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Hines Ward: “If you want to prevent concussions, take the helmet off”

Hines Ward AP

In the NFL’s ongoing effort to reduce concussions, former Steelers receiver Hines Ward thinks helmets are doing more harm than good.

Ward said on the Dan Patrick Show that helmets are used more to allow players to deliver big hits than to protect players on the receiving end of big hits, and therefore players would suffer fewer concussions without helmets, as players would stop leading with their heads out of self-preservation.

“If you want to prevent concussions, take the helmet off: Play old-school football with the leather helmets, no facemask,” Ward said. “When you put a helmet on you’re going to use it as a weapon, just like you use shoulder pads as a weapon.”

Ward makes an interesting point, one that has been advocated by others. And it’s worth noting that while football helmets have been worn for decades, they’ve always been designed to protect the skull, not the brain. It’s only been recently that concussions and brain injuries have become the No. 1 point of emphasis in injury prevention in football, and people have begun to ask whether helmets, by allowing players to get into high-speed head-on collisions without cracking their skulls, may actually be encouraging players to play recklessly.

So then the question becomes: Are we willing to accept more skull fractures in exchange for fewer concussions? The NFL would probably say we should accept neither skull fractures nor concussions. Which is why the NFL has focused on ways of preventing concussions that don’t involve removing helmets.

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Red Grange’s debut, 90 years later

(UNDATED):  Red Grange, the "Galloping Ghost", poses for a portrait. Grange, a three-time All-American at Illinois also played for the Chicago Bears.  (Photo by MLB Photos via Getty Images) Getty Images

On Thanksgiving night, the Chicago Bears will play the role (the Packers hope) of the Washington Generals for the Brett Favre Jersey Retirement Celebration. Ninety years ago on Thanksgiving, the Bears were the main event for a Thanksgiving Day slate of games that helped give pro football early legitimacy.

As noted by the 2015 Official NFL Record & Fact Book, Harold “Red” Grange made his debut with the Bears on Thanksgiving in 1925, sparking what then was the largest crowd in pro football history — 36,000 — to show up for what turned out to be a scoreless tie between the Bears and the Chicago Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

At a time when college football had much greater credibility and popularity than the pro game, the arrival of Grange only days after the end of his college career gave the professional football a major boost.

Not long after that Thanksgiving, the Bears played eight games in 12 days, in St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago. And that Thanksgiving attendance record didn’t last long; after drawing 36,000 for the game against the Cardinals, the Bears and Halas attracted 73,000 to the Polo Grounds for a game against the Giants.

The game has changed dramatically since then, but Thanksgiving is the ideal time to reflect on the rich history of the NFL, which started playing Thanksgiving Day games in 1920 with a slate of six contests: the Akron Pros against the Canton Bulldogs, the Decatur Staleys (which became the Chicago Bears) against the Chicago Tigers, the Elyira Athletics against the Columbus Panhandles, the Dayton Triangles against the Detroit Heralds, the Chicago Boosters against the Hammond Pros, and the All-Tonawanda versus the Rochester Jeffersons.

Nearly a century later, it’ll be the Philadelphia Eagles at the Detroit Lions, the Carolina Panthers at the Dallas Cowboys, and Red Grange’s Bears at Brett Favre’s Packers on Thanksgiving 2015. Enjoy the day, appreciate the gifts you have, and get ready for three helpings of the greatest game in the world.

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Titans want to up threat of Mariota running the ball

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 19:  Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans dives for  touchdown in front of Johnathan Cyprien #37 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during the third quarter of a game at EverBank Field on November 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Getty Images

In Week 11’s game against the Jaguars, the Titans took a third quarter lead when quarterback Marcus Mariota kept the ball on a read-option and sprinted 23 yards for a touchdown.

The Jags would rally to win the game in the fourth quarter, but the sight of Mariota keeping the ball and hurting a defense with his feet is one that interim coach Mike Mularkey would like to see more of in the future. Mariota ran the ball 11 times in his first six starts of the year, but has 10 rushes in the last two weeks as Mularkey has put more emphasis on that aspect of Mariota’s game.

