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Sunday night wrap-up: Falcons stay perfect

Dallas Cowboys v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

You don’t get to be undefeated without being good.

But the quality the Falcons have shown this season goes beyond individual games.

Sunday night’s 19-13 win over the Cowboys moved the Falcons to 8-0, with a four-game lead in the NFC South that could be sewn up by Thanksgiving. (Watch highlights here.)

Whether they’re missing field goals (two rare ones by Matt Bryant), or not able to play they way they were accustomed to, there’s still a sense that they’re going to win, a calm exuded by coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.

The four-minute drill they ran to kill clock, move chains and get the final field goal was a thing of beauty, a testament to taking what was there, and letting the other guy flinch.

Because through half the season, the Falcons haven’t yet.

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

1. The stage was set for the Cowboys to win this one. November’s when Tony Romo generally looks best, and they’ve beaten undefeated teams the last three times they faced them in this situation.

But the Cowboys are 3-5 right now for a reason.

They’re not consistent enough when well, and they’re not healthy enough to overcome it right now.

2. At some point, for the Falcons to pull off the January win that has eluded them, they’re going to need to run well.

But it’s unclear if they have the personnel to do it.

Michael Turner, most weeks, looks done. Even his 20-carry, 102-yard line is deceiving. When he gets a hole, he turns runs that would have gone to the house a few years ago into nothing.

Other than a game against the Panthers this year (13 carries for 103 yards) and against his old friends in San Diego (14 carries for 80 yards) and one run against the Cowboys, he’s looked very much like a 30-year-old this season.

The Panthers and Chargers were the only two games this season he’s rushed for more than 4.0 yards per attempt. It’s like he’s only got one game per month in that old body. They better use it judiciously.

Throw out Sunday’s 43-yard anomaly around the corner, and Turner averaged 3.1 per carry against the Cowboys.

And watching backup Jacquizz Rodgers get stuffed by Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter when he tried to run inside does nothing to make you think he’s going to be the guy they need to step up when Turner doesn’t.

3. Of course, part of the struggle of the Falcons run game has to do with the defense the Cowboys were playing.

They obviously will miss injured linebacker Sean Lee, but have gotten good fill-in work from Carter. He was good in the run game, and ran down Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones in the fourth quarter, showing excellent speed.

And former first-round bust Ernie Sims has been OK getting up off the couch to start in place of Dan Connor. But fill-ins can only play at a level higher than they are for so long.

4. Happy birthday Dez Bryant. Hope somebody got you a ticket to the game.

What’s that, you got paid for this?

Maybe that hip injury is worse than they’re letting on. The Friday night curfew story is a little silly, but the reality is he disappeared tonight in a game they needed him.

Bryant had one catch for 15 yards, and they took him off punt returns because they didn’t trust him anymore. (And Dwayne Harris ripping off a 37-yarder in his first chance didn’t do anything to change that.)

And since the game was on prime time television, the obligatory Kevin Ogletree appearance (a fourth quarter touchdown) helped cover up Bryant’s own absence.

5. A Falcons offensive line that was a mess last year has solidified nicely this year.

Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked just 15 times in seven games coming in, but took several hard shots in the first half, including a clean shot from DeMarcus Ware that had them wiping paint off the front of Ryan’s helmet where it slammed into the midfield logo.

Left tackle Sam Baker has bounced back well, lending a stability to the operation they lacked last year. They were facing a good pass-rush, but they held up, and kept Ryan on his feet.

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Lions cut Justin Forsett

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 23: Justin Forsett #30 of the Detroit Lions looks for room to run with the football against Bashaud Breeland #26 of the Washington Redskins during first half action  at Ford Field on October 23, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Lions made a series of roster moves ahead of Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

Defensive end Armonty Bryant was activated from the reserve-suspended list after serving a three-game suspension, and wide receiver T.J. Jones was promoted from the practice squad.

Veteran running back Justin Forsett and cornerback Johnthan Banks were released.

Forsett had appeared in two games after being released by the Ravens for the second time this season. With the Lions’ younger backs now healthy and the need to get Bryant back in the lineup to help the pass rush, he was released.

Bryant had three sacks in four games for the Lions before serving his second suspension of the season. Jones played in four games for the Buccaneers earlier this season. He’s played in 23 career games.

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Seahawks activate Morgan, place Tripp on IR

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 22: Tight end Vance McDonald #89 of the San Francisco 49ers is tackled by linebacker Mike Morgan #57 of the Seattle Seahawks during the football game at CenturyLink Field on November 22, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks won the game 29-13. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks made two linebacker-related roster moves Saturday.

Mike Morgan was activated from the team’s injured-reserve list. He had missed seven games after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia in October.

Morgan is a sixth-year player who’s been a valuable backup and utility man for the Seahawks. He played in four games and made one start before the surgery.

