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This week it’s the Texans getting ripped off by the refs

Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak talks with Referee John Parry before challenging a Tampa Bay Buccaneers interception in Tampa Reuters

Last week, the Texans were given a gift touchdown against the Lions, when the officials wrongly ruled that Justin Forsett had run for an 81-yard score when he had actually gone down after just eight yards. This time, it’s the Texans’ turn to get ripped off by incompetent officials.

In the second quarter in Tennessee, Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt hit Titans running back Chris Johnson to force a fumble, and Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith picked up the loose ball and started racing toward the end zone. Although Titans quarterback Jake Locker was chasing after Smith and might have been able to bring him down, it looked like Smith had a good shot at scoring a touchdown.

And then, inexplicably, the officials blew the play dead. For some reason, the officials seemed to think that Smith had been down when he recovered the football, even though he clearly hadn’t been. The Texans were given the ball at the spot where Smith recovered, but if not for the bad call they probably would have had a touchdown.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak was shown on the sideline with his red flag in his hand, suggesting that he briefly considered making the same mistake that Lions coach Jim Schwartz made when he threw his flag on Forsett’s “touchdown.” But Kubiak wisely didn’t throw the flag, which would have resulted in a 15-yard penalty because fumbles are automatically reviewed, just as touchdowns are.

In the end, the bad call wasn’t particularly costly for the Texans, who had a 14-3 lead at the time of the fumble and increased the lead to 21-3 shortly after. So unlike the bad call that helped the Texans last week, this week’s bad call probably won’t have any effect on who wins the game.

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Teddy Bridgewater held out of Vikings practice again

Bridgewater Getty Images

The Vikings have sounded optimistic, and they’ve sounded cautious.

The Packers are just assuming.

But those are subjective measures.

In the cold, calculating world of the NFL injury report, the news is quantifiable.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did not participate in practice today, according to the Vikings’ report submitted to the league. Linebacker Chad Greenway and tight end Kyle Rudolph didn’t either, but that’s not what you’re here to read about.

With just one more day between doing nothing and playing the Packers Thursday night, the chances of Bridgewater playing might not appear great. But that’s part of the reaility of short-week games anyway.

If he can’t go, the Vikings would have to start Christian Ponder, and promote one of their practice squaders so they’d have a viable backup.

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Belichick bears the blame for current Patriots’ mess

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When reporters asked Patriots coach Bill Belichick about a burgeoning quarterback controversy, he shouldn’t have scoffed.  He should have been grateful.

The focus on Tom Brady has kept many from looking at the guy squarely responsible for the current state of the team — Belichick himself.

The head coach and de facto G.M. has been heralded as a genius for much of the last 13 years, and rightfully so.  Belichick has found a way to keep the team competitive on a consistent basis in an age of parity and a salary cap.

But the quality of the roster has eroded in recent years.  The offensive line presently stinks.  While the departure of long-time line coach Dante Scarnecchia likely played a role in the ability of the line to play its role the right way, the players aren’t good.  Which makes the decision to dump guard Logan Mankins after he refused to take a pay cut even more bizarre.  Belichick miscalculated the ability of the line to thrive without Mankins, and as a result the Patriots could miss the postseason for the first time since 2008.

No one can question Belichick’s coaching ability.  But when it comes to handling the personnel side of the operation, he’s either losing his fastball or he needs more help.  Because it’s not enough to find ways to trade down or to draft backup quarterbacks lower than perhaps they should have gone.  At some point, the players need to be good enough to play.

Right now, they’re not.  And that lands at the feet of the guy who runs the show.

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Texans part ways with Shiloh Keo

Chris Johnson, Shiloh Keo AP

The Texans have made a change at safety.

According to multiple reports, the team has waived safety Shiloh Keo and promoted Josh Aubrey to the 53-man roster.

Keo was a 2011 fifth-round pick in Houston who saw action in every game for the team in 2012 and 2013. He spent much of the 2013 season as a starter after the team’s move for Ed Reed failed to pan out, but did little to suggest that he has a future in the league as a first-team defensive player. Keo had 63 tackles and an interception last year, but saw most of his other work on special teams and that’s probably where any NFL future lies as well.

Aubrey had one tackle in six games with the Browns last year. He didn’t make the team out of camp this year and spent a brief spell with the Seahawks before landing on Cleveland’s practice squad.

