two weeks with Andrew Luck’s status in limbo.

Carucci also reported that the Bills tried to sign Matt Simms, who was with the Bills in training camp, but Simms chose to stay with the Falcons’ practice squad because he feels he has a better future with the Falcons. The Bills had operated with Taylor and Manuel as the only quarterbacks on the roster since trading Matt Cassel to the Cowboys.

So, Johnson seems to be in line for a trip across the pond and at least a couple more weekly paychecks.

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Ravens cut Jason Babin, as they try to restock secondary

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Ravens needed immediate help for their injury depleted secondary, so they got rid of a guy brought in to help their injury depleted pass rush.

As part of a flurry of moves Tuesday, the Ravens announced they cut veteran outside linebacker Jason Babin.

They also cut cornerback Rashaan Melvin and placed cornerback Will Davis (torn ACL) on injured reserve.

To fill those three roster spots, they signed former 49ers cornerback Shareece Wright and promoted cornerbacks Asa Jackson and Charles James from the practice squad.

Babin was brought in after Terrell Suggs was lost for the season to a torn Achilles, but didn’t make any impact there, with no stats in the two games he was active for.

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NFL admits side judge should have caught clock mistake

Mike Vick AP

The NFL has acknowledged that the side judge working Monday night’s game in San Diego should have caught a mistake made by the clock operator.

“Because of an error by the clock operator, the game clock was incorrectly started before the Steelers’ first play from scrimmage following the touchback. That first down snap came with 2:38 left to play instead of 2:56, a difference of 18 seconds,” the league’s statement said. “The official game time is kept on the stadium scoreboard, but it is the responsibility of the side judge to supervise the timing of the game. Had the side judge or any of the other six on-field officials noticed the timing error, they could have corrected it.”

Although the NFL’s statement didn’t name him, Rob Vernatchi was the side judge for the game. That’s a huge mistake that will surely result in him being downgraded by the league office.

And it was the second consecutive Monday night game that saw a significant mistake by the officials, coming on the heels of last week’s illegal bat by the Seahawks, which probably cost the Lions the game. Even though this mistake probably didn’t change the outcome of the game (although it’s impossible to say for sure what would have happened had there been 18 more seconds on the clock in a game the Steelers won on the final play), it’s something the NFL needs to address. Officiating needs to get better.

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Cardinals make it official with Dwight Freeney

Houston Texans v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

Dwight Freeney’s return to the NFL was reported on Monday and the Cardinals made it official on Tuesday with the announcement that they’ve signed the 13-year veteran.

The move reunites Freeney with coach Bruce Arians, who was the interim head coach for much of the 2012 season with the Colts, and the Cardinals hope it will give a boost to a pass rush that has recorded eight sacks in five games. The need for that boost is particularly acute in the short term.

Linebacker Alex Okafor is the team leader with two of those sacks, but is currently battling a calf injury and, per multiple reports, he’s expected to miss several weeks while recovering. Whether Freeney, who will meet the team in West Virginia as they prepare to face the Steelers, can ramp up quickly enough to help fill the hole remains to be seen.

The Cardinals placed linebacker Kenny Demens on injured reserve to make room for Freeney on the roster. Demens tore his ACL in last Sunday’s victory in Detroit.

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Bills sign Josh Johnson, so Colts can’t again this week

Josh Johnson Pic Getty Images

The Colts are going to have to find another quarterback to ride around in the revolving door, because Josh Johnson has another job.

The Bills announced they had signed the journeyman backup, who has yo-yoed on and off the Colts roster the last two weeks while Andrew Luck was hurt.

This time, he’s insurance for Bills starter Tyrod Taylor, who was “beat up right now,” according to Bills coach Rex Ryan.

If Taylor isn’t able to start, they might have to turn back to EJ Manuel this week against the Bengals, which isn’t an ideal situation. The Bills had a solid backup plan, but they traded him to the Cowboys, leaving themselves thin again, and forced to look outside for reinforcements.

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PFT Live: Larry Donnell, Fred Jackson, Malcolm Jenkins, Tony Jefferson

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 11:  Larry Donnell #84 of the New York Giants makes the catch for the game winning touchdown as NaVorro Bowman #53 of the San Francisco 49ers defends in the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on October 11, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers 30-27.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

Giants tight end Larry Donnell capped a busy NFL Sunday with a touchdown catch to beat the 49ers on Sunday night and we’ll be talking to him about his big play on Tuesday’s edition of PFT Live.

