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Report: Cards are having “internal conversations” on Ray Horton

Ray Horton AP

You know that thing we said earlier about the possibility that no head coaches will be fired during the season?  That could be wrong.

Mike Jurecki of XTRA 910 in Phoenix reports that the Cardinals are having “internal discussions” regarding defensive coordinator Ray Horton.  Given that the team’s defense has had little to do with the team’s eight-game losing streak, the fair inference is that the Cards are considering firing coach Ken Whisenhunt and promoting Horton to interim head coach.

If it happens that would keep Whisenhunt from matching Jim Hanifan as the longest-tenured coach in team history, with six full seasons.

Stay tuned.

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Jim Harbaugh says his future’s no distraction at all

Jim Harbaugh AP

With his own local media, Jim Harbaugh has grown terse, having covered the ground about his future often.

But while he didn’t exactly drop any clues in his conference call with Arizona reporters, he at least dropped his guard a bit.

When asked the inevitable question about how difficult it was to coach amid the swirl of reports about his future, the for-now 49ers coach said it wasn’t.

“The interesting thing is if you don’t look at the Internet and you don’t watch TV, you really do not know that it’s going on,” Harbaugh said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “That has been exactly what I have done. Put the focus on the week of preparation, put the focus on the players and the coaches and what we are trying to get done here. It works if you really don’t pick up.

“On the way home, you don’t turn on the talk radio and you don’t look at the Internet, you can be completely unaware that anything is swirling. I walk by people and I see their faces. I know something is going on.”

There was a laugh after that part, and he was then asked what it was like to be the only American not watching TV or on the internet.

“There has to be another American beside myself,” Harbaugh said. “Don’t you think? Yeah, I bet there is. I would think there would be plenty of Americans who probably focus on another task at hand and dedicated to the mission they have and excelling and not having distraction.”

If there were, we might not be having as Merry Christmas here. So thanks Jim, for being unique.

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Adam Vinatieri’s workouts have evolved, leading to his best year at 41

Adam Vinatieri, Pat McAfee AP

Adam Vinatieri is doing something almost unheard of not just in football, but in all of professional sports: He’s having the best year of his career while he’s in his 40s.

Vinatieri, who will turn 42 on Sunday, is a perfect 28-for-28 on field goals this season. Vinatieri told the New York Times he’s taking good care of his body and the results speak for themselves.

“I don’t get under a heavy squat rack or do a lot of heavy power cleaning anymore,” he said. “It’s hard on the joints, and when you get a little bit older, you can do other things that doesn’t take quite as much strain on your body. I do a lot of core stuff to keep my core and hips loose and limber and strong. The workouts have evolved.”

If Vinatieri doesn’t miss a kick in Sunday’s season finale, he’ll join Gary Anderson of the 1998 Vikings, Jeff Wilkins of the 2000 Rams and Mike Vanderjagt of the 2003 Colts as the only kickers who have kicked a full season without a miss. Not bad for the NFL’s oldest player.

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Peyton Manning fully participates in practice

Peyton Getty Images

On the same day Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said he doesn’t plan to retire after the current season, he was able to fully prepare for his next game.

Manning fully participated in practice despite a thigh injury suffered in Week 15.

He practiced less than two days after a Monday night game during which he once again seemed to be not the same Peyton Manning, fueling speculation that there’s something wrong with him beyond the thigh injury that appears on the report.

Still, his ability to fully participate in practice on Wednesday suggests he’ll be in better physical condition on Sunday against the Raiders, which possibly means he’ll throw fewer than four interceptions and in turn lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

Also fully participating despite injury were running back C.J. Anderson (ankle), safety David Bruton (calf), tackle Ryan Clady (thigh), tackle Chris Clark (back), running back Ronnie Hillman (foot), center Will Montgomery (knee), tight end Jacob Tamme (foot), receiver Demaryius Thomas (ankle, hip), tight end Julius Thomas (ankle), running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee), cornerback Kayvon Webster (shoulder), and defensive end Derek Wolfe (knee).

Tackle Paul Cornick (toe), receiver Emmanuel Sanders (hip), and safety T.J. Ward (neck) practiced on a limited basis.    Linebacker Lamin Barrow (illness), linebacker Brandon Marshall (foot), center Manuel Ramirez (illness), and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (illness) didn’t practice.

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Bears re-sign Austen Lane to replace Willie Young

Austen Lane Getty Images

The Chicago Bears have re-signed defensive lane Austen Lane to replace starter Willie Young, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a torn Achilles.

