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Curiosity has helped Dez improve

Dez Bryant AP

As the saying goes, curiosity killed the cat.  For Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, curiosity is making that cat play a little prettier on the field.

Via Calvin Watkins of, Bryant recently explained to reporters that he’s asking more questions in meetings, and that he believes it’s helping him become a better player.

I’m playing free,” Bryant said.  “I feel like I’ve put a little bit extra time [in] to feel free and be more comfortable in the offense and asking questions instead of keeping my mouth closed.  I felt like that’s helped me out a lot.”

In the past three games, Bryant has nine receptions for 212 yards and a touchdown.  Though that’s not exactly the level the Cowboys envisioned when making him a first-round pick in 2010, it’s giving him a shot at his first 1,000-yard season.

Which could give him a shot at sticking around over the long haul in Dallas.

The better news for Bryant and the Cowboys is that the willingness to ask questions is a sign of maturity.  If Bryant otherwise is maturing, he could be getting closer to finally fulfilling his unlimited potential.

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Alshon Jeffrey creates a new Thanksgiving tradition, hopefully


The fourth Thursday in November carries with it plenty of traditions. This year, Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery perhaps started a new one.

Early in the second half of Chicago’s win at Lambeau Field, Jeffery lined up offside. Grossly offside. So far offside that it’s reasonable to wonder whether Jeffery has an inner-ear disorder.

Making the blunder even more egregious was the fact that the ball was positioned just short of the Chicago 35 yard line, but Jeffery’s left leg was clearly beyond it.

But the Bears won the game. So here’s hoping that, on every Thanksgiving from this point forward, an offensive player in one of the three games lines up so far offside that it looks like a bad PhotoShop effort.

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Cardinals bolster line with Red Bryant, put LaMarr Woodley on IR

Red Bryant AP

Red Bryant was traveling Wednesday like a lot of people. But he has headed away from family, and back to work.

The Cardinals signed the veteran defensive tackle to fill the roster spot created with outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley was placed on injured reserve.

“I had made up my mind that I thought I wouldn’t play this season, and I thought I would try to come back next year,” Bryant said, via Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. “So for the Cardinals to give me this opportunity this late in the season, I hope I can take advantage of it.”

The former Seahawks and Jaguars defensive tackle was cut by the Bills prior to the start of the regular season, and hadn’t latched on since. The Cards are banged up on their defensive line, with Cory Redding and Frostee Rucker dealing with ankle injuries which could keep them out.

Woodley had been playing with a chest injury in recent weeks, but suffered a torn pectoral last week against the Bengals. He’ll be replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Markus Golden, who was playing his spot in passing situations anyway.

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Dolphins want season-renewal commitments by December 18

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The Dolphins soon will embark on a season-ending stretch of home games that will drag season-ticket holders to Sun Life Stadium four times in 29 days. During that “holy crap we have to go back there again to justify the money we already spent?” stretch, the season-ticket holders will have to decide whether to commit to doing it all over again in 2016.

Per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins want season-ticket holders to renew their vows by December 18.

A lot will happen immediately after the season ends, including the hiring of a new coach and (possibly) the hiring of a replacement for G.M. Dennis Hickey, who hasn’t been fired yet but could be.

“It seems to me that they clearly do not want season ticket holders to see what they are going to do next year before the renewal deadline,” a season-ticket holder told Salguero via email. “I think fans would be interested in hearing why they sent renewals this early, with such an early deadline.”

Season-ticket holders also complained about a price increase. The team told Salguero that 54 percent of the seats will be priced lower in 2016. Which means, of course, that up to 46 percent of the seats will cost more next year.

Between the price hike, the deadline, and the upcoming cluster of potentially meaningless late-season games, it’s hardly the best approach for ensuring that season-ticket holders will commit for 2016. With plenty of good seats always available at Sun Life Stadium, why should they do anything until they at least know who the coach will be?

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Aaron Rodgers has a Davante Adams problem

Aaron Rodgers AP

To say Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn’t looked like his old self recently would be accurate, but with one major caveat: The decline in Rodgers’s production has come mostly on passes to wide receiver Davante Adams.