“We’re tinkering a little more with his running ability,” Mularkey said, via the Tennessean. “As he’s gotten healthier, we’ve put more things in there that has given him the [ability to] run. It doesn’t mean he’s going to, but it gives him the opportunity to run. … I like those plays because it keeps defenses honest. It helps the run game. One thing he is trying to do — and I’m adamant about — is what he does after he hands the ball off. If he can hold somebody for any type of time, even for a split second, it’s a guy that’s not going to be in on the play — whether that’s a guy in the secondary or a safety [wondering] ‘Does he have it or doesn’t he?'”

Mariota’s running ability was put to good use in college, but the Titans emphasized pocket passing as Mariota made the transition to the NFL during the offseason and preseason. He’s done well on that front and adding something else for defenses to think about when facing the Titans should be to his benefit well beyond the final weeks of this season.

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St. Louis, Rams fighting over London game, again

Rams keep St. Louis businesses going AP

Nearly four years ago, the Rams announced that they would play one game per year over three years in London. The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission quickly informed the Rams that, under the terms of their lease to play games in the Edward Jones Dome, the Rams couldn’t play games anywhere but there. The two sides eventually worked out a deal to allow the Rams to play a single game in London.

Now, the Rams are scheduled to play another game in London. And the CVC promptly informed the Rams that, if they don’t move away from St. Louis, they can’t move one of the games away from St. Louis.

“We recently became aware that the NFL has selected the Rams to play in London during the 2016 football season, and have designated them the ‘home’ team,” the CVC said in a statement issued Wednesday, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The Rams are on a year-to year lease and have until Jan. 28, 2016 to inform us if they will play the 2016 season at the Edward Jones Dome. We have had no formal discussions with the Rams about their 2016 intentions or a London game in 2016, but if they do play in the Dome in 2016, the terms of the lease remain in effect and provides that all Rams NFL home games (other than preseason) will be played at the Facilities.”

It seems like a gratuitous agitation of the Rams by the CVC, given that the Rams have the right to leave St. Louis after this year — if of course the NFL lets them. The CVC could be banking on indications that either the Rams will lose their current tug-of-whereabouts with the Chargers or that the NFL will kick the relocation can down the road for a year.

Regardless, it’s a strange situation in St. Louis, with a city that could soon lose all Rams games after this season making a big stink out of the possibility of losing only one next season.

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MRI shows Larry Donnell’s neck injury hasn’t healed

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 19:  Larry Donnell #84 of the New York Giants is taken down by DeMeco Ryans #59 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on October 19, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New York Giants 27-7. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

It looked like the Giants were going to get tight end Larry Donnell back in the lineup this week when he practiced with the team upon returning from the bye week on Monday.

That feeling has changed after an MRI on his injured neck, however. Donnell sat out of practice on Wednesday after getting the results of the test and said that he and doctors are still working to figure out exactly what’s wrong with his neck.

“We thought it was just spasms and a strain,” Donnell said, via the New York Daily News. “I feel fine now, but I mean, obviously something is wrong. So we’ve just got to figure it out and see what the process is. I thought I’d be OK by now. The plan was to go into the bye and it would be 100%. But it’s not.”

Will Tye and Jerome Cunningham will continue filling in at tight end with Donnell sidelined.

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Broncos fan Christian Ponder dropped everything to join the Broncos

Mike Daniels, Christian Ponder AP

Christian Ponder got a phone call on Tuesday. By Wednesday, he was a member of the Denver Broncos.

“I’ve been in Phoenix — we live there for the offseason — just working out, waiting for the call to come and fortunately it did yesterday when I was shopping for groceries for Thanksgiving,” Ponder told reporters on Wednesday. “I had to drop everything and get on a flight.”

Ponder gladly left home abruptly for the opportunity to return to the NFL. The team that called him made it a bonus.

“I grew up a Broncos fan, a John Elway fan,” Ponder said. “I was No. 7 [in] little league baseball through college and four years in Minnesota because of that. I’m excited to be here.”

