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Romo getting into a groove, but hoping for more

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Over the course of last night, Tony Romo threw his 166th touchdown pass, breaking Troy Aikman’s franchise record.

He was 10-of-10 passing in the second half, when he threw three touchdowns. For the fourth time in five games, he threw no interceptions, and he finished with a passer rating of 150.5.

“It did seem like he found his edge,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said, via Todd Archer of “He gets in that groove.”

But the only number that mattered to Romo was six, as in the number of wins the Cowboys reached by beating the Eagles.

“I’m not trying to minimize anything,” Romo said. “Really, you’re just singularly focused on trying to bring a championship to this town and this organization. In that process, everything else kind of takes a back burner.

“We had a thing where we had to give our individual goals and our team goals. They were the same. It’s just about bringing that championship to Dallas. I want that for so many people. That’s why we commit to what we do. You just do all the little things and grind, and hopefully we’ll be able to attain that.”

Romo has taken care of the statistical feats. By most traditional measures, his career as a thrower of the football has been a good one. But he has one playoff win, and playing for a franchise with five Super Bowl titles, that’s how history will judge him.

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Week 14 Power Rankings

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys is surrounded by cameras after the game against the Minnesota Vikings on December 1, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Cowboys defeated the Vikings 17-15. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) Getty Images

1. Cowboys (11-1; last week No. 1): Great teams find a way to win games they should lose, which is exactly what the Cowboys did against the Vikings.

2. Raiders (10-2; No. 2): Great teams find a way to win games they should lose, which is exactly what the Raiders did against the Bills.

3. Patriots (10-2; No. 3): Great teams find a way to dismantle bad teams, which is exactly what the Patriots did against the Rams.

4. Chiefs (9-3; No. 5): The Chiefs may soon control the division that most have already handed to Oakland.

5. Seahawks (8-3-1; No. 6): The best path to the Super Bowl could be to secure the No. 2 seed and hope the Cowboys lose in the divisional round.

6. Giants (8-4; No. 4): It’s probably too late to catch the Cowboys, but a sweep of Dallas could go a long way toward building confidence for the postseason.

7. Broncos (8-4; No. 8): Last year, they were the No. 1 seed. This year, they may be the No. 6 seed. It will be slightly harder to get to the Super Bowl that way.

8. Lions (8-4; No. 9): They deserve credit for their best game of the year, but they still have a narrow margin for error, if they want to hold off the Packers.

9. Buccaneers (7-5; No. 13): The Cowboys will soon find out why they want nothing to do with the Buccaneers in the playoffs.

10. Falcons (7-5; No. 7): Their new stadium should be sponsored by Murphy’s Law.

11. Ravens (7-5; No. 15): If they win the division, they’ll be the most dangerous team in the AFC playoffs.

12. Steelers (7-5; No. 16): If they win the division, they’ll be the most dangerous team in the AFC playoffs.

13. Dolphins (7-5; No. 10): Sometimes, you just have to absorb a butt kicking.

14. Packers (6-6; No. 14): They still have the inside track to win the division, regardless of whether Lions fans don’t want to hear that.

15. Washington (6-5-1; No. 11): That tie is going to haunt them when the time comes to sort out the playoff tree.

16. Bills (6-6; No. 12): Sometimes, a season evaporates slowly. Sometimes, it goes really, really quickly.

17. Colts (6-6; No. 23): Let’s not get excited about Monday night until the Colts win like that against a team that is actually trying.

18. Texans (6-6; No. 17): If Brock Osweiler is “playing great,” how bad would the team’s record be if he wasn’t?

19. Titans (6-6; No. 19): The good news is that they’re in a three-way tie for first place. The bad news is that they should be in first place all by themselves, and they know it.

20. Vikings (6-6; No. 18): From Super Bowl dreams to “maybe if things line up just right we’ll lose in the wild-card round.”

21. Bengals (4-7-1; No. 24): If they lose to the Browns on Sunday, do they become No. 32?

22. Cardinals (5-6-1; No. 25): Too little, too late, too bad.

23. Eagles (5-7; No. 20): A coach with emotional intelligence comes in handy during a 2-7 stretch.

24. Chargers (5-7; No. 21): If they move to L.A., they’ll instantly be the best team in town.

25. Saints (5-7; No. 22): It’s spoiler time for the Saints, which isn’t how they envisioned the last four weeks of the season to be.

26. Panthers (4-8; No. 26): It’s spoiler time for the Panthers, which isn’t how they envisioned the last four weeks of the season to be.

