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NFL morning after: Luck has the Colts on the way to the playoffs

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Luck looks for a receiver against the Miami Dolphins during the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in Indianapolis Reuters

Andrew Luck was supposed to be this good. Just not this soon.

Everyone knew long before this year’s NFL draft that Luck would be the first overall pick, and everyone figured that Luck would eventually become a good franchise quarterback and lead the Indianapolis Colts back from last year’s disastrous 2-14 season without Peyton Manning and into the playoffs again. But did anyone really think Luck could lead the Colts to the playoffs as a rookie?

That’s what Luck has a real chance of doing after the Colts’ win on Sunday against the Dolphins, when Luck completed 30 of 48 passes for an NFL rookie record 433 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, as the Colts won 23-20 and improved to 5-3 on the season. Only two teams in the AFC — the Texans and Ravens — have better records than the Colts, who are the leaders in the AFC wild card race at the halfway point of the season.

“No one cares about your record at this point of the season,” Luck said after the game. “It’s all about making it to the playoffs. Obviously, it was a step in the right direction. I am proud of that, but we haven’t accomplished the end goal by any means.”

Will the Colts accomplish their goal of making the playoffs this year? I don’t know, but I do know that there are at least four games left on their schedule in which they should be favored: Thursday night at Jacksonville, Week 12 at home against the Bills, Week 14 at home against the Titans and Week 16 at Kansas City. If the Colts do nothing more than win those four games, they’ll have a 9-7 record, which is probably going to be good enough to make the playoffs in the mediocre AFC. For the worst team in the league last season, a 9-7 record and a wild-card berth would represent an enormous step forward.

And it’s a step that they’re taking primarily because of Luck, who has complete command of the Colts’ offense and a veteran’s mastery of reading through his progressions and finding open receivers. Luck also has a beautiful NFL arm, as he showed on his 36-yard touchdown strike to T.Y. Hilton on Sunday. At age 23, Luck isn’t a good quarterback prospect. He’s a good quarterback right now. And he may be a starting quarterback in a playoff game in two months.

Luck turned in my favorite performance of this Sunday in the NFL. Here are my other thoughts:

Turn your microphone off, ref. Dolphins-Colts referee Tony Corrente got into a shouting match with one of his fellow officials and yelled an expletive — with his microphone on, for all the fans and the TV audience to hear. The NFL’s officiating department will surely remind Corrente that he needs to make sure his mic is turned off after he’s done making an announcement.

Is this pro wrestling? The most shocking moment on Sunday came when Browns linebacker Kaluka Maiava lifted Ravens left tackle Michael Oher and slammed him to the ground. Oher, who as the subject of The Blind Side is the NFL’s most famous offensive lineman, weighs 315 pounds and isn’t easy to throw around. But if there’s any NFL player who can do pull off a wrestling-style takedown of Oher, we shouldn’t be surprised that it was Maiava: He’s the nephew of pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Ed Reed is as good a safety as the NFL has ever seen. Reed, who recorded the 60th interception of his NFL career in the Ravens’ 25-15 win over the Browns, has been brilliant in pass coverage during his 11-year career. But my favorite thing about him is the way he turns into a playmaker when he gets the ball in his hands: Reed is the all-time leader in interception return yards, with 1,507, and his average of 25.1 yards per interception return ties him with his old teammate Deion Sanders for the best average ever for a player with at least 30 interceptions. He would have been a great two-way player.

Christian Ponder better turn things around in a hurry. Ponder had a hot start this season and the Vikings won four of their first five games. Now he’s gone into a tailspin and the Vikings have lost three of their last four. Ponder was terrible in Sunday’s loss in Seattle, completing 11 of 22 passes for 63 yards, for a pathetic 2.9 yards per pass, with an interception. After looking like playoff contenders at the start of the season, the Vikings are now a loss to the Lions this week away from being in last place in the NFC North.

Doug Martin is amazing. Have you seen what Martin, the Buccaneers’ rookie running back, has been doing lately? Martin had 25 carries for 251 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday in Oakland, just the second time in NFL history a player had 250 yards and four touchdowns in a game. Martin is a phenomenal athlete with great speed, but I also love what a smart runner Martin is. As Martin raced down the sideline on his 67-yard touchdown, he saw that Raiders safety Matt Giordano was gaining on him. Giordano is one of the fastest players in the NFL, one of the few players who could catch Martin from behind, and Martin saw that Giordano was bearing down on him. So Martin wisely put on the brakes and allowed Giordano to run right past him before cutting back inside and getting into the end zone. Martin was just named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the month for October, and he played his best game yet on the first game day of November. No one is playing the running back position better than Martin right now.

