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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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Chiefs place Charles on IR, call up Spencer Ware

Lamarcus Joyner, Bryce Hager, Spencer Ware AP

The Chiefs had some veteran running backs in for workouts to start the week, but the new member of the backfield comes from within the organization.

The Chiefs announced Tuesday that they have elevated Spencer Ware from the practice squad to take Jamaal Charles’s roster spot. Charles has been placed on season-ending injured reserve after tearing his ACL during last Sunday’s loss to the Bears.

Ware was a sixth-round pick by the Seahawks in 2013 and played two games with Seattle during his rookie season. He had three carries for 10 yards in those appearances and ran 18 times for 66 yards and a touchdown with the Chiefs in the preseason. He’ll join Charcandrick West, Knile Davis and De’Anthony Thomas as backfield options with Charles out of the picture in Kansas City.

The Chiefs took a look at Ben Tate and Pierre Thomas this week and could conceivably turn back to one of them if they don’t get what they want from their in-house crop of backs.

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Report: Matt Cassel to start next Cowboys game

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 11:  Dallas Cowboys Brandon Weeden #3 of the Dallas Cowboys and Matt Cassel #16 of the Dallas Cowboys fist bump before the start of their NFL game against the New England Patriots at AT&T Stadium on October 11, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images) Getty Images

After losing to the Patriots last Sunday, the Cowboys said that they’d consider making a change at starting quarterback.

Ed Werder of ESPN reports that the Cowboys will indeed be making a change. Werder reports that Brandon Weeden has been informed that the team plans to start Matt Cassel against the Giants when they return from their bye week on October 25.

With Tony Romo on injured reserve with the designation to return because of a broken collarbone, Weeden has started the last three games for the Cowboys. They’ve lost all three of those games, running the record of teams starting Weeden to 0-11 in his last 11 starts.

Weeden has gone 64-of-91 for 666 yards in his three starts, but has just one touchdown to go with a pair of interceptions. The numbers speak to the pared-down offense that Dallas has been running since Romo’s injury, although Cassel’s work in recent seasons suggests that won’t change along with the name of the guy playing quarterback.

While the possible return of Dez Bryant to the lineup against the Giants should help, the running game and defense are both going to need to perform at a higher level if the Cowboys are going to remain in contention when Romo is ready to return to action.

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NFL should investigate clock error

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Clock errors surely happen all the time in any sport that relies on a human being periodically turning the thing on and eventually turning it off. At the lower levels of many sports, it presents an ideal opportunity for the phenomenon known as “home cooking.” At the highest level of football, it’s a potential integrity-of-the-game donut hole that needs to be taken seriously.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, regular-season NFL clock operators are indeed hired by the league, and not by individual teams. They typically have college football officiating experience, and they live in the same geographic area as the home team stadium. The fact that the NFL uses postseason clock operators from outside the geographic area of the home team’s stadium highlights the possibility that local residents during regular-season games may have a bias that would cause them to hit the off or on button too slowly or to quickly, depending upon the circumstances of the game.

In most cases, the subtle shaving (or addition) of a few seconds here and there would likely go unnoticed, especially for a clock operator who is skilled at deliberately hitting the button a little late or a little early on a consistent basis. This dynamic makes it critical that the clock operators are truly unbiased, that they have a high degree of personal integrity, and that they are conscientious about turning the clock on and off at precisely the right moment.

Monday night’s Steelers-Chargers game involved a very different phenomenon. In the fourth quarter, it wasn’t a case of someone forgetting to turn a running clock off or a stopped clock on. Instead, the clock was off, it was supposed to remain off, and it inexplicably was turned on. For nearly one third of a minute.

It’s the kind of bizarre outcome that cries out for an investigation. Not a Ted Wells “independent” (or not) investigation, but a thorough and appropriate in-house probe into what happened and why no one in a position to fix the situation noticed.

With the Patriots and their footballs at the AFC title game, the league presumed guilt and worked backward. In this case, it would be dangerous to presume inadvertence and move forward. It’s entirely possible that someone tried to influence the outcome of the game through what by all appearances was a mistake.

If the NFL is going to scorch the earth (and bastardize science) to prove that the Patriots broke the rules, the NFL should at least apply some basic curiosity to a situation that never should have happened, that possibly happened on purpose, and that now cries out for an overhaul to the way the NFL ensures that each game consists of exactly 3,600 seconds — no more, no fewer.