Over the last three weeks, when Rodgers throws to Adams, he’s 15-for-35 for 129 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. That’s a completion percentage of 42.9 percent, an average of 3.7 yards per pass, and a passer rating of 41.2.

Over the last three weeks, when Rodgers throws to anyone other than Adams, he’s 58-for-103 for 618 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s a completion percentage of 56.3 percent, an average of 6.0 yards per pass, and a passer rating of 90.2.

In last night’s loss to the Bears, Adams had a couple of big drops. Rodgers didn’t throw Adams under the bus after the game, but Rodgers did say they need to get on the same page. Packers coach Mike McCarthy was a little more direct about the problems Adams is causing in the offense.

Didn’t have a very good day today,” McCarthy said when asked about Adams. “The consistency we’re getting in certain areas needs to pick up.”

Asked about the interception Rodgers threw, McCarthy suggested that Adams was to blame.

“It’s a basic route. It didn’t look like it was a very good route,” McCarthy said.

As a second-round draft pick last year, Adams didn’t have a huge role in the offense, but the Packers’ passing game was so efficient that they didn’t need him to do much. This year, with Jordy Nelson injured, the Packers are throwing to Adams more frequently, and Adams isn’t producing. And that’s the biggest difference between last year’s Packers and this year’s Packers.

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Friday morning one-liners

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 26: Ezekiel Ansah #94 of the Detroit Lions celebrates a third quarter sack while playing the Philadelphia Eagles at Ford Field on November 26, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

DE Alex Carrington could play a big role for the Bills this weekend.

Dolphins DE Olivier Vernon has helped get the pass rush going in Miami.

Previewing the matchup between the Patriots offense and the Broncos defense.

C Nick Mangold is likelier to be in the Jets lineup than CB Darrelle Revis this weekend.

Said Ravens coach John Harbaugh of QB Jimmy Clausen’s history with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, “Yes, that’s a good point. It’s part of it. Certainly, they’ve been together, and he knows Marc’s concepts. That’s a plus.”

The Bengals offensive line will have to deal with Aaron Donald on Sunday.

What should the Browns be shopping for on Black Friday and beyond?

LB Lawrence Timmons doesn’t want to leave the Steelers anytime soon.

Texans LB Brian Cushing’s play has been trending in the right direction.

RB Ahmad Bradshaw’s receiving ability is important to the Colts.

Tyson Alualu is happy with his role on the Jaguars defensive line.

WR Kendall Wright appears set to return to the Titans lineup.

Stopping Rob Gronkowski is one of the Broncos’ goals this week.

The Chiefs see DB Ron Parker as the “ultimate team guy.”

The Raiders’ road to a playoff spot is a challenging one.

Chargers LB Donald Butler’s playing time has gone down this season.

K Dan Bailey became the third-leading scorer in Cowboys history.

Thanksgiving brought some good results for the Giants.

It was another rough day for the Eagles defense.

The Redskins will have to navigate the rest of the season without CB Chris Culliver.

The Bears were happy with how their defensive game plan played out on Thursday night.

Lions DE Ziggy Ansah had a huge day against the Eagles.

A call for Packers coach Mike McCarthy to resume offensive play calling.

DE Everson Griffen and S Harrison Smith didn’t practice for the Vikings on Thursday.

Christmas music has arrived in the Falcons locker room.

Thursday may have been the Panthers’ last day as an underdog this season.

Will Brian Hoyer be the next quarterback to shred the Saints defense?

What accounts for the defensive improvement for the Buccaneers?

Dwight Freeney has found his footing as a pass rusher for the Cardinals.

Demetrius Rhaney will get his shot on the Rams offensive line.

LB Ahmad Brooks and RB Carlos Hyde remained out of 49ers practice on Thanksgiving.

Will Seahawks CB Richard Sherman stick with Antonio Brown all day on Sunday?

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Packers had players-only meeting, apparently over excessive video games


On a day made famous by John Madden’s Turducken, a Green Bay defeat to cap the game during which Madden’s favorite player was honored may have been fueled in part by an addiction to Madden’s billion-dollar video game franchise.

