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NFL morning after: The unappreciated Jay Cutler

Bears quarterback Cutler is pressured by Vikings defensive end Griffen during the first half of their NFL football game at Soldier Field in Chicago Reuters

If you don’t like Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, you’re not alone. A poll of fans conducted last season found that Cutler was one of the Top 5 most disliked players in the NFL.

And if you’re looking for reasons not to like Cutler, you saw one when the Bears beat the Vikings on Sunday: Cutler committed one of the dumber penalties of the day when he ran out of bounds and then threw the ball at Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson. Throwing the ball at an opponent is an automatic 15-yard penalty, as every NFL player should know. Yes, Cutler can be an idiot sometimes.

But if you don’t think Cutler is a good quarterback, well, you’re wrong. Cutler’s abilities were on display in Sunday’s 28-10 win over the Vikings, but they were even more on display in the way the Bears completely fell apart without him a week ago against the 49ers. And Cutler’s importance to the Bears is on display in every game he misses: In the last three years, in games Cutler both started and finished, the Bears are 26-9. In games Cutler either missed entirely or was knocked out because of an injury in the first half, the Bears are 1-8.

No, Cutler doesn’t put up the kinds of numbers that the NFL’s elite quarterbacks produce, but Cutler doesn’t have anywhere near the kind of offensive talent surrounding him that the NFL’s elite quarterbacks have. The Bears have had one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines for Cutler’s entire tenure in Chicago, and they only got a high-level wide receiver for the first time this year, when they traded for Brandon Marshall.

I believe it’s that Chicago offensive line and that Chicago receiving corps — as well as, yes, acting like a jerk at times by doing things like throwing a ball at an opponent — that has made Cutler one of the most underappreciated players in the NFL. This is a good quarterback, playing on a team that appears headed toward the playoffs, in the NFL’s second-biggest media market, and he should get more credit than he does.

Cutler has a great opportunity, however, to change the way he’s regarded over the next couple of months. With the Bears right in the thick of the NFC playoff race, Cutler has the chance to do what he didn’t do when a knee injury knocked him out of the NFC Championship Game a couple years ago, and play the best football of his career on the biggest stage. I think Cutler is going to open some eyes in December and January. And maybe by February, he won’t be unappreciated anymore.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s games:

Robert Ayers was the toughest player in the league on Sunday. Ayers, a backup defensive end for the Broncos, found out late on Saturday night that his father had died suddenly. But instead of heading home right away, he decided to stay in Kansas City to be there for his team against the Chiefs. Ayers played and played well in a 17-9 win in which the Broncos’ defense shut down the Chiefs’ offense, then was awarded a game ball in the locker room afterward and headed home to tend to his family.

Jared Allen got away with a brutal cheap shot. While his teammate Antoine Winfield was returning an interception, Allen launched himself directly into the head of Bears offensive lineman Lance Louis, delivering a hit that knocked Louis out of the game. Allen said after the game that he thought the hit was legal, but he’s wrong. That’s a blatant penalty that the officials somehow missed, but the league office won’t. Allen is in for a big fine.

The Chiefs got too cute. Kansas City’s opening drive against Denver was running smoothly, with an emphasis on running: Out of the Chiefs’ first nine offensive plays, eight of them were runs, and those eight runs produced 48 yards. So what on earth were the Chiefs thinking with the play they called on third-and-3 in the red zone? Instead of running it again, the Chiefs called a bizarre trick play on which running back Peyton Hillis took the snap, ran to his right, then turned around and threw it to quarterback Brady Quinn. Hillis’s pass showed that there’s a reason he’s not a quarterback: He threw an ugly duck that didn’t even get close, falling to the ground a few feet in front of Quinn. That was a dumb play call that stopped a promising drive.

Something has to be done about the officials, Part 1. Everyone saw the horrendous call on Thanksgiving in which the officials somehow ruled that Texans running back Justin Forsett had run 81 yards for a touchdown, even though he was obviously down after just eight yards. But on Sunday not as many people noticed that the opposite mistake was made in the 49ers-Saints game: San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree caught a pass, got hit, put his hand down to steady himself and kept running, about to break a big play — except that the officials whistled the play dead, wrongly thinking Crabtree had been down. If we can’t count on the officials to get it right on a call as fundamental as whether or not a player was down, what can we count on them to get right?