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Steelers activate Martavis Bryant

Martavis Bryant AP

The Steelers officially activated wide receiver Martavis Bryant Tuesday following his four-game suspension and an extra week during which the team kept Bryant exempt from the active 53.

He injured his knee in his first practice back with the team last week, and though the Steelers didn’t have to list Bryant on their injury report last week because he wasn’t activated, the knee is the most likely reason he didn’t play Monday night in San Diego.

Safety and special teams player Ross Ventrone was released to clear a roster spot for Bryant.

Bryant spent part of his month-long suspension in Houston working with substance abuse counselor John Lucas.

The Steelers held Bryant back until the seventh game of his rookie season last year, and their patience was rewarded. He averaged 21.2 yards per reception and caught eight touchdown passes.

The Steelers host the Cardinals Sunday.

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Josh McDaniels: Facing Colts no different than any other game

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots congratulates  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots after his 400th career touchdown pass during the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Patriots will travel to Indianapolis on Sunday night to face the Colts under the AFC Finalist banner they helped put in the rafters of Lucas Oil Stadium, but the AFC Championship game rematch isn’t the major selling point for the game.

It’s the aftermath of that game that’s providing the big angle this time around, particularly the Colts’ role in touching off the eight-month saga known as Deflategate. The Patriots’ scalding start to the season has led to talk of a revenge tour after Tom Brady’s suspension was overturned in federal court and the prominent place the Colts played in the accusations have some saying that this will be more than just another game for the Patriots.

The people saying that haven’t come from inside the Patriots, of course. Both history and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’s comments on Tuesday suggest that’s unlikely to change.

“I really don’t see it any different than each of the other games we’ve played,” McDaniels said in a conference call. “I think it’s a very good team. It’s a road game in a hostile environment, in a place that’s tough to play on a Sunday night. They’ve got new people, new personnel. But they want to beat us and we want to beat them. It’s not very complicated. But that’s the same thing it is every single week that you play in this league.”

McDaniels went on from there, but didn’t say anything that veered from the message of this week being business as usual. Given how well that approach has worked for the Patriots in recent matchups with the Colts, there’s not much reason to try something different.

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Eagles sign lineman Tanner Hawkinson off 49ers practice squad

Tanner Hawkinson, James Jr. Wilder AP

The Eagles have had offensive line problems all season, and they did something Tuesday to address the issue.

Sort of.

The team announced they signed offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson from the 49ers practice squad. They released center/guard Julian Vandervelde (their personal Josh Johnson) to make the roster spot.

Hawkinson entered the league as a fifth-round pick of the Bengals in 2013, but he was released in final cuts this year. The 49ers then signed him to the practice squad.

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Mike Tannenbaum: Suh hasn’t played as well as we hoped

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 27: Ndamukong Suh #93 of the Miami Dolphins looks on before the game against the Buffalo Bills at Sun Life Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dan Campbell era will kick off for the Dolphins this week and the team hopes it will get off to a better start than the Ndamukong Suh era.

Suh’s arrival in Miami didn’t have the kind of impact that many expected as the Dolphins defense played a major role in the 1-3 start that claimed the jobs of head coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle last week. Suh has had nine tackles while spearheading a defense that has generated one sack while giving up the most rushing yards per game in the NFL.

Spinning that to look like the Dolphins got what they thought they were getting would be impossible, so executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum didn’t try during an appearance on 640 AM with Sid Rosenberg. Instead he focused on the big picture for a player who is signed through 2020.

“Let’s be fair,” Tannenbaum said. “We signed him to a six-year contract, so we’re four games into a six-year contract. He hasn’t played as well as we hoped, we haven’t played as well as we hoped. I think we have to give it a grade of incomplete.”

Suh was one of several players reportedly upset by Coyle’s scheme, so the hope in Miami will now be that changes to the system will unleash the player they remember from Detroit. Sunday’s visit to the Titans will bring the first answers on that front.

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Matt Ryan calls effort to run over a safety “an error in judgment”

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptvhmmfhodhizgfmywmymtc1ntk4ngmyymjjymexmdfi AP

There are quarterbacks in the NFC South who can put a shoulder into a tackler and drive them backward, or at least one.

Matt Ryan is not that guy.