“They had a little players-only meeting this past couple weeks ago before that Minnesota game,” NBC’s Cris Collinsworth said midway through the third quarter of Green Bay’s 17-13 loss to the Bears on Thanksgiving night. “I don’t think Aaron Rodgers was too happy with the preparation schedule of some of the young players on this team. A few too many video games being played and not enough homework.”

The Madden intervention apparently worked against the Vikings. But with a short week and a quick turnaround and a premium placed on preparation before playing again on Thursday, it could be that the Lure of the PS4 kept the Packers from being as ready to go as they should have been.

They now have a full six days to prepare for their next game, which will be another visit to prime time via a Thursday night trip to Detroit, one of two NFC North rivals who have come to Lambeau Field this month and beaten the home team.

The Packers have every incentive to win this next one. And they have the talent to do it, too. As long as the young players on the team can resist messing with consoles that are being purchased by the truckload on Black Friday.

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Panthers use group effort to keep Greg Hardy off the stat sheet

Cam Newton, Greg Hardy AP

Greg Hardy wanted to show the Panthers what they walked away from.

It didn’t take long, as the Cowboys defensive end was held without a single tackle in his reunion with the team that let him walk into free agency after his domestic violence arrest.

There were still some hugs and words exchanged after the game, but that was as close as Hardy came to making an impact on anyone wearing blue.

“It was a lot of help. I wasn’t the only one who blocked him,” Panthers left tackle Michael Oher said, via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. “Everything comes into play with blocking a D-end. . . . Just playing with fundamentals really, and studying film. But he’s a heck of a player and it was tough all night.”

The Cowboys moved him around the line of scrimmage to find a good matchup, but didn’t find one, as right tackle Mike Remmers kept his quarterback clean as well. The Panthers were clearly focused on not letting Hardy be an issue, with center Ryan Kalil locating him on every snap.

Hardy said he heard from a few old teammates after the game — “All love. That’s about it,” he said, and said he was impressed.

“I said it when I was there, I’ll say it now – they’re a very talented bunch,” he said. “They have a great coach, they have a great everything. So long as they keep playing together and keep playing hard and worry about the next game – nameless, faceless opponents, man – they’ll continue to win.”

It’s easier for them to view Hardy that way now, since there’s no evidence of him in the box score.

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Jay Cutler: “Huge” to get first win at Lambeau

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 26:  Quarterback  Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears celebrates after the Bears scored against the Green Bay Packers in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on November 26, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers were all at Lambeau Field on Thursday night, but the only quarterback who got to celebrate a win at the end of the game was Jay Cutler.

The Bears quarterback had come up empty in four previous starts at Lambeau Field. Cutler had averaged three interceptions while completing barely half his passes in those games, but was 19-of-31 for 200 yards and a touchdown as the Bears moved to 5-6 in a 17-13 victory that continued a big week for Cutler.

“It’s huge,” Cutler said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s been a fun week for me — a Sunday game, and then having a baby on a Monday, and then turning around and playing on a Thursday. I think everyone’s looking forward to going home and spending some time with the family.”

Cutler said he couldn’t even remember last year’s 55-14 thumping at Lambeau, saying that “so much is new” this season. Tackle Kyle Long explained one of the differences.

“I’m sure there have been times in the past that he’s played well and he hasn’t had guys who have his back,” Long said. “We got Jay’s back, and he knows that. And he was excited.”

The Bears are at home against the 49ers and Redskins the next two weeks, which could give them an opportunity to get into the race for a playoff spot if things break right with other teams in that mix. Should that happen, another new development may be an offseason free of discussion about dumping Cutler since the Bears wouldn’t be drafting at a spot where they’re likely to take one of the top rookie quarterbacks.

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Matt Stafford can’t get enough of Jim Bob Cooter’s offense

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Matt Stafford did more than throw five touchdown passes Thursday.

He also appeared to be having fun, which was in short supply as the Lions endured a 1-7 start and the firing of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi (among others).

But now, having won three straight games after yesterday’s demolition of the Eagles, Stafford said the confidence stems from the game plans being installed by new coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

“It’s just been good,” Stafford said, via Jeff Seidel of the Detroit Free Press. “Jim Bob and I have a good relationship. He’s a smart guy. He communicates well with the guys on our offense. He’s young in his job, but he’s not afraid. He’s aggressive. That’s fun. That rubs off on guys when a guy is aggressive and trusts us to go out and make good decisions.”