Lane spent the preseason with Chicago before being released during cuts.

Lane has played in 30 games in his career since being selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Lane has also spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions.

Young leads the Bears with a career-high 10 sacks this season. He injured his Achilles in last week’s loss to the Lions.

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Why aren’t other teams lining up for Jason Garrett?

Garrett Getty Images

Rarely if ever does a head coach become a free agent.  Rarely if ever does a free-agent head coach find a high demand for his services elsewhere.  Usually, it’s because the free-agent coach is a free agent for a reason.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, whose contract expires after the season, could be the most desirable lame duck to ever hit the market.  With 11 wins and a division title while working under General Manager Jerry Jones, why isn’t Garrett showing up on the short list for other teams?

Sure, Garrett generated mediocre results during his first three years on the job, struggling at times to juggle the micro of play calling and the macro of, you know, not icing his own kicker with a time out.  But Garrett has found his way in 2014 (he no longer calls the plays on offense), presiding over a team that arguably has exceeded expectations more than any other — which should put Garrett in line for coach of the year consideration.

But Garrett isn’t being mentioned as a candidate for looming or possible vacancies in San Francisco, Oakland, New York (Jets or Giants, though a Tom Coughlin termination seems like likely), Chicago, and Atlanta.  Maybe it’s the perception that Garrett doesn’t want to leave Dallas.  Maybe it’s the belief that there’s already a wink-nod extension in place.  Or maybe he’s just not getting the credit he deserves.

Every year, the coordinators of the best teams land on the A- or B-list for coaching vacancies.  Shouldn’t the head coaches of the best teams be there, too, in those rarest of circumstances when the head coach of one of the best teams has a contract that’s about to expire?

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49ers’ Anthony Davis seems to have a problem with Greg Roman

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

As the 49ers’ season comes to a close and the team prepares for a big shakeup in the offseason, offensive tackle Anthony Davis sounds like he hopes he’s not coached by offensive coordinator Greg Roman next season.

Davis went on Twitter today and seemed to take a shot at Roman, recalling a time when Roman first became offensive coordinator that Roman said something that got under Davis’s skin.

“Greg Roman to me when I was 21: ‘You know we can get someone off the street to do what you do,'” Davis tweeted.

Davis then tweeted, “The irony.” Perhaps he was suggesting that the 49ers are about to get someone off the street to do what Roman does, although Davis later deleted that tweet, so it’s not quite clear what he was trying to say.

In any event, Davis seems to have some kind of a problem with Roman, the kind of problem that could fester on a team — except that Roman is probably only going to coach Davis for one more game before they go their separate ways.

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Mike Pettine: Our first-round picks aren’t busts

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Much has been written and said about Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel over the course of his rookie season, culminating in his brief stint in the starting lineup and questions about whether he’d ever be the long-term quarterback that the Browns have been seeking since their re-entry into the NFL.

Manziel was just one of two Browns first-round picks this year, however. Cornerback Justin Gilbert may have drawn less attention than Manziel, but he didn’t play any better and didn’t convince too many people that he’ll be the kind of standout player you’d like to get at the top of the first round. Gilbert’s professionalism has been publicly criticized by veterans Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner, something that Pettine has heard from those players and seems to agree with even as he says that no one is giving up on either player after their rookie seasons.

“Are we ready to write both of those players off as busts because they didn’t produce as rookies?” Pettine said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I’m not anywhere near that point. That’s just a knee-jerk. Some rookies come in and play right away. Others it takes some time.”

Conversations about whether either of your first-round picks will ever pay off aren’t ones any team wants to have at the end of the season and they certainly aren’t ones the Browns want to have after years of losing. They’ll probably need at least one of Manziel or Gilbert to break through to end that cycle, which makes it a big offseason for both players.

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John Harbaugh disputes report that Jim’s family is pushing him to Michigan

John Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh, Jack Harbaugh AP

Jim Harbaugh reportedly is “torn” between taking the job at Michigan and staying in the NFL.  Harbaugh’s “family and friends” reportedly are urging him to return to his alma mater.  His brother, John, disputed that on Wednesday.  Strongly.

