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Falcons intercept Brees five times in win over Saints

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons intercepted quarterback Drew Brees five times on Thursday night as the Falcons improved to a league-leading 11-1 with a 23-13 win over Saints.

Atlanta’s defense helped snap Brees’ streak of 54 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. It was the first five interception game of Brees’ career and his first game without a touchdown pass since Oct. 4, 2009 against the New York Jets.

The loss drops the Saints to 5-7 and puts their chances of rallying to a Wild Card berth in serious peril.

The Falcons jumped on top quickly as they relied on the running game to take the early lead. The Falcons went 80 yards on six plays for the opening score as quarterback Matt Ryan threw just one pass on the opening series. Michael Turner scored on a 3-yard touchdown run to give Atlanta the early 7-0 lead.

Matt Ryan then connected with tight end Tony Gonzalez for a 17-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to extend the lead to 14-0. A 45-yard field goal from Matt Bryant gave the Falcons a 17-0 lead before the Saints finally got on the board late in the first half.

Mark Ingram scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with three minutes to play in the first half to cap an 11-play, 80-yard drive to get New Orleans on the board. The Saints had a chance for more points before the half but badly botched their handling of the game clock and ended the half without getting any points.

Brees’ touchdown streak would have continued if not for a costly gaff by receiver Lance Moore in the third quarter. With the Saints trailing 17-7, Moore dropped a Brees pass in the end zone that hit him directly in the hands. The drop lead to the Saints having to settle for a 21-yard Garrett Hartley field goal. A 52-yard field goal from Hartley on the next Saints drive pulled New Orleans within 17-13 late in the third quarter.

Another Bryant field goal, this one a 29-yard try, gave the Falcons a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

The Saints looked to be putting together a promising drive after a 25-yard completion to tight end Jimmy Graham moved the Saints into Falcon territory. After a quick screen to Darren Sproles netted nine yards, the New Orleans drive stalled. William Moore stopped Pierre Thomas for a 4-yard loss on 2nd and 1 and John Abraham came up with a sack of Brees to push the Saints out of field goal range.

Ryan led the Falcons into Saints territory and Bryant connected on a 55-yard field goal to take a 23-13 lead. Ryan completed 18 of 33 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown.

Rafael Bush stripped the ball from Turner’s hands on the next drive to give the Saints another opportunity to close the gap and for Brees to extend his streak.

But Brees was intercepted for a second time by Moore to seal the end of the streak and the win for the Falcons. Brees completed 28 of 50 passes for 341 yards and the five interceptions.

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Travis Kelce fined for shoving Ross Cockrell

KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15:  Tight end Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce ripped the officials in last Sunday’s playoff loss to the Steelers for a holding call on left tackle Eric Fisher on a two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter and said that referee Carl Cheffers wasn’t fit to wear a striped shirt for Foot Locker.

The NFL has a different read on Cheffers’ work as they named him to work the Super Bowl in Houston in a couple of weeks. We don’t know if Kelce’s views of the officiating have drawn a fine from the league, but PFT has confirmed that Kelce was fined for an on-field penalty.

Kelce has been fined $9,115 for an unnecessary roughness penalty. Kelce was flagged in the third quarter for shoving Steelers cornerback Ross Cockrell at the end of a play. The penalty pushed the Chiefs back 15 yards, but they were able to convert a first down on the next play and ended the drive with three points.

That wasn’t enough to put them in front of the Steelers, who advanced to the AFC Championship Game by an 18-16 score after the Chiefs’ second try at the aforementioned two-point conversion came up short.

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No fines for Chiefs-Steelers post-game skirmish

KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15: Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers attempts to calm down cornerback Marcus Peters #22 of the Kansas City Chiefs  in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) Getty Images

Although it didn’t get a lot of attention in the media, a skirmish broke out between players on the Chiefs and Steelers after Sunday night’s playoff game.

The league office didn’t pay it any mind, either: PFT has confirmed that none of the players involved were fined.