The Falcons quarterback said he may have made a mistake, when trying to run for a first down, he lowered his shoulder and tried to drive Washington safety Kyshoen Jarrett back instead of sliding or running out of bounds. It wasn’t much of an effort, as Jarrett didn’t really move and Ryan fell to the side.

“I thought I was closer to the first down than I actually was,” Ryan said, via Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I thought I was going to get it and it turns out I was a couple yards short.”

Ryan called the decision “an error in judgement,” and added “It happens.”

He had reason to want to make a play. The Falcons were trailing 16-12 inside the two-minute warning as he scrambled, so there was urgency.

But he’s far more valuable to the 5-0 Falcons in the pocket than he is on the run, so it’s probably best he realized he’s no Cam Newton.

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Report: Bills QB has sprained MCL, could miss multiple games

Tyrod Taylor AP

Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor has a sprained MCL, Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reports, and the Bills will prepare E.J. Manuel to be their starting quarterback for Sunday’s game vs. the Bengals.

Earlier Tuesday, Bills coach Rex Ryan told reporters that Taylor “is pretty beat up.” LaCanfora reported that Taylor injured his knee on a horse-collar tackle on what became the go-ahead drive in the Bills’ 14-13 win over the Titans last Sunday.

The Bills host the Bengals Sunday, then play the Jaguars in London on Oct. 25 before a bye week, making Manuel the likely starter for the next two games.

Taylor, a first-time starter, is completing 70 percent of his passes and has thrown nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also rushed 31 times for 187 yards.

Manuel has not accumulated any stats this season. He’s 6-8 as the Bills’ starter over the last two seasons, during which time he’s completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He started four games last season.

Earlier Tuesday, the Buffalo News reported that the Bills had checked the passport status of available quarterbacks, a sign they were looking to sign someone for multiple weeks.

The team signed Josh Johnson. Johnson had been signed, then cut, then signed again by the Colts over the last two weeks with Andrew Luck’s status in limbo.

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Dan Quinn anticipates having Julio Jones Thursday

Julio Jones AP

Wide receiver Julio Jones was listed as out of practice on Monday with hamstring and toe injuries as the Falcons started a short week leading into Thursday night’s game against the Saints.

That development was followed by reports of some doubts inside the team about the wideout’s availability for the game. They aren’t expressing those doubts publicly, however.

Coach Dan Quinn said Tuesday that he anticipates Jones will be on the field to face New Orleans and Jones said it was his plan to play, although he left open the possibility that things could go the other way.

“If I can go, I am going to go,” Jones said, via the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “I am going to have to be really down bad not to go out there and play. If I feel like I am putting myself in danger as far as going out there and not being able to make a defender miss, then I won’t go. If I feel like I can do that and help my team by drawing coverage and doing my job, I’m going to go.”

Jones’s torrid production slipped a bit the last two weeks, but a matchup with the Saints defense offers the possibility of more huge numbers if he’s feeling well enough to play.

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Jared Allen “trying to get feeling back in my foot” with pinched nerve

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptexzwfmytgxy2yzmteyzmy2mwyzodk0yzdhmwziyjm5 AP

The Panthers got their most important player back on the field Tuesday.

Now they have to wait to see when they’ll get their newest one back.

Veteran defensive end Jared Allen didn’t practice Tuesday, and told reporters he was still feeling (or not feeling) the effects of a pinched nerve in his back.

I’m just trying to get feeling back in my foot,” Allen said, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review.

He maintained that he was still “ready to rock,” and that he planned to play Sunday against the Seahawks, saying “If I can walk, I can play.”

The 33-year-old defensive end didn’t get a sack in his Panthers debut before the bye week, though they’ll need production from him with Charles Johnson on the injured reserve/designated return list for another six weeks.

Going against a Seahawks offensive line that hasn’t protected well, the Panthers could use all the pressure they can get. Ryan Delaire had a pair of sacks in his Panthers debut, as the former Washington practice-squader provided the burst Allen hasn’t yet.

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Michael Irvin on Greg Hardy: I don’t mean to be insensitive, but he’s too good not to sign

Michael Irvin #88 Getty Images

Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin expressed an uncomfortable truth about the NFL when discussing Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy: If you’re a good enough player, no one cares what kind of person you are.

Irvin said on 105.3 The Fan that Hardy, who returned to the field on Sunday after missing 19 games over two seasons after a domestic violence accusation, is so good that the Cowboys ought to sign him to a long-term contract, despite the off-field issues.

