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NFL morning after: Cam Newton silences his critics

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

If you don’t like Cam Newton after watching him on Sunday against the Falcons, it says more about you than it does about him.

It was such a pleasure to see Newton, the Panthers’ second-year quarterback, look like Cam Newton again in Sunday’s 30-20 upset of the Falcons. Newton was absolutely amazing, throwing the ball with velocity and accuracy on a 23-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen and having one of the best runs in the NFL all season and then doing a flip into the end zone on a 72-yard touchdown. That score gave Carolina a 23-0 lead against an Atlanta team that entered Sunday’s game with the best record in football.

The Panthers blowing out the Falcons on Sunday was a big surprise, but this was the Cam Newton I expected to see all season.

Of course, I’m the idiot who picked the Panthers to win the NFC South this season, so perhaps I was a little too optimistic about Newton. But while I may have been too quick to anoint Newton a star after his excellent rookie season, much of the football world was way too quick to jump all over Newton when he struggled at some points this season. The negative stories got really silly, with people getting on his case for everything from supposedly taking too long to get dressed after a game and holding up the team bus (which the Panthers said didn’t happen) to allegedly failing to show the proper deference to veterans at last year’s Pro Bowl (which was a bizarre story to surface 10 months later). Just as I didn’t understand the obsession so many people had with all of his off-field activities when he was winning the Heisman Trophy at Auburn, and didn’t understand the pre-draft criticisms of his allegedly fake smile, I don’t understand why so many people try so hard to paint Newton in a negative light this season.

It’s true that early in the season, Newton’s performance on the field did give his critics some ammunition. He had two interceptions in a loss to the Buccaneers, three interceptions in a loss to the Giants, an interception and a fumble in a loss to the Cowboys, two interceptions and two fumbles in a loss to the Bears and two interceptions and a fumble in a loss to the Broncos. He’s made his share of mistakes.

But the thing we have to remember is, that’s what 23-year-old quarterbacks do. Newton’s shockingly good rookie season last year and the success of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson may have made us forget this, but playing quarterback in the NFL is hard. Really hard. And not many people can walk right out of college football and perform at a high level in the NFL. Newton played at such a high level as a rookie that maybe we should treat a step back in his second season not as an invitation to rip him mercilessly, but as a simple example of regression to the mean.

And after Sunday’s game against the Falcons, I’m not so sure that Newton has really regressed anyway. He’s now on pace to throw for 3,963 yards this season, just short of his rookie record 4,051 last year. And he’s on pace to run for 788 yards, even better than the impressive 706 he gained as a rookie. In the last four games, Newton has a total of 11 touchdowns, zero interceptions and zero fumbles.

The 4-9 Panthers have plenty of problems. Their defense is mediocre, their special teams are terrible, and their much-hyped running back trio of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert isn’t playing well enough to merit their hype — or their contracts. But one problem they don’t have is a question mark at the quarterback position. They answered that question for years to come on the day they drafted Cam Newton.

Newton was the player who impressed me most on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts:

Rex Ryan’s decision to deactivate quarterback Greg McElroy tells me a lot about the Jets. It tells me that they think Mark Sanchez is so mentally weak that he would have been looking over his shoulder if the option of benching him for McElroy existed. That’s not a good sign. Ryan’s decision to go back to Sanchez after benching him for McElroy last week worked, in the sense that the Jets won. But it worked out for the Jets because they were playing the terrible Jaguars, not because Sanchez played well. Sanchez completed just 12 of 19 passes for 111 yards against one of the worst defenses in the NFL in Jacksonville. Ryan won’t bench Sanchez, but he should.

We still have some great running backs in this league. The NFL has become, more than ever before, a passing league. But there are still some phenomenal running backs, and two of them got off to phenomenal starts on Sunday: Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles had 103 yards in the first quarter against the Browns, and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson had 104 yards in the first quarter against the Bears. Charles and Peterson are both coming off major reconstructive knee surgery, and yet Charles is 11 carries away from surpassing Jim Brown for the NFL record for yards-per-carry average (a record that requires a minimum of 750 career carries; Charles has 739), while Peterson is closing in on a 2,000-yard season.