Peyton is the king of the comebacks. Manning’s Broncos trailed 20-17 in the fourth quarter against the Bengals, but on the strength of his two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, the Broncos ended up winning 31-23. Sunday’s game featured Manning’s 48th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, passing Dan Marino for the most comeback wins for any quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, which is as far back as those records are kept. Manning is continuing to show in his first season in Denver that he’s among the handful of players in the conversation about the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. It says something about how well Luck has played that the fans in Indianapolis don’t seem to miss Manning right now.

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Report: Panthers cutting WR Jarrett Boykin

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In a move that’s considered at least somewhat of a surprise given the lack of proven and available players in the Panthers receiving corps, the Black and Blue Review is reporting that the team is waiving Jarrett Boykin.

The move indicates the Panthers will rely on veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie Devin Funchess as the lead receivers. Top receiver Kelvin Benjamin is out for the season after tearing his ACL in an August practice.

The Panthers traded a conditional draft pick to Seattle for second-year wide receiver Kevin Norwood on Monday and could be in the market for additional help at the position through this week and weekend as other teams trim their rosters.

Boykin had nine catches in three preseason games for the Panthers but didn’t catch any passes from starting quarterback Cam Newton. Boykin caught 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns for the Packers in 2013 but caught just three passes last year. He signed with the Panthers in March.

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Vikings get to roster limit by cutting Mike Kafka

Mike Kafka AP

The Vikings took care of their first wave of business, getting down to the 75-man roster limit by cutting quarterback Mike Kafka.

Assuming they won’t use Teddy Bridgewater much if at all in the preseason finale, that leaves Shaun Hill and undrafted rookie Taylor Heinicke to finish up, so Kafka wasn’t necessary.

The Vikings had signed Kafka in April, to replace Pat Devlin.

I think this move should also officially qualify Kafka for journeyman status, as he’s done stints with the Eagles, Patriots, Jaguars, Buccaneers and Vikings.

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Relationship with Marshawn Lynch drives Fred Jackson to Seattle visit

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Yes, free-agent running back Fred Jackson is on his way to Seattle for a visit with the Seahawks. Although a league source tells PFT that there have been no contract discussions yet, both sides are indeed motivated to get something done.

As the source explained it to PFT, the primary factor in the mutual interest between the Seahawks and Jackson is the pre-existing relationship between Jackson and starting tailback Marshawn Lynch, based on their time together with the Bills.

Per the source, having Jackson in the locker room will provide the private, reclusive Lynch with another confidant, along with the comfort of knowing Jackson has Lynch’s back. Also, unlike Christine Michael and Robert Turbin, Jackson isn’t someone who would be viewed as a potential successor to Lynch.

So while the potential to get a ring is a factor, the more important factor is the chance for Jackson to finish the career the way his relationship with Lynch started, when they both were in Buffalo.

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Scouting legend C.O. Brocato dies at 85

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Most NFL players have probably never heard of C.O. Brocato. But Brocato knew thousands of NFL players.

And Brocato didn’t just know their names. He knew their heights and weights, their 40-times and bench-press numbers, whether they were flexible enough in the hips to get low and explode out of their stances, or tight and stiff with a slow first step.

Brocato, who died this morning at the age of 85, was one of the greatest scouts in the history of the game of football. This year the Titans unveiled the C.O. Brocato Draft Room at their facility in recognition of his 41 years of service to the Titans and Houston Oilers franchise.

Asked this year about Brocato’s continuing contributions to the Titans, General Manager Ruston Webster said no one could match Brocato’s institutional knowledge.

He’s sort of a walking history book,” Webster said. “He tells the story of working out Earl Campbell, and those things are priceless. I think we all enjoy hearing them. It’s helpful for people coming into the organization to know a lot of that history, as well as for everyone in the organization to know about him.”

Brocato was credited with inventing the three-cone drill, now a Scouting Combine staple, and was well known in the scouting community for setting his alarm clock for 5 a.m. but waking up even earlier so he could be the first to attend a workout.