Chiefs defensive backs Terrance Mitchell and Marcus Peters were involved in some pushing and shoving with several Steelers players, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin got between them. Steelers coach Joey Porter also got in the middle of it, trying to break things up just days after he was reinstated from the team after being put on leave briefly for allegedly doing some pushing and shoving of his own in a Pittsburgh restaurant.

No punches were thrown and it was a fairly mild scuffle, so it’s no surprise that the NFL decided not to hand out any discipline, even if it wasn’t exactly the ideal way for a playoff game to end.

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Jadeveon Clowney, Eric Rowe fined for divisional round infractions

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots passes the ball while under pressure by Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Houston Texans during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney hit Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a few times in last Saturday’s Patriots win in the divisional round of the playoffs and one of them led to an animated reaction from Brady when a flag wasn’t thrown.

Clowney dragged Brady down on an incomplete pass in the third quarter and Brady was seen shouting at the officials after the play was over. He got the flag he was looking for early in the next quarter when Clowney was penalized for roughing Brady on a 10-yard completion to running back Dion Lewis.

PFT has confirmed with the league that Clowney was also fined $18,231 for roughing Brady.

Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe has also been fined $12,154 after picking up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. There was a scrum at the end of a short completion on third down to Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins early in the game and Rowe was penalized for pulling people off the pile. The penalty gave the Texans a first down that they used to continue a drive that ended with a field goal.

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Patriots list seven as questionable for Sunday

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 12:  Malcolm Mitchell #19 of the New England Patriots celebrates scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on December 12, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Patriots didn’t have a player on their 53-man roster miss practice at any point this week, but they aren’t saying that everyone will be healthy enough to play on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.

They listed seven players as questionable to face the Steelers, including four of quarterback Tom Brady’s targets through the air. Wide receivers Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell all got the questionable designation after three days of limited practices. Amendola returned to action last week after missing a month with an ankle injury while Mitchell didn’t play due to a knee issue and Hogan had to leave the win over the Texans after hurting his thigh.

Tight end Martellus Bennett is the other member of the quartet. He’s listed with a knee injury after briefly leaving last week’s game a couple of times, but said early in the week that he was feeling fine.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), running back Brandon Bolden (knee) and defensive end Jabaal Sheard (knee) make up the rest of the group.

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Sammy Watkins has second foot surgery

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 27:   Sammy Watkins #14 of the Buffalo Bills warms up before the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 27, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills announced Friday that wide receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive end Shaq Lawson have recently undergone surgeries.

The team said Watkins had a second surgery on his injured foot and that his anticipated timetable includes a healthy return in time for training camp.

Watkins had foot surgery last spring, then re-injured his foot and missed half of the 2016 season, though he returned to play in December. He caught 28 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns in eight games.

Lawson, the team’s first-round pick last spring, had arthroscopic knee surgery. He’s expected to be available for the entire offseason program.

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Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison listed as questionable

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 15:  Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers reaches for the end zone past Morris Claiborne #24 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers aren’t ruling any of their injured wide receivers out for Sunday’s game against the Falcons, but they know that they may need to go without one or all of Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison.

All three players were listed as out of practice on Friday — it was an estimation as the Packers will work out on Saturday — as Nelson fell ill after working two days in an attempt to return from broken ribs. Adams, who has an ankle injury, and Allison, who is dealing with a hamstring issue, missed all three days and coach Mike McCarthy said Friday that the team will go as long as they need to before making a decision about their status for the NFC title game.

“I’m going to give these guys the open time frame to do everything they can to play. Maybe one or two of those guys will have to work Sunday before the game,” McCarthy said, via USA Today.

Safety Morgan Burnett was listed as a limited participant in practice Friday, the first time he’s been listed as anything but out since injuring his quadricep against the Cowboys. He’s been listed as questionable along with cornerback Quinten Rollins, who was limited all week with the neck injury and concussion that kept him out the last two weeks.