The officials are using automatic replay reviews as a crutch for getting calls wrong on the field. In the second quarter of Jets-Jaguars, the Jets fumbled and Jacksonville’s Dwight Lowery recovered. Lowery was obviously down when he jumped on the ball, and yet the officials allowed him to get up and race to the end zone for a touchdown, without blowing the play dead. The reason? The officials are now letting plays go because they know scoring plays are automatically reviewed, and they figure replay will bail them out if they get it wrong. But that’s not what instant replay is intended to do: The officials should call every play as well as they can, not just abdicate their responsibility on the field and waste a bunch of time afterward when their mistakes get corrected on replay.

And sometimes even when they have a replay review the officials get the call wrong. In the second quarter of Titans-Colts, Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck threw the ball just as he was being tackled, and Tennessee’s Will Witherspoon grabbed it and raced 40 yards to the end zone. Fortunately for the Colts, a replay angle clearly showed that Luck’s knee was down before he let go of the ball, so the interception would be overturned, right? Wrong. The referee somehow looked at the replay and allowed the Titans’ touchdown to stand. If the officials are going to use replay as a crutch, and then they’re going to get the call wrong even when they have that crutch, then the NFL has a serious problem on its hands.

Seattle may be the toughest place to play in the NFL. The Seahawks improved to 6-0 at home on Sunday with their demolition of the Cardinals, and it’s a good thing for the rest of the NFC that the Seahawks are probably going to have to go on the road in the playoffs, because I wouldn’t pick anyone to beat the Seahawks in Seattle. The Seahawks are winning with a great defense, an excellent running back in Marshawn Lynch and a good young quarterback in Russell Wilson. If only the Panthers could put that kind of team around Cam Newton.

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Cardinals sign OLB Victor Butler, release two

Victor Butler AP

The Cardinals made three moves to their 53-player roster on Tuesday, adding one player and parting ways with two others.

Arriving is ex-Saints outside linebacker Victor Butler, who signed with the club today, Darren Urban of AzCardinals.com reported. The 27-year-old Butler recorded 89 tackles and 11 sacks with Dallas from 2009-2012 before joining New Orleans last year. However, Butler missed the 2013 season after an ACL tear, and the Saints released him this August.

In the other roster moves, the Cardinals released outside linebacker Marcus Benard (first reported by Rand Getlin of Yahoo! Sports) and waived punter Drew Butler. The departure of Butler signals punter Dave Zastudil is ready to return to the lineup after forgoing kicking for two games because of a left groin injury.

The transactions leave the Cardinals with one open roster spot, which is expected to go to outside linebacker John Abraham, who’s rejoining the team after a week away because of a concussion.

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Mother of abuse victim in Peterson case asks for privacy

Adrian Peterson AP

The mother of Adrian Peterson’s 4-year-old son, who was bloodied and bruised when Peterson hit him with a stick in an incident that led to Peterson’s indictment, has asked for privacy for her child.

The woman, whose name is not being released, says she does not believe photos of her son’s injuries should have been published. In a statement released by her attorney, she requests that media outlets stop using the pictures.

“My client, on behalf of herself and their son, wishes to express her extreme outrage at the invasion of their privacy that has occurred through the publication of highly confidential and private data obtained regarding them by the press without their permission or consent. My client is hurt and outraged that the press would publish throughout the world pictures of their minor son and publish statements allegedly made as part of the private and confidential criminal investigative file,” the statement said.

The fact that those photos became public is now itself part of a criminal investigation. The Houston Chronicle reports that information from child abuse cases is supposed to remain confidential under Texas law, and that whoever leaked the pictures and other information to the media could face charges.

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Don’t be surprised if Vikings change course on Peterson

wrong-way-go-back

On Monday, the Vikings were unequivocal about the decision to let running back Adrian Peterson play in Week Three.  In the wake of that decision, the criticism has been unanimous, loud, and growing.

As a result, there’s already talk that the Vikings could change course and not let Peterson play on Sunday.  Don’t be surprised if that happens.