Donnell will join Mike Florio to discuss the game-winning catch, which capped off a comeback in the final minutes that moved the Giants to 3-2 and erased some memories of the way they blew games in the first two weeks of the season. They’ll also talk about Donnell’s fellow tight end Daniel Fells’s battle with a MRSA infection and the upcoming Monday night clash with the Eagles.

We’ll be talking about that game with Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins as well when Jenkins drops in as a guest on the program. Guests will also include a pair of representatives from the NFC West — Seahawks running back Fred Jackson and Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson — as we bring you everything you need to know from around the league.

As always, we also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour through the links at PFT.

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Carlos Dunlap: How we finish means more than how we start

Carlos Dunlap AP

After the Bengals beat the Seahawks on Sunday, some of their players talked about the “statement” they made by coming back from 17 down to move to 5-0 on the season.

On Monday, attention shifted away from pats on the back to the tasks that still lie ahead for the Bengals this season. Linebacker A.J. Hawk acknowledged that he was dealing in cliches when he said that “we’re on to the next one,” but said it was the mindset that the team had to have with so much of the season left to play.

Defensive end Carlos Dunlap agreed and pointed out that the Bengals are going to be judged on how they finish the season and not on their record after five weeks of the regular season.

“We’ve got to win our next football game,” Dunlap said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I don’t care what our record is right now. We’ve got another opponent coming up and they’re just as important. No matter where we are right now, if we don’t finish, the start won’t be remembered. We’ll be remembered [by] how we wouldn’t finish.”

No one in Cincinnati needs to be reminded of the team’s run of one-and-done playoff appearances. While they won’t get a chance to change their fortunes without a strong regular season, January will be the only judge of their ultimate success this season.

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Report: Luke Kuechly cleared from concussion protocol

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 27:  Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers looks on from the sidelines while out for the second consecutive week of concussion protocol against the New Orleans Saints during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers have won their first four games despite the absence of linebacker Luke Kuechly for almost all of those contests, but it looks like they’ll have him back in the lineup this week.

Kuechly has been out since suffering a concussion in the season-opening victory over the Jaguars and Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer reports that he is out of the league’s concussion protocol after being cleared by an independent neurologist. Assuming there are no setbacks in practice over the next couple of days, he should be in the lineup against the Seahawks on Sunday.

A.J. Klein filled in for Kuechly while he was recovering and did a solid job in the middle of the Panthers defense. Kuechly brings more to the table, however, and should boost the Panthers’ chances of keeping their undefeated string going against Seattle.

In addition to bumping Carolina to 5-0, a win over Seattle would exorcise some demons from recent games against the Seahawks. The Panthers have lost to Seattle four times in the last three years with all three regular season losses coming by less than seven points.

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Johnsons have turned Cardinals’ rushing average from worst to first

David Johnson, Quandre Diggs AP

It’s no surprise that the Cardinals are a good team this year. They were a good team last year, too, until they lost starting quarterback Carson Palmer and backup quarterback Drew Stanton.

But it is a surprise that the Cardinals are winning thanks in large part to a dramatic turnaround in their running game. Last year, the Cardinals were dead last in the NFL with an average of 3.3 yards a carry. This year the Cardinals are first in the NFL with an average of 5.0 yards a carry.

Free agent signing Chris Johnson has proven that he’s far from washed up, having carried 79 times for 405 yards, an average of 5.1 yards a carry that is his best since his 2,006-yard season in 2009. And rookie David Johnson has added 91 yards on 18 carries, also an average of 5.1 yards a carry. The emergence of the Johnsons has pushed Andre Ellington, last year’s leading rusher, down the depth chart. But Ellington has played well in limited action, reeling off a 63-yard touchdown run on Sunday in Detroit.

Even when Palmer was healthy last year, the Cardinals were a fairly one-dimensional offense. This year the Johnsons have turned them into a balanced attack, and an even tougher team to beat.

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NFL reviewing San Diego clock error

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwzjzjyyytmzyzfjnmyyztg5ywnjntlhzjfjmtljnmzj AP

Last night, the NFL had no comment in the immediate aftermath of a Monday night game that could have been marred by a bizarre clock error prior to Pittsburgh’s final drive of the game. On Tuesday morning, a comment is coming.

According to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, the league is reviewing the situation and will have more to say soon.

The ESPN broadcast showed 18 seconds improperly run off the clock, from 2:56 to 2:38, after a San Diego kickoff went out of the end zone. The official clock could be seen ticking off 10 of the 18 seconds while the Steelers were taking the field for the start of the drive.