A linebacker and kicker at Baylor in the 1950s, Brocato was the head football coach at Jesuit High School in Louisiana from 1958 to 1967, then became defensive coordinator at Northern Arizona in 1968, and defensive coordinator at Texas-Arlington in 1971. He began scouting for the Oilers in 1974. His name has been considered for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he deserves further consideration — even though he was probably more proud of the players he scouted who made it to Canton.

Photo via Tennessee Titans.

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Browns cut NT Kitchen, place QB Shaw on IR

Ish Kitchen Getty Images

The Browns are releasing defensive lineman Ishmaa’ily Kitchen as part of trimming the roster to 75 by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

Kitchen, a true nose tackle, was caught up in a numbers game. The Browns took Danny Shelton in the first round last spring and have Phil Taylor coming off injury and entering the final year of his contract. Second-year player Jamie Meder is having a strong camp, too.

Though it’s rarely been healthy and intact in recent years, the Browns have a deep and talented defensive line. Shelton figures to be an immediate starter in a group that also includes veterans Desmond Bryant, Randy Starks and John Hughes and third-round rookie Xavier Cooper. Like Kitchen, Billy Winn is a fourth-year defensive end who figures to have to find work elsewhere by this weekend.

The Browns claimed Kitchen from the Ravens at the conclusion of the 2012 preseason. He played in 40 games over the past three seasons.

Kitchen figures to get at least a look from another team soon, possibly as soon as Wednesday via the league’s waiver claim system.

The Browns also placed backup quarterback Connor Shaw and backup offensive lineman Michael Bowie on injured-reserve and placed three players on the reserve-non football injury list: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Randall Telfer and Glenn Winston. Ekpre-Olomu and Telfer are 2015 draft picks the team knew would likely not be ready to contribute this season.

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Josh Robinson starting season on PUP list

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Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson hasn’t practiced since tearing his pectoral muscle in spring work and it will be a while before he gets back on the field.

The Vikings put Robinson on the regular season version of the physically unable to perform list on Monday. The move means that Robinson will be ineligible to practice or play for the team during the first six weeks of the regular season. Once activated from the PUP list, Robinson will have three weeks to practice before he must be added to the 53-man roster or placed on injured reserve.

Tackle Carter Bykowski is also dealing with a torn pectoral, but the team won’t wait around for his return. He was placed on injured reserve, which ends his season with the team.

The Vikings are at 76 players, leaving them with one move to make before Tuesday’s deadline.

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Lawrence Okoye cut by 49ers as they drop to 75 players

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers

When Lawrence Okoye signed with the 49ers in 2013, the hope was that they could turn the British discus thrower into an NFL defensive lineman.

He spent a year on injured reserve and a year on the practice squad, but his breakthrough won’t be coming with the 49ers in 2015. Okoye was one of the players cut by the team on Monday as they worked their way down to the 75-man limit.

In addition to placing center Daniel Kilgore on the regular season PUP list, the 49ers also placed linebacker Desmond Bishop and wide receiver Dres Anderson on injured reserve. Fourth-round wide receiver DeAndre Smelter is on the non-football injury list.

Kicker Corey Acosta, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, cornerback Mylan Hicks, tackle Sean Hooey, wide receiver Mario Hull, wide receiver Chuck Jacobs, wide receiver Nigel King, linebacker Shawn Lemon and fullback Trey Millard were the other cuts.

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The 2012 NFL Draft: Good Luck, then a lot of bad to follow

Robert Griffin III AP

Yesterday was a horrible day for the top of the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

But it’s not like the news had been that good otherwise for the players at the top of that selection meeting.

With the benching of second-overall pick Robert Griffin III in Washington and the release of former Browns No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson in Oakland, the fate of that draft drew new attention.

But looking back at the top 10, Griffin and Richardson were far from the only mistakes.

The Colts again stumbled into the right call, having Andrew Luck fall into their laps with the first pick the way Peyton Manning did in 1998.

But after that, the draft was a bit of a mess.

The fourth pick was underwhelming Vikings tackle Matt Kalil, but he’s at least still employed. The same can’t be said for No. 5 Justin Blackmon, still suspended for multiple substance abuse violations, with the Jaguars not expecting to ever get anything from him.

The Cowboys moved all the way up to No. 6 to take cornerback Morris Claiborne, and he’s only playing a significant role now because of the injury to Orlando Scandrick.

