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Report: League grants Saints permission to work out Payton deal

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The ping-pong of reports regarding the Saints and suspended coach Sean Payton continues.

It started Sunday, when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the league office rejected Payton’s September 2011 contract extension and that Payton will (not might, will) become a free agent after “the season.”  ESPN thereafter launched into speculation regarding Payton becoming the next coach of the Cowboys that was so strong it at times has seemed wishful.

Then, FOX’s Jay Glazer said that Payton “absolutely plans” to coach the Saints in 2013.

Then, some Internet hack with whom you may be familiar reported on NBC that the Saints are adamant that Payton will be the coach next year.

On Monday, some clarity emerged regarding the timeline that would apply.  Payton can’t be a free agent until his suspension ends.  His suspension won’t end until the next Super Bowl is played.  That complicates significantly the ability of teams like the Cowboys or the Eagles to pursue Payton, since they wouldn’t even be allowed to talk to Payton until more than a month after the normal hiring cycle ends.

Then, Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the Saints and Payton are able under the terms of the suspension to fix the contract.

Then, Schefter reported they aren’t.

Then, said Internet hack with whom you may be familiar chimed in again, explaining that the communications aimed at fixing the contract are allowed.

Now, Nakia Hogan of the Times-Picayune reports that permission expressly has been given by the league to the Saints to resolve the flaw in the contract that prompted the league office to previously reject it.

While Schefter has yet to hit the small, hollow, plastic ball back over the small green net, ESPN has posted an item based on the latest Times-Picayune report.

For now, then, it looks like G.M. Mickey Loomis, on his first full day of work after serving his own eight-game suspension, can commence the process of getting the extension ironed out.  He has three months to do it before Payton would be able to walk away.

It’s the smart thing to do.  Exceptions already have been made under the terms of the suspensions to allow Payton and others to attend the Chargers-Saints game earlier this year.  Likewise, the terms of the supposed banishment of former Saints and current Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams have been warped and bastardized to the point that he can apparently attend all Rams games.

Besides, the NFL desperately needs Payton to stay in New Orleans because the NFL will bear the full brunt of the blame if Payton goes.

Sure, Payton could look for a raise over what he was due to make under the terms of the rejected extension based on the team’s performance with him last season and without him this year.  Still, there’s no reason (yet) to believe that Payton has in only 14 months decided that he no longer wants to coach the Saints.

While it was a great story from Schefter, the hype of a possible jump by Payton to the Cowboys made the story into something more than it ever should have been at this point.  It doesn’t mean that Payton definitely will be back in New Orleans next year, but the signs are pointing much more strongly to that result than any other possible outcome.

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Lions change kickers, replace Nate Freese with Alex Henery

Alex Henery AP

After three games with their rookie kicker, the Lions have seen enough.

Nate Freese, the seventh-round pick who has already missed four field goals this season and ranks dead last in the NFL in field goal accuracy, is on the way out. The Lions will sign Alex Henery to replace him, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The move comes as no surprise: Freese was already on very thin ice even before missing a 41-yard attempt at Ford Field on Sunday. Freese has been shockingly bad this year, going 3-for-7 with a long field goal of just 30 yards. The Lions use punter Sam Martin on kickoffs, so Freese wasn’t giving them anything there, either.

Henery has played three NFL seasons, all with the Eagles. He’s made 86 percent of his field goals, with a long of 51 yards.

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PFT Live: Eagles talk with Geoff Mosher, Jaguars talk with Mike Dempsey

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The Eagles moved to 3-0 with a 37-34 win over the Redskins during a wild day in Philadelphia that saw DeSean Jackson return to town and a brawl that wound up with two players ejected.

Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly will join Mike Florio on Monday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss the biggest takeaways from the game for the Eagles. One area of concern might be LeSean McCoy, who left the game briefly to be evaluated for a concussion but returned to run 19 times for just 22 yards. Another would be the injury to center Jason Kelce, which put the Eagles down three starting offensive linemen (Jason Peters made it four when he was ejected) and opened to door for a lot of big hits on Nick Foles over the course of the contest.

The Jaguars are the exact opposite of the Eagles after dropping their third straight game on Sunday. The game saw Blake Bortles make his first appearance and he’ll start next week for Jacksonville, so we’ll have Mike Dempsey of 1010XL in Jacksonville on the show to break down the start of the Bortles era in Jacksonville.

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

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Eli Manning: This is how offense is supposed to work

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Before the season, the Giants talked about Eli Manning completing 70 percent of his passes during the 2014 season.