The Steelers scored a game-winning touchdown on the last play of regulation. If they hadn’t, it would have been a much bigger story.

It’s still a pretty big story, with ramifications that can’t be known without going back to the 2:56 mark and letting the Steelers begin their final drive from that point. Would the 18 seconds have been absorbed into the drive, with the last play still coming as the clock expired? Would they have scored a touchdown with enough time on the clock for the Chargers to try a Hail Mary play or at a minimum a Stanford band clusterfudge?

Those questions shouldn’t matter, because the clock should at all times be accurate. It’s a task that falls into the “you had one job” category, and if the NFL’s current approach isn’t getting that one job done, they need to find a way to do that one job better.

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Vikings put boxing gloves on Xavier Rhodes in practice

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Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes was flagged for seven penalties in the first four weeks of the season, tying him with defensive end Everson Griffen for most on the team and second-most in the entire league.

Three of those penalties came in Week Four’s close loss to the Broncos and the Vikings want to see Rhodes use his hands in a less damaging way when they resume their season against the Chiefs this weekend. Boxing gloves are part of that plan.

The Vikings had Rhodes practice while wearing the gloves on Monday with defensive backs coach Jerry Gray telling Rhodes “now you can’t grab” after they were slipped on.

“I’ve heard of that technique before; putting boxing gloves on, and make a guy just cover with his feet and his eyes. I think it’s actually a good thing for him,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said, via “We know he’s a very physical guy — it shows. With seven penalties on the year, we’re just trying to get it down, and help him get it down. We’re just trying to go out there and be teammates. We want to laugh and joke with him, let him know it’s not a thing that coach is insulting you on, or anything like that. We’re just trying to get you better.”

All three of Rhodes’s penalties against the Broncos came on drives that resulted in points that loomed large in a 23-20 loss for the Vikings. If the gloves can help eliminate such losses in the future, it will be worth any laughing and joking in practice. If they don’t, the Vikings could invite Ray Edwards back for a bout at their forthcoming stadium.

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Mike Nugent sees a maturing Bengals team

Mike Nugent AP

As long-time NFL kicker Jay Feely has said on PFT Live, specialists have a unique opportunity to observe and study a football team. Bengals kicker Mike Nugent, who arrived in 2010, has had the ability to study his team very carefully over the last six seasons.

So what’s different about the 2015 version of the Bengals, which has powered the franchise to its first 5-0 record since 1988?

“One thing I’ve noticed is just certain guys we used to call young,” Nugent said on Monday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. “When I first got here the first few years a lot of our guys have done such a great job not only on the field but [in] their leadership roles. They used to be the young guys, now they’re the more experienced guys. Kind of taking control, whether that be offense or defense. Our defense is a pretty weathered crew. [It’s] got a lot of guys with a lot of experience. But I think the guys that were young once are getting older and just getting that experience and using it.”

At the center of this Cincinnati maturity spree is quarterback Andy Dalton.

“[He’s] really stepping into that leadership role,” Nugent said. “Really just doing a great job. He looks very commanding when he’s out there in the huddle. . . . I think everyone’s kind of buying in and rolling with him.”

Helping teammates roll with Dalton is the fact that he’s been getting rocked on the field, but he keeps going. Quietly, he’s becoming more of a weapon in the running game, with a pair of read-option keepers against Seattle and a savvy decision to audible to a short touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Through it all, Dalton was getting banged around with both legal and illegal hits.

“There’s certain guys on the field people just feed off of and the quarterback is certainly on of those guys,” Nugent said. “Just the toughness that he shows. He shows a lot of energy and gets excited about certain plays. Everyone sees that and just feeds off it and it kind of makes our sidelines get excited along with him at the time.”

The ultimate excitement on Sunday came from Nugent’s foot, with a game-tying field goal nailed from 31 yards with the final seconds ticking off the clock and a 42-yard game winner in overtime that banked off the upright.

For the full Nugent interview from Monday’s show (which was nearly as exciting as watching the flight of an overtime field goal), click the thing in the thing below.

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PFT’s Week Six power rankings

Tom Brady AP

1. Patriots (4-0; last week No. 1): That AFC Finalist banner is gonna get stuck in a place where banners aren’t supposed to go.