Of course, it helps when Stafford is upright and able to see receivers, as improved offensive line play has been a significant element of their recent surge. But Stafford sounded giddy about the aggressive approach Cooter has taken since getting the keys.

Stafford said that Cooter called a play in the second quarter full of slant routes, but changed his mind before it was run.

“He said, ‘Ah, screw that. Let’s be aggressive,’ ” Stafford said. “Then, he gave me four verticals. I was fired up for it. . . .

“I loved it. Jim Bob called a great game, put us in position to win, in a position to make plays.”

It certainly helped that they were playing the Eagles, who have done their part to make plenty of coordinators look good. But the enthusiasm the Lions have shown in the Cooter Era seems real.

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Falcons sign Shayne Graham with Matt Bryant hurting

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 05:  Shayne Graham #3 of the New Orleans Saints prepares to kick a field goal during the first quarter of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 5, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons did some pre-Black Friday shopping on Thursday and came home with a veteran kicker.

The team signed Shayne Graham after a workout necessitated by a right quad injury suffered by Matt Bryant. Bryant got hurt in Wednesday’s practice and didn’t participate in practice on Thursday, leaving open the possibility that Atlanta will use a different kicker for the first time since 2009.

“As we go through the week, what we’ll do is if Matt’s available to play, we will. If not, then we’ll go with Shayne,” coach Dan Quinn said, via

If Graham does kick for the Falcons this weekend, they’ll be the 10th NFL team to use Graham during a regular season game. His last appearance came with the Saints last season and he’s been a frequent participant in kicking workouts this season before beating out former teammate and kicking competition opponent Billy Cundiff for a job in Atlanta.

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Saints put Keenan Lewis on season-ending IR

Keenan Lewis AP

It’s been a struggle for Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis to stay on the field this year, and the team couldn’t keep waiting.

Via Evan Woodbery of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Saints placed Lewis on season-ending injured reserve, and filled his roster spot with veteran Chris Owens.

Lewis had a sports hernia, and the surgery cost him the first three games and limited him when he did come back. He also suffered an MCL injury in the Saints’ last game against Washington.

“[The] stuff I’ve dealt with this whole season, I guess it’s just one of those years when you’re trying to fight for your team and your body just doesn’t allow you to,” Lewis said. “It’s tough. I’m trying to get out of this slump I’m in, body-wise.”

So is the Saints defense as a whole.

The 29-year-old Lewis only played about 15 percent of the team’s snaps this year. He’s under contract through 2017, and they’ve already guaranteed his 2016 salary in a restructuring last offseason.

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Aside from injury, Tony Romo blue about putting team in a hole

Tony Romo AP

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo left last night with his left arm in a sling.

But his mental anguish over playing as poorly as he did before the injury might have been worse than the physical pain.

Romo admitted he wasn’t himself during Thursday’s loss to the Panthers, with the mental rust evident in the three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) which he threw in the first half. He finished the day 11-of-21 for 106 yards.

“There are so many subtle things that come up when you see different things and you just have to get there,” Romo said, via Todd Archer of  “I wasn’t quite there yet. It was going to take a little bit of time. You hope you can win games until you get that back, but it’s just disappointing I wasn’t able to do that and played poor today. I really put our team in a hole. That was the difference in the ballgame, really.”

It wasn’t so much that Romo was throwing poorly, it was more of an issue of things he couldn’t see — which seems odd considering the Panthers were wearing all-blue Smurf uniforms.

“Playing the position, I was not as adept at some of the things that I have been used to doing,” Romo said. “They were slower. I’ve got to look at the mechanics part, the physical [part], but I just feel like my natural instinct, some of the mental aspects, I was slow with. . . .

“I would like to think that I am a good enough player to not just give touchdowns to the defense. When you do that, you put your team in a big hole. Our defense battled out there and gave us chances for stretches for the outcome to be different.

“I didn’t give us a chance, and for however long I’m going to sit and live with that, and that will eat at me.”

