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Greg Hardy turns Matt Ryan’s words back on the Falcons

Greg Hardy AP

During the week leading up to Sunday’s game against the Falcons, several members of the Panthers made it clear that they hadn’t forgotten Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s message to them after the Falcons pulled out a win in their first matchup of the season.

Ryan was caught on camera telling the Panthers to “get the f— off our field” after pulling out a 30-28 win. The Panthers got a 30-20 win on their home field on Sunday and didn’t forget what happened back in September during the first meeting.

Defensive end Greg Hardy sent the same message to the Falcons after the game, which he helped hype up during the week by saying that he thought the Panthers were a better team than the Falcons. Hardy did his best to back up that statement with a pair of sacks in Sunday’s game.

“You talk like that, you write that check. He cashed it,” defensive end Charles Johnson said, via Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. “That’s all you can do. You put it out there, you just back it up. And he did it.”

We’ll have to wait until next season to find out who will send the next profane eviction notice in this rivalry.

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Irsay is “firmly committed” to staying healthy

Irsay Getty Images

In response to his six-game suspension and $500,000 fine, Colts owner Jim Irsay has issued a statement in which he admits his error and reiterates his hope that the disease of addiction will be taken more seriously moving forward.

“I acknowledge the mistake I made last March and stand responsible for the consequences of that mistake, for which I sincerely apologize to our community and to Colts fans everywhere,” Irsay said regarding his guilty plea to DUI on Tuesday.  “Even more importantly, though, I am committed to do everything in my power to turn this whole experience into a positive event for myself, my family, and the community.

“In retrospect, I now know that the incident opened my eyes to issues in my life that needed addressing and helped put me on the path to regain my health.  I truly hope and pray that my episode will help in some small measure to diminish the stigma surrounding our country’s terrible and deadly problem of addiction.  It is a disease like other progressive, terminal diseases — one that can only be successfully treated by understanding, committed hard work, and spiritual growth.  I am deeply grateful for the tremendous outpouring of love and support during these past few months from my family, friends, care-givers, and our great community.  Please know I am firmly committed to staying on my path to good health and I look forward to a great season.”

We wish Irsay the best as he continues to attempt to regain his health.  And we hope the NFL takes Irsay’s words to heart as it relates not only to persons with addictions who create public-safety hazards, but also to persons with addictions who don’t.

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Five questions: Seattle Seahawks

San Diego Chargers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The defending Super Bowl champions are quickly closing in on the start of their 2014 season Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks were able to keep most of their young core in place this offseason and were able to sign Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin to contract extensions as well. While they did lose some key contributors off their championship team, an inevitability for any team in the salary cap age, Seattle has kept a roster together every bit as a talented as the one the won the title last year.

There aren’t many areas that remain in doubt for the Seahawks as the season gets set to begin. However, we take a look at five questions that could determine if Seattle is able to repeat as champion this season.

1. Could the Seahawks be even better than last season?

If the offense can translate its production from this preseason over to the regular season, they almost certainly will be better.

In 13 offensive drives led by Russell Wilson this preseason, Seattle scored on 11 of them with nine touchdowns, two field goals, a missed field goal and just a single punt. Richard Sherman said Monday that Wilson is being more decisive this season. Head coach Pete Carroll said Wilson has had a near-perfect offseason. With Percy Harvin fully healthy, the Seahawks offense looks much more explosive.

With a defense that looks to still be a force and a special teams unit that is strong as well, if Seattle’s offense can take several steps forward they could be tremendously difficult to beat this year.

2. Will Seattle’s offensive line hold them back?

The Seahawks offensive line was the one area of the team that underperformed consistently last season. Tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini missed a combined 15 games. Center Max Unger missed three more and the depleted unit struggled mightily in their absence.

This year, Seattle is going to start a rookie at right tackle in second-round pick Justin Britt and Okung is still working into game shape after missing most of the offseason following foot surgery.

On the positive side, left guard James Carpenter has lost a considerable amount of weight and looks more capable of moving adequately this year. Right guard J.R. Sweezy has appeared to take his game up another level as well.

The unit is much more adept at run blocking, which is still going to be the main focus of the team with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and Percy Harvin potentially being used as a rusher at times as well. If they can adequately provide protection for Russell Wilson in the passing game, the offense should be able to accomplish much more this season.

3. Can the Seahawks get 16 games out of Percy Harvin?

Percy Harvin is noticeably exhausted about answering questions about his health. However, when you miss most of the last two seasons due to injury, it’s one of the only things to ask about.