27. Rams (4-8; No. 27): “I don’t make excuses. Here are my excuses.”

28. Bears (3-9; No. 29): When the best news is that Matt Barkley isn’t horrible, it’s been a bad year.

29. Jets (3-9; No. 28): At what point do we ask whether Christian Hackenberg has been kidnapped?

30. Jaguars (2-10; No. 30): Blake Bortles is the quarterback of the future. Literally, based on how things seem to be going in the world.

31. 49ers (1-11; No. 31): In 1980, NBC broadcast a game without announcers. On Sunday, CBS will broadcast a game without fans.

32. Browns (0-12; No. 32): RGIII is back. Don’t blink.

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Jay Gruden wants more Rob Kelley on offense

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 04:  Robert Kelley #32 of the Washington Redskins runs with the ball  against the Arizona Cardinals during the second quarter at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) Getty Images

During a three-game unbeaten streak that started with a tie against the Bengals in London in Week Eight, the Redskins gave running back Rob Kelley at least 21 carries in each game and he responded with 321 yards and four touchdowns over that span.

Kelley hasn’t been used quite as heavily the last two games, both of which have ended with the Redskins on the wrong side of the final score. He had 14 carries of limited effectiveness against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving in a game that saw Washington trying to mount a comeback and then 14 more against the Cardinals that resulted in 63 yards.

That game remained close throughout, but Kelley ran only six times in the second half. Coach Jay Gruden said that the team will look to change that over the final four weeks.

“We ideally would like to get that running game going a little bit more — more touches for Robert because he’s been very good as far as running the football,” Gruden said, via “We have got to make sure that we get him more involved, maintain the time of possession and stay more balanced.”

The Eagles are next up on the schedule and their secondary has been picked apart the last two weeks, so there should be opportunities for Kirk Cousins to throw the ball. Establishing a solid ground game would open up play action possibilities on top of those other opportunities, although it will be up to Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay to ensure that happens.

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Giants “hopeful” Jason Pierre-Paul won’t need surgery

FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2016, file photo, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) talks to teammate Olivier Vernon (54) as they walk off the field after the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, N.J. After having the NFL’s worst defense last season, the Giants have the potential to make big strides. They open the season Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File) AP

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is seeing a specialist today about his recent groin injury, but the Giants are holding out hope the news will be good.

According to Ralph Vacchiano of SNY, the Giants “are hopeful that Pierre-Paul will avoid surgery,” which is reasonable since surgery would be season-ending. They also think he could miss a few weeks either way, but that’s a pretty big deal for a team in the hunt for a playoff berth.

But after Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, Pierre-Paul suggested he wasn’t particularly worried.

“It’s just pulled,” he said. “Not too many details that I know. No, it doesn’t concern me at all. We’ll see. It was frustrating, especially when I’m sitting out, it sucks to just watch it in our locker room.”

Pierre-Paul went to Philadelphia today to see high-profile surgeon Dr. William Meyers, who specializes in core muscle injuries.

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Sheriff explains Joe McKnight shooting with another bizarre press conference

newell-normand-e1456281828654-680x365 Getty Images

The authorities in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana initially did not arrest Ronald Gasser, the 54-year-old man who shot and killed former NFL running back Joe McKnight last week. Gasser has since been arrested for manslaughter.

Sheriff Newell Normand, whose press conference from Friday seemed unreasonably defensive and unnecessarily combative, took it to the next level on Tuesday, complaining about the criticism his department has absorbed by pounding on the podium on multiple occasions and quoting from profanity-laden messages directed to elected officials who supported law enforcement’s desire to take a deliberate approach to the investigation of the shooting.

MSNBC quickly cut away from the press conference once Normand began reading the comments, which contained a variety of words not appropriate for broadcast.

Later in the press conference, when Normand finally stepped down from his soapbox and addressed the case, he said that Gasser became irritated when McKnight cut Gasser off in traffic. Gasser then pursued McKnight. McKnight eventually parked and went to Gasser’s car. At that point, Gasser fired three shots.

Gasser, according to Normand, became fearful of McKnight based on things McKnight said to Gasser.

Normand explained that the decision to arrest Gasser for manslaughter came after the authorities located multiple key witnesses. As to the witness who initially claimed that Gasser got out of his car and stood over McKnight before shooting him a final time, Normand said that the witness told three different stories in the course of an hour.

“Shame on that individual,” Normand said.