It would be a curious turn of events, an admission that the Vikings got it wrong and an example of an NFL bowing to overwhelming pressure from the media, fans, and sponsors.  But as the saying goes, wisdom often never makes an appearance.

It’s better that wisdom show up late than not at all.

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Titans place LB Zach Brown on IR, agree with LB James Anderson

Zach Brown, Geno Smith AP

A torn pectoral has officially brought Zach Brown’s season to a close.

The Titans have placed Brown, one of their starting inside linebackers, on injured reserve, the club announced Tuesday.

To fill the roster spot, the Titans are adding another linebacker, reaching a deal with ninth-year pro James Anderson, who started 16 games for Chicago in 2013. Anderson (6-2, 235) will provide depth behind Wesley Woodyard and Zaviar Gooden. Anderson, 30, has notched 556 tackles and 12 tackles in his regular season career.

The 24-year-old Brown suffered the injury in the Titans’ Week One win at Kansas City. The North Carolina product has been a starter since joining the Titans in 2012.

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Adrian Peterson’s foundation goes on hiatus

Peterson AP

As further proof that no one quite knows how the Adrian Peterson mess will unfold and ultimately resolve itself, Peterson’s “All Day Foundation” has landed on hiatus.

The message that the organization’s website says, “The Foundation will reengage after Adrian, his family, and staff have reflected on how the current situation impacts the direction for Adrian’s philanthropy.”

It’s a somewhat strange outcome, unless Peterson is in the process of shifting the goals of the foundation toward a cause relevant to his current predicament.

Given that Peterson apparently didn’t realize that striking a small child with a slender tree branch until the child’s flesh had become torn open in multiple locations was not an acceptable form of punishment, maybe the efforts should focus exclusively on making sure anyone else out there understands the limits of discipline.

That’s perhaps the only good news that comes out of this case.  Regardless of what Peterson’s foundation does in the future, more and more people now know what can and can’t be done when it comes to whipping a child.

Maybe there should be no whipping at all.  Whatever the degree, using violence of any degree against a child teaches the child that problems can be solved that way.

UPDATED 6:26 p.m. ET:  The All Day Foundation has posted a lengthier statement regarding the suspension of activities.  “We have taken the Adrian Peterson’s All Day Foundation website offline to protect our charity partners from the continued harassment they have received from the media,” the statement says.  “Unfortunately, over the past few years when there was positive news, the media paid little attention to our nonprofit partners. Now, the charities are being harassed, judged and placed in uncomfortable positions. They are being pushed to make statements and business decisions that are taking time away from the good work they are doing.”

 

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Giants announce no new injury for Beason, Jerrel Jernigan to injured reserve

Jerrel Jernigan AP

The Giants officially announced the promotion of linebacker Dan Fox from the practice squad on Tuesday afternoon, but they didn’t give any idea about how long Jon Beason may be out of the lineup.

The team said that Beason aggravated the foot injury that kept him out of training camp and preseason and that he may visit Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte for further examination, but didn’t add any timeline for Beason’s absence. Anderson examined Beason’s foot when it was initially injured in June and such a timeline may not be established until the doctor takes a closer look.

It was a busy day on the injury news front for the Giants beyond Beason as they placed cornerback Walter Thurmond and wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan on injured reserve. Thurmond tore his pectoral and Jernigan has a mid-foot sprain that will not require surgery. Both players are set to become free agents after the season so their time as active members of the organization may have come to an end.

In addition to Fox, the Giants promoted wide receiver Julian Talley from the practice squad to bring the roster to 53 players.

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Mike Smith: We’re just trying to get Roddy White ready for the game

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Wide receiver Roddy White didn’t practice on Tuesday because of a hamstring injury, but the Falcons say there’s no reason to expect him to miss Thursday’s game against the Buccaneers.

Head coach Mike Smith said that White’s absence at practice so far this week has been about making sure that a veteran player is ready to go on a short week.

“It’s not important for Roddy to practice,” Smith said, via ESPN.com. “We’d like for Roddy to practice, but it’s all about getting Roddy ready on a short week. And some of these guys across the league that have some age with them, on a short week, you’ve got to get them to Thursday. And that’s our intention. Right now, our goal is to have Roddy as healthy as he can be for the ball game on Thursday night.”