Harvin has missed 22 regular season games over the last two years due to ankle and hip injuries. He’s only played all 16 games of an NFL season once in his career in 2011 with the Minnesota Vikings. But it’s already evident this preseason that the dynamic athlete that was firmly in the MVP conversation in 2012 is back.

Harvin says he’s as healthy now as he’s been since even before he got to college at the University of Florida. His presence on the field expands the field both horizontally and vertically for Seattle’s offense. The Seahawks are counting on Harvin being a big part of their offense. It’s now on Harvin to see if he can put all those questions about his health in the past.

4. Will the Seahawks run defense take a step back?

The Seahawks cut defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons this offseason for salary cap reasons. However, both players had been important pieces of Seattle’s run defense the last few seasons.

In their absence, Seattle has toyed with moving tackle Tony McDaniel to end in rushing situations with Kevin Williams replacing McDaniel along the line. There are also some new young cogs in their defensive line rotation as well that will be called upon for increased roles.

The Seahawks allowed Tampa Bay and St. Louis to rush for 200 yards against them in consecutive weeks last season before making an adjustment and getting the run defense righted. With key pieces such as Bryant and Clemons gone, it remains to be seen if they can find similar performance up front against opposing rushing games.

5. How does Seattle handle being the team on top?

It’s a position the franchise has never been in before. Several key players got big paydays this offseason as well.

But Russell Wilson and Earl Thomas swear they will be able to keep the focus in the right direction this season. The two talk about how they are competing on a daily basis to see which one of them is the last player to leave the team’s facility each day. Both players obsess over every minute detail they can find on tape in hopes of being completely prepared for games.

That focus trickles down to the rest of the team and the players and coaches are convinced they have turned the page on last season. The only way to truly know now is to play the games.

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Steven Jackson “extremely excited” to face Saints

Steven Jackson AP

Running back Steven Jackson was a spectator for most of Falcons training camp and all of their preseason games as a result of a hamstring injury, but he was able to get on the practice field as things drew to a close in August.

That put Jackson on track to play against the Saints in the regular season opener and nothing has knocked him off of it in the interim. Jackson said Tuesday that he’s ready for his first game action of the year.

“I’m extremely excited for Week 1,” Jackson said, via the team’s website. “It’s been a training camp that I missed the majority of the time, but I’ve been working hard physically and mentally to prepare for this coming Sunday; I feel good about it.”

Jackson missed four games last season and posted a career-low average per carry, something that was at least partially caused by the team’s poor offensive line play. The Falcons have worked to upgrade that area over the offseason and they’ll get their first chance to show they’ve turned the page against the New Orleans front seven on Sunday.

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Jim Irsay suspended six games, fined $500,000

Jim-Irsay-Getty Getty Images

It’s not Friday, and it’s not 5 p.m., but the NFL has tied up the one messy piece of business it had to do before games start this week.

The league announced that Colts owner Jim Irsay had been suspended for the team’s first six games and fined $500,000 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor account of driving while impaired.

The suspension begins tomorrow at 5 p.m., and Irsay “may not be present at the club’s facility, may not attend any practices or games, may not represent the club at league or league committee meetings or at any other team or league event, and may not conduct media interviews or engage in social media regarding any team or league matters.”

The Twitter ban is going to sting, more than the half-million fine, which is the most allowed under the league’s constitution and by-laws.

The league also noted that “Mr. Irsay will be subject to ongoing treatment, counseling, and testing as determined by medical professionals and the Indiana court.”

Drug testing is a condition of his probation, which he was sentenced to as part of the deal.

“I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players,” Goodell said in his letter to Irsay. “We discussed this during our meeting and you expressed your support for that view, volunteering that owners should be held to the highest standard.”

There will be no draft choice forfeiture for the Colts, since his conduct had nothing to do with the competitive balance of the league.

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Brian Waters announces his retirement

Waters Getty Images

Brian Waters had a lengthy and impressive career in the NFL.  That career is now officially over.

“After a long and wonderful career I have decided to retire,” Waters said in a statement.  “I want to thank the coaches, players and fans of the three great organizations that I had the pleasure of working for.  First the Dallas Cowboys for giving me my first and last chance of working in the NFL.  I will always be grateful.  Also the New England Patriots for the most successful season in my career.  It was a great ride.  Lastly the Kansas City Chiefs where I had pleasure of enjoying eleven wonderful seasons, which I will never forget.