Jordan Tripp was placed on the team’s injured-reserve list. He made his second career start last week but suffered what Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called a quad bruise and a knee injury.

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Chargers call up nose tackle, place Attaochu on IR

San Diego Chargers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Chargers placed outside linebacker Jerry Attaochu on the season-ending injured-reserve list on Saturday.

Attaochu suffered a foot injury in last week’s win over the Texans. He had two sacks on the season and was also fourth on the team in special teams tackles.

To fill his spot on the roster, the Chargers promoted nose tackle Ryan Carrethers from the practice squad. Carrethers is a third-year player who’s previously spent time this season on the active roster and the practice squad. He’s played in 20 career games.

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Here’s an idea for making Week 17 even better

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  DeVante Parker #11 of the Miami Dolphins celebrates his touchdwon with teammate Jarvis Landry #14 during the fourth quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Coliseum on November 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL deserves far more credit than it has gotten for giving players one week to deviate from the obsession with uniformity, via the wearing of non-conforming clears that support a wide variety of causes. So at a time when the league is feeling surprisingly charitable — and may be shocked to learn that the sport won’t implode over the use of shoes that aren’t all the same color — here’s another idea.

It wasn’t mine. PFT Live producer Rob “Stats” Guerrera, who usually contributes little or nothing during the three-hour radio/TV show (I don’t really mean that, unless I do), uncorked a doozy on Friday.

The notion came after Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, whose cleats on Sunday will raise awareness for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, was asked to identify the one rule he’d change if the had the chance.

“I’m a happy-go-lucky guy, I’d probably say the celebrations,” Landry said. “Just let everybody bring back that old feel when Ochocinco was dancing and T.O. was dancing . . . . Things like that. Bring the love and energy back to the game.”

After the visit with Landry ended, Stats made this suggestion: For Week 17 of every season, the NFL should let players celebrate however they want.

There would likely need to be some limitations; a team paying homage to the Fun Bunch after a fourth-quarter first down in a blowout would take things too far. But for every touchdown scored that week, why not let the players do anything they want — short of grabbing their ding-dings or miming the dropping of a deuce?

It makes so much sense that it’ll never happen. The fact that the NFL has decided to give the players one week to wear non-conforming cleats suggests that maybe there’s hope that unwarranted concerns about creating acrimony among opponents (so what if it does?) and/or usurping the cheerleaders’ monopoly on sexually-suggestive messages will be set aside for one week per year.

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Malcolm Mitchell makes an impact for the Patriots

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 27:   Malcolm Mitchell #19 of the New England Patriots misses a catche against Darryl Roberts #27 of the New York Jets during the first half in the game at MetLife Stadium on November 27, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) Getty Images

Yes, the Patriots will be missing one of their primary offensive weapons for the rest of the year. But they’re developing another offensive weapon, much earlier than they usually do.

Receiver Malcolm Mitchell, the only player to beat Darrelle Revis for two touchdowns in the same game, is the rare rookie receiver to make an impact for the Patriots.

“It’s just encouragement to go out there in practice and work harder and harder and harder so our team can be put in the best situations to win,” Mitchell said, via Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.

Of course, Mitchell still only has 16 catches for 235 yards on the year, so he has a long way to go to be one of the team’s true playmakers. But he’s been making progress lately, and by the time the playoffs roll around he could be in position to contribute like something more than a rookie.

One key for Mitchell, a fourth-round draft pick from Georgia, has been learning how to get away from press coverage.

“He is catching everything in practice,” cornerback Eric Rowe said, via Howe. “We have tight coverage on him, especially in one-on-ones, and he is still making the catch. It could be a 2-yard gain, but the fact is he is still making the catch. I’ve seen that a lot better from him. At practice, I used to get really good jams on him at the line to kind of stun him, but now he is starting to figure out different types of releases so he won’t get stopped at the line, kind of get off the press and get open even better.”

It’s all part of earning the trust of one of the greatest quarterback in league history. Once Mitchell secures the faith of Tom Brady, Mitchell could further diversify an offense that will need all the help it can get with Ron Gronkowski likely done for the year.

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Patriots put Rob Gronkowski on IR, ending his season

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots looks on during the first half against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is done for 2016.

Gronkowski has been placed on injured reserve after back surgery, the team announced.

Although the NFL does give each team one “return” designation to bring a player back from injured reserve, the Patriots have already used that designation on backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. So Gronk can’t play again until 2017.

It’s a huge disappointment for Gronkowski, who is among the best tight ends ever to play the position when healthy — but who struggles to stay healthy for any significant period of time. This is his third back surgery, which raises questions about his future.

But for now, thoughts are on his present. Gronkowski will get to work rehabbing his back and attempt to be ready in time for the start of offseason work. And the Patriots will attempt to adjust their offense to losing its best playmaker.