The claim was met by plenty of scoffing and the laughing didn’t die down in the first week of the season, but it seems less outlandish after Week Three. Manning hit on 75 percent of his throws against the Texans, up from connecting on 67 percent in Week Two despite several drops by his receivers and a sign that the Giants are starting to get the hang of things on offense.

Sunday saw them run the ball very well in support of the efficient Manning, whose biggest plays came on short completions that left his receivers a chance to make plays with the ball in their hands. The offensive line was strong in both phases, the tempo was where it needed to be and Manning was on the same page with his targets all day. If not for a fumble inside the 10 and an abysmal snap on a field goal, the 30-17 win would have been an even bigger rout.

“That is the way it’s supposed to work,” Manning said, via the New York Post.

The Giants offense found its footing at a good time. Three of their next four games are road dates against NFC East foes, including a trip to Washington on Thursday. Winning all of them will be tough, but taking two of three would set them up very well for the back end of the season and a run at a playoff spot.

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DeMarco Murray disappointed in himself for fumbling

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Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has rushed for at least 100 yards and a touchdown in all three games this season. He has also lost a fumble in all three games this season.

Some running backs get benched when they keep fumbling, but Murray is at no risk of losing playing time. Murray is leading the league in carries (75) and rushing yards (385) and is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (three), rushing first downs (22) and runs of 20-plus yards (three). Cowboys coach Jason Garrett says he’ll keep feeding the rock to his workhorse, and trust Murray to stop fumbling..

“We’re going to continue to give him the ball and he’s got to get it right,” Garrett said. “He’s going to get it right.”

Murray acknowledged that he needs to do a better job of holding onto the ball.

It’s very disappointing,” Murray said. “I’m very disappointed in letting that one go. I’ve got to get it fixed and I will get it fixed.”

Murray needs to get the fumbling problem fixed, but Garrett may need to limit Murray’s carries less because of fumbling concerns than because of concerns that Murray won’t stay healthy for 16 games if he keeps taking this many hits. Murray has 22, 29 and 24 carries in his three games so far this season, which puts him on pace for 400 carries for the season — a total that only five running backs in NFL history have reached. A 400-carry season is an all but impossible workload, especially for a running back like Murray, how has had problems with durability in the past.

Murray is disappointed in himself for fumbling. Garrett will be more disappointed in himself if he runs Murray into the ground.

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Tom Brady only sees one guy playing well on offense

Tom Brady AP

Tom Brady wants to make it clear — his offense needs to get better, and soon.

After beating the Raiders 16-9 yesterday, the Patriots’ offense has 22 points in the last six quarters.

“I don’t think anybody has really found their stride this year,” Brady told WEEI, via the Boston Herald. “I don’t know who you can point to on offense and say, ‘Wow, they’re really clicking.’”

When it was suggested that wide receiver Julian Edelman (10 passes for 84 yards yesterday, top 10 in the league in both receptions and yards) might qualify, Brady reluctantly let him in the club.

Yeah, he’s done a good job, so that’s one,” Brady said. “We’ve got a lot of other guys on offense. There’s 22 other guys on offense, so I’m not going to sit here and say every single guy is clicking. We’ve had one individual player that’s caught some passes. Great. Does that make a good offense? I don’t think so. . . .

“We’ve all got to figure out how to do a better job of that. It’s not one person. It’s not not singling any person out to say, ‘Wow, if this person were out, or if this person were in.’ I mean, if we had 11 people on the field that were producing like Julian Edelman, we’d have a pretty good offense. We’ve got one guy.”

While it’s easy to zoom in on skill position players thanks to fantasy football, the Patriots’ problems being up front.

From veteran line coach Dante Scarnecchia’s retirement to the surprising trade of Logan Mankins, the Patriots have looked disorganized in their blocking.

And that’s left only one guy able to hold his head high.

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Report: Jarvis Jones likely needs wrist surgery

Jarvis Jones AP

Injuries to three defensive starters took some of the fun out of the Steelers victory on Sunday night and it looks like the Steelers will be feeling those absences as they try to build on the win over the Panthers.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that linebacker Jarvis Jones likely needs wrist surgery to repair his injury and that he’ll be out indefinitely as the team sorts out exactly what’s wrong. Jones has two sacks in three starts this season, which is already double what he managed as a rookie, and he’s forced one of the two fumbles the Steelers have caused this season, so his absence will be a significant one.

Arthur Moats is the next man up at outside linebacker, although the Steelers may need to look for other help for what’s suddenly a thin linebacker group. Schefter reports that Ryan Shazier has been diagnosed with a sprained MCL. He’ll have an MRI on Monday to sort out the extent of the damage and the length of his absence from the lineup.