“I want to thank the many family, friends and my hometown of Waxahachie, Texas for being great supporters. Finally I want to thank my kids for being my greatest motivations. I fought hard daily to make you proud me. If the rest of my life can be half as good as the last 15 years, I will be one of the luckiest people on earth.”

Waters spent 11 seasons with the Chiefs, one with the Patriots, and a final year with the Cowboys.  In 2012, Waters didn’t play.

A six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Waters was the 2009 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.  In time, he could gather momentum as a potential candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Arian Foster feeling “wonderful” heading into Week One

Arian Foster AP

Texans running back Arian Foster must not have gotten too many “mundane questions” during his session with the Houston media on Tuesday because he was more expansive than he was during preseason press availabilities.

Foster said he was happy to see defensive end J.J. Watt get rewarded for being a “hard-working cat” and said that he has something to prove to himself after last season’s back surgery. Foster, who didn’t play in preseason games after injuring his hamstring early in camp, says he feels “wonderful” physically even though he acknowledges that it’s unclear how the missed time this summer will affect him in the regular season.

“I feel like it could go both ways. If you’re a veteran player who understands how the game is played, it can work to your advantage. It can work to your advantage taking hits off in the preseason,” Foster said, via the Houston Chronicle. “On the flip side, it gets you used to the load you’re going to carry in the season. You just have to play the cards you’re dealt.”

Foster was averaging 4.5 yards a pop before he got hurt last season, right in line with his career average and should still be productive as long as he’s healthy enough to be in the lineup. That’s hardly a sure thing, but the Texans offense is counting on it all the same.

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Kevin Vickerson finds a home in Cincinnati

Kevin Vickerson AP

Kevin Vickerson appears to have found a home.

The veteran defensive tackle, who was cut by the Broncos Saturday, has apparently joined the Bengals, per a message he posted to his Instagram account.

The 31-year-old Vickerson lost his job with the Broncos to Marvin Austin, but he started 11 games for them last year.

Frankly, he was one of the most accomplished players released this weekend, which says as much about the waiver wire as it does Vickerson.

In Cincinnati, he’ll back up Geno Atkins and Domata Peko, adding depth to an already good defensive line.

UPDATE: 3:25 p.m. ET: You’ll notice that link doesn’t work anymore, which could mean Vickerson has deleted the photo of a big Bengals shirt with his thankful mention to a higher power. The Bengals haven’t announced anything, so maybe they won’t. Stay tuned.

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Charlie Powell, NFL player and heavyweight contender, dies at 82

charliepowell

Charlie Powell, who signed with the 49ers when he was 19 and played seven seasons in the NFL between stints as a pro baseball player and a heavyweight prizefighter, has died at the age of 82.

U-T San Diego reports that Powell died on Monday and had been suffering from dementia for years.

Powell’s list of athletic accomplishments reads like it must be fiction: He was such a good multi-sport athlete in high school that he had contract offers to play baseball with the St. Louis Browns and basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters, he had football scholarship offers from Notre Dame and UCLA, and he was a champion in both the 100-yard dash and the shot put. At first he went the baseball route, but after becoming bored in the minors, he decided to become the NFL’s youngest player.

“I didn’t like baseball as much as I thought I would,” said Powell. “But because I was already a professional, I could sign with an NFL team without going to college.”

That turned out to be a wise move. Powell was so ferocious a pass rusher for the 49ers that he was once, before sacks were officially counted in the NFL, credited with sacking Hall of Fame Lions quarterback Bobby Layne so many times in one game that Powell alone backed the Lions up a total of 67 yards. Powell would play five seasons for the 49ers and two more for the Raiders.

But football wasn’t even Powell’s best sport. That would be boxing. Early in his NFL career Powell boxed in the offseason, and after he retired from football he focused on fighting exclusively, rising to the point where he was once ranked as the No. 4 heavyweight in the world. His notable opponents included the unbeaten Cassius Clay in 1963 and the former champion Floyd Patterson in 1964.

In a 1998 column, Jim Murray wrote that Powell compared favorably to the greatest all-around athletes in American history, noting that “Jim Thorpe and Jackie Robinson never had to tee it up with heavyweight champions of the world. And Michael Jordan couldn’t hit the curveball, either.” There was nothing in sports that Charlie Powell couldn’t do.

