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Brees takes blame for clock issues to end first half

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

With New Orleans trailing the Atlanta Falcons 17-7 in the closing stages of the first half Thursday night, the Saints blew a ripe opportunity to score points after driving inside the Falcons 5-yard line.

With 45 seconds left to play in the half and no timeouts remaining, Saints quarterback Drew Brees connected with running back Darren Sproles for 12 yards to get down to the Atlanta 5-yard line. Brees took the next snap with just 12 seconds left in the half and hit Sproles again over the middle for three yards as the clock continued to tick away. The Saints were unable to stop the clock before the half expired as New Orleans left at least three points on the field for failing to handle the clock correctly.

Brees took the blame after the game for losing track of how much time was left on the clock.

“Honestly I thought we had more time than we did,” Brees said. “Last time I looked up at the clock I saw 17 seconds so I thought we had time to throw one underneath and get up there and clock it. Unfortunately the clock was down to seven by the time I looked back up at it after getting the completion and it wasn’t enough time to get a spike.”

“That’s my mistake. That can’t happen,” Brees said. “We’ve got points, at least three, and definitely another shot at the end zone so that was on me. That can’t happen.”

The Saints took over with 2:13 left in the half at their own 29-yard line. Brees hit Lance Moore for 29 yards before the two-minute warning and Marques Colston for another 21 yards to move down to the Falcons 21-yard line. A touchdown pass to Sproles was called back due to an offensive pass interference penalty, but the Saints still had a chance to put points on the board before time expired.

“I felt like we managed the clock excellently all the way down,” Brees said. “Then, unfortunately, once we got inside the 10, just lost track of it there for a second. Thought I had more time than we did.”

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Andre Johnson “doesn’t mind” a pay cut to stay with Texans

Lardarius Webb, Andre Johnson, C.J. Mosley AP

Earlier this month, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson said that he wanted to play 15 years in the NFL before retiring and that he wanted to play all 15 of those years with the Texans.

It was a change from the offseason, when Johnson was asking to be traded because he wasn’t sure about the direction of the franchise with a new head coach coming aboard. The Texans still lack a quarterback, but Bill O’Brien’s done well to give the Texans a shot at a 9-7 record heading into the final week of the season and it’s easy to understand being more convinced of the path that the team is on at this point.

Complicating Johnson’s ability to stick around for his entire career is the $10.5 million he’s supposed to make in 2015 while counting a little more than $16 million against the cap. That doesn’t fit with a player whose production has slowed this season or with a team that has DeAndre Hopkins ready to be their No. 1 receiver. Johnson’s uncle and advisor Andre Melton, who served as Johnson’s de facto agent early in his career, said that Johnson is willing to take less to remain in Houston.

“We understand it’s a business and we’re willing to deal with that. And Andre doesn’t mind having a pay cut,” Melton said, via the Houston Chronicle. “They’re going to come in the offseason and say, ‘Hey, Andre: This is what we need to do,’ If we can come to some type of common ground with everybody where everybody can be happy, then we’ll work on that, that’ll be fine. And if we can’t, it will be sad to say. … But we’ll see who can give [us] a shot at a ring.”

Agreement on pay cuts can sometimes be tough to find, but it would appear there’s a way to work out a continued stay in Houston if Johnson’s motivations have been accurately represented.

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Karlos Dansby bemoans rookies wasting time

Karlos Dansby AP

Browns head coach Mike Pettine defended first-round picks Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel earlier this week.

But one of their teammates said both “wasted” their rookie seasons, and better turn it around fast.

“When you’re a first-round pick, you’ve got to c’mon, man” veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “They’ve got to reset their goals and they’ve got to do it fast.”

Dansby said Gilbert simply didn’t work hard enough, and noted Manziel saying he squandered chances as well.

“There’s so much [Gilbert] could’ve done better and he didn’t put forth the effort,” said Dansby. “So yeah, it’s a wasted year.

“Like Johnny said the same thing, it’s a wasted year for him. That’s how he feels. He’s like ‘Damn, I’ve got to take this more seriously. I’ve wasted all this time.’ That’s basically what he’s saying. So it’s like ‘Don’t waste your time man, because it’s precious bro. You never know when you’re going to be done. You’re one play away from never playing this game again.”’

To Dansby, the problem is generational.

“But that’s the thing with a lot of rookies these days,” he said. “Their only goal is to get into the NFL. They want the glam and the flash but they’re not willing to put in the grind and the work and the time in order to be great. They want it to just fall in their lap and it doesn’t happen like that.”

Of course, both players have shown flashes of potential — at varying times and degrees. But their struggles are magnified because of their draft status, and the Browns can’t afford for them to not produce much longer.