Ponder spent four years with the Vikings as a first-round pick in 2011. He joined the Raiders in the offseason, but he was cut before the regular season began. Those experiences could help him pick up the offense in Denver.

“I have a little bit of background with this kind of offense and what I ran with [Raiders Offensive Coordinator Bill] Musgrave in Minnesota and Oakland,” Ponder said. “There is a little different verbiage, but hopefully in a week or so, I’ll start getting stuff down, maybe shorter than that. I’m going to put in the time and the effort to do it as quick as possible.”

The Broncos need him to do that, because they realized based on Peyton Manning’s status that they don’t have much experience in Brock Osweiler and undrafted rookie Trevor Siemian.

“[W]e’re sitting here with a guy who has one start in this league and a kid who doesn’t have a play,” coach Gary Kubiak told reporters on Wednesday. “Me and [G.M.] John [Elway] started thinking about the concern if something happened. Good that Christian was out there. . . . He came in, worked out well. Hopefully we can catch him up a little bit.”

For now, Siemian will be the backup to Osweiler. Eventually, Ponder could take the spot.

Of course, eventually, Ponder also could be back in Phoenix buying Christmas presents, too. If/when Manning is healthy, there’s no way the Broncos will carry four quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Matt Schaub AP

The pregame pep-talk Ray Lewis gave the Bills last week didn’t work.

New Dolphins DE Quinton Coples is glad to be in Miami, and in a 4-3 again.

The Patriots are going to have to rely on their defense, and that might be OK.

Jets CB Dee Milliner could be the next Quinton Coples.

Ravens QB Matt Schaub has remained ready for his next chance, which comes now.

Bengals receivers don’t always expect Andy Dalton passes (or the Spanish Inquisition).

New Browns backup QB Austin Davis is ready if they need him.

The Steelers are nearly winless in Seattle.

The Texans know Drew Brees can create problems.

The Colts are taking a look at new options with 12 guys on the injury report.

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles is on pace to set a number of records.

For the Titans, even home games feel like road games.

Broncos S T.J. Ward thinks full-time officials are becoming a necessity.

The Chiefs are still running well, despite losing their best runner.

Raiders WR Amari Cooper knows his drops are a “big deal.”

Chargers coach Mike McCoy walked out of his press conference yesterday.

This is different: Cowboys LB Sean Lee was nominated for a sportsmanship award.

Giants LG Justin Pugh has shown “very little” improvement from his concussion.

Stopping the run will be a priority for the Eagles today.

Washington is dealing with communication issues because of change in the middle of the line.

The Bears have shown more progress than perhaps their record would indicate.

The Lions are hoping they can turn recent wins into a longer streak.

The weather might be the only thing to dampen the Packers’ festive night.

The Vikings are playing solid defense, and they won’t sacrifice that for more turnovers.

The Falcons aren’t sweating Matt Ryan’s recent slump.

The Panthers appear covered at long snapper today.

Saints coach Sean Payton said he couldn’t continue the “status quo” with former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

The Buccaneers are relevant again, thanks to Jameis Winston.

The Cardinals are depending on young players, and they’re coming through.

The Rams game in London next year would violate their stadium lease in St. Louis, if they’re there.

49ers LB Ahmad Brooks is in the league’s concussion protocol.

Seahawks LB Bruce Irvin isn’t expected to make it back from his knee injury this week.

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Case Keenum limited in return to practice

at M&T Bank Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Getty Images

The failure of anyone to notice and react to Rams quarterback Case Keenum suffering a concussion during last Sunday’s game against the Ravens has led to a review of the league’s procedures for dealing with head injuries and a reminder to the league’s trainers that they’re supposed to react to such injuries in a timelier fashion than the Rams did.

While that work is going on, Keenum is working to return to the field for the team’s Week 12 game against the Bengals. He took a step toward doing that on Wednesday when he was a limited participant in practice. Coach Jeff Fisher said earlier this week that Keenum will start over Nick Foles if he’s cleared medically.

“He’s doing well,” Fisher said, via “He’s still in the protocol, so we couldn’t completely release him to full practice. But, he got under center. He split the reps with Nick and he felt pretty good. We’ll know better on Friday. Hopefully, he’ll be released and he’ll be able to play.”