The seventh pick, safety Mark Barron, has already been moved once. The Buccaneers traded him to the Rams for fourth- and sixth-round picks, cutting bait on a guy who never seemed to quite fit what they were trying to do.

Things turned up after that, with the Dolphins, Panthers and Bills finding cornerstone pieces in quarterback Ryan Tannehill, linebacker Luke Kuechly and cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

But the misses on what should have been can’t-miss picks above them are glaring, and yesterday’s moves only underscored how much of a guessing game the draft can truly be.

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Fred Jackson heading to Seattle, expected to sign with Seahawks

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Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch are about to be reunited.

Jackson is flying to Seattle today and is expected to sign with the Seahawks, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.

In Seattle, Jackson would back up Lynch. That’s a familiar role for Jackson, who also shared a backfield with Lynch in Buffalo. The two were teammates with the Bills from 2007 to 2010.

Jackson is 34 and on the down side of his career, having averaged a career-low 3.7 yards a carry last season. But the Seahawks apparently think he has something left, and he’s about to join one of the best running offenses in the NFL.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

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S Aaron Williams kept Fred Jackson’s jersey on the Bills practice field on the day Jackson was released.

Jamil Douglas may be closing in on a starting guard job with the Dolphins.

DT Dominique Easley is coming off his best performance for the Patriots.

Jets RB Chris Ivory is shooting for a 1,000-yard season.

Ravens LB Zachary Orr comes from a busy football family.

Bengals DL Devon Still feels whole as a player.

Is Fred Jackson a running back option for the Browns?

Steelers LB James Harrison is betting on the league winning the Tom Brady case.

Christian Covington is doing well in the quest for playing time on the Texans defensive line.

The Colts appear to have settled on Khaled Holmes as their starting center.

Jaguars WR Marqise Lee earned a comparison to an albino tiger at the zoo from offensive coordinator Greg Olson.

Some Titans veterans want to play in the fourth preseason game.

Being ready for the season opener is Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders’s goal.

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce left practice early with a leg injury.

Which Raiders helped themselves against the Cardinals?

A look at how the Chargers backfield will split the workload.

CB Byron Jones’s role in the Cowboys defense isn’t clear yet.

The comeback tale of Giants WR Victor Cruz has hit a snag.

The Eagles may settle on a third quarterback Thursday.

Redskins DT Terrance Knighton takes issue with those who compare his team to the Kardashians.

The Bears may still move Kyle Long to right tackle.

How does the Lions trading for a tight end impact Joseph Fauria?

RB Rajion Neal hopes he’s close to making the Packers.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer doesn’t think rookie CB Trae Waynes is about to win a starting job.

T Jake Matthews sat out Falcons practice with a back strain.

Panthers DB Colin Jones’s groin injury is more serious than originally thought.

Five positives for the Saints in their third preseason outing.

Will the Buccaneers keep a fullback?

The Cardinals are waiting on LB Sean Weatherspoon’s return to practice.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher likes the team’s undrafted defensive linemen.

49ers LB Navorro Bowman’s knee is passing its tests.

Drew Nowak looks like the Seahawks’ starting center.

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Bucs save some money, cut punter Michael Koenen

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Buccaneers have proven themselves willing to move on from money spent by previous administrations, with the latest coming on special teams.

According to Rick Stroud and Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, the Buccaneers have released veteran punter Michael Koenen.

Koenen was set to make $3.25 million this year, part of the six-year, $19.5 million deal he signed in 2011. He hasn’t performed to that level either, with net and gross numbers declining sharply in recent years.

The Bucs are replacing him for now with Jake Schum, who was brought back last week for a third stint with the team. He had previously been on their practice squad, and had been in camp with the Jets and Browns.

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That’s so Raiders: Trent Richardson got $600,000 guaranteed

Trent Richardson, Zach Line AP

Trent Richardson has already been released by the Raiders after just a few months in Oakland, and he pocketed $600,000 for his trouble.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched him play in Indianapolis that Richardson wasn’t even good enough to make the 75-player cutdown, let alone make the Raiders’ 53-man roster. Richardson averaged just 3.1 yards a carry for the Colts.

But what is surprising is that when the Colts cut Richardson this offseason, the Raiders quickly swooped in and signed Richardson to a contract with a $600,000 guarantee. Given the way Richardson had played for the Colts, you’d think he’d have to settle for a league-minimum salary. But the Raiders thought otherwise.