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Jay Cutler on Bears: “Everyone could get axed”

Jay Cutler AP

After what he’s been through the last year with the Bears, nothing will surprise quarterback Jay Cutler.

So if being benched and getting his job back a week later won’t do it, neither would a good housecleaning.

“I think you’ve just got to prepare yourself that anything can happen — that’s kind of what I’m prepared for,” Cutler said, via Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I mean, everyone could stay. Everyone could get axed. You just never know what direction it’s going to go. You have to stay open-minded and know that things happen for a reason.”

Whether Marc Trestman makes it to a third season seems dubious. General Manager Phil Emery’s future is also in doubt.

And Cutler’s own fate is directly tied to those two.

“Coaches could leave. Players could leave. I could leave,” Cutler said. “That’s part of it. . . .

“You’ve got to expect the least expected. Hopefully we make it through the next couple days without something else happening. You never know, though.”

“Yeah, it’s a different season. It’s a weird season. A lot of things have happened. A lot of things haven’t gone our way for numerous reasons.”

Of course, whoever’s sorting out those reasons might decide Cuter’s one of the reasons. And he’s seen enough lately to know he can’t really control that.

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John Fox wants Peyton Manning to return

Fox Getty Images

On Wednesday, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said he plans to return in 2015, if the team wants him.  On Thursday, the coach of the team said he wants Manning to return.

“I would say when you’re kind of in the top three quarterbacks in the league, maybe the top of all time, I’d say there’s a pretty good likelihood,” John Fox told reporters.  “He’s had a tremendous year, there is no doubt.  We’ve still got things to get done and [we are] looking forward to the opportunity.”

So have Fox and Manning talked about 2015?

“It’s cliché but in this business you pretty much stay one week at a time,” Fox said.  “So probably not a lot of conversation, but if you’re asking me moving forward, would we like that opportunity?  I’d say yes.”

Manning is completed the third year of a four-year deal with the Broncos.  His salary for 2015 is $19 million, and Manning’s cap number will be $21.5 million.

In contrast, backup Brock Osweiler, a second-round pick in 2015, will be completing his rookie deal at a base salary of $660,000.  The Broncos will have to decide whether to extend Osweiler’s deal, possibly without ever seeing him play a meaningful role in a regular-season game.  They also could trade him to another team before his contract expires.

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DeMarco Murray out sick on Thursday

DeMarco Murray, Tony Romo AP

Working on Christmas can be a rough draw for some people, but a day at work for a professional football team sounds a lot better than being sick in bed on December 25.

That’s where Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray found himself this Christmas. Murray’s hand surgery didn’t get in the way of playing against the Colts last Sunday, but he’ll have to ward off illness to make it through all 16 games for the first time in his career.

“He is not here today,” head coach Jason Garrett said, via the team’s website. “He was here earlier. He is sick so we sent him home.”

The Cowboys will practice again on Friday and another absence from Murray would make for some concern about Sunday as it wouldn’t make sense for the team to take any undue risks with a playoff berth already in hand.

Linebacker Rolando McClain returned to practice after missing Wednesday’s session after his house in Alabama burned down. Right tackle Doug Free didn’t practice and is on track to miss a second straight game with an ankle injury.

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Achilles injury doesn’t keep Joique Bell from practicing

Jared Allen, Joique Bell AP

The Lions give playing time to several different running backs, but Joique Bell is clearly at the top of the pecking order with 210 of the team’s 373 rushing attempts this season.

No other back has more than 71 carries, so the Lions would have to seriously boost someone’s role in the event that Bell isn’t able to play against the Packers on Sunday. Coach Jim Caldwell left that possibility open on Thursday.

Bell was a participant in practice after being listed as limited by an Achilles injury on Wednesday’s injury report, but Caldwell only said, via Tim Twentyman of the team’s website, that “we’ll see” when asked if Bell would be able to be in the lineup on Sunday. Bell missed one game earlier this year with a concussion and George Winn saw the most carries, although Reggie Bush and Theo Riddick would also be options for bigger roles if Bell were to miss another game.

Bell’s the only big injury concern for the Lions this week. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley was the only player to miss practice and it seems unlikely that he’ll be returning after missing the last seven games with a knee injury.

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Julio Jones, Steven Jackson remain out of Falcons practice

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The Falcons held a practice on Christmas Day, but wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Steven Jackson could have spent the session warming themselves in front of the Yule Log.

Vaughn McClure of reports that both players were held out of practice for the second straight day as the Falcons make their way toward Sunday’s NFC South championship game against the Panthers.

Jones missed Week 15 with what was originally called a hip injury, but has been clarified as being a strained oblique. Jones returned for seven catches and 107 yards last week, however, and is expected to play again this week despite being short of 100 percent physically.