Something has to be done about the officials, Part 2. Remember during the lockout, how everyone complained that the replacement refs were dragging out the games by taking way too long to make their rulings? No delays from the replacement refs were as bad as the ridiculous delay late in Sunday’s Ravens-Chargers game. After Ray Rice made an amazing play to turn a short pass into a first down on fourth-and-29, the officials delayed the game by a whopping 10 minutes to watch a replay and re-measure the spot of the ball, only to discover that it had been correctly ruled a first down on the field all along. A 10-minute delay late in the fourth quarter of a close game takes all the energy out of the building. Make the call and move on, refs.

Anyone want to help Charlie Batch out? With Batch, the Steelers’ 38-year-old third-string quarterback, pressed into duty on Sunday, the Steelers needed to get big games from their running backs. Instead, Pittsburgh’s four running backs — Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey — combined for just 49 yards on 20 carries, while fumbling six times. Mendenhall and Rainey had two fumbles apiece, while Dwyer and Redman each had one. The Steelers’ eight turnovers were the most for any NFL team in one game since 2001, and the Steelers were upset by the Browns.

Jim Harbaugh made the right decision. Colin Kaepernick is a better quarterback than Alex Smith, and if anyone doubted it before, no one should doubt it after Kaepernick led the 49ers to a big win at New Orleans on Sunday. Harbaugh was wise to bench Smith in favor of Kaepernick, who is now 2-0 as a starter with wins over the Bears (playing without Cutler) and Saints. With Kaepernick under center, the 49ers are going to be a tough team to beat in January. Although if they meet again in the playoffs, I like the Bears’ chances with a healthy Cutler.

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Titans place LB Zach Brown on IR, agree with LB James Anderson

Zach Brown, Geno Smith AP

A torn pectoral has officially brought Zach Brown’s season to a close.

The Titans have placed Brown, one of their starting inside linebackers, on injured reserve, the club announced Tuesday.

To fill the roster spot, the Titans are adding another linebacker, reaching a deal with ninth-year pro James Anderson, who started 16 games for Chicago in 2013. Anderson (6-2, 235) will provide depth behind Wesley Woodyard and Zaviar Gooden. Anderson, 30, has notched 556 tackles and 12 tackles in his regular season career.

The 24-year-old Brown suffered the injury in the Titans’ Week One win at Kansas City. The North Carolina product has been a starter since joining the Titans in 2012.

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Adrian Peterson’s foundation goes on hiatus

Peterson AP

As further proof that no one quite knows how the Adrian Peterson mess will unfold and ultimately resolve itself, Peterson’s “All Day Foundation” has landed on hiatus.

The message that the organization’s website says, “The Foundation will reengage after Adrian, his family, and staff have reflected on how the current situation impacts the direction for Adrian’s philanthropy.”

It’s a somewhat strange outcome, unless Peterson is in the process of shifting the goals of the foundation toward a cause relevant to his current predicament.

Given that Peterson apparently didn’t realize that striking a small child with a slender tree branch until the child’s flesh had become torn open in multiple locations was not an acceptable form of punishment, maybe the efforts should focus exclusively on making sure anyone else out there understands the limits of discipline.

That’s perhaps the only good news that comes out of this case.  Regardless of what Peterson’s foundation does in the future, more and more people now know what can and can’t be done when it comes to whipping a child.

Maybe there should be no whipping at all.  Whatever the degree, using violence of any degree against a child teaches the child that problems can be solved that way.

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Giants announce no new injury for Beason, Jerrel Jernigan to injured reserve

Jerrel Jernigan AP

The Giants officially announced the promotion of linebacker Dan Fox from the practice squad on Tuesday afternoon, but they didn’t give any idea about how long Jon Beason may be out of the lineup.

The team said that Beason aggravated the foot injury that kept him out of training camp and preseason and that he may visit Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte for further examination, but didn’t add any timeline for Beason’s absence. Anderson examined Beason’s foot when it was initially injured in June and such a timeline may not be established until the doctor takes a closer look.