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McKenzie announces that Allen has been fired

McKenzie AP

It’s not entirely Dennis Allen’s fault that the Raiders stink.  And so it was fitting that the guy who shares in the blame for the current state of the team made the official announcement that Allen has taken the fall for the team’s predictable 0-4 start.

“After thorough evaluation, we have determined to move in another direction,” G.M. Reggie McKenzie said in a statement released by the team.  “We appreciate Dennis Allen’s dedication to the organization and wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”

The different direction, at least for now, will be offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who took the Dolphins to a 29-33 record over four years before being fired after the 2011 season.  It’s hard to imagine the outcome being any different with Sparano than with Allen, given the lack of talent and other issues with the franchise.

But Sparano will have a far more extended opportunity to earn the job on an ongoing basis, given that 12 games remain on the schedule.  That’s actually better for the Raiders; it makes an artificial improvement in performance from players who prefer to keep the current staff less likely.  Far too often, the interim coach has success in the last 2-3 games of the year, secures the job, and then the wheels come off.

The Raiders have scheduled a press conference for 5:00 p.m. ET.  Even though the press release didn’t include any quotes from owner Mark Davis, he presumably will be there.  There’s even a slim chance we’ll see an overhead projector.

That last part is a joke.  I think.  It nevertheless will be interesting to see whether Mark Davis continues his father’s habit of trying to find ways to stiff fired coaches out of the balance of their remaining salary.

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John Conner returns to Jets

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In The Terminator, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s robot from the future who said “I’ll be back” while trying to stop Sarah Connor from becoming the mother of mankind’s future savior John Connor.

We’re not sure if fullback John Conner, dubbed “The Terminator” by Rex Ryan when the Jets drafted him in 2010, said the same thing when the Jets released him in 2012, but he made good on the promise if he did. The Jets announced Tuesday that Conner is back with the club.

He’ll take the spot of fullback Tommy Bohanon, who broke his collarbone against the Lions. Bohanon suffered the injury early in the game, but, in a move any time traveling cyborg could appreciate, was able to remain on the field for the duration of the contest.

Conner played 13 games for the Giants last season, but lost a training camp battle to Henry Hynoski this summer and has been unemployed since the Giants dropped him as part of their cut to 53 players.

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West says Browns will go with the “hot hand” at running back

West Getty Images

Veteran tailback Ben Tate suffered a knee injury in Week One.  Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell performed well in his absence.  Now that he’s back, will there be enough touches to go around?

“We’ll see,” Tate told reporters on Tuesday, via comments distributed by the team.

As to who’ll get the carries, the answer is less unclear.

“Whoever’s got the hot hand and whoever’s going to get us the win, that’s who we’re going to roll with,” West said.

That’s a far cry from Tate’s assessment before the season that he’s the starter and there’s no competition.

“I probably would have said the same thing,” West said.  “Everybody should have that personality coming onto the field. If you’re on the field, you should think you’re the best. If you don’t you shouldn’t be out there.”

West has emerged as the top option for the Browns, with 47 carries for 204 yards and two touchdowns.  Crowell has 27 attempts for 141 yards and three scores.

Tate exited the Week One loss to the Steelers with only six carries for 41 yards.

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Jordan Cameron feeling better, but thinks shoulder will be issue all year

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The bye week has done some good for Browns tight end Jordan Cameron.

Cameron said Tuesday that the sprained AC joint in his right shoulder is feeling better than it did heading into the bye week.

“I feel good. I feel healthy,” Cameron said, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.

There’s room for an asterisk next to Cameron feeling healthy, though. He also said that he thinks the injury, which he initially suffered in the preseason and aggravated in the season opener, is going to linger throughout the season. That’s not great news for the Browns offense, which still has a while to go before wide receiver Josh Gordon will return to the lineup.

It’s also not great news for Cameron, who is eligible for free agency after the season. Cameron has already missed one game because of the injury and had just one catch in Week Three, a pattern that would likely have a deflating effect on any contract offers that will come his way if it were to continue for the remaining 13 weeks of the regular season.

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Trent Williams hopes to play on Monday night

Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Redskins played last Thursday night and lost to the Giants in a rout that was made all the worse by the departure of left tackle Trent Williams with a knee injury.

Any initial fears of a season-ending injury subsided on Friday, but his presence in Week Five is still anything but certain. Williams didn’t practice on Tuesday and said that his knee still needed to “calm down,” but he remains hopeful that he’ll be able to play on Monday night against the Seahawks.

