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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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Hunter Henry in concussion protocol

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 13:  Hunter Henry #86 of the San Diego Chargers runs with the ball after his catch during the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium on October 13, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chargers rookie tight end Hunter Henry is in the NFL’s concussion protocol and will be monitored this week as the Chargers prepare to play at the Broncos.

Chargers Coach Mike McCoy said Monday that Henry reported concussion-like symptoms after the Chargers won in Atlanta Sunday.

Henry, who’s just 21, has 20 catches on the season, three for touchdowns. He’s become a key player in a dangerous Chargers’ offense, and if he can’t play Sunday it would be a significant loss.

Henry had eight catches for 83 yards and a touchdown when the Chargers beat the Broncos on Oct. 13.

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Denials from coaches don’t mean Joe Thomas, Joe Staley won’t be traded

SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 24:  Joe Staley #74 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during the preseason game against the San Diego Chargers at Levi's Stadium on August 24, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

We have no intent to trade Percy Harvin.”

Remember that one? It came from Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman, not long before the team unloaded the mercurial wideout on a Seattle team that got limited use out of him before dumping him on the Jets for a bowl of soup.

Granted, Spielman never said Harvin wouldn’t be traded. But the message is that, no matter what a team says, trades can and do happen.

As to Browns tackle Joe Thomas and 49ers tackle Joe Staley, Browns coach Hue Jackson and 49ers coach Chip Kelly, respectively, have thrown water on the notion that either are available. Jackson said Thomas, who nearly was traded a year ago (before the Browns were in full-blown rebuilding mode), won’t be traded. Kelly said talk of a Staley trade is “news to him.”

That’s fine. But keep this in mind: Neither guy is the G.M., and neither guy owns the team. If either team gets what they want (the Browns, we’re told, want a second-round pick and the 49ers, we’re told want a late first-round selection) or perhaps something close to it, whatever Jackson or Kelly are saying now will quickly be forgotten.

Just like Minnesota’s lack of intent to trade Percy Harvin. Or like Jets coach Todd Bowles claim from one week ago tonight that he wouldn’t be benching Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Often in NFL circles, truth takes a back seat to strategic objectives. Which makes it foolish to take anything any coach, G.M., or owner says at face value.

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Okung is OK, in Monday night’s starting lineup

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 08:  Running back C.J. Anderson #22 of the Denver Broncos celebrates with offensive tackle Russell Okung #73 after Anderson scores on a 25-yard reception in the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 8, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

Broncos left tackle Russell Okung is active and in the starting lineup for Monday night’s game vs. the Texans.

Okung had been listed as questionable due to a concussion. He was a limited participant in practice on Friday and Saturday.

Broncos wide receiver Cody Latimer is out due to a concussion. He also had been listed as questionable. The Broncos had previously listed outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware as out as he continues to recover from a forearm injury.

As expected, the Texans have defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (wrist) and linebacker John Simon (shoulder) active and available. They had been listed as questionable.

The Texans had listed four players — cornerback Kevin Johnson, linebacker Brian Peters, safety Quintin Demps and running back Jonathan Grimes — as out. The team announced that Corey Moore will start in place of Demps.

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Patriots waive Anthony Johnson

Kansas City Chiefs v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The Patriots waived defensive lineman Anthony Johnson on Monday.

Johnson had played in four games this season for the Patriots, starting one. He also served a previous short stint on the practice squad, and he could end up back on the team’s practice squad.

Johnson previously spent time with the Dolphins and Redskins. He first signed with the Patriots last May.

The Patriots also released safety Vinnie Sunseri from their practice squad.

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Cardinals have talked to Chandler Jones about a new contract

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23:  Outside linebackers Chandler Jones #55 and Markus Golden #44 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrate after a tackle on the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones has played well this season, but when Arizona traded a second-round pick to acquire Jones this year, it hoped to get more than one good year from Jones. And that can only happen with a new contract.