Normand then said the comments started the process down a path “that we collectively should be ashamed of.”

Normand perhaps should be ashamed of himself for being so thin-skinned about the situation. When a white man shoots a black man and the shooter initially goes free without explanation, there will definitely be a reaction from members of the public. But a sheriff should aspire to be above the fray, not to roll around in the middle of it.

The reaction from Normand suggests that neither he nor his department are fit to run the investigation or handle the case. Hopefully, the matter eventually will be pursued and prosecuted by responsible adults who realize that a certain amount of inaccurate and ill-informed scrutiny goes with the territory.

Without the involvement of professionals who are committed to doing the right thing without reacting to the noise, it becomes impossible for true and complete justice to be done. And that’s all anyone should want in the case of the death of Joe McKnight: True and complete justice.

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Malik McDowell will enter NFL Draft

EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 3: Malik McDowell #4 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates after a tackle for loss against the Purdue Boilermakers in the first half at Spartan Stadium on October 3, 2015 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Before Michigan State began its 2016 season, defensive lineman Malik McDowell said that he would not leave school after his junior season unless he was projected to be one of the top three picks in the 2017 NFL Draft.

McDowell has either heard something very good about where he will come off the board next year or he has decided that his status as one of the top defensive players in the country was enough to make foregoing his senior year worthwhile. McDowell announced that he will not return to East Lansing for another season on Tuesday.

“This was a difficult decision and I will always cherish my time in East Lansing. … I’m ready to fulfill my childhood dream of playing in the NFL,” McDowell wrote on Twitter.

McDowell missed the last three games of the Spartans’ disappointing season with an ankle injury, although that hasn’t seemed to impact his rankings on the many draft projections that populate the landscape. He’s generally regarded as a first-round pick in those projections, which would continue a string that’s seen at least one Michigan State player go on the first day of the draft in each of the last three years.

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Cowboys can clinch home-field advantage this weekend

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1: Byron Jones #31 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates an incomplete pass on third down in the third quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings on December 1, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dallas is already in the playoffs, and very soon, they can forge an easier path in them.

The league has announced this week’s playoff scenarios, and Dallas is closer to the top spot in the NFC playoffs.

The Cowboys can clinch home field advantage this weekend with a win over the Giants on Sunday Night Football, along with a Lions loss or tie to the Bears and a Seahawks loss to the Packers.

They can clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs with an win and either of those occurrences, and only need to win themselves to clinch the NFC East title.

The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West title with a win and a Cardinals loss or tie, or a tie and a Cardinals loss.

On the AFC side, the Patriots can clinch the AFC East with a win and a Dolphins loss or tie, or a tie and a Dolphins loss. They can clinch a first-round bye with a win coupled with a Dolphins loss or tie and a Steelers loss or tie.

The Raiders can also secure a playoff berth through four scenarios, the easiest to process being a win and losses by the Dolphins and Broncos.

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Jason Pierre-Paul visiting sports hernia specialist

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 27:  Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the New York Giants sacks Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 27, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul wasn’t able to finish Sunday’s game because of a groin injury. Now, they’re awaiting word on the rest of the season.

According to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, Pierre-Paul is in Philadelphia today, visiting noted sports hernia surgeon Dr. Williams Meyers.

The visit itself isn’t a sign a impending doom or anything, but Pierre-Paul’s condition is clearly a concern. He expressed optimism after the game, and it could be that checking in with Meyers is just to make sure he’s not making a problem worse.

Pierre-Paul has 7.0 sacks in 12 games this season, a solid output during his bet-on-himself season. Assuming he’s well, the 27-year-old is positioned to hit it big in free agency this offseason.

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Ron Rivera concerned about the Panthers’ mental health

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 17:  Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers looks on before their game against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium on November 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

During Sunday night’s blowout loss to the Seahawks, the Panthers looked like a team that wasn’t in the game mentally. Coach Ron Rivera acknowledges that’s a concern.

“You are concerned about that, the mental health of the team,” Rivera said. “We’re disappointed. Our expectations were so high. But this is the situation we’re in and there’s no turning around. We’ve got to go out and do what we’re capable of and make the best of it.”

Rivera said a 4-8 season, especially a 4-8 season that began with Super Bowl aspirations, takes its toll.

“I’m concerned about the team more than anything – the players and coaches in the locker room,” Rivera said. “I thought we had the makings of a good team. We had a good camp and we all had grand expectations. I really wanted to get back to the Super Bowl. But we haven’t capitalized.”