“I’ll probably let it calm down a little bit,” Williams said, via CSNWashington.com. “Hopefully no setback. I’ll probably get it reevaluated before the game and hopefully — I’ll leave it up to coach — but hopefully I can be out there.”

Williams may have company when it comes to returning from a recent injury. Tight end Jordan Reed participated in individual drills on Tuesday, which marks a notable step forward in his recovery from a hamstring injury suffered in the season opener. Getting Reed back would be a plus for the offense, especially if Niles Paul can’t go because of the concussion he suffered against the Giants.

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Falcons make a flurry of moves to refill their offensive line

Atlanta Falcons v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

Well, at least Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has healthy receivers this year.

Offensive linemen, not so much.

The Falcons just announced a flurry of moves, which included putting two more starting offensive linemen on injured reserve.

They announced that center Joe Hawley (knee) and right tackle Lamar Holmes (foot) were going on IR, where they’ll join left tackle Sam Baker (knee).

They also placed safety William Moore (shoulder) on IR/designated for return, which will allow him to come back after eight weeks.

To fill the roster spots, the Falcons promoted guard Harland Gunn and safety Sean Baker from the practice squad, and signed former Jaguars tackle Cameron Bradfield.

That’s going to make a real hash of their offensive line, but no worse than it was Sunday, when they had to use tight end Levine Toilolo as their right tackle to finish the game when injuries collected at one spot.

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Mike Tomlin doesn’t mind label, he minds lazy sterotypes

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Two days after Mike Tomlin bristled at being termed a “player’s coach,” during a pregame interview, he said he mostly bristles at the broad characterization it creates.

Tomlin told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t necessarily take it as an insult, but that he’s insulted by the undertones the phrase carries.

I refuse to be put in a box. It’s my job to be what my team needs me to be,” Tomlin said, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com. “Sometimes it’s close and cuddly and sometimes it’s not. I don’t have any problem being any of the above.

“Sometimes when they couple ‘player’s coach’ with questions about how I wear my hair or what I choose to wear on the sidelines or what type of music I listen to, then it gets kind of old and falls into that category for me. I’d like to think the manner in which I do my job, whether it’s positive or negative, has very little to do with my haircut or the clothes that I wear or the type of music I listen to, and that’s when I get annoyed with that line of questioning.”

Tomlin’s got a point, and it’s no different than the way players are characterized.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton got compared to players such as Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb before being drafted, even though he played more like Ben Roethlisberger.

Certain players are tagged as “athletic” and “instinctive” and certain players are “lunch pail guys” or “coaches on the field.”

And too often in the lazy telling of stories, those phrases fall along strict lines that just happen to coincide with the color of the players’ skin.

To that end, we agree with Tomlin. He’s not necessarily a player’s coach, any more than Dick LeBeau is.

He’s just a good one.

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Raiders settle on Tony Sparano as interim head coach

Tony+Sparano+Miami+Dolphins+v+Dallas+Cowboys+MRd9R4efR0Jl Getty Images

Tony Sparano is set to become the Raiders’ interim head coach after the firing of Dennis Allen.

After several conflicting reports emerged over the last 12 hours about who the Raiders would go with as Allen’s replacement, Jim Trotter of ESPN reported on Tuesday that it’s Sparano, who had the title of assistant head coach and offensive line coach on Allen’s staff.

Sparano previously served as the head coach of the Dolphins from 2008 to 2011.

If the reports are correct that Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie wanted Sparano but owner Mark Davis preferred Al Saunders, that would indicate that Davis still has confidence in McKenzie’s decision-making. Which is odd, considering that most of McKenzie’s decisions as Oakland’s G.M. haven’t panned out.

The 0-4 Raiders are on their bye week, which will give Sparano some extra time to make whatever changes he deems necessary. Although Sparano will presumably get the final 12 games of the season to prove himself capable of handling the job on a permanent basis, it seems more likely that the Raiders will hire a new coach after the season ends. That coach will be the Raiders’ 10th head coach in 15 years.

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Michael Crabtree says things are “good over here”

Crabtree Getty Images

When NFL Network’s Deion Sanders tried to bogart the Apple laptop with the logo blacked out by electrical tape due to the whole Microsoft thing from Ian Rapoport, some thought Sanders’ information regarding discord with the 49ers came directly from receiver Michael Crabtree.