Jackson’s outlook is less clear. He hurt his quad against New Orleans and the team hasn’t given much in the way of an update about his condition during the week, so Friday’s listing on the final injury report of the week should give us our best insight into the team’s plan for Jackson on Sunday.

Kicker Matt Bryant (illness), wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot) and Roddy White (ankle) all returned to practice after missing Wednesday’s workout.

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Report: Logan Thomas won’t start for Cardinals, Ryan Lindley will

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Cardinals rookie Logan Thomas had a rough opening to his first practice since being named the team’s Week 17 starter, but both he and coach Bruce Arians said that things got better as the session went along on Wednesday.

It appears that they didn’t get good enough for Thomas to hold onto the starting job until Sunday, however. Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports that the Cardinals have decided to go back to Week 16 starter Ryan Lindley for their regular season finale against the 49ers.

When Arians made the call to go with Thomas earlier this week, he said that he wouldn’t hesitate to pull the rookie if things weren’t going well and that Thomas’s practice performance could lead him to change his mind before Sunday. That makes Thursday’s report less surprising, if not particularly positive for an Arizona team that was likely hoping Thomas would prove to be a better option than Lindley in the event that Drew Stanton doesn’t heal in time to play in their postseason opener.

The Cardinals practice on Thursday, although Arians isn’t expected to meet with the media to discuss the latest twist at quarterback for the Cardinals until Friday.

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Thirty years ago today, Jerry Rice was Blue-Gray Game MVP

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On many Christmases past, football fans and NFL draftniks had an excuse to duck away from unwrapping gifts for a few minutes. The old, reliable Blue-Gray Game was on, delivering a nice little needed dose of football in-between heaping plates of holiday cheer.

An annual game for college stars hoping to turn pro, the Blue-Gray Game was one of the primary talent showcases of its time. And on Christmas 1984, those who tuned into the Blue-Gray Game saw a prolific wide receiver from a Division I-AA school star against major-college standouts.

Thirty years ago Thursday, Mississippi Valley State’s Jerry Rice was the Blue-Gray Game MVP as the South rolled to a 33-6 victory over the North.

Rice caught a pair of TDs, including a 60-yarder, according to The Associated Press‘s account of the game.

“I wanted to make a point for small college players everywhere,” Rice said afterwards, per the AP.  “I wanted to play well for them.”

The Blue-Gray Game hasn’t been played as a college football all-star contest since 2003. Perhaps because of its placement on Christmas — and perhaps because it was that nice little shot of holiday football — the game still inspires some nostalgia. We wouldn’t mind its return. And we really wouldn’t mind seeing some highlights of the ’84 game, when Rice — soon to be an NFL star — made a big splash.

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Kenny Vaccaro fined $10,000 for late hit

Kenny Vaccaro, Corey White AP

Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro’s second NFL season hasn’t gone particularly well as he’s struggled to provide reminders of the promise he showed during his rookie season.

Vaccaro’s season got worse last Sunday when the Saints were eliminated from the playoffs and again this week when he learned he’d been fined by the league for a late hit during the game. Vaccaro was not penalized for the play, but was dinged $10,000 by the league for hitting Falcons running back Steven Jackson late. Vaccaro plans to appeal and says he was making a legal hit while trying to stop Jackson’s progress.

“I’d never try to hurt anybody, but at the same time, if I don’t do that, I’m not hustling, I’m not finishing the play,” Vaccaro said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “So you’ve got to pick your poison. I’m just trying to get the guy down. … You’ve got to defend every blade of grass on the field.”

Vaccaro drew a fine for roughing the passer in his first NFL game last season, but has otherwise avoided league discipline in his first two seasons.

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Gary Kubiak: Running game has become “a concern”

Baltimore Ravens v Houston Texans Getty Images

Justin Forsett has run the ball well enough this season to be named a Pro Bowl alternate, but the last two weeks have been rough sledding for him.

Forsett has run the ball 26 times for 67 yards in the last two games, including a 10-carry, 19-yard effort in last weekend’s 25-13 loss to the Texans. The Ravens were as bad or worse throwing the ball against Houston and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak chalked up some of those troubles to the running game’s inability to get unshackled.

“The last two weeks, we’ve struggled to run the ball,” Kubiak said, via the Baltimore Sun. “Us running the ball makes everything else go for us, so it’s pretty obvious when we run the ball 19 times last week for [36] yards, we’re not going to throw it good, probably, too. It has been a concern. It’s something we’re working extremely hard on. If we’re going to win, we’re usually going to run the ball well. I’d like us to get back to it real quick.”

The Ravens get the league’s worst run defense in this weekend’s game against the Browns, although they’ll have to find their way behind a remade offensive line with right tackle Rick Wagner going on injured reserve this week. Left tackle Eugene Monroe has missed both days of practice this week with an ankle injury, which could further complicate the quick return to form of a run game that slowed down at the wrong time for the Ravens.