“I know a lot of people are mad at this dude, but I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the first game.’ To come back in the first game and do what that dude did, that was crazy,” Irvin said.

Irvin said that while Hardy is facing criticism over his rap video, it’s the perfect time for the Cowboys to sign him to a good deal.

“I’m sorry everybody and I don’t want to be insensitive, but while everybody’s mad about the video, we should sign him to a long-term deal now,” Irvin said. “It was so impressive to see that, it was mind-boggling impressive.”

Irvin said he thinks if Hardy had been on the Cowboys last year, they would have won the Super Bowl. And that’s why Hardy is a player Irvin wants the Cowboys to sign, no matter how bad a guy he is.

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Report: Taylor’s injury forced Bills to check passport status of available QBs

Tyrod Taylor AP

The Bills host the Bengals Sunday, then go to London to play the Jaguars on Oct. 25.

The trip to London was a factor in the team’s search for help at quarterback over the last 48 hours, Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reported Tuesday.

Citing an NFL source, Carucci tweeted that the Bills checked the passport status of available quarterbacks.

Apparently, Tyrod Taylor is hurt pretty bad,” the source told Carucci.

E.J. Manuel would be the starting quarterback if Taylor can’t play this week.

Bills coach Rex Ryan told reporters that Taylor “is pretty beat up.” The Bills signed Josh Johnson on Tuesday.

Johnson had been signed, then cut, then signed again by the Colts over the last two weeks with Andrew Luck’s status in limbo.

Carucci also reported that the Bills tried to sign Matt Simms, who was with the Bills in training camp, but Simms chose to stay with the Falcons’ practice squad because he feels he has a better future with the Falcons. The Bills had operated with Taylor and Manuel as the only quarterbacks on the roster since trading Matt Cassel to the Cowboys.

So, Johnson seems to be in line for a trip across the pond and at least a couple more weekly paychecks.

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Ravens cut Jason Babin, as they try to restock secondary

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Ravens needed immediate help for their injury depleted secondary, so they got rid of a guy brought in to help their injury depleted pass rush.

As part of a flurry of moves Tuesday, the Ravens announced they cut veteran outside linebacker Jason Babin.

They also cut cornerback Rashaan Melvin and placed cornerback Will Davis (torn ACL) on injured reserve.

To fill those three roster spots, they signed former 49ers cornerback Shareece Wright and promoted cornerbacks Asa Jackson and Charles James from the practice squad.

Babin was brought in after Terrell Suggs was lost for the season to a torn Achilles, but didn’t make any impact there, with no stats in the two games he was active for.

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NFL admits side judge should have caught clock mistake

Mike Vick AP

The NFL has acknowledged that the side judge working Monday night’s game in San Diego should have caught a mistake made by the clock operator.

“Because of an error by the clock operator, the game clock was incorrectly started before the Steelers’ first play from scrimmage following the touchback. That first down snap came with 2:38 left to play instead of 2:56, a difference of 18 seconds,” the league’s statement said. “The official game time is kept on the stadium scoreboard, but it is the responsibility of the side judge to supervise the timing of the game. Had the side judge or any of the other six on-field officials noticed the timing error, they could have corrected it.”

Although the NFL’s statement didn’t name him, Rob Vernatchi was the side judge for the game. That’s a huge mistake that will surely result in him being downgraded by the league office.

And it was the second consecutive Monday night game that saw a significant mistake by the officials, coming on the heels of last week’s illegal bat by the Seahawks, which probably cost the Lions the game. Even though this mistake probably didn’t change the outcome of the game (although it’s impossible to say for sure what would have happened had there been 18 more seconds on the clock in a game the Steelers won on the final play), it’s something the NFL needs to address. Officiating needs to get better.

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Cardinals make it official with Dwight Freeney

Houston Texans v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

Dwight Freeney’s return to the NFL was reported on Monday and the Cardinals made it official on Tuesday with the announcement that they’ve signed the 13-year veteran.

The move reunites Freeney with coach Bruce Arians, who was the interim head coach for much of the 2012 season with the Colts, and the Cardinals hope it will give a boost to a pass rush that has recorded eight sacks in five games. The need for that boost is particularly acute in the short term.