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Tom Brady: “When I suck, I’ll retire”

Brady Getty Images

Last week’s abrupt trade of Patriots guard Logan Mankins served as a reminder that there are few, if any, sacred cows in New England.

When it comes to quarterback Tom Brady, there’s a chance the team will want to move on from Brady before Brady wants to move on from the team.  Brady made that crystal clear during his weekly appearance on WEEI in Boston.

“There’s nowhere I’d rather play, I know that,” Brady said, via CSNNE.com.  “I love playing for this team and I love representing this team.  Hopefully I can do that for as long as I can.  When I suck, I’ll retire.  I don’t plan on sucking for a long time.  Hopefully that leads me to be in here, and there’s no place I’d rather be. I love this game and I love working hard at it.

“I’ve had a lot of people over the years tell me the things I couldn’t do, and I think that’s always been great motivation for me to go out there and accomplish things that I think I can do. Hopefully it’s to continue to play at a high level for a really long period of time.”

If/when the people who think he can’t play at a high level are named “Belichick” or “Kraft,” then Brady will have to prove those people wrong by playing for another team.  To do that, Brady would have to be willing to embrace, or at least to tolerate, the media crush that will happen if/when Brady were to sign with another team.

Some who know Brady think he’d be tempted to retire in lieu of playing for another team.  His comments from Tuesday suggest otherwise.

“I like working hard at it,” Brady said.  “I’m going to try to be the best I can be for as long as I can do that.  Hopefully the team values that.  If they don’t, then I’ll probably have a tough day at some point.  That’s what football’s all about.”

Which means that, if/when the Patriots decide to move on from Brady, Brady will be inclined to move on to another team.  The destination will depend on who needs a quarterback at the time — up to and including the 49ers, the team Brady cheered for as a boy and the team that “evaluated” Peyton Manning despite having Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick under contract.

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Bill Belichick: No decision on Rob Gronkowski playing this week

Rob Gronkowski AP

It’s safe to say that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s announcement that he’s playing against the Dolphins this week didn’t come with the approval of coach Bill Belichick.

For one thing, Belichick feels the same way about sharing information about his football team as certain celebrities feel about having their intimate photos pulled out of the cloud and shared across the globe. For another, Belichick says that no decision has been made about whether or not Gronkowski will be on the field.

“I’m glad that Rob’s optimistic about this situation,” Belichick said, via CSNNE.com. “We’ll go through the week of practice and take a look at everything, everybody, and see where everybody’s at and try to do what we feel like is best for the team. With all due respect to Rob — I’m glad he feels the way he does — but, in the end, we’ll have to make the decision we feel like is best for the team and we’ll do that as we go through the week.”

Belichick may be telling the truth or, given the previously mentioned distaste for sharing information, he may know exactly what the Patriots plan to do this Sunday. Either way, the Dolphins aren’t likely to get a clear idea of the team’s plans until much closer to kickoff so they’ll have to be prepared for all eventualities.

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More ESPN fantasy owners have Tim Tebow than Chad Henne

Tim Tebow AP

Poor Chad Henne gets no respect.

Not only does everyone want to give his job away to rookie Blake Bortles, but fantasy owners prefer a guy who just lives in Jacksonville to the Jaguars starting quarterback.

ESPN just tweeted out word that more people in their fantasy leagues own Tim Tebow (1.3 percent of teams) than Henne (0.8).

Now granted, people do silly things with fantasy teams all the time, for the sake of being able to play the “he was ahead of his time” card with their buddies.

(Full disclosure, in 2002, Steve Spurrier’s first year with the Redskins, I drafted Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews and Patrick Ramsey to cash in on all those points when Spurrier inevitably shuffled quarterbacks like he did at Florida. Yeah, that was stupid.)

Maybe all those people will look like geniuses when Tebow leaps out of his chair on the broadcast set and leads some team to record rushing numbers.

Or maybe, somebody should have kept their buddies from turning too much water into too much wine during the draft.

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Antonio Brown will return punts again this year

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Antonio Brown plays a big role in the Steelers offense, but that won’t be his only role in the coming season.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that the team will use Brown as a punt returner this season as well. There was some thought that the addition of the speedy Dri Archer in the draft would lead to a change in roles for Brown, but Tomlin said that Archer will only be an option for the team alongside Brown.

That announcement naturally leads to thoughts about the injury risk that Brown will take on by expanding his portfolio, but Tomlin said that the team won’t live in fear of injury when it comes to deploying a player they believe can help them.