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Lance Briggs “happy” with Robbie Gould’s comments

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Earlier this week, Bears kicker Robbie Gould took issue with coach Marc Trestman’s decision to bench quarterback Jay Cutler in Week 16 and said it was a sign that “this whole season’s not the Bear way” in terms of dealing with the issues facing the team.

One of Gould’s longtime teammates agrees with him. Linebacker Lance Briggs said on his weekly CSN Chicago show this week that he was “happy with what Robbie had to say” about the way the Bears have conducted their business this season.

“I certainly know what the ‘Bear way’ is, I lived it for many years. We always did a really good job of protecting what’s in our house, that locker room. If we had any issues, we handled it within that locker room and we protected ourselves from the outside,” Briggs said, via the Chicago Tribune. “There were a number of things that ended up slipping out that shouldn’t have. There was a lot of drama and there was more of a focus on what was happening off the field than what there was on the field and everything just kind of mounted and mounted on top of each other.”

Briggs closed the show by saying farewell to Bears fans and it continues to look like he’ll be learning the way of another team if he continues his career in 2015. With cornerback Charles Tillman also possibly leaving, the Bears will move further away from the players most associated with the Lovie Smith era, leaving responsibility for shaping “the Bear way” to a new group. We’ll know whether Trestman will continue to lead that group soon, but plenty of other questions remain about the Bears’ ability to get back on track next season.

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Drew Brees remains confident in Saints’ direction

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

A lot of people thought that the Saints would be playing into January, but their season will come to an end before the end of 2014 after losing five of their last seven games to crash out of the playoff picture.

The Saints need a win over the Buccaneers to avoid their first 10-loss season since 2005, the year before quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans and ushered in the most successful period in the history of the franchise. Things have gone off track this year, but Brees doesn’t need any explanations about why he should be confident about the team’s ability to keep that run going in 2015 and beyond.

“This year did not dissuade me in any way from feeling the way I always have about this team and myself and what we have here and what we’re continuing to build here,” Brees said, via “I’m very confident. I look around me at this team, and I feel like we have all the pieces in place, knowing we’re going to go out and add pieces as well. I’m very confident in our management, our general manager Mickey Loomis to do that, Sean Payton, our entire coaching staff.”

You wouldn’t expect Brees to say that the bottom had fallen out of the franchise, but a messy cap situation and the need to fix a defense that broke down this year top the list of reasons to dim expectations for the Saints’ immediate future. The former is usually manageable, but there are no guarantees on the latter and the Saints have learned in two of the last three years that ranking at the top of the league offensively isn’t enough to overcome a defense that offers token resistance to the opposition.

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League fines Lynch $11,050 for unsportsmanlike conduct

Lynch Getty Images

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch won’t be saying “thank you” to the league office this week.  (He may instead be using a different two-word expression that ends in “you.”)

Per a league source, Lynch received a fine in the amount of $11,050 for his backward dive while grabbing his crotch into the end zone at the tail end of his career-long 79-yard touchdown run.  Lynch wasn’t flagged for the move, which was deemed to be unsportsmanlike conduct.

It’s the same finisher Lynch applied nearly four years ago, at the tail end of his “Beastquake” run against the Saints in the playoffs.  Monday’s edition of PFT on NBCSN included a split-screen of the eerily similar runs with the identical endings.

In the 2010 playoffs, Lynch was neither flagged nor fined for the move.  Last year, the NFL fined Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan $10,000 for doing the same thing.

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Geno Smith: I’m part of the problem, I want to be part of the solution

New York Jets AP

All Geno Smith wants for Christmas is another chance to be the Jets’ starting quarterback.

Smith will make his 29th start at quarterback for the Jets over the last two seasons when they close out their 2014 season against the Dolphins on Sunday and spent some time ruminating about the previous 28 on Wednesday. Smith’s belief that he “underachieved” this year will be easier for many people to swallow than his assertion that he’s improved “to the point where I can go out there and be very productive. Smith would like a chance to convince the masses of that improvement in 2015.

“I see myself being the quarterback here for a long time,” Smith said, via the New York Post. “I see myself helping this team turn things around. Obviously, I’m a part of the reason why we are in this position, so I’d love to be a part of the solution.”

Figuring out Smith’s chances of starting next year are all but impossible before knowing who will be coaching the Jets and running the front office, but the 2013 second-round pick is almost certainly going to be around when the team starts work on 2015 and there’s no guarantee that there will be a surefire starter added to the roster in the offseason. That should give him an opportunity to show he can be part of the solution, although there’s a need for further improvement before anyone will be banking on Smith for the long term.

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