With cornerback Ike Taylor also down with a broken forearm, the Steelers are going to have their hands full finding a defensive lineup that works in the coming weeks.

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Bucs think they’ll be healthier for the Steelers game

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The Steelers are coming off a huge win, and the Buccaneers a terrible loss.

But when they meet next weekend, the advantage may go to the one with the most available bodies.

The Steelers suffered three key defensive injuries last night, but the Bucs are hoping they get some players back.

According to Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune, the Bucs are optimistic they’ll get defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (broken hand), running back Doug Martin (knee) and right defensive end Michael Johnson (ankle) back in time for the Steelers game.

Less likely is that quarterback Josh McCown will be back from his sprained thumb, but having their best two defensive linemen back should help.

“Gerald, [tight end] Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Michael Johnson — all those guys will eventually help us,’’ Smith said. “That’s why we’re optimistic things are going to change, because we don’t have those players out for the season. They’ll all be coming back, so reinforcements are on the way.”

Considering the Bucs lost an embarrassing 56-14 decision to the Falcons Thursday night, the cavalry better hurry.

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Eddie Lacy looking for answers to run game woes

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The Packers struggled across the board on offense in Sunday’s 19-7 loss to the Lions and running back Eddie Lacy’s production was anemic for the third straight week.

Lacy ran 11 times for 36 yards, leaving him with an average of 3.1 yards per carry for the entire season. That’s a full yard off last year’s mark and things got even worse when Lacy fumbled a ball that Lions defensive back Don Carey returned for the opening touchdown before getting pinned in the end zone for a safety later in the game.

There were several takes about what’s wrong with the ground game, but Lacy pointed the finger at himself after the loss.

“We just have to figure out better ways to run the ball,” Lacy said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I don’t know if I have to be more patient or speed things up but one way or another I’m responsible for the run game.”

It hasn’t helped Green Bay that the schedule spat out three of the league’s better run defenses in the first three weeks of the season, but teams rarely get far by shrugging off their struggles as the product of the other team just being too tough in that area. No matter how good the opposition, the Packers have too much talent on offense to get held to seven points and the onus to get things moving in the right direction is going to be up to a lot more people than Lacy.

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Harbaugh’s stance may have fueled the reported coverup

Harbaugh AP

As we wait (and wait . . . and wait) for the Ravens to address the alleged “errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions and, perhaps, misunderstandings” in the ESPN report alleging that Ravens director of security Darren Sanders knew the contents of the notorious elevator video in February and Ravens president Dick Cass knew in early April, coach John Harbaugh has addressed the report that he lobbied for the team to cut Rice in February.

Every single football decision we make, we work together,” Harbaugh told reporters after Sunday’s win at Cleveland, as Josh Alper has pointed out.  “Just like every football decision. You get together, you hash it out.  [G.M.] Ozzie [Newsome] uses the term scrimmaging.  You scrimmage it out, everybody’s got their opinions.  It’s not black and white.”

Asked by Peter King of TheMMQB.com whether Harbaugh wanted to cut Rice in February, Harbaugh didn’t provide an unequivocal no.

“That is such an unfair characterization,” Harbaugh said.  “It is not fair to the organization.  We said all along that the facts would determine the consequences, and that was my stance from the start of this.”

Reading those comments together in light of the ESPN report, it’s a fair characterization to say that Harbaugh at least raised the possibility of cutting Rice in February, and that Newsome’s “scrimmaging” process resulted in a consensus that the Ravens would keep Rice — but that ultimately “the facts would determine the consequences.”

The facts, once they finally came to light via TMZ, determined the ultimate consequence for Rice.  If Harbaugh indeed raised during the “scrimmaging” process that the team should cut Rice, it’s reasonable to believe that Harbaugh’s agreement to keep Rice hinged on the facts showing that Rice didn’t punch his then-fiancée.

Once the facts showed he did, end of story.

So if, as the ESPN report contends, Sanders, Cass, and perhaps others in the organization knew the true contents of the elevator video before the elevator video came out, perhaps they concealed the truth not only to secure a short suspension from the league office, but also to keep Harbaugh from winning the internal scrimmage as to whether a player who had been paid $25 million between July 2012 and December 2013 should be dumped from the roster.

Either way, ESPN’s contention that the Ravens knew the contents of the video long before seeing it has not yet been rebutted by Sanders or Cass.  The only person who has spoken is Harbaugh, whose remarks actually help demonstrate why a coverup happened, if a coverup in fact did occur.