Defensive end Robert Quinn remained out of practice with the hip and back injuries that kept him from playing against the Ravens. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson also sat out practice with a thigh injury.

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Bowles: It will be a bonus if Darrelle Revis plays Sunday

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 25:  Darrelle Revis #24 of the New York Jets warms up before a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets are mired in a rut after losing four of their last five games, leading their quarterback to try shaving to see if it can get the team pointed back in the right direction.

It’s unlikely that Ryan Fitzpatrick’s follicle management will have much impact on the field, however, and it is also looking unlikely that cornerback Darrelle Revis will be around this Sunday to help the team against the Dolphins. Revis suffered a concussion in last Sunday’s loss to the Texans and coach Todd Bowles didn’t express much confidence that he’d recover in time for this weekend.

Revis hasn’t progressed to the point that he’s allowed to attend meetings with the team, which meant he stayed home on Wednesday and has several steps of the concussion protocol to pass before there’s any chance he’ll be in the lineup.

“We’re ready to play without him, but if he comes back it will be a bonus,” Bowles said, via the New York Post. “We’ll see later in the week. We’re preparing to play without him.”

Bowles said the team wouldn’t change the game plan too much without Revis, who would be replaced in the starting lineup by Marcus Williams or Buster Skrine.

Center Nick Mangold also missed practice after getting stitches in his right hand on Sunday. The injury interferes with Mangold’s ability to snap the ball, which is the kind of stumbling block that centers struggle to overcome.

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Mark Sanchez to start today, chance to change his Thanksgiving legacy

Buttfumble Getty Images

We have a chance at creating a new Thanksgiving tradition today, as long as we can get Mark Sanchez to butt-fumble again.

Via Ian Rapoport and teammate Albert Breer of the NFL Network (see, today’s about sharing with family), the Eagles will in fact start Sanchez at quarterback today against the Lions.

That was expected, as Sam Bradford was questionable with a concussion and shoulder problems, and Sanchez has taken the bulk of the work this week.

But it still brings back memories of what wasn’t Sanchez’s finest moment with the Jets, but perhaps the most illustrative, his Thanksgiving 2012 play against the Patriots when he ran smack-dab into the backside of guard Brandon Moore and coughed up the ball which was returned for a touchdown by Patriots safety Steve Gregory.

Whether that kind of magic can ever be duplicated is something we’ll have to tune in to see, but it’s Thanksgiving so anything is possible.

The Lions should at least be fully stocked, as Breer points out that questionable wide receiver Calvin Johnson and cornerback Darius Slay are expected to play.

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The anonymous sources are coming after Chip Kelly’s Eagles

Chip Kelly AP

One of the hallmarks of a coach who’s losing his team is that we begin to see stories in which anonymous sources question the coach’s methods and the team’s competitive. That’s happening in Philadelphia this week.

After the Eagles’ loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday dropped the team to 4-6, quoted an agent “who requested anonymity because of fear of retribution against his client” as saying that the players don’t buy what Kelly is selling.

“Chip Kelly has lost the team,” said the agent “Between the losses and his bull[bleep] methods that aren’t working, I can tell you that the players have tuned him out.”

The agent also said there’s at least one player on the team who’s using an injury as a reason not to play, even though it’s an injury he’d be able to play through, because “he won’t play hurt for Chip.”

Without knowing the identity of the agent, it’s impossible to assess the veracity of his claims. It may be an agent who feels that his client should be paid more and is upset that Kelly hasn’t agreed to give him a new contract. But what’s clear is there’s an atmosphere in Philadelphia in which people know they’ll have a sympathetic ear when they take anonymous shots at Kelly.

Another anonymously sourced story in Philadelphia had a player saying that when running back DeMarco Murray slid instead of trying to break a tackle, it showed that Murray isn’t fully invested in the team.

“Well, when you see DeMarco sliding before getting hit, you tell me – was that giving full effort?” the anonymous Eagle told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “You see that [stuff] and it makes you wonder.”