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said after Sunday night’s game that he has talked to Jones’s agent about a new contract for Jones, who is in the final year of his rookie deal. Keim described the pass rush Jones provides as “something we have not had here in years,” and he hopes to keep that pass rushing presence in Arizona for years to come.

Keim didn’t say a deal is close, but the fact that the team and the player are talking is a sign that something may get worked out before March, when the Cardinals would need to either put the franchise tag on Jones or risk seeing him leave in free agency.

Jones has five sacks so far this season and had a sack and forced fumble in last night’s tie against the Seahawks. The Cardinals are going to need more big plays like that from Jones to get back into playoff contention, both this year and in future years.

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Redskins ST coach Ben Kotwica gave Lions fans more than they bargained for Sunday

BERLIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 24:  Urinals hang on a wall in a newly-inaugurated gender-free toilet at the office building of the city's Senate Administration for Work, Integration and Women (Senatsverwaltung fuer Arbeit, Integration und Frauen) on November 24, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The administration has converted four of its previously separate men's and women's toilets to gender-free toilets in a sign of respect towards Berlin's trans-gender community, who otherwise often face potentially uncomfortable decisions or confrontations in the use of public toilets.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) Getty Images

When you gotta go, you gotta go and that presented a problem for Redskins special teams coach Ben Kotwica during Sunday’s game against the Lions.

Kotwica couldn’t really leave the field to answer nature’s call and no one wants a case of uromysitisis poisoning, so he followed the lead of many others over the years and found a spot on the sideline to take care of business. Unlike some of those others, Kotwica neglected to bring along another coach, player or team employee to act as a shield.

As a result, some Lions fans sitting close to the field got an eyeful as Kotwica relieved himself into a Gatorade cup — Is it in you? never seemed to be so fine a slogan –while standing next to a trash can on the sideline. A photo made its way to TMZ Sports along with a report that Kotwica was the second member of the staff to use that spot over the course of the game.

TMZ reached out to the team, which had no comment about something that happens frequently if not always in such plain sight of the paying customers.

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Kaepernick doesn’t think anthem protests affect ratings

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 23:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines during their NFL game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi's Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Commissioner Roger Goodell and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick likely don’t agree on much. But here’s one thing on which they occupy the same page: They believe the 2016 drop in TV ratings has nothing to do with the ongoing national anthem protests.

“I don’t know much about ratings and how they are affected and all of those things,” Kaepernick said after Sunday’s loss to the Buccaneers, via Andy Furillo of the Sacramento Bee. “But I don’t understand why ratings would go down, fighting for justice for people, to try to stop oppression, especially in a league that is predominantly black.”

Goodell was blunt and concise last week when asked about the potential connection by reporters: “That it’s not a factor. It’s not having any significant impact on our ratings.”

On one hand, it’s strange to think that anyone would deprive themselves of something they enjoy because of the actions of a small handful of all players. On the other hand, how does the league know for sure that it’s not a factor? Many have said it is; they all can’t simply be exaggerating and embellishing the connection in order to push an anti-protest agenda that isn’t affecting ratings.

Absent meaningful and effective research by the league aimed at identifying all reasons for the reduction in TV ratings, there’s no way to rule out the anthem protests. But the league surely has no interest in legitimizing the connection between the ongoing anthem protests and the declining ratings, because the league has no power to stop the protests.

Moreover, acknowledging that an exercise of player rights could impact TV ratings would be an admission that the players have much more power than they ever dreamed they’d possess.

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Falcons making plans to deal with Tevin Coleman’s hamstring injury

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 23: Tevin Coleman #26 of the Atlanta Falcons runs for a second quarter touchdown against the San Diego Chargers at the Georgia Dome on October 23, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons are discussing their options in the event running back Tevin Coleman has to miss time after injuring his hamstring in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers.

Coleman played 14 snaps before being forced out of the game and coach Dan Quinn said Monday that the team is still waiting to “find out how long he’ll be out.” Devonta Freeman is the only other running back currently on the roster, but the team has Terron Ward on the practice squad if they need to add a body.