Linebacker Alex Okafor is the team leader with two of those sacks, but is currently battling a calf injury and, per multiple reports, he’s expected to miss several weeks while recovering. Whether Freeney, who will meet the team in West Virginia as they prepare to face the Steelers, can ramp up quickly enough to help fill the hole remains to be seen.

The Cardinals placed linebacker Kenny Demens on injured reserve to make room for Freeney on the roster. Demens tore his ACL in last Sunday’s victory in Detroit.

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Bills sign Josh Johnson, so Colts can’t again this week

Josh Johnson Pic Getty Images

The Colts are going to have to find another quarterback to ride around in the revolving door, because Josh Johnson has another job.

The Bills announced they had signed the journeyman backup, who has yo-yoed on and off the Colts roster the last two weeks while Andrew Luck was hurt.

This time, he’s insurance for Bills starter Tyrod Taylor, who was “beat up right now,” according to Bills coach Rex Ryan.

If Taylor isn’t able to start, they might have to turn back to EJ Manuel this week against the Bengals, which isn’t an ideal situation. The Bills had a solid backup plan, but they traded him to the Cowboys, leaving themselves thin again, and forced to look outside for reinforcements.

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PFT Live: Larry Donnell, Fred Jackson, Malcolm Jenkins, Tony Jefferson

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 11:  Larry Donnell #84 of the New York Giants makes the catch for the game winning touchdown as NaVorro Bowman #53 of the San Francisco 49ers defends in the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on October 11, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers 30-27.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

Giants tight end Larry Donnell capped a busy NFL Sunday with a touchdown catch to beat the 49ers on Sunday night and we’ll be talking to him about his big play on Tuesday’s edition of PFT Live.

Donnell will join Mike Florio to discuss the game-winning catch, which capped off a comeback in the final minutes that moved the Giants to 3-2 and erased some memories of the way they blew games in the first two weeks of the season. They’ll also talk about Donnell’s fellow tight end Daniel Fells’s battle with a MRSA infection and the upcoming Monday night clash with the Eagles.

We’ll be talking about that game with Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins as well when Jenkins drops in as a guest on the program. Guests will also include a pair of representatives from the NFC West — Seahawks running back Fred Jackson and Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson — as we bring you everything you need to know from around the league.

As always, we also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour through the links at PFT.

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Carlos Dunlap: How we finish means more than how we start

Carlos Dunlap AP

After the Bengals beat the Seahawks on Sunday, some of their players talked about the “statement” they made by coming back from 17 down to move to 5-0 on the season.

On Monday, attention shifted away from pats on the back to the tasks that still lie ahead for the Bengals this season. Linebacker A.J. Hawk acknowledged that he was dealing in cliches when he said that “we’re on to the next one,” but said it was the mindset that the team had to have with so much of the season left to play.

Defensive end Carlos Dunlap agreed and pointed out that the Bengals are going to be judged on how they finish the season and not on their record after five weeks of the regular season.

“We’ve got to win our next football game,” Dunlap said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I don’t care what our record is right now. We’ve got another opponent coming up and they’re just as important. No matter where we are right now, if we don’t finish, the start won’t be remembered. We’ll be remembered [by] how we wouldn’t finish.”

No one in Cincinnati needs to be reminded of the team’s run of one-and-done playoff appearances. While they won’t get a chance to change their fortunes without a strong regular season, January will be the only judge of their ultimate success this season.

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Report: Luke Kuechly cleared from concussion protocol

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 27:  Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers looks on from the sidelines while out for the second consecutive week of concussion protocol against the New Orleans Saints during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers have won their first four games despite the absence of linebacker Luke Kuechly for almost all of those contests, but it looks like they’ll have him back in the lineup this week.

Kuechly has been out since suffering a concussion in the season-opening victory over the Jaguars and Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer reports that he is out of the league’s concussion protocol after being cleared by an independent neurologist. Assuming there are no setbacks in practice over the next couple of days, he should be in the lineup against the Seahawks on Sunday.

A.J. Klein filled in for Kuechly while he was recovering and did a solid job in the middle of the Panthers defense. Kuechly brings more to the table, however, and should boost the Panthers’ chances of keeping their undefeated string going against Seattle.

In addition to bumping Carolina to 5-0, a win over Seattle would exorcise some demons from recent games against the Seahawks. The Panthers have lost to Seattle four times in the last three years with all three regular season losses coming by less than seven points.

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