2. Packers (5-0; No. 2): This team won’t lose at home. As long as the Giants don’t show up there in January. Again.

3. Bengals (5-0; No. 4): If these are the “same old Bengals,” ever team should aspire to be the “same old Bengals.”

4. Broncos (5-0; No. 3): The fact that coach Gary Kubiak had to say he’s not benching Peyton Manning shows how tenuous this team’s 5-0 record is.

5. Falcons (5-0; No. 5): The Falcons avoided a pothole. Now, they’ll drive all over the Saints.

6. Cardinals (4-1; No. 6): With a trip to Pittsburgh up next, Bruce Arians gets a shot at the team that “retired” him.

7. Panthers (4-0; No. 7): With the Seahawks and Packers coming up, the Panthers will soon be paying the price for winning the division last year.

8. Jets (3-1; No. 9): Sheldon Richardson is back, which means the Jets should be even better.

9. Giants (3-2; No. 13): They should be 5-0. 3-2 is still good enough to lead one of the worst divisions in football.

10. Steelers (3-2; No. 12): Before anyone crowns the team from Cincinnati, the Steelers will have something to say about the AFC North.

11. Seahawks (2-3; No. 8): To anyone who thinks Russell Wilson isn’t worth his contract, consider where this team would be right now without him.

12. Rams (2-3; No. 10): With the intersection of an underground landfill fire and a radioactive dump not far from their practice facility, the Rams should spend their bye week in any place but St. Louis.

13. Bills (3-2; No. 14): Sixteen years later, it was a different kind of Music City Miracle in Nashville.

14. Cowboys (2-3; No. 11): The bye week is a perfect time to bid farewell to Brandon Weeden.

15. Vikings (2-2; No. 16): With the Chiefs coming to town, Vikings fans of a certain age will be hearing “65 toss power trap” in their nightmares.

16. Colts (3-2; No. 20): Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck, Bert Jones, John Unitas. Does it really matter against the Patriots?

17. Browns (2-3; No. 21): With Peyton Manning coming to town, Josh McCown will be happy to see he’s not the oldest quarterback on the field.

18. Raiders (2-3; No. 18): When it comes to offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, Vikings fans know what Raiders fans are currently experiencing.

19. Chargers (2-3; No. 19): At least they won’t have to worry about hosting any playoff games in San Diego after applying for permission to relocate to L.A.

20. Ravens (1-4; No. 15): Jim Harbaugh should join John on the sidelines for the trip to San Francisco.

21. Washington (2-3; No. 22): Despite the loss in Atlanta, they need to be taken seriously. Especially in a division that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

22. Dolphins (1-3; No. 23): From Oklahoma drills to trying to drill Tennessee. Fail, and it’s over.

23. Bears (2-3; No. 30): What a difference a competent head coach makes.

24. Eagles (2-3; No. 27): A win over the Saints will do little to quiet the chatter of Chip Kelly to USC. Either one of them.

25. Buccaneers (2-3; No. 28): If they could get more really bad teams on the schedule, they could contend.

26. Chiefs (1-4; No. 17): Has any season turned more dramatically from the first half of Week Two through the end of Week Five?

27. 49ers (1-4; No. 31): Yes, the 49ers could win 12 this year. If the NFL expands the regular season to 82 games.

28. Titans (1-3; No. 24): If they knew how to finish, they’d be at least 3-1.

29. Texans (1-4; No. 25): They benched Brian Hoyer too quickly. They stayed with Ryan Mallett too long. With Hoyer back, they have one last chance to turn it around.

30. Jaguars (1-4; No. 26): For owner Shad Khan, there’s a point where patience becomes apathy.

31. Saints (1-4; No. 29): For the latest installment of the Saints-Falcons rivalry, Saints fans may be egging the Saints buses.

32. Lions (0-5; No. 32): If the 2015 Lions lose at home Sunday against the Bears, the 2008 Lions may be able to put the 0-16 champagne on ice.

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Report: Daniel Fells’ football career likely over after MRSA

Keenan Robinson AP

The game ball the Giants dedicated to tight end Daniel Fells is likely the last one he’ll ever earn.

According to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, a source close to Fells believes that the damage done to Fells’ foot from a MRSA infection are such that his “playing days are all but over.”

Fells has already had five surgeries, and more are on tap as doctors try to fight the infection. While there were reports that he had lost part of his foot, the Daily News reports that is not the case.

Still, the source said “I would be really surprised” if he plays football again.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin was upbeat about Fells’ chance for a recovery, saying it was his understanding that the tight end’s condition was improving, and that he had shown steady improvement after the infection had spread to a bone in his leg and another procedure was performed to stop it.