White also hurt his knee in Week One, so there’s all the more reason for the Falcons to ease off on his practice time if they want him fresh for game day. There could take a toll on White’s play as the mileage adds up, but that appears to be a risk the Falcons are willing to run.

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Chip Kelly downplays “spy movie” information on Darren Sproles

Sproles AP

Eagles coach Chip Kelly knew something the Saints and the rest of the league didn’t.  Otherwise, Kelly wouldn’t have gotten his hands on running back Darren Sproles for only a fifth-round draft pick.

Asked in the wake of Sproles’ career performance against the Colts to elaborate on the “intel” that Kelly had before making the trade, Kelly said the kind of thing that only Kelly does.

“Is this like a spy movie?” Kelly told reporters.   “I mean, we watched game film and just studied him.  Obviously.”

The reporter then clarified, asking about what Kelly knew regarding Sproles’ personality and work ethic.

“I knew about his work ethic,” Kelly said.  “When you talk to coaches that dealt with him, I know Norv Turner raved about him at the Chargers, so you knew the type of work ethic and person he was.  You listen to some of the reports about everybody loving him as a teammate and all of that.  So, you know, you go back to the background stuff that the scouts did when he was coming out of college at Kansas State and what they had to say about him and you read all of those reports.  It’s the same general kind of intel that we have for any free agent.  You’re trying to do your research and find out about them.”

The Eagles found out plenty last night about Sproles’ ability to play.  If the Saints knew Sproles had that much left in the tank, they could have gotten a lot more for him in trade.

Or maybe they wouldn’t have traded him at all.

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Vikings and childrens’ home “mutually” cancel appearance

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The Tuesday afternoon charity appearance is as much of a staple of the NFL calendar as the Friday afternoon news dump.

But one group in the Twin Cities doesn’t seem to want to Vikings around today.

According to Master Tesfatsion of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Vikings and St. Joseph’s Home for Children “mutually agreed to cancel” an appearance this afternoon.

St. Joseph’s is a home which provides shelter for abused children.

A group of around 50 children were supposed to take part in a Play 60 event with six Vikings players.

But since Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is being accused of abusing his 4-year-old, it’s probably not a good look to show up there for a photo op.

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Giants call up linebacker from practice squad with Jon Beason ailing

Jon Beason AP

The Giants defense got a huge boost from the arrival of linebacker Jon Beason last season, but it now looks like they’re bracing for his absence for at least part of this season.

Multiple reports have the Giants promoting linebacker Dan Fox from their practice squad on Tuesday, a move that comes two days after Beason had to leave the Giants’ loss to the Cardinals with a foot injury. Beason missed all of training camp and the preseason after injuring his foot during offseason work, so it’s easy to connect the dots that Fox’s arrival means that the team has or is expecting bad news about the veteran’s availability.

Fox was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame this offseason and got some good notices for his work with the Giants over the summer. Among the positives was his ability to play both inside and outside in the team’s scheme.

Mark Herzlich saw time against Arizona after Beason was knocked out and Jameel McClain also has experience playing inside from his time with the Ravens should it play out that the Giants need a longer term replacement. Moving McClain would leave the Giants in need of a new starter on the outside, however.

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Bears promote CB Isaiah Frey, WR Rashad Ross from practice squad

Isaiah Frey AP

In need of a cornerback with Charles Tillman out for the season with a right triceps injury, the Bears promoted one from the practice squad.

The club announced Tuesday it had signed third-year pro Isaiah Frey to the active roster. Frey spent all 16 games on the Bears’ roster a season ago, notching 47 tackles and making six starts. The 2012 sixth-round pick was waived in the Bears’ final cuts in August, then re-signed to the practice squad September 1.

The Bears’ promotions didn’t end with Frey, with the club also announcing the addition of first-year wide receiver Rashad Ross to the roster. Like Frey, Ross spent the first two games on the Bears’ practice squad. The 24-year-old Ross had stints on Tennessee’s and Kansas City’s practice squads last season and was with Washington for three preseason games this summer.