Last year the Panthers were in the Super Bowl, and this year they’re going to be at home when the playoffs start. That can drag a team down, and Rivera is aware of that. Unfortunately, the cure for the Panthers’ mental health — getting back to the playoffs — will have to wait for next year.

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Jerry Jones: We don’t plan to rest starters

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 02:   Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is seen on the field prior to the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cowboys have secured a spot in the playoffs and a win over the Giants this weekend will assure them a division title with the possibility of clinching home field throughout the NFC playoffs on the table as well.

Even if things remain up in the air on those fronts into Week 15, the Cowboys are heavy favorites to wind up with both of those notches on their belts. That’s led to some discussion about how the team would handle the final week or weeks of the season in terms of resting starters.

During an appearance on 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday, owner Jerry Jones said it would be business as usual. Jones said, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the team is not planning to rest healthy starters, which fits with earlier proclamations about running back Ezekiel Elliott’s workload.

In addition to Elliott, there’s been some question about whether the Cowboys would try to get Tony Romo some playing time in order to help him be ready should starting quarterback Dak Prescott get knocked out of a game. Jones said they want Romo to be ready, so there may be some rest for at least one starter for at least some of what’s left in the regular season even if all is fine physically.

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Why won’t the networks broadcast fans on the field?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 05:  A fan runs on the field during the game between the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium on December 5, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

For decades, drunk guys at sporting events have decided that it would be a good idea to take their drunk-guy asses onto the field and run around. For decades, TV networks have refused to broadcast those images.

Why is that? I mean, I know why — the networks don’t want to encourage similar behavior. But why do they care? And why do they think that people who see drunk guys run on the field will suddenly aspire to go to a game, get drunk, and run around on the field?

On Monday night, it happened again. And while Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden had no qualms about discussing it, ESPN refused to show it.

Meanwhile, every fan in attendance had the ability to record the incident with their phones and post it on social media. And some did.

So maybe the time has come for the networks to revisit an outdated policy that never made much sense and broadcast the game authentically, showing the fans at home everything that 60,000 or so fans can not only see but also individually broadcast. Maybe seeing the images of the drunk guy getting leveled by security won’t encourage more to do the same; maybe indisputable visual evidence of the outcome will be a deterrent.

Regardless, there’s no reason to shield the at-home audience from it.

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Adam Vinatieri plays in his 219th win, most in NFL history

bradyvinatieri AP

When the Patriots won on Sunday, it was their 201st win with Tom Brady as their starting quarterback, the most for any quarterback in NFL history. But it’s a former Brady teammate who has been a part of the most winning games for any player at any position in NFL history.

The Colts’ win on Monday night was the 219th time in his career that kicker Adam Vinatieri has been on the winning team, counting both the regular season and the postseason. Via stats compiled by a Reddit user and Pro Football Reference, that breaks the previous record of 218 owned by George Blanda, the Hall of Fame kicker and quarterback who played an NFL record 26 seasons.

A kicker doesn’t make as big a difference as a quarterback, and so Vinatieri’s wins record doesn’t garner as much attention as Brady’s. But it’s still an impressive reminder of Vinatieri’s longevity, and of the fact that Vinatieri has played almost exclusively on good teams, dating back to his rookie season in 1996, when he was on a Bill Parcells-coached Patriots team that went to the Super Bowl.

After Vinatieri and Blanda, the next-most wins belong to longtime kicker Gary Anderson, who was on the winning team 212 times. Jerry Rice has the most wins for a non-kicker, at 210, and Brady is fifth among all NFL players at 201.

Brady will likely surpass Rice and Anderson next season, and perhaps Blanda, too. Whether he catches Vinatieri depends primarily on whether Vinatieri retires before Brady does. At the moment, they both look ageless.

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Mike McCoy on job security: I’m worried about Carolina

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Head Coach Mike McCoy of the San Diego Chargers looks on prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 4, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Chargers lost their seventh game of the season last Sunday when the Buccaneers came back from being down 21-17 entering the fourth quarter for a 28-21 win.

It’s the fifth time this season that San Diego has let a lead slip away in the fourth quarter of a game and it makes the playoffs little more than a pipe dream. That combination has some wondering if coach Mike McCoy will be back next season.

McCoy, who is under contract for 2017, guided the Chargers to the playoffs in his first season and the team went 9-7 again in 2014, but they are 9-19 since then and the late-game meltdowns aren’t a good look for a coach. McCoy was asked about his job status on Monday and said other things are more pressing.