It was a busy day on the injury news front for the Giants beyond Beason as they placed cornerback Walter Thurmond and wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan on injured reserve. Thurmond tore his pectoral and Jernigan has a mid-foot sprain that will not require surgery. Both players are set to become free agents after the season so their time as active members of the organization may have come to an end.

In addition to Fox, the Giants promoted wide receiver Julian Talley from the practice squad to bring the roster to 53 players.

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Mike Smith: We’re just trying to get Roddy White ready for the game

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Wide receiver Roddy White didn’t practice on Tuesday because of a hamstring injury, but the Falcons say there’s no reason to expect him to miss Thursday’s game against the Buccaneers.

Head coach Mike Smith said that White’s absence at practice so far this week has been about making sure that a veteran player is ready to go on a short week.

“It’s not important for Roddy to practice,” Smith said, via ESPN.com. “We’d like for Roddy to practice, but it’s all about getting Roddy ready on a short week. And some of these guys across the league that have some age with them, on a short week, you’ve got to get them to Thursday. And that’s our intention. Right now, our goal is to have Roddy as healthy as he can be for the ball game on Thursday night.”

White also hurt his knee in Week One, so there’s all the more reason for the Falcons to ease off on his practice time if they want him fresh for game day. There could take a toll on White’s play as the mileage adds up, but that appears to be a risk the Falcons are willing to run.

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Chip Kelly downplays “spy movie” information on Darren Sproles

Sproles AP

Eagles coach Chip Kelly knew something the Saints and the rest of the league didn’t.  Otherwise, Kelly wouldn’t have gotten his hands on running back Darren Sproles for only a fifth-round draft pick.

Asked in the wake of Sproles’ career performance against the Colts to elaborate on the “intel” that Kelly had before making the trade, Kelly said the kind of thing that only Kelly does.

“Is this like a spy movie?” Kelly told reporters.   “I mean, we watched game film and just studied him.  Obviously.”

The reporter then clarified, asking about what Kelly knew regarding Sproles’ personality and work ethic.

“I knew about his work ethic,” Kelly said.  “When you talk to coaches that dealt with him, I know Norv Turner raved about him at the Chargers, so you knew the type of work ethic and person he was.  You listen to some of the reports about everybody loving him as a teammate and all of that.  So, you know, you go back to the background stuff that the scouts did when he was coming out of college at Kansas State and what they had to say about him and you read all of those reports.  It’s the same general kind of intel that we have for any free agent.  You’re trying to do your research and find out about them.”

The Eagles found out plenty last night about Sproles’ ability to play.  If the Saints knew Sproles had that much left in the tank, they could have gotten a lot more for him in trade.

Or maybe they wouldn’t have traded him at all.

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Vikings and childrens’ home “mutually” cancel appearance

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The Tuesday afternoon charity appearance is as much of a staple of the NFL calendar as the Friday afternoon news dump.

But one group in the Twin Cities doesn’t seem to want to Vikings around today.

According to Master Tesfatsion of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Vikings and St. Joseph’s Home for Children “mutually agreed to cancel” an appearance this afternoon.

St. Joseph’s is a home which provides shelter for abused children.

A group of around 50 children were supposed to take part in a Play 60 event with six Vikings players.

But since Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is being accused of abusing his 4-year-old, it’s probably not a good look to show up there for a photo op.

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Giants call up linebacker from practice squad with Jon Beason ailing

Jon Beason AP

The Giants defense got a huge boost from the arrival of linebacker Jon Beason last season, but it now looks like they’re bracing for his absence for at least part of this season.

Multiple reports have the Giants promoting linebacker Dan Fox from their practice squad on Tuesday, a move that comes two days after Beason had to leave the Giants’ loss to the Cardinals with a foot injury. Beason missed all of training camp and the preseason after injuring his foot during offseason work, so it’s easy to connect the dots that Fox’s arrival means that the team has or is expecting bad news about the veteran’s availability.