“My dad and I both . . . I will say this:  The report that said that his family is encouraging him to go to Michigan by Adam Schefter is absolutely incorrect,” the Ravens coach told reporters Wednesday.  “There has been no family that I know of that has given him any advice at all because that’s a personal decision.  It’s his to make, and that’s just absolutely false.  I don’t know where that came from, but it didn’t come from the Harbaughs.  My dad and I both said, ‘Hey, don’t tell us.’  If something gets out, we don’t want the finger pointed at us.  Just leave us out of it, and don’t tell us what you’re going to do.  I think he’s just trying to figure out what the next thing is for him, and more than anything, trying to have a great game on Sunday.”

Still, it sounds like John appreciates the fact that he’s not the Harbaugh making headlines.

“I open up my [computer] and you look at Google and it’s Jim Harbaugh,” John said.  “Perfect.  Perfect, it’s all Jim.  I will say this: I’m just proud of him.  I think he’s handled this.  He’s been a giant through all of this uncalled-for type of media onslaught sometimes that takes place.  Not anybody’s fault, just the nature of the business.  I think he’s handled it just perfectly.”

A reporter then seized on the word “giant” as a clue that Jim could be succeeding Tom Coughlin in New York.

“See, that’s what happens right there,” John said, laughing.  “That will be a headline.  No, that’s not what I said.”

If John is telling the truth (and there’s no reason to think he isn’t), he’s been saying nothing to Jim about Jim’s next job.  Regardless, John’s comments make it even more clear that there will indeed be a “next job” for Jim, sooner than later.

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Fletcher Cox was initially mad about Pro Bowl snub, now he’s not

Fletcher Getty Images

Anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance represent the typical stages of grief.  When it comes to not qualifying for the Pro Bowl, Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has short-circuited that process to anger and acceptance.

“Dude, I mean, I was mad all last night, kind of mad this morning,” Cox said Wednesday, via Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com.  “Then I finally realized there was nothing I could do to change it or say anything about it.  Good luck to the guys, everybody that’s in it.  I wish them the best.

“Maybe I wasn’t good enough.  And I’m not in it and that might be a reason why, I’m not good enough and I’ll try again next year.”

Coach Chip Kelly also disagreed with the snub.

“I don’t know the exact formula and how it was picked,” Kelly said.  “I thought he had a Pro Bowl year.  He’s the one guy that when I was handed the results last night so I could call our players, that I was like, ‘Wow.’  That was the one that kind of surprised me.

“I think he’s been our top player.  He’s been really unblockable at times.  I think he’s a very disruptive force.  But sometimes you make the Pro Bowl, I guess, on reputation.  But I hope people recognize him and maybe like [first-time Pro Bowl center Jason] Kelce, where it’s probably a year later than he should have gotten it, Fletcher will get it next year.  But I know he may be our most valuable player overall to be honest with you.”

Part of the problem comes from the categorization of players for Pro Bowl purposes.  Defensive ends in the 3-4 scheme still fall within the “defensive end” category, even though they’re actually interior defensive linemen.

“Do I think [it was a factor]? Yes,” he said.  “There’s nothing I could do it about it.  Just move on, get ready for Sunday, man.”

It’s the right attitude.  Besides, this year’s Pro Bowl isn’t in Hawaii.  It’s in Arizona.  Nothing against Arizona, which is great.  But it’s not Hawaii.

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Peyton Manning has no plans to retire this offseason

Denver Broncos v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

Since all he has to do is hand off and throw interceptions, of course Peyton Manning isn’t going anywhere.

The Broncos quarterback said Wednesday that he planned on playing for the Broncos next year, assuming they want a 39-year-old quarterback.

I certainly plan on being back if the Broncos will have me,” Manning said, via Mike Klis of the Denver Post. “At this point I’m thinking about Oakland. I know this is the time when there are conversations about what coaches are going to return.

“For some reason I guess I get to fall into that category because maybe I’m closer to the same age as some of the coaches. But I have no plans along those lines. I’m enjoying playing and looking forward to Sunday’s game and the game to follow that.”

There was plenty of speculation prior to last year’s Super Bowl about his future, and whether he’d ride off into the sunset with a win. The Seahawks made that a moot point, but it will be interesting to see how long Manning hangs on.

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Joe Flacco: Nothing to do but go out and win the next one

Joe Flacco AP

The Ravens need to win and get help from the Chiefs this weekend in order to make the playoffs, something they could have avoided with a win against the Texans last weekend.

They lost 25-13, however, and quarterback Joe Flacco’s dreadful game was a big reason why they lost. Flacco was 3-of-18 for 27 yards and threw two interceptions during the first half as the Texans ran out to a 13-0 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. It’s not the first time that Flacco has turned in a stinker, which leaves him with a clear handle on the best way to proceed.