The Falcons got wide receiver Julio Jones back at practice Friday and, as coach Dan Quinn said earlier in the day, have no players on the active roster with injuries that will keep them from playing on Sunday.

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Steelers list Green and Harrison as questionable

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 18:  Ladarius Green #89 of the Pittsburgh Steelers attempts to stiff arm Shawn Williams #36 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the fourth quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pittsburgh defeated Cincinnati 24-20. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers list tight end Ladarius Green and outside linebacker James Harrison as questionable for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at New England.

Green has missed the last four games due to a concussion. Though he’s practiced on a limited basis last week and this week, it’s uncertain if he’ll be fully cleared to play.

Harrison has shoulder and triceps injuries and was a full practice participant Friday. Barring a setback, he will play.

Backup running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who missed last week’s game with a concussion, is also listed as questionable. He was a full practice participant Friday.

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Aaron Rodgers also under the weather

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 15:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers drops back to pass in the first half during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

No defense has had much luck stopping Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers over the last eight games and he said on Friday that germs won’t be the thing to slow him down either.

The Packers have joined the Steelers as teams dealing with illness kicking around their locker rooms this week. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson was sent home by the Packers on Friday because the team worried he might be contagious, but Rodgers said that he’s already under the weather.

“Rest, fluids, all that stuff,” Rodgers said, via Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal. “We’ll be OK. Jordy had it. Mason [Crosby] had it. I got it. We’ll deal with it.”

The ailing Packers players will try to get everything is out of their systems by Sunday afternoon in hopes of avoiding a different reason to feel sick to their stomachs.

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Jim Tomsula interviews with Saints for position coach job

SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 15:  Jim Tomsula speaks during a press conference at Levi's Stadium on January 15, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. The San Francisco 49ers announced Jim Tomsula as their new head coach to replace Jim Harbaugh.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Getty Images

We asked for it, and now we have it.

According to Alex Marvez of the Sporting News, former 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula has interviewed with the Saints for their vacant defensive line coaching gig.

The Saints are looking for someone to replace Bill Johnson, who was fired as part of a staff shakeup there. Johnson landed with the Rams.

Tomsula went 5-11 in his one season as 49ers head coach in 2015, and was defensive line coach there for the eight years prior.

He was out of football last year, living off the $14 million the 49ers paid him for one season of work.

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Kyle Williams replacing Suh in Pro Bowl

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 24:  Kyle Williams #95 of the Buffalo Bills sacks quarterback Michael Vick #1 of the New York Jets in the third quarter at Ford Field on November 24, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. Buffalo defeated New York 38-3.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams has been named to the Pro Bowl.

Williams is an injury replacement for Ndamukong Suh of the Dolphins. The Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 29 in Orlando.

This will be Williams’ fifth trip to the Pro Bowl, and he joins Bruce Smith and Fred Smerlas as the only Bills’ defensive linemen to go to at least five Pro Bowls. Williams’ 40.5 career sacks are the most by a defensive tackle in franchise history.

In 2016, Williams had 64 tackles, five sacks, 15 quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss.

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Bills hire Andrew Dees as assistant offensive line coach

Green Bay Packers v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Bills officially announced another addition to new coach Sean McDermott’s staff on Friday.

New assistant offensive line coach Andrew Dees held the same position with the Bills in 2012. He then spent 2013-15 with the Chargers.

Dees coached in the college ranks for 15 years before breaking into the NFL with the Bills.

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Ted Thompson calls Packers turnaround an “astronomical feat”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 19: Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson speaks to the media during the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 19, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers are getting set to face the Falcons for the NFC title on Sunday, which isn’t where it looked like their season was headed when they were 4-6 in the regular season.

There was a lot of talk at that time about what the offseason might bring in Green Bay if the team remained on the same path and missed the playoffs, although none of it came from General Manager Ted Thompson. Thompson didn’t meet with the media after August and guard T.J. Lang said that his demeanor inside the facility never wavered from the “positive attitude” he usually displays.