Fox was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame this offseason and got some good notices for his work with the Giants over the summer. Among the positives was his ability to play both inside and outside in the team’s scheme.

Mark Herzlich saw time against Arizona after Beason was knocked out and Jameel McClain also has experience playing inside from his time with the Ravens should it play out that the Giants need a longer term replacement. Moving McClain would leave the Giants in need of a new starter on the outside, however.

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Bears promote CB Isaiah Frey, WR Rashad Ross from practice squad

Isaiah Frey AP

In need of a cornerback with Charles Tillman out for the season with a right triceps injury, the Bears promoted one from the practice squad.

The club announced Tuesday it had signed third-year pro Isaiah Frey to the active roster. Frey spent all 16 games on the Bears’ roster a season ago, notching 47 tackles and making six starts. The 2012 sixth-round pick was waived in the Bears’ final cuts in August, then re-signed to the practice squad September 1.

The Bears’ promotions didn’t end with Frey, with the club also announcing the addition of first-year wide receiver Rashad Ross to the roster. Like Frey, Ross spent the first two games on the Bears’ practice squad. The 24-year-old Ross had stints on Tennessee’s and Kansas City’s practice squads last season and was with Washington for three preseason games this summer.

In corresponding roster moves Tuesday, the Bears released tailback Shaun Draughn, tight end Matthew Mulligan and wide receiver Chris Williams. The club now has one open roster spot.

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Senator Al Franken to Vikings: Bench Adrian Peterson

alfranken AP

One of Minnesota’s U.S. Senators has joined the state’s governor in urging the Vikings to deactivate Adrian Peterson.

Shortly after Governor Mark Dayton said the Vikings should not play Peterson while he is under indictment for injuring his son, Senator Al Franken released a statement saying the same.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear about what happened to this child,” Franken said in a statement. “I’m a diehard Vikings fan, and watching the games on Sundays has been one of my favorite things to do since I was a kid. But this is just wrong, and I think the Vikings made the wrong decision here. This is in the hands of law enforcement now, and it must go through the judicial process, but I don’t believe Adrian Peterson should be allowed to play until that happens. A lot of kids look up to these players, and it’s not OK for the Vikings to send the signal that what happened is acceptable. This is bigger than a football game.”

The Vikings initially sat Peterson out of Sunday’s game when he was indicted, but they said on Monday that they would put Peterson back on the field this week. Since then they have lost a corporate sponsor over the Peterson case and been the subject of criticism from a governor and a senator.

So far, the Vikings aren’t backing off their support of Peterson. But at this point last week, the Panthers were supporting Greg Hardy, their defensive end who is accused of a domestic violence incident. By Sunday, the Panthers had decided that they simply couldn’t play Hardy. Don’t be surprised if the Vikings come to the same conclusion in the next five days.

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Bengals place Alex Smith on IR

Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Bengals placed tight end Tyler Eifert on injured reserve with the designation to return after he suffered an elbow injury in the season opener and now they’ve lost another tight end for an even longer stretch of time.

The team placed Alex Smith on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday. Smith, who was used mainly as a blocker in Cincinnati, suffered a biceps injury in Sunday’s win over the Falcons.

That left the Bengals with just two tight ends on the active roster in Jermaine Gresham and Ryan Hewitt. They addressed that shortage by signing Kevin Brock.

Brock signed with the Bengals before their Wild Card game last season, but didn’t play in the team’s loss to the Chargers. He went to camp with the team and was cut in August. Brock also played four games with the Chiefs last season, catching three passes for 36 yards, and saw action with the Bills in 2011 as well.

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Nike pulls Adrian Peterson merchandise from Twin Cities stores

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It’s one thing for government leaders and the media to bang on the Vikings for reinstating Adrian Peterson after a paid weekend off.

But now the guys with the money are starting to chime in.

According to the Associated Press, Nike has removed all of its Peterson merchandise from their stores in the Twin Cities.

They’re still willing to sell it to you online, but removing the most visible Viking from the shelves makes some degree of a statement.

It might not have the direct economic impact of Radisson pulling its sponsorship from the team, but it’s another clear sign that there are plenty of people unhappy with the way the team has handled this behind the mask of “due process.”