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Jags promote Wynn, place Greene on IR

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 20: Wide receiver Shane Wynn #5 of the Cleveland Browns is tackled by linebacker Tony Steward #50 of the Buffalo Bills during the second half of a preseason game at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 20, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Bills defeated the Browns 11-10. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jaguars made a wide receiver swap Sunday, promoting Shane Wynn from the practice squad and placing Rashad Greene on their injured-reserve list.

Greene has an Achilles injury.

With Greene out for the year and Allen Hurns out Sunday due to a hamstring injury, Wynn will likely be in uniform and make his NFL debut vs. the Broncos.

Wynn broke into the NFL with the Falcons in 2015, then spent some time with his hometown team, the Browns. He later spent time on the practice squad with the Jets, Chargers and Saints and has spent this season on the Jaguars’ practice squad.

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Andrew Luck exits injury report

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 30:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts reacts on the sideline during the second quarter of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts will have quarterback Andrew Luck on Monday night.

Luck doesn’t appear on the final injury report in advance of the game against the Jets, which means that he has been cleared to play, 12 days after landing in the concussion protocol following a win over the Titans.

The franchise quarterback missed Indy’s Thanksgiving night visit from the Steelers, which the Colts lost to fall to 5-6.

Out for the Colts are safety Clayton Geathers (neck), linebacker Robert Mathis (bicep), and cornerback Patrick Robinson (groin).

Questionable for the game are tackle Denzelle Good (shoulder), receiver T.Y. Hilton (back), and defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway (back). Hilton took a hard hit to the lower back from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell in the Week 12 loss.

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Packers scratch T.J. Lang, JC Tretter

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 13:   JC Tretter #73 of the Green Bay Packers gets in position at the line of scrimmage against the Dallas Cowboys in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on December 13, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The good news for the Packers is that quarterback Aaron Rodgers remains on track to play, despite a hamstring injury suffered on Monday night. The bad news for the Packers is that Rodgers won’t have 40 percent of his offensive line.

The Packers have downgraded center JC Tretter and guard T.J. Lang to out for Sunday’s game against the Texans. Tretter has a knee injury, and Lang has a foot injury. Both had been listed as doubtful.

The Packers also added cornerback Damarious Randall to the injury report with a groin injury. He’s questionable for the matchup with the Texans.

Despite being two games behind the 7-4 Lions, the 5-6 Packers have the inside track to the division title. If they pick up one game over the next four weeks (and the Lions play at New Orleans, at the Giants, and at Dallas), the Week 17 game between the Lions and Packers becomes a playoff play-in game.

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Jadeveon Clowney ruled out at Green Bay

Jadeveon Clowney AP

During his first two NFL seasons, Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney missed 15 games with injuries and fell short of expectations. But this year, Cloweny has stayed healthy and become the difference-maker on defense the Texans hoped he’d be.

Unfortunately, now Clowney is hurt again.

The Texans announced today that Clowney’s elbow and wrist injuries are serious enough that he will not travel with the team to Green Bay for tomorrow’s big game against the Packers.

Without Clowney to pressure Aaron Rodgers, the Packers’ offense should benefit. And beating the Packers will get that much harder for the Texans.

Tomorrow’s game has playoff implications for both teams. The 6-5 Texans have a half-game lead in the AFC south, while the 5-6 Packers are two games back in the NFC North.

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Charles Clay not on team flight as he awaits birth of child

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Charles Clay #85 of the Buffalo Bills runs the ball against the Houston Texans during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 6, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bills tight end Charles Clay did not travel with the team to Oakland because he’s expecting the birth of his child soon.

The Bills said Saturday that Clay’s status for Sunday’s game vs. the Raiders is questionable.

Clay has started all 11 games for the Bills. He’s caught 36 passes for 323 yards.

With Clay’s status uncertain, the Bills promoted tight end Gerald Christian from the practice squad and waived kickoff specialist Jordan Gay.

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Reggie Bush will wear cleats that honor Joe McKnight on Sunday


When Joe McKnight was arriving at USC as the Parade national high school football player of the year, he was often compared to another great USC running back, Reggie Bush. On Sunday, Bush will honor McKnight, three days after McKnight was shot and killed in a road rage incident in New Orleans.

Bush announced on Twitter today that he will wear cleats that honor McKnight when Bush’s Bills play the Raiders in Oakland tomorrow. The shoes will be in USC’s cardinal and gold colors and will feature a picture of McKnight, his name, and his dates of birth and death.

McKnight chose USC in part because he idolized Bush, and Bush wrote on Twitter after McKnight’s death that he was angry to see a promising young life cut short.

“RIP my brother Joe McKnight this one hurts bad,” Bush wrote. “He didn’t deserve to die that way! And then this man stands over him and shoots him again like some kind of wild animal! Sickening. Pulling a gun out to kill someone doesn’t make you tough. At what point did we just lose our ability to handle differences like men and talk out our problems! What happened to that?”