“I’m worried about Carolina right now,” McCoy said, via the Associated Press. “That is all I’m concerned about. We have to find a way to go win this one. We got to find a way to go out there and don’t turn the ball over, be more consistent in all three phases, finish the game and win. That is all we are concerned about right now is to get a win on the road. We will deal with everything else down the road.”

One factor that could play into the Chargers’ decision at coach is what they plan to do about their option to move to Los Angeles. There’s a January 15 deadline to decide to bunk with the Rams at their forthcoming stadium and the team may opt to handle things differently from the Rams, who agreed to an extension with coach Jeff Fisher despite a dismal record while citing the difficulties of moving to a new home.

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Report: Man who shot Joe McKnight jailed on manslaughter charges

Joe McKnight AP

54-year-old Ronald Gasser initially wasn’t charged after killing former NFL running back Joe McKnight. That apparently has changed.

Via the New Orleans Advocate, Gasser has been jailed on one count of manslaughter.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand will hold a press conference at 11:00 a.m. ET regarding the situation. A Normand press conference from four days ago created a strong impression that Gasser may not be charged, given Louisiana laws that recognize justifiable homicide in certain specific situations.

Newell also disclosed a clear conflict of interest for his department: The man who raised McKnight previously worked as a deputy in Normand’s department. It’s unclear what, if anything, Newell or his department did to ensure that the potential bias has not been a factor, one way or the other, in decisions made about Gasser.

It’s also unclear whether prosecutors will choose to take the case to trial. In most situations, the decision hinges on whether prosecutors believe they will win. In this case, given strong criticism of “stand your ground” laws, maybe the prosecution will be required to roll the dice with a jury.

If nothing else, the message to anyone else who may be inclined to shoot first and ask questions later will be that avoiding criminal liability won’t be easy or automatic, and that a shooter will still have to spend thousands of dollars defending against the charges and weeks if not months of worrying about a possible conviction.

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Lions cornerback Quandre Diggs out for the season

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 09: Quandre Diggs #28 of the Detroit Lions breaks up a pass intended for Jordan Matthews #81 of the Philadelphia Eagles during first half at Ford Field on October 9, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Lions have parlayed a relatively short injury list to the division lead this season, but they’re apparently lost a key defensive player.

Via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Lions nickel cornerback Quandre Diggs will miss the rest of the season with a pectoral injury. The team announced it as a shoulder during Sunday’s win over the Saints.

The 2015 sixth-rounder had found a spot as their third corner, and started four games this year. He was replaced by rookie Adairius Barnes.

The Lions have lost just one starter to IR so far this season — running back Ameer Abdullah — which is a big factor in their being 8-4 at the moment.

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Julius Peppers contemplating his football future

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 08:  Julius Peppers #56 of the Green Bay Packers warms up before their game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Packers pass-rusher Julius Peppers moved into fifth place on the NFL’s all-time sack list Sunday, and he’s trying to decide if he wants to come back and take a shot at moving up a spot on the list.

The soon-to-be 37-year-old Peppers is heading into the final month of his contract with the Packers, and admitted he’s been giving thought to playing again next year.

“I’m not saying that I don’t want to play next year,” Peppers said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “I’m not saying that I do. I’m just saying that right now, I don’t know. And I’ll figure it out at some point.

“There’s a lot of things that can happen between now and February.”

Finishing up his 15th NFL season, Peppers just passed Michael Strahan on the all-time sack list, and has 142.5. Next up is Chris Doleman at 150.5, and nothing Peppers has shown this season suggests reaching that level’s inconceivable.

Peppers admitted he “reflected a little bit on it,” after Sunday’s win over the Texans, realizing his place in football history. For a guy who was just hoping to get to 100 sacks when he was drafted second overall by the Panthers in 2002, he has surpassed every expectation. Now, he’s looking for meaning.

“It’s all about how I feel,” he said. “How one feels, and having a purpose to do it. Obviously, you know what the purpose is — the Super Bowl and all that stuff — but even without that. What’s the purpose? If the season ends, I don’t have a contract obviously, and if nobody calls and nobody says anything — which I don’t think will be the case — but I’ve got to sit back and figure out if I really want to play and if I do, why? And I don’t know. I don’t know.

“I feel like if I wanted to play, that I could. Yeah, I could, for sure.”

He’s had a sack in each of his last three games, and considering the market for guys who can do that, he should find offers. It’s just a matter of where, and for how long.

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