“We’re discussing that big this afternoon,” Quinn said, via “Fortunately for us, Ward is here, and he’s somebody that’s got game experience in the system and somebody that we can totally rely on.”

Ward played in 13 games for the Falcons last season and ran 29 times for 95 yards. The Falcons would need to open up a spot to bring him onto the 53-man roster.

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Chip Kelly says it’s “news to him” if Staley is on trade block

Frank Gore, Joe Staley AP

If the 49ers are shopping offensive tackle Joe Staley ahead of next week’s trade deadline, 49ers coach Chip Kelly said Monday he has no knowledge of it.

That’s news to me,” Kelly told reporters. “Nobody’s had any discussions with me about Joe being traded. We need Joe here.”

Kelly isn’t in charge of the roster. 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke is, so we’ll see what happens. A source with knowledge of the situation told PFT that the 49ers were seeking a first-round pick for Staley.

Kelly said he hasn’t spoken with Staley about the trade rumors because he doesn’t “make a habit of talking with our guys about erroneous reports.”

Staley, 32, is under contract through 2019. His base salary spikes from $5.4 million this year to $8.25 million in 2017. The trade deadline is next Tuesday, November 1.

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Aaron Williams in team meetings, head/neck still being evaluated

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 16:   Aaron Williams #23 of the Buffalo Bills is looked after on the sidlelines during the first half against the San Francisco 49er at New Era Field on October 16, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s Patriots week, but Bills coach Rex Ryan hasn’t turned his attention or bombast to New England yet because he still has some housekeeping to take care of after Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins.

Injuries were at the top of that housekeeping list and Ryan offered updates on several players Monday, including safety Aaron Williams. Williams traveled home with the Bills on Sunday after going to the hospital for an MRI after taking a shot to the head from Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry.

“Aaron Williams was in meetings, walking around the building,” Ryan said. “Our medical staff is still on the process of evaluating his head and neck.”

Ryan called Landry’s hit, which was penalized, “totally unnecessary” and said he thought college football’s targeting rule might have it right by ejecting players guilty of such infractions.

Ryan said the team will wait and see how running back LeSean McCoy’s hamstring feels as the week unfolds. McCoy was listed as questionable to play on Sunday and had to leave early after feeling pain in the hamstring. Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is in the concussion protocol and Ryan said he hopes wide receiver Robert Woods and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will be able to play this week.

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Jalen Ramsey on fighting: I’d do it again, I won’t be disrespected

#20 of the Jacksonville Jaguars against the Baltimore Ravens at EverBank Field on September 25, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey was ejected from Sunday’s loss to the Raiders for fighting with Raiders wide receiver Johnny Holton after Raiders punter Marquette King ran 26 yards for a first down after a botched snap.

Ramsey was the second Jaguars defender ejected from the game with defensive tackle Malik Jackson also getting the thumb after he was penalized twice for unsportsmanlike conduct. Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny said he thought the ejections were “unacceptable” and that the behavior was something the team “can’t tolerate,” but Ramsey expressed a different point of view on Monday.

“They don’t want me to say this but I would do it again. I won’t be disrespected,” Ramsey said, via Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union.

Jackson said, via Philip Heilman of, that he understands there’s a “line to toe” and that he’d apologize by playing his hardest against the Titans this Thursday.

The Jaguars had 13 penalties for 122 yards overall in the game, something that doesn’t reflect well on the amount of discipline in place under coach Gus Bradley. Bradley’s record doesn’t speak that well for him either and he may need big improvements on both fronts to continue in his current role.

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Jameis Winston on pace for 136 hits

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 23:  Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signals against the San Francisco 49ers during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston never shies away from contact. But maybe, once in a while, he should.

As noted by the folks at, Winston took nine hits in Sunday’s win over the 49ers. That’s 51 for the year, which translates to 136 for a 16-game season.