Players are usually not allowed to put personal messages on their uniforms, but the NFL is allowing all players to wear customized cleats this week to recognize causes they care about.

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Alan Branch avoids four-game suspension

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01:   Alan Branch #97 of the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Patriots won’t have to worry about losing defensive tackle Alan Branch for four games. At least not this time.

Branch’s agent, Blake Baratz, declared on Twitter that Branch’s suspension was “rescinded.”

“The NFL doesn’t always do the right thing, but they did this time,” Baratz said.

Baratz’s tweet suggests the NFL backed down short of a final decision on appeal. However, ESPN’s Field Yates has reported that Branch actually won his appeal.

Starting in 2014, most cases under the substance-abuse policy became eligible for neutral arbitration. So if Branch actually won his appeal, the NFL didn’t do anything — other than agree to neutral arbitration more than two years ago.

Because the NFL uses progressive discipline in the substance-abuse policy, the outcome doesn’t mean Branch will never be suspended. Depending on his current status in the program and the potential consequences of a failed test or a missed test, Branch could be one strike away from an absence.

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Jeremy Maclin out at Atlanta

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 23: Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin #19 of the Kansas City Chiefs walks on to the playing field to start an offensive series against the New Orleans Saints at Arrowhead Stadium during the second quarter of the game on October 23, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Chiefs will continue to have a big absence on their offense during tomorrow’s big game in Atlanta.

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin will miss tomorrow’s game against the Falcons, the Chiefs announced today. Maclin has previously been listed as questionable but is not making the trip to Atlanta with the team.

There had been optimism coming out of Kansas City after Maclin was back on the practice field this week. But he’ll need another week to recover from a groin injury.

After back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons the last two years, Maclin has just 376 yards in this injury-plagued year.

The Chiefs also announced that cornerback Phillip Gaines has a knee injury and is questionable.

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Saturday one-liners

zz-top-1024 Getty Images

A Cleveland weatherman won’t shave until the Browns win.

Bengals LB Karlos Dansby wore an Alabama T-shirt after his college team, Auburn, lost to the Tide.

Ravens KR/PR Devin Hester is getting healthier, which means it could be just a matter of time before he gets his 35th career return touchdown.

Steelers WR Antonio Brown wants to be known as “Ronald,” for some reason.

The Bills plan to make Oakland receivers work for their catches on Sunday.

The Dolphins may be relying a lot on their young receivers at Baltimore.

TE Rob Gronkowski is gone, but FB Glenn Gronkowski is back with the Patriots, for his fourth stint on the practice squad.

Jets QB Christian Hackenberg is content to watch and wait, at least for now.

The Texans practiced in the rain in order to prepare for their game at Green Bay.

Colts P Pat McAfee hosted his sixth annual Holiday for Heroes event on Friday.

For the Jaguars, it’s five weeks of playing spoiler.

Titans OT Taylor Lewan keeps a stuffed beaver in the locker room. (His name is Steve, and he wears a hat.)

Cut three times by Jacksonville, Broncos LB Brandon Marshall looks forward to showing them how far he has come.

For plenty of Chiefs, Sunday’s game at Atlanta is a homecoming.

The jerseys of Raiders QB Derek Carr and DE Khalil Mack are selling like proverbial hotcakes.

CB Casey Hayward has impressed the Chargers with his study habits.

After three wins in 12 days, the Cowboys now have 10 days to get ready to play the only team that has beaten them.

Giants WR Victor Cruz relishes playing meaningful December football for the first time in a long time.

Washington QB Kirk Cousins is the face of Virginia’s effort against distracted driving.

Eagles RB Wendell Smallwood says he stopped feeling like a rookie in Week Three.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer addressed his team on Thursday morning, even though he wasn’t able to coach them on Thursday night.

Bears WR Josh Bellamy is trying to move on from his drop of a potential game-winning touchdown pass against Tennessee.

Lions P Sam Martin has a net average of 45.4 yards through 11 games — a whopping 1.2 more than the all-time record.

With the season on the line, the Packers are giving first-season players less playing time.

Falcons assistant G.M. Scott Pioli shared inside information about the Kansas City team he helped build with Falcons coach Dan Quinn.

Buccaneers P Bryan Anger is happy to have a low profile.

Saints DT Nick Fairley looks forward to facing the team that drafted him.

Playing in Seattle won’t make things any easier for the Panthers’ offensive line.

Rams RB Todd Gurley, who played at Georgia, had to wear Georgia Tech gear after his Bulldogs got ramblin’ wrecked.

For 49ers WR Torrey Smith, the “go” routes are long gone.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians calls 2016 a lost season for Tyrann Mathieu (which means that he won big by getting his second contract when he did).

The Seahawks will place no restrictions on RB Thomas Rawls on Sunday night.

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