Richardson is also still owed his $3.184 million salary from the Colts this season, as that salary was fully guaranteed with no offsets as part of his rookie contract as the No. 3 overall pick with the Browns. He’s doing very well for himself.

The Raiders, on the other hand, now have egg on their faces. Oakland hasn’t had a winning record since 2002, and the Raiders are widely regarded as one of the league’s worst franchises. Young players like Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack are giving the Raiders hope, but there’s still a perception that the front office just doesn’t get it. And guaranteeing Richardson $600,000 is the kind of move that makes that perception hard to shake.

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Mike Mitchell: Defense isn’t in panic mode

Keith Butler AP

The need for a better defense in Pittsburgh hasn’t been a secret heading into the 2015 season, but signs of it were tough to find against the Bills last week.

Buffalo may have been running a quarterback competition and playing without some of their top skill position players, but they reeled off several big plays on their way to 43 points and 542 yards. That seems to fulfill the worst fears for a young unit playing for a new defensive coordinator in Keith Butler, but safety Mike Mitchell says that no one is overreacting in Pittsburgh.

“I don’t think we’re in a panic mode,” Mitchell said, via the Beaver County Times. “I don’t think the coaches are in a panic mode.”

Panic before the start of the regular season is never advisable, especially with Butler tweaking the familiar Dick LeBeau scheme with a slew of inexperienced players. The hope has to be that things will come together as the season unfolds and that the team learns from rough days.

It’s a reasonable hope, although the pace can’t be too glacial if the Steelers are going to avoid the possibility of digging themselves a hole they can’t escape from in time to make the playoffs.

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DeVante Parker back on practice field, still shooting for opener

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The Dolphins breathed a sign of relief when center Mike Pouncey’s MRI came back negative.

But the news they got on first-round receiver DeVante Parker was a breath of fresh air as well.

According to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, Parker returned to the practice field Monday for the first time since foot surgery in June, making it possible that he plays in the regular season opener.

“I’m pretty anxious to get out there,” Parker said. “But you can’t do anything but be patient and wait until the time is right.”

In June, Parker needed a procedure to replace a screw in his left foot, after standing out through the spring workouts as the Dolphins’ most dynamic downfield target. But he has also missed a lot of time since then, so they know his return won’t be automatic.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill dealt with a similar injury coming out of college, and needed four months to recover. Parkers now on month three.

“Injuries are tough,” Tannnehill said. “I’ve had a similar injury with my foot. I know what he’s going through and know the process. Excited to see him start moving around a little bit. I threw a few passes to him in pre-game so that’s exciting. That’s progress that I like seeing. You don’t want to push him too early where, we’ve got him back for the first game and then his foot breaks down and we don’t have him for the rest of the year.”

That would be a tough break for a team that has quietly put together a solid preseason — and has done so quietly, without the normal drama that seems to surround them.

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Injuries mounting for Panthers in the preseason

Miami Dolphins v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Panthers might have walked into the preseason as favorites to win the NFC South again, but that position has been greatly compromised by the injuries which have whacked them throughout the month of August.

Losing star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the year was the big one, but they’ve been dealing with a number of other issues which will make it harder to repeat as division champs.

Via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, they’re dealing with a number of injuries new and old.

For one, their receiving corps is having a hard time replacing Benjamin at the moment because they’re seemingly all hurt. Rookie Devin Funchess remains out with a hamstring strain, and was joined on the sidelines by Jerricho Cotchery, who coach Ron Rivera said had “just a tweak” of a groin muscle and was expected to play in the regular season opener.

They’re equally optimistic about defensive end Charles Johnson, who had a trapezius muscle” lock up” on him in practice earlier this week.

“He walked in like Quasimodo,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera joked.

Johnson hasn’t played in the preseason because of a calf strain, and Rivera said he hoped to get him some snaps Thursday at Pittsburgh. The same hope holds for defensive tackle Kawann Short, who hasn’t played in the preseason with back spasms. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is still dealing with a persistent foot problem which had him in a boot.

Also (as if they needed any more), it appears versatile defensive back Colin Jones may miss some time with a groin injury. Rivera described it as “much more than a tweak,” and that Jones is going to see a specialist. Jones, one of the fastest players on the roster, plays a number of roles as a nickel corner, safety and special teams player.

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