Last year, Winston led all quarterbacks with 109 hits. This year, more fit and mobile, Winston is encountering (if not embracing) even more contact.

At some point, Winston’s approach could get him injured, under the basic theory that more hits equal more opportunities to eventually absorb a hit that keeps the player from playing.

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Browns claim Callahan, Ikard

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 01:  Quarterback Joe Callahan #6 of the Green Bay Packers passes as Ramik Wilson #53 of the Kansas City Chiefs defends during the preseason game at Arrowhead Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Browns have claimed rookie quarterback Joe Callahan after he was waived by the Saints on Saturday, NFL Network reported.

The Saints had claimed Callahan from the Packers eight days earlier. With the Browns, Callahan finds himself as close to actually playing as he’s been after Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati.

Rookie Kevin Hogan took over for Kessler. The Browns had Kessler and Hogan active for Sunday’s game, and Josh McCown has been working his way back from a broken collarbone. It’s not yet known if Kessler or McCown will be cleared ahead of Sunday’s game vs. the Jets.

An undrafted rookie out of Div. III Wesley, Callahan played against the Browns in August, starting the preseason opener for both the Browns and the Packers. He got extended time in the preseason because Packers backup Brett Hundley was battling an ankle injury, and he’s used that to make a bunch of game checks. Both the Packers and Saints waived him late in the week due to injury situations at other positions.

The Browns also claimed offensive line Gabe Ikard, per a tweet from Ikard’s agent, Ken Sarnoff. Ikard was waived last week by the Bills as they activated first-round pick Shaq Lawson and made other roster moves to address injury situations.

The addition of Ikard, who’s played in six career games, is probably related to the situation involving Browns center Cameron Erving, who had to leave Sunday’s game due to an illness. Erving suffered a bruised lung earlier in the season.

At 0-7, the Browns are taking advantage of their standing atop the waiver wire to see if they can find future contributors.

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One day later, Mike Zimmer is still salty and vowing to “change things up”

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 23: Head coach Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings looks down as he walks the sidelines during the third quarter of a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on October 23, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Vikings 21-10. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy with his team’s performance after Sunday’s loss at Philadelphia. A day later, he’s still upset.

“We’re trying to figure out everything right now,” Zimmer said Monday, via Chris Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “This is a gut check day. . . . We’re going to change some things up this week.”

After a showing that prompted Zimmer to call his offensive line “soft,” he offered up this biting critique that should force every player to engage in soul searching: “I have faith in this football team. But faith is belief without proof, and I have no proof yet.”

The defense has given Zimmer plenty of proof, but defense alone isn’t enough. As to the offense, Zimmer was careful to broaden his disdain beyond the tackles, guards, and center.

“Everyone said how I said it was the offensive line not doing good,” Zimmer said. “The offense in general wasn’t very good.”

The good news is that, one week from tonight, the Vikings face the not-very-good Bears. But if Minnesota stubs its toe against their 1-6 rivals from Chicago, Zimmer’s flavor of choice will continue to be salty.

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Jordan Reed cleared to practice this week

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 2: Tight end Jordan Reed #86 of the Washington Redskins scores a first quarter touchdown past free safety Jordan Poyer #33 of the Cleveland Browns at FedExField on October 2, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Tight end Jordan Reed missed his second straight game with a concussion on Sunday, but he is making progress toward getting back into the lineup.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Monday that Reed has been cleared to practice when the team begins on-field preparations for their Week Eight game against the Bengals. Reed did get in one day of practice in a non-contact jersey last week before missing sessions on Thursday and Friday ahead of the loss to the Lions, so there are still steps to clear before he’ll be cleared for the game.

The window for getting cleared may be a little narrower as this week’s game will take place in London and Reed may not make the trip if he’s still dealing with any symptoms from the concussion. The Redskins will have a bye in Week Nine after returning from the game against Cincinnati.

Cornerback Josh Norman is also in the concussion protocol to start the week.

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