“I don’t think he’s out of the woods,” Coughlin said. “I didn’t say that. I think these three straight days are really a wonderful sign, but there are more tests to be done. And again the response to the antibiotic is critical.”

Fells has been hospitalized since Oct. 2, but the Giants connected him to Monday’s team meeting via Skype to share the news about the game ball with him.

“Everyone was able to cheer him on and try to make him feel better,” Coughlin said. “He was very nice in saying that he watched the game and he was very proud of how we finished it.”

Now, they have to support his recovery to health, if his football playing days are indeed finished.

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Bernard Pierce has a concussion, which may explain strange play

Bernard Pierce AP

It appeared that Jaguars running back Bernard Pierce had simply done something bone-headed. But there may have been extenuating circumstances, namely a head injury.

During a Buccaneers punt return last week, Pierce got turned around and, instead of trying to tackle the returner, ended up blocking a Bucs player instead. It made the rounds of the Internet, and everyone pointed and laughed at those silly Jaguars, caught in another zany mishap.

Except, it stopped being funny when Pierce was diagnosed with a concussion after the game.

Via, the only explanation Gus Bradley offered for the play was the concussion, without explicitly saying that was the cause.

It’s not a good play at all,” Bradley said. “When I saw it I couldn’t believe it, but I know he’s in the concussion protocol. I know after the game he had concussion symptoms. That’s where I’ll leave it at that, the play itself if you watched it.”

Asked if Pierce had suffered the concussion previously, Bradley replied: “I don’t know. I imagine so. . . .

“Yeah, I’m sure, I mean he’s in the concussion protocol. It’s just unfortunate that he had those symptoms and that play happened.”

What’s most unfortunate is that Pierce suffered a brain injury at some point, and that no one on the Jaguars staff, a teammate or the league’s trained spotters noticed, and he was allowed to continue playing. While making a foolish-looking play has made him the butt of jokes, the fact no one caught his injury before it could have become even worse is a serious problem.

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Marshawn Lynch expected back this week for Panthers game

Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Seahawks found out they could still run the ball without Marshawn Lynch, but they’d still rather be with him.

According to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, the Seahawks expect Lynch to return to the lineup Sunday when they face the Panthers, after he missed two weeks with a hamstring strain.

Rookie replacement Thomas Rawls ran for 169 yards in last week’s loss to the Bengals, which is the most yards for a Seattle back in a single game since Shaun Alexander went for 201 against the Packers in 2006.

“Normally, Marshawn comes in and out pretty regularly, so we’ll just pump [Rawls] in there and see how many carries that amounts to,’’ Carroll said. “Usually it’s about eight or 10 carries on a regular game. We’ll see how that goes. …

“We’re going to feel real comfortable about him in the two spot, coming in off the bench. There’s no reason for him not to play, he’s done a great job for us, and I would say he’s probably exceeded our expectations at this point.’’

An undrafted rookie averaging 5.6 yards per attempt will generally exceed expectations, but it also gives the Seahawks some hint of what life after Lynch might be like. They still leaned on veteran Fred Jackson late in the game, but Rawls has done an impressive job behind what has been a shaky offensive line this season.

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Rex: Tyrod Taylor is “beat up right now”

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 11:  Quarterback Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Buffalo Bills grimaces after receiving a late hit by the Tennessee Titans during the second half of a game at Nissan Stadium on October 11, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s legs helped save the day in Nashville on Sunday as he reeled off several big runs in the second half to bring the Bills back for a 14-13 win over the Titans.

At the end of one of those runs, Taylor was dragged down from behind by linebacker Zach Brown on what the officials ruled was a horse collar tackle and had to leave the game for a play after he was slow to get back to his feet. Blows like that have left Taylor nursing some wounds as this week gets underway.

“I can tell you this: He is beat up right now,” Ryan said, via the Buffalo News. “He’s sore. You ought to see him — he is sore. We knew he would be. Guys, he hasn’t been 100 percent all season.We all know he finished the game, but we’ll see how he’s doing. We’ll be looking at him throughout the week and everybody else that we have. He’s sore now, I can tell you that much.”

Taylor was listed on the injury report before Week Four because of an ankle issue that Ryan says dates back to training camp, but he wasn’t on the injury report last week at all. Based on Ryan’s Monday comments and the league’s rules about injury reporting, it seems like a good bet that he’ll wind up on the report this time around.

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