At the moment, the anonymous sources questioning the Eagles’ heart are a whisper. If they lose to the Lions today, those anonymous sources will become a roar. And that roar may be announcing the end of the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia.

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Seahawks to activate Jeremy Lane this week

Jeremy Lane Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks will get some additional help back in their secondary this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Head coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday the team will activate cornerback Jeremy Lane from the physically unable to perform list.

“Jeremy’s going to be active,” Carroll said. “And if he makes it through the week okay, he’s going to be dressing and playing.”

Lane has practiced the last two weeks after spending the first nine weeks ineligible on the PUP list.  Lane suffered a broken arm and torn ACL in the Super Bowl in February while making the first interception of his career off Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Lane suffered both injuries while being tackles by Julian Edelman along the Seahawks sideline.

Lane’s return comes at a needed time for Seattle. Cary Williams was benched by Seattle after allowing a 36-yard completion to Vance McDonald in the third quarter. He was replaced by Deshawn Shead, which moved Marcus Burley (playing with a cast on his right hand) into nickel duty.

Carroll said that Williams, Shead and Lane will all compete for the right cornerback job opposite Richard Sherman in practice. While Lane may become an option there in a couple of weeks, it would be unlikely he’d move straight into the starting lineup in his first game back, especially since Lane has primarily been a slot option in the past.

Nevertheless, it’s some needed veteran depth in a secondary that hasn’t played quite to its lofty standards this season. The team will still need to make a move to clear a spot on the 53-man roster for Lane later this week.

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Pete Carroll believes in Thomas Rawls, also believes Marshawn Lynch will be back this year

Thomas Rawls AP

With Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch undergoing surgery on Wednesday, the offense will rely on running back Thomas Rawls to carry the load until Lynch returns. How confident is the head coach in the undrafted rookie from Central Michigan?

“I don’t know, pretty confident,” Pete Carroll told reporters on Wednesday. “He’s done very, very well. He’s been consistent, and whenever he’s been given a real good shot he’s come through in a big way. So excited for him to have another opportunity to go out and see how our guys block for him and see what we can get done again. Not every game’s going to be like that of course, but he certainly gives us a chance to run the ball like we like to and our hopes are very high that he’s going to do very well.”

He’s also going to be expected to thrive without the offensive line changing its style.

“[W]e’re not changing anything like that,” Carroll said. “If anything, [Rawls] has to find his rhythm. He’s the one that has to adapt. There are some times that he really hits things so quickly that it’s a little bit different for us, and he’s working to time that up with the different types of runs that we have.”

But Caroll doesn’t expect Rawls to change his overall style, which is premised on not avoiding contact.

“I don’t have any concern about that,” Carroll said. “That’s who this guy is, and we wouldn’t want to change that about him. There may be a time when we talk about an opportunity, you know he could’ve taken off and not been the heat-seeking missile kind of thing, but we’ll watch and see how it goes. But at this point, I wouldn’t want to do anything to take away from his instinct to go after it and be aggressive be physical. He explained it, I saw it a little bit in his postgame. We talked about it on the sidelines, he’s got a real clear thought of what he’s doing. He’s not going out of bounds. He’s not going to run around guys. He’s going to find somebody to attack and take it to him. In that, he still makes his cuts and makes you miss too. That’s what the good runners, they have that combination that doesn’t allow a defensive guy to really know what he’s going to get.”

So will Lynch get back this year? Carroll was asked whether there’ a chance that Lynch won’t return in 2015.

“Well I think you’d have to say that there is a chance, yeah,” Carroll said. “You said is there any chance, there’s a chance, but we don’t expect that to happen.”

The Seahawks expect Lynch to be back. So who will be No. 1 on the depth chart when that happens?

“We’ll see how it goes,” Carroll said. “We think [Lynch would be the lead back], why would we not? I would think so. Let’s see how much we get a chance to work Thomas and see how [Marshawn] returns. We might be able to bring him back on a temporary basis, but we’ll just wait and see. Of course [Lynch is] the guy that we would lean on, sure.”