That time might be an entire offseason. He’s having more tests today, but only a slim chance exists he’ll be able to return later this season. It probably won’t matter even if he’s able to come back, especially not if he plays the way he did yesterday.

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Josh Norman on Dez: Cowboys should get their $70 million back

Josh Norman AP

A breakout season for Panthers cornerback Josh Norman continued in Dallas on Thursday when he scored a decisive win in his matchup with Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Bryant had two catches all day and one for six yards when Norman was covering him, which led Norman to say after the game that the Cowboys “need to get Dez’s 70 mil back” after signing the wideout to an extension this summer. Norman and Bryant spent plenty of time jawing at each other during the game, including during Kurt Coleman’s early interception return for a touchdown, and Norman was flagged for an extended celebration of knocking a ball away from Bryant in the end zone in the second half.

After the game Norman explained that his saltiness toward Bryant was fueled by what the Dallas wideout said about him to his teammates in the secondary.

“They came back, told me, I put my thinking cap on and I went to work,” Norman said, via the Dallas Morning News. “I went to a dark place. I went to the bat cave. I went Dark Knight on him. The thing is, the crazy thing about all that is, he started from the first play and after that, it was nothing. There’s no pact between lions and men between the white lines. None. And if my intensity is all out four quarters and the other opponent is not, that’s not my fault.”

Norman has been just about impossible for opposing offenses to beat all season. Thursday’s results suggest that firing verbal shots in his direction isn’t the way to do it.

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Aaron Rodgers: We need to get on same page in passing game

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 26:  Quarterback  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks to pass in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on November 26, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) Getty Images

There were two major topics of conversation for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers after Thursday’s 17-13 loss to the Bears at Lambeau Field.

One was the status of his left arm, which Rodgers hurt in the third quarter on a hit by Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston. Backup Scott Tolzien started to warm up, but Rodgers didn’t miss a snap. He did have to do all his handing off with his right hand and said he was still waiting for the feeling to return to a couple of his fingers.

“I lost feeling in my hand for a good portion of the game there in the third quarter, fourth quarter,” Rodgers said, via the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “It’s my left hand. I’ll be all right. … That’s the old funny bone there. Yeah. Not so funny.”

The other big topic wasn’t a laughing matter, either. It was the state of a passing game that hasn’t been firing at a high level for several weeks as the Packers have dropped four of five games. Rodgers was 22-of-43 for 202 yards with a touchdown and an interception on a night that saw him target James Jones and Davante Adams frequently without finding success.

“I’m obviously going to have to make sure my preparation is as high as it’s ever been because we need to get on the same page, the passing game,” Rodgers said. “We’re just on different pages. When you miss throws, when I’m throwing at a certain depth, when receivers are running at certain depth — we’re obviously on different pages.”

It would help if Adams held onto the ball during a poor game, but there was plenty of criticism to go around on a night that ended with the Packers on the doorstep of the end zone and unable to get the game-winning score that would have made another week of offensive frustration a little easier to swallow.

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Chip Kelly: It’s on me as a head coach

Jim Caldwell, Chip Kelly AP

Eagles coach Chip Kelly knows he’s not getting the job done.

A disappointed Kelly said after the Eagles’ loss to the Lions on Thanksgiving that he recognizes he isn’t coaching well.

“Didn’t coach well today. Didn’t do anything well today. Very disappointing,” Kelly said. “We haven’t put our players in position to make plays the last two weeks, and that’s on us. That’s on me as a head coach, so I’ll take responsibility.”

The Eagles have lost four of their last five games, and the last two losses were by a combined score of 90-31. So it’s pretty obvious that he’s not coaching very well. But it’s also important to point out that Kelly isn’t just the head coach, he’s also the General Manager. And Kelly has arguably done an even worse job as G.M. than as coach.

The question is whether Kelly is willing and able to make wholesale changes in his approach. Kelly has always been a “My way or the highway” guy, and his way isn’t working.

In the next few weeks, Kelly and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie may mutually decide that they’d both be better off going their separate ways. Kelly could go back to coaching in college, and Lurie could find himself a coach and G.M. more suited to the NFL.

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