Thompson said that while he knows his attitude won’t “change the world,” he does believe it is “part of the equation” for getting things back on the right track. The team found that track and has an eight-game winning streak that’s left Thompson impressed.

“When you’re on a losing streak, especially in my job, you have your own little personal misery all the time because — it’s not that the team was underachieving or anything — that’s just the way it is in the NFL,” Thompson said to Rob Demovsky of “For the team to recover and do what they’ve done is an astronomical feat, in my opinion.”

Thompson wouldn’t say whether there had been any thought to parting ways with coach Mike McCarthy when the team was struggling, but did say that he wouldn’t make such a decision based on a single season. Given the way things turned around in Green Bay, that’s probably not a bad view for the G.M. to take.

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Jaguars interviewing Keenan McCardell for receivers coach

22 Nov 1998:  Wide receiver Keenan McCardell #87 of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Jaguars 30-15. Mandatory Credit: Robert Laberge  /Allsport Getty Images

One of the best receivers in Jaguars franchise history may soon be the team’s wide receivers coach.

Keenan McCardell, who was a Pro Bowl receiver for the Jaguars when they were an expansion team 20 years ago, is interviewing in Jacksonville today, according to 1010XL in Jacksonville. McCardell is second in Jaguars history in catches and receiving yards, second only to Jimmy Smith, who tweeted today that he is praying McCardell will get the job.

McCardell played for Tom Coughlin during his time with the Jaguars, and Coughlin is now back and running the team’s football operations. Coughlin would presumably encourage head coach Doug Marrone to find a place for McCardell on the staff.

The 47-year-old McCardell spent three years as an NFL assistant as Washington’s wide receivers coach, and two years coaching wide receivers in college at Maryland. He was out of coaching last year.

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Report: Chip Kelly met with Bill Belichick

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 06:  Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots greets head coach Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles after their game at Gillette Stadium on December 6, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots with a score of 35-28.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jaguars decided against hiring Chip Kelly as their head coach or offensive coordinator. His next conversation was with a team that’s been slightly more successful.

According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, the former Eagles and 49ers head coach went to New England to meet with coach Bill Belichick after the Jacksonville thing fell through.

It’s unclear whether Kelly and Belichick were talking about any specific role, or whether they just went fishing one afternoon.

But the respect between the two is real, and Kelly seems to have made clear a preference for staying in the NFL as opposed to going back to college.

Kelly also has multiple buyouts after being fired twice in two seasons, so he doesn’t have to get a job or anything. And the Patriots don’t have any openings on the coaching staff, after offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels decided to stay put.

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49ers may have to adjust on the fly, again

49ers-helmet-thearon-w-henderson-getty-images-49ers-drc_0128_hhfi1s Getty Images

The ever-shifting hiring standards for the 49ers may be shifting yet again.

With Packers executive and presumed 49ers G.M. favorite Brian Gutekunst opting to withdraw from consideration and stay put in Green Bay, the 49ers could be adjusting their focus. Which could result in more candidates emerging.

Initially, the 49ers wanted to hire a G.M. who would hire a head coach. With Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard and Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio bowing out, the focus then became finding a coach and a G.M. who would be joined at the hip. When that didn’t pan out, the 49ers opted to wink-nod hire Kyle Shanahan to coach the team, and then to have Shanahan involved in the search for a G.M.-in-name-only, who would essentially set the table for Shanahan.

Some league insiders predict that the job could become more along the lines of “director of player personnel,” with the candidate knowing from the get-go that his job will be to go get players for Shanahan and not to manage or to co-manage the football operations. Folks who would aspire to fill that role may already be contacting Shanahan and/or the 49ers to express interest.

Part of the problem is that, in the rush to get Shanahan to verbally commit to the job after all other coaching candidates had withdrawn, the 49ers apparently promised him control over the 53-man roster. That instantly made the G.M. less attractive and less powerful.

So, basically, the 49ers eventually may need to redefine and rename the job in order to fill it.

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