In corresponding roster moves Tuesday, the Bears released tailback Shaun Draughn, tight end Matthew Mulligan and wide receiver Chris Williams. The club now has one open roster spot.

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Senator Al Franken to Vikings: Bench Adrian Peterson

alfranken AP

One of Minnesota’s U.S. Senators has joined the state’s governor in urging the Vikings to deactivate Adrian Peterson.

Shortly after Governor Mark Dayton said the Vikings should not play Peterson while he is under indictment for injuring his son, Senator Al Franken released a statement saying the same.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear about what happened to this child,” Franken said in a statement. “I’m a diehard Vikings fan, and watching the games on Sundays has been one of my favorite things to do since I was a kid. But this is just wrong, and I think the Vikings made the wrong decision here. This is in the hands of law enforcement now, and it must go through the judicial process, but I don’t believe Adrian Peterson should be allowed to play until that happens. A lot of kids look up to these players, and it’s not OK for the Vikings to send the signal that what happened is acceptable. This is bigger than a football game.”

The Vikings initially sat Peterson out of Sunday’s game when he was indicted, but they said on Monday that they would put Peterson back on the field this week. Since then they have lost a corporate sponsor over the Peterson case and been the subject of criticism from a governor and a senator.

So far, the Vikings aren’t backing off their support of Peterson. But at this point last week, the Panthers were supporting Greg Hardy, their defensive end who is accused of a domestic violence incident. By Sunday, the Panthers had decided that they simply couldn’t play Hardy. Don’t be surprised if the Vikings come to the same conclusion in the next five days.

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Bengals place Alex Smith on IR

Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Bengals placed tight end Tyler Eifert on injured reserve with the designation to return after he suffered an elbow injury in the season opener and now they’ve lost another tight end for an even longer stretch of time.

The team placed Alex Smith on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday. Smith, who was used mainly as a blocker in Cincinnati, suffered a biceps injury in Sunday’s win over the Falcons.

That left the Bengals with just two tight ends on the active roster in Jermaine Gresham and Ryan Hewitt. They addressed that shortage by signing Kevin Brock.

Brock signed with the Bengals before their Wild Card game last season, but didn’t play in the team’s loss to the Chargers. He went to camp with the team and was cut in August. Brock also played four games with the Chiefs last season, catching three passes for 36 yards, and saw action with the Bills in 2011 as well.

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Nike pulls Adrian Peterson merchandise from Twin Cities stores

dontdoit

It’s one thing for government leaders and the media to bang on the Vikings for reinstating Adrian Peterson after a paid weekend off.

But now the guys with the money are starting to chime in.

According to the Associated Press, Nike has removed all of its Peterson merchandise from their stores in the Twin Cities.

They’re still willing to sell it to you online, but removing the most visible Viking from the shelves makes some degree of a statement.

It might not have the direct economic impact of Radisson pulling its sponsorship from the team, but it’s another clear sign that there are plenty of people unhappy with the way the team has handled this behind the mask of “due process.”

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Anheuser-Busch disappointed, concerned, dissatisfied with NFL

Goodell Getty Images

A major NFL sponsor has had enough with the misbehavior of NFL players and the response of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners he works for.

Anheuser-Busch, the beer maker that spends a fortune on NFL advertising and sponsorship, has released a strongly worded statement in response to the controversies that have unfolded over the last week regarding Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald.

“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league,” the statement said.

Previous statements from the NFL’s corporate partners have generally shown confidence in the NFL’s ability to get a handle on the events that have contributed to the ugliest week in NFL history. The statement from Anheuser-Busch shows no such confidence. If the NFL can’t satisfy Anheuser-Busch, the NFL is at risk losing one of its most lucrative partners.

Which means Roger Goodell is at risk of losing his job. Make no mistake, the reason the NFL’s owners are supportive of Goodell is that the NFL’s owners have made a lot of money while Goodell has run the league. The day Goodell’s mismanagement of this issue costs the owners money is the day Goodell loses the support of the owners. Goodell has already mismanaged the Rice case. He had better figure out the right way to handle the cases of Peterson, Hardy and McDonald.

If Goodell can’t get the job done, the owners will find a commissioner who can.

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