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John Harbaugh stands behind team’s handling of Ray Rice

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The Ravens refused to address the inaccuracies and errors they believe are included in ESPN’s report about the way the team reacted to Ray Rice’s February arrest over the weekend, but that didn’t stop coach John Harbaugh from being asked about the report after Sunday’s victory over the Browns.

Specifically, Harbaugh was asked about a part of the report that had him pushing for Rice’s release in February only to be overruled by General Manager Ozzie Newsome and others in the organization. The Ravens’ denial of that claim is in the report and, after initially saying he’d discuss these matters on Monday, Harbaugh said the team was united in their decision.

“We work together in our organization. I’m going to go ahead and answer this question, OK? Every single football decision we make, we work together,” Harbaugh said, via the Baltimore Sun. “Just like every football decision, you get together, you hash it out. Ozzie uses the term scrimmaging. You scrimmage it out. Everybody’s got their opinions. It’s not black and white. It’s never nuanced on anything. That decision was exactly like all the other ones. And we walked out of that room, we were united, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and that’s how I felt about the decision. I thought it was the right decision. And the way we handled it, all the way through, I felt like was the right way to handle it all the way through. I felt like we did the right thing, and I stand behind it. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

What Harbaugh doesn’t say is whether or not he wanted Rice dropped from the roster and ultimately the answer doesn’t matter if Harbaugh’s not going to take issue with the team’s ultimate decision. It’s still a question he’s sure to get again once the Ravens break their silence in response to the report on Monday, though.

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Anquan Boldin on officials: The crap cost us another game

Jim Harbaugh AP

The 49ers melted down in the second half again on Sunday, allowing the Cardinals to outscore them 17-0 on the way to a 23-14 loss that left San Francisco with a 1-2 record after three weeks.

The team has now been outscored 52-3 in the second halves of games this season, a problem that needs to be addressed if they are going to turn things around and return to the playoffs. One good place to start would be penalties, which played a major role in both of their losses.

One of the costliest on Sunday was a head butt delivered by wide receiver Anquan Boldin to Cardinals cornerback Tony Jefferson late in the third quarter that took the Niners from first-and-goal on the six to first-and-10 on the 21-yard line. They had to settle for a field goal try, which was blocked, and the Niners wouldn’t come close to scoring again. Boldin acknowledged his error after the game, but said it came after officials missed several infractions by the Cardinals before throwing flags on his side.

“For me, it’s been obvious the last two weeks: The amount of calls that have gone against us and the amount of calls that we’ve gotten hasn’t been close,” Boldin said, via the Sacramento Bee. “Every week, it’s the same thing — send the tape in, the NFL just reports back, ‘We made a mistake.’ But at the same time, the crap cost us another game. At some point, they need to be held accountable.”

On some calls, like the one on linebacker Patrick Willis for an unambiguously clean hit on Drew Stanton, Boldin is absolutely right about the officials making blunders that need to be corrected on the field and not during the week. On others, though, the 49ers have only themselves to blame. Whether it was Boldin’s head butt or Chris Culliver’s taunting wiping out a Cardinals holding penalty, the 49ers’ inability to keep their emotions under wraps was their fault alone.

Those latter issues are the only penalty-related ones that the 49ers can control by themselves and they’ll need to against the Eagles in Week Four if they want to avoid another disappointing result.

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Russell Wilson was quietly rooting for overtime

Wilson AP

Sure, the Seahawks squandered a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, showing a vulnerability at home that most believe didn’t exist.  But not everyone on the sideline was dismayed by the outcome.

“I know I shouldn’t say this,” Wilson told Peter King of TheMMQB.com, “but I actually wanted overtime.  Of course I want to win in regulation, but overtime is so much fun.  I live for those moments.”

That’s essentially what he told his teammates before the game-winning opening drive of the extra session.

“This is what we live for, fellas: championship moments,” Wilson said.  “Let’s go out and embrace it.”

Wilson has a habit of embracing it against the game’s best quarterbacks.  In his two seasons and three games, Wilson has a 7-0 career record against Peyton Manning (2-0), Aaron Rodgers (2-0), Drew Brees (2-0), and Tom Brady (1-0).  As King points out, Wilson has thrown 14 touchdowns and only one interception — a turnover coming Sunday on a tipped ball.

So maybe Wilson deserves more credit than he gets.  Viewed as a game manager who is blessed with a great defense, the truth is that Wilson does whatever he needs to do to win.  Over the course of his career, as players come and go on both sides of the ball, it’s likely that Wilson’s presence will continue to ensure that the Seahawks will be competing for more championship moments.