Sanders has denied that Crabtree was the source.  Crabtree took to Twitter on Tuesday to say this, via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News:  “I don’t know what people are talking about with Mr Deion… But we good over here!

Sanders insisted otherwise, citing anonymous sources to support his belief that the players want coach Jim Harbaugh to leave.  The claim has been attacked in part by questioning the overall validity of any reporting based on unnamed sources, a naive strategy that overlooks the reality that the decision of a source to not attach a name to a piece of information doesn’t automatically make that information suspect.  The challenge for the reporter, however, is to vet the source and the information for credibility and accuracy.

Deion doesn’t have the education (then again, neither do I), the skill (then again, neither do I), or the experience (one out of three ain’t bad) to properly evaluate information from anonymous sources.  That’s the issue here, and that’s why Deion should have simply shared what he was hearing with management, so that the people paid by the league-owned to find stuff out about the league that employs them can do their jobs.

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Teddy Bridgewater: Too soon to say if I’ll play Thursday

bridgewater Getty Images

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a sprained ankle in Sunday’s win over the Falcons, and it left him unsure whether he’ll be ready to go on Thursday night against the Packers.

“Each day I’m making progress,” Bridgewater said today. “I’m just going to keep moving, move forward and try to get ready for Thursday.”

Asked if he could put a percentage on his chances of playing, Bridgewater answered, “I cannot. We still have a long time until Thursday, so right now I’m going to continue to just rehab, do a little exercise today and see where I am the next couple days.”

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer sounded optimistic about Bridgewater’s chances, but he emphasized that it’s ultimately a medical decision about whether Bridgewater is healthy enough to go.

“He’s out here today in a walk-through. He’s fine, really. He’s good,” Zimmer said. “Just depends on when we feel he’s ready. He won’t if we feel he’s not ready.”

If Bridgewater can’t go, the Vikings will turn to Christian Ponder. Which means Vikings fans are hoping beyond hope that Bridgewater can go.

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Choice for Raiders interim coach down to two

Oakland Raiders 2011 Headshots

For the moment, Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie’s job seems safe.

But he’s also about to make a decision which could make him less so.

According to Scott Bair and Fallon Smith of CSNBayArea.com, the Raiders’ choice for an interim coach is down to two: Tony Sparano or Al Saunders.

Owner Mark Davis prefers Saunders, according to the report, while McKenzie prefers Sparano. But Davis is going to allow McKenzie to make the final call.

Honestly, it might not matter.

Depending on who Davis sets his sights on when it comes to a permanent coach, that person might or might not want McKenzie around. But going against your boss’s wishes at a time when your own job is own the line is going to make it an interesting call for the G.M.

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After FCC vote, NFL reiterates its commitment to free TV

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The NFL opposed the effort to dump the blackout rule in part by suggesting that the removal of the ability to prevent games from being televised for free in markets where the home team had failed to sell out the stadium would lead to the NFL fleeing free TV generally.  Now that the FCC has overturned the blackout rule, the NFL has renewed its commitment to audience-maximizing, three-letter network broadcasts.

“NFL teams have made significant efforts in recent years to minimize blackouts,” the league said in a statement issued after the FCC’s unanimous vote to scrap the blackout rule.  “The NFL is the only sports league that televises every one of its games on free, over-the-air television.  The FCC’s decision will not change that commitment for the foreseeable future.”

The term “foreseeable future” implies that maybe, at some point down the road, the NFL’s attitude toward free TV will change.  For now, it won’t — in part because blackouts have become largely irrelevant.

Last year, only two of 256 regular-season games were blacked out in the home team’s market.  This year, none of the first 61 games of the season have been blacked out.

The push to dump the blackout rule has come in recent years, at a time when the number of televised games consistently met or exceeded 90 percent.  In prior decades, when the percentage of televised games fell as low as 41 in 1975 and hovered in the 50s and 60s in the ’80s and ’90s, there wasn’t a peep about the blackout rule.

Maybe the rise of the Internet has given fans a vehicle for pushing the issue.  Maybe the ongoing effort by billionaires to squeeze millions from the public coffers has generated a backlash.  Regardless, the blackout rule is dead — and its departure ultimately may not change anything.

Unless a large percentage of fans decides to quit buying tickets and to watch the games at home, knowing that the game will be on even if no one shows up.

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