“There’s not really too much you can do about it at this point. You just have to have confidence in yourself, confidence in yourself as a group, and go out and win the next one,” Flacco said, via the team’s website. ““We’re all adults out here. We’ve all been through tough situations and tougher situations and we’ll continue to go through situations like we had on Sunday and like we’re dealing with now. We’ve just got to pick ourselves up and move on.”

Flacco has bounced back from bad outings already this season, including a five-touchdown game against the Buccaneers a week after he played poorly in a loss to the Colts. The Ravens could use something similar this weekend, even if it won’t erase the sting from last week if the Ravens win and still miss the playoffs.

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Jurrell Casey won’t go to Pro Bowl as an alternate

Jurrell Casey AP

Because of the number of Pro Bowlers who won’t play in the game because of the Super Bowl, injury or disinterest, a lot of alternates annually make the all-star game.

But one of those alternates has no plans to accept any invitation that might come.

According to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com, Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said he was a second alternate, but wouldn’t play if two backed out.

First team or not at all,” he said.

It’ll be interesting to see if Casey’s virtue holds. Among the six defensive tackles chosen, at least one (Gerald McCoy) is injured, and another is in the playoffs (Ndamukong Suh) and could work his way out of the game.

The fact the game is in Glendale, Ariz., rather than Hawaii makes it a less attractive option, but I hope my kids behave a little more graciously in the morning when they open the Nintendo 64 I got them for Christmas.

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Aaron Rodgers “got done what he needed to get done” on Wednesday

Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Packers didn’t have quarterback Aaron Rodgers at practice for a full session on Wednesday, but they had him long enough for coach Mike McCarthy to feel positive about his quarterback’s condition.

Rodgers injured his calf against the Buccaneers last weekend, forcing the Packers to change their offensive plan because of the limits that the injury placed on Rodgers’s mobility. Rodgers is still getting treatment, but McCarthy sounded like all was well when Rodgers was on the field with his teammates.

“Aaron’s plan today, he did all the pre-practice work and no-huddle, and then we had a segment he was able to get some rehab done,” McCarthy said, via the team’s website. “Then he went back outside for the team [11-on-11] stuff. He got done what he needed to get done today. He’s getting better. He threw the ball around.”

With a division title on the line, it would take a pretty serious injury for Rodgers to miss Sunday’s game against the Lions. There’s no sign that this calf issue is that kind of injury, which is great news for the Packers’ chances of a fourth straight NFC North crown.

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Reggie Wayne needs offseason triceps surgery

Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne AP

Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne’s production has dropped off a cliff of late.

Wayne has 15 catches for 93 yards in his last five games and coach Chuck Pagano said this month that the Colts’ all-time leader in games played is being hampered by a torn triceps.

Wayne hasn’t missed a game, but said Wednesday, via Terry McCormick of TitansInsider.net, that the injury will require him to have surgery once the season comes to an end. The Colts don’t know when that will be with a playoff berth waiting for them as the AFC South champions and their chances of extending their run will go up if they can find receiving options other than T.Y. Hilton to replace what’s been missing from Wayne in recent weeks.

Surgery isn’t the only thing waiting for Wayne in the offseason. He’ll be a free agent and said Wednesday that he plans to keep playing as long as “it doesn’t feel like a job,” something that could be the case if teams don’t want to pay more than the minimum for a 36-year-old wideout coming off of triceps surgery.

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Despite No. 1 pick, Lovie won’t look at a loss as a good thing

Lovie Smith AP

If the Buccaneers lose on Sunday, they get the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Bucs coach Lovie Smith isn’t looking forward to that.

Smith sounds offended at the mere thought that he might see some benefit in losing, let alone that the Bucs would actively try to tank the season so they can land the first pick, which they’ll presumably spend on either Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota or Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

“I’ve kind of answered that question a few times. I think we’re going to end up in good position to get some good players. So to me, that can’t even come into the equation,” Smith said.

Smith said his players were playing hard last week against the Packers, will play hard this week against the Saints, and will never think about losing as a good thing.

“They weren’t thinking about that pick or anything like that. This week we’re going to do the same thing,” Smith said.

There may be times when it’s good for a franchise to lose. But players and coaches aren’t wired to lose intentionally. The Bucs are trying to win, even if they’re not very good at it.

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