“He is a Pro Bowl caliber return man, so that’s how you play him,” Tomlin said of Brown, via the team.

There’s no question that Brown has skills with two career punt return touchdowns and a 12.8-yard average on returns last season. He’s also a Pro Bowl caliber receiver, though, and losing that would likely hurt the Steelers much more than going with Archer or others as the full-time punt return options.

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Jim Harbaugh says he won’t keep a player guilty of domestic violence

Jim Harbaugh AP

When 49ers Ray McDonald was arrested for felony domestic violence this weekend, he became the first test case for the league’s new, tougher policy on the matter.

But he’ll also test his own coach’s long-held attitude toward players who put their hands on women.

During his regular appearance on KNBR this morning, Harbaugh made it clear he would not tolerate behavior such that McDonald has been accused of.

“I’ll be very clear,” Harbaugh said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “You ask me how I feel about domestic violence. I can be very clear about that. If someone physically abuses a woman and/or physically or mentally abuses or hurts a child then there’s no understanding, there’s no tolerance for that.”

Asked if he would not allow a player convicted of such charges to remain on his team, he replied: “Yes, we would not. We can be very clear.”

McDonald is continuing to practice with the 49ers, and has maintained his innocence. The 49ers have said they’ll continue to investigate, and Harbaugh said he was also convinced he needed to let the legal process play out.

“There are going to be two principles at play here,” Harbaugh said “And one is, I’ll speak for myself, I’ll speak for the 49ers: We’ll not tolerate domestic violence. The second principle, we’re firm believers in due process. And I ask for your understanding on those two principles.”

Those are not mutually exclusive principles. But it does put Harbaugh in stark contrast to his brother John, who has wrapped his arms around running back Ray Rice, whose shamefully light punishment triggered the increased punishment McDonald could face.

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Jim Irsay sentenced to probation, drug testing in plea deal

Jim Irsay, Edgerrin James AP

Colts owner Jim Irsay pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle under the influence on Tuesday, bring an end to the legal case stemming from his arrest in March.

Irsay faced two misdemeanor charges as a result of the arrest, but the second one was dropped as part of a plea deal that left Irsay sentenced to a year of probation. Mike Wells of ESPN.com reports that Irsay, who was found to be under the influence of oxycodone and hydrocodone, will undergo drug testing as a condition of his probation and that his driver’s license has been suspended for one year.

With the legal case now concluded, the question is whether the NFL will also be issuing a suspension as a result of Irsay’s malfeasance. Adam Schefter of ESPN has reported that a six-to-eight-game suspension is expected with a good chance that the league will act quickly to enact the suspension before the Colts open the season against the Broncos on Sunday night.

Irsay had no comment before leaving the Hamilton County courthouse.

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Devon Still has bigger concerns than being on the practice squad

Devon Still AP

On the surface, the Bengals cutting defensive tackle Devon Still and putting him on the practice squad might appear to be a case of a team trying to salvage an underperforming draft pick.

But there’s far more to Still’s story, and the Bengals’ willingness to stand by him.

According to Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Still’s 4-year-old daughter Leah is battling cancer, and Still admitted he can’t give a game his undivided attention.

“I completely understand where they were coming from,” Still said. “I can’t give football 100 percent right now. In the business aspect they want guys to solely focus on football, which is understandable. We are here to win this city a Super Bowl and right now I am not in a position where I can give football 100 percent of everything I have.”

In a sense, the practice squad is the perfect opportunity for the team to help Still, since he’ll continue to make more than $100,000 if he stays there all year, and he’ll maintain his health insurance at a critical time. But he won’t travel on road trips, so he’ll have the opportunity to spend more time in Philadelphia with his daughter as she begins a fourth round of chemotherapy.

Their loyalty in a profession not known for it is not lost on Still.

“They could have just washed their hands completely of it,” he said. “Say we don’t care what’s going on in his personal life, we just want people who can care 100 percent on football, that’s what they pay us to do. But they thought about my personal issues and allowed me to come back on the practice squad so I still have insurance. They said if I keep working on my physical with my injury and mentally prepared myself to focus on football, then they can move me back up to the roster, so I am not all the way out of the loop. . . .

“The Bengals were loyal to me. I’m not about to up and leave them. Loyalty is something I really need right now because I never know what direction this is going to go with my daughter.”

The Bengals deserve credit for allowing Still the opportunity to deal with a personal crisis, and he hopes to repay them down the line, by playing the kind of football they imagined when they chose him in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

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