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Anheuser-Busch disappointed, concerned, dissatisfied with NFL

Goodell Getty Images

A major NFL sponsor has had enough with the misbehavior of NFL players and the response of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners he works for.

Anheuser-Busch, the beer maker that spends a fortune on NFL advertising and sponsorship, has released a strongly worded statement in response to the controversies that have unfolded over the last week regarding Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald.

“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league,” the statement said.

Previous statements from the NFL’s corporate partners have generally shown confidence in the NFL’s ability to get a handle on the events that have contributed to the ugliest week in NFL history. The statement from Anheuser-Busch shows no such confidence. If the NFL can’t satisfy Anheuser-Busch, the NFL is at risk losing one of its most lucrative partners.

Which means Roger Goodell is at risk of losing his job. Make no mistake, the reason the NFL’s owners are supportive of Goodell is that the NFL’s owners have made a lot of money while Goodell has run the league. The day Goodell’s mismanagement of this issue costs the owners money is the day Goodell loses the support of the owners. Goodell has already mismanaged the Rice case. He had better figure out the right way to handle the cases of Peterson, Hardy and McDonald.

If Goodell can’t get the job done, the owners will find a commissioner who can.

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Gerald McCoy on playing with broken hand: You want to be smart

Gerald McCoy, Everett Dawkins AP

Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said Tuesday that defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has been fitted with a cast for his left hand a couple of days after breaking it in a loss to the Rams.

There have been a lot of players who have played through similar injuries with the help of a cast, but McCoy said that the team is still weighing the best course of action to take for Thursday’s game against the Falcons.

“Obviously, it’s better if I’m out there but still a long season,” McCoy said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “It can always get worse. That’s the risk of going out there Thursday … time is very short this week, so not having a full week to recover is definitely working against me but I’m a fighter … Most of it is pain tolerance, but as much as you want to be out there, you also want to be smart.”

If McCoy was going to be better in Week Four because he skipped this week’s game, it would likely be an easy choice for the Bucs to sit him down. The injury is going to linger, however, and McCoy will be playing through it for some period of time if the Bucs want to have him in the lineup. That said, the short week provides little opportunity for him to get used to playing with a cast, in addition to the abbreviated recovery time, and that may make him an observer this week.

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Lions work out veteran kickers

Cleveland Browns v Detroit Lions Getty Images

The Lions had Jason Hanson handle their kicking for two decades, but they’re having a harder time finding a permanent replacement now that he’s retired.

David Akers handled the gig in 2013, but the Lions opted not to re-sign him this year after he went 19-of-24 on field goals. Nate Freese won the kicking job after a camp competition with Giorgio Tavecchio, but he’s missed three field goals in the first two games of the regular season to put his job in some jeopardy.

The Lions turned up the heat on Freese Tuesday by working out a handful of veteran kickers. Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports that the team had Garrett Hartley, Rob Bironas and Alex Henery in for a look.

Hartley was dropped by the Saints last December after making 22-of-30 field goal tries through that point in the season. Bironas was released in March as a cost-saving move by the Titans while Henery was cut by the Eagles last month in favor of Cody Parkey.

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Colts sign Kelcy Quarles, drop Dion Lewis

Florida v South Carolina Getty Images

The Colts signed running back Dion Lewis last week to bolster a running back corps left thinner than they’d like by Vick Ballard’s season-ending injury, but it looks like another injury may be forcing the team to reallocate their resources.

Indianapolis announced Tuesday that they have waived Lewis and signed defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles off of the Patriots’ practice squad. Lewis did not play on Monday night.

The Colts saw defensive tackle Arthur Jones exit Monday night’s loss to the Eagles with a high ankle sprain and the addition of Quarles suggests that he’ll miss a bit of time while recovering from the injury. Quarles spent training camp with the Giants and was claimed off of waivers by the Patriots, who then signed him to their practice squad after dropping him from the 53-man roster a short time later.

Quarles will join Ricky Jean-Francois, Montori Hughes and Zach Kerr as defensive line options to go with Josh Chapman and Cory Redding if Jones does wind up on the sideline.

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