Regardless of what happens the rest of 2015, it’s becoming more and more clear that Rawls is the guy the Seahawks will lean on come 2016, when he’s due to make $525,000 and Lynch is set to earn a whopping $9 million.


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Patriots kick tires on trio of wideouts

Max Bullough,Alan Bonner AP

With four receivers on the initial injury report of the week, the Patriots spent some time on Wednesday taking a look at some free-agent receivers.

Per a league source, getting tryouts on Wednesday were receivers Alan Bonner, Julian Talley, and Austin Willis.

Bonner (pictured), a sixth-round pick of the Texans in 2013 from Jacksonville State, spent his first two NFL seasons injured reserve. He has yet to play at this level.

Talley played college football at the University of Massachusetts, where he played with Victor Cruz. He appeared in two regular-season games with the Giants in 2013 and two more in 2014, with no catches.

Willis, undrafted in 2015 from Emporia State, spent time before the regular season with the Raiders and the Bills.

The Patriots signed none of the players. They may need to do something before Sunday, if Danny Amendola and/or Aaron Dobson join Julian Edelman as being unable to play.

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Jim Tomsula says he’s not thinking about job security

Jim Tomsula AP

49ers coach Jim Tomsula has won three of his first 10 games as a head coach. That record obscures the reality that some of the losses were so ugly that it’s a bit surprising he’s won three times.

Either way, the overall performance of the team has prompted speculation about his future. On Wednesday, reporters asked Tomsula whether he has received any assurances about whether he’ll return in 2016.

“[W]e haven’t had any conversations about any of that,” Tomsula said. “Just to your point right there, we’re in a performance-based business and all of us in it get it. So I don’t think or work that way. [M]y long-term goal is Sunday. It’s just where I stay.”

Many believe the 49ers wouldn’t fire Tomsula after one year because he was the hand-picked successor to Jim Harbaugh, selected by G.M. Trent Baalke and owner Jed York to move the team forward. Firing Tomsula after one year would amount to an admission that they screwed up.

Still, plenty of coaches have been replaced after only one year on the job. Two years ago, the Browns fired Rob Chudzinski after a single season. In 2012, the Jaguars fired Mike Mularkey after only one year on the job. In 2011, Hue Jackson got dumped by the Raiders after one season as the non-interim head coach. In 2009, Jim Mora (the Younger) was one-and-done in Seattle. In 2007, the Dolphins hired Cam Cameron, and then they fired him after one year.

Other one-and-out coaches since 1980 include Art Shell (Raiders, 2006), Marty Schottenhimer (Washington, 2001), Al Groh (Jets, 2000), Ray Rhodes (Green Bay, 1999), Joe Bugel (Raiders, 1997), Pete Carroll (Jets, 1994), Richie Petitbon (Washington, 1993), Rod Rust (Patriots, 1990), and Les Steckel (Vikings, 1984).

So if the 49ers move on from Tomsula, it won’t really be a shock because he lasted only a one year. It nevertheless would be a surprise because the 49ers picked Tomsula over arguably the best coach in franchise history other than Bill Walsh.

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Four receivers on Patriots injury report

Danny Amendola AP

As the Patriots prepare to try to move the ball against a Denver defense coordinated by Wade Phillips, New England could be shorthanded at the receiver position.

Not practicing on Wednesday were Julian Edelman (foot), Danny Amendola (knee), Aaron Dobson (ankle). Limited in practice was Keshawn Martin, with a hamstring problem.

If more than Edelman (who most likely will miss the game) can’t play, the task of moving the ball and scoring points becomes far more difficult against the Broncos, given the presence of cornerbacks like Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., and Bradley Roby.

As to the Broncos, linebacker DeMarcus Ware remains out of practice with a back injury. Per a league source, he could still miss at least two more weeks. Also, quarterback Peyton Manning appears on the report as only having a foot injury, which means that his rib issue apparently has cleared up.

Also out for the Broncos was guard Evan Mathis (ankle). Limited in practiced were tight end Owen Daniels (knee), receiver Emmanuel Sanders (ankle, finger), and defensive end Vance Walker (shoulder).

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