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Report: Dolphins defenders “beyond furious” with defensive scheme

Joe McKnight, Jason Trusnik AP

The Dolphins were shellacked for the second straight week on Sunday, losing 34-15 at home to a previously winless Chiefs team.

According to a report from Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, the way things turned out left players on the defensive side of the ball “beyond furious” and “irate” with the defensive scheme cooked up by defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. Among their complaints was the team’s decision to use players like Cameron Wake and Jason Trusnik to cover running back Joe McKnight, who scored twice on passing plays in the second half to help the Chiefs break the game open.

The coaches probably have some of their own issues with the players. The Dolphins did not tackle well on Sunday as Knile Davis shrugged off attempts to bring him down several times on his way to 132 rushing yards and a touchdown.

With plenty of issues to sort out on offense as well, the Dolphins won’t be headed to London on a pleasure trip this week. Should things get even worse against the Raiders, the bye week won’t wind up being a particularly restful one either.

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Monday morning one-liners

Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Short passes worked out better than deeper shots for the Bills.

Dolphins RB Lamar Miller had a big day against the Chiefs.

The Patriots’ problems on the offensive line haven’t shown signs of subsiding.

Penalties have been an issue for the Jets in the first two weeks of the season.

RB Lorenzo Taliaferro took advantage of the opening in the Ravens backfield.

The Bengals kept QB Andy Dalton from being sacked for a third straight week.

Browns PR Travis Benjamin’s choice not to field a late punt came back to hurt the team.

The Steelers had two backs with 100 rushing yards for the first time in almost 30 years.

Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins played well in a losing cause.

Said Colts QB Andrew Luck, “There definitely was a sense of urgency and you don’t want to start 0-2 but you definitely don’t want to start 0-3. We realize we control that and we go out and play this game. I think guys took it to heart and it was a divisional game on the road. This counts big time and we managed to put two decent halves together and get the win.”

The Jaguars defense is moving in the wrong direction.

RB Bishop Sankey provided a rare spark to the Titans on Sunday.

There were no moral victories for the Broncos in Seattle.

Chiefs CB Sean Smith was a big part of Sunday’s win against his former team.

The Raiders stood behind G Gabe Jackson after his costly holding penalty.

Defensive plays stood out in the aftermath of the Chargers win.

The Cowboys pulled off the biggest comeback in franchise history.

Giants RB Rashad Jennings dedicated his 176-yard performance to his father.

Said Eagles QB Nick Foles, “My teammates are fighting for me, so I’m not going to stay down. I’m going to get up for those guys. That’s my mindset. It’s not a pride thing where I have to be a tough guy. I know those guys are depending on me so I’m going to get up and keep fighting for them.”

The Redskins head into a short week with some injury concerns.

The Bears expect to see a lot of blitzing on Monday night.

Sunday’s win showed what the Lions offense can be this season.

Packers WR Randall Cobb wasn’t happy with his performance on Sunday.

The Vikings defense was caught off guard early in Sunday’s loss to the Saints.

S Kemal Ishmael’s interception return for a touchdown got the Falcons rolling last Thursday.

Sunday night was not a good one for Panthers returner Philly Brown.

The Saints got their first win, but they didn’t solve all their problems.

The Buccaneers spent Sunday watching the rest of the league.

Cardinals WR John Brown was too much for the 49ers to handle.

There were bright spots for the Rams on Sunday, but too many mistakes for them to get a win.

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick had career highs in both rushes and completions as the team slumped to defeat.

Said Seahawks QB Russell Wilson of the game-wininng drive, “The key to taking advantage of those moments is still playing smart football, but also playing with an edge. Playing to the edge, but not falling off the edge. Playing with great poise and great composure.”

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Frank Gore at a loss for words about loss, and his role

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The 49ers were without tight end Vernon Davis because of injury. But they were apparently without running back Frank Gore by decision.

Gore carried the ball just six times for 10 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, as the 49ers went to more and more multiple-receiver formations.

“We did what the defense gave us,” Gore said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, saying he didn’t know that would be the plan.

Then after less than a minute of answering questions, Gore said: “I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now.”

The 49ers have been outscored 52-3 in the second halves of games this season, the time when they’d normally feed the ball to Gore and he’d keep chains and clocks moving. Part of the problem was the lack of tight ends Davis and Vance McDonald, which kept them out their preferred personnel packages.

But after drafting young backs to eventually replace him for years, the 49ers showed what could be a sign that Gore’s role might not be what it used to be.

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