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Tagliabue’s ruling doesn’t undermine Vilma’s defamation case

Vilma Getty Images

When assessing the decision made by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to overturn the suspensions imposed on four players, it’s important to understand both what he says and what he doesn’t say.That’s particularly important when assessing the contention that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any teammate who knocked former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC title game, since Vilma’s denial of that claim provides the basis for his defamation lawsuit against Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Early in the 22-page ruling, Tagliabue explains that he is “not reviewing Commissioner Goodell’s October 9, 2012 findings and conclusions de novo.”  Those last two words are a common Latin legal term, which mean “from scratch.”

Basically, Tagliabue didn’t build the house of facts all over again.

“If the parties had intended such a review, they would have written it into the CBA,” Tagliabue says.  “Instead, I am giving appropriate deference to Commissioner Goodell’s reasonable findings and am applying the same standard of review to findings of violation and to findings underlying the level of discipline.  I am not substituting my judgment for the Commissioner’s judgment, except insofar as I have received and considered new material information of which the Commissioner was unaware.  In this instance, based on both the prior record and additional information, I am reviewing the discipline for consistency of treatment, uniformity of standards for parties similarly situated and patent unfairness or selectivity.”

In other words, Tagliabue acted like a traditional appeals court, declining to start the case over and taking advantage of the work that already has been done.  This distinction becomes critical when assessing whether and to what extent Tagliabue’s finding impacts Vilma’s pending lawsuit.

As to the most important factual question presented by the appeal process, Tagliabue doesn’t determine that Vilma offered a bounty on Favre.  Instead, Tagliabue “find[s] there is more than enough evidence to support Commissioner Goodell’s findings that Mr. Vilma offered such a bounty.”

In other words, Tagliabue believes it was reasonable for Goodell to conclude based on the evidence that Vilma offered a bounty.  But the opposite proposition also could have been accurate — that it would have been reasonable to conclude that Vilma didn’t offer a true and actual bounty.

Indeed, Tagliabue implicitly reached the latter conclusion, since he wasn’t willing to suspend Vilma because Tagliabue couldn’t conclude that the “talk” from Vilma amounted to a real threat, as opposed to “rhetoric and exaggeration.”

“[T]here is little evidence of the tone of any talk about a bounty before the Vikings game,” Tagliabue writes.  “Was any bounty pledged serious?  Was it inspirational only?  Was it typical ‘trash talk’ that occurs regularly before and during games?  The parties presented no clear answers.  No witness could confirm whether Vilma had any money in his hands as he spoke; no evidence was presented that $10,000 was available to him for purposes of paying a bounty or otherwise.  There was no evidence that Vilma or anyone else paid any money to any player for any bounty-related hit on an opposing player in the Vikings game.”

In other words, Tagliabue wasn’t able to determine that the words uttered by Vilma were real, that he meant what he said and intended to act on it.

Tagliabue used that specific occasion to give more passive-aggressive, big-picture advice to his successor:   “It is essential to recognize that Vilma is being most severely disciplined for ‘talk’ or speech at a team meeting on the evening before the Saints-Vikings game. He is not being punished for his performance on the field and, indeed, none of the discipline of any player here relates to on-field conduct. No Saints’ player was suspended for on-field play by the League after the game in question. If the League wishes to suspend a player for pre-game talk including ‘offers’ to incentivize misconduct, it must start by imposing enhanced discipline for illegal hits that involve the kind of player misconduct that it desires to interdict. The relationship of the discipline for the off-field ‘talk’ and actual on-field conduct must be carefully calibrated and reasonably apportioned. This is a standard grounded in common sense and fairness.  It rests also on the competence of NFL officiating and the obligation and ability of the League to closely observe playing field misconduct, record it and review for illegal hits or other related misconduct.”

For Vilma’s defamation case, none of this matters.  He insists he didn’t make the offer, others insist he did, and eventually someone else will have to consider the evidence and make factual decisions “from scratch.”  In this regard, the transcript of the testimony from the Tagliabue appeal hearing could be very useful, since the witnesses will have a hard time disowning the testimony they’ve already provided under oath.

The fact that Vilma’s lawyer has called upon Tagliabue to release the transcript publicly suggests that the totality of the testimony could help Vilma.

Thus, regardless of Tagliabue’s belief that Goodell’s conclusion that Vilma made the offer was reasonable, others will eventually tackle that question within the confines of civil litigation, and there’s a chance that Tagliabue’s emphasis on the difference between words and actions will cause the judge and/or the jury to think that Goodell didn’t exercise enough care in distinguishing the two as he should have before publicly painting Vilma as a thug.

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Steven Terrell expects to be tested often as Earl Thomas replacement

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 04:  Safety Steven Terrell #23 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field on December 4, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

For the first time in Pete Carroll’s tenure as head coach, the Seahawks will have to play a significant stretch of games without Earl Thomas at free safety.

Steven Terrell will be the replacement for Thomas in the back-end of Seattle’s defense. The fourth-year safety – undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2013 – has been the primary backup to Thomas over the last two seasons. His first start in place of Thomas came two weeks ago in Tampa Bay as Thomas was sidelined with a hamstring strain. Now the job is his with Thomas out for the season with a broken leg.

“It was pretty tough hearing the news but for me, it was like, I need to step up, come in and do my job, do my part in this team and do the best I can to fill in for him,” Terrell said.

Terrell expects to be tested early and often as he takes over for Thomas.

“I’m prepared for that, you always think teams are going to take shots deep,” Terrell said Wednesday. “Teams are going to do what they do. Especially the Packers, Aaron Rodgers takes shots down the field and he’s done that against us in years past with Earl back there. You always have to expect that.

“You got to prepare for that. I would assume they would. This defense, it’s kind of hard to single one person out and try to attack them. We have so many weapons and the way our style of play is, but I assume they will come after me. I don’t really know.”

He’s played in 26 games for Seattle over the last three seasons. After a rookie season spent bouncing between Jacksonville and Houston, Terrell signed with the Seahawks early in training camp in 2014. He’d established a role as a key special teams contributor for Seattle and had played sparingly in relief roles at both safety and nickel cornerback.

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Who’ll win the biggest game of the year so far?

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 20: Outside linebacker Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs enters the field for his first game of the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneersat Arrowhead Stadium during the game on November 20, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) Getty Images

Thursday night. 10-2 Raiders at 9-3 Chiefs. The winner, by virtue of Kansas City’s win in Oakland earlier this year, takes control of the division with three games to play.

So Thursday’s PFT Live question of the day is a simple one: Who wins?

Answer the question, comment on it, and then tune in at 6:00 a.m. ET at NBC Sports Radio and/or 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN for the three-hour show, which features visits from Hall of Famer (and former Raider and Chief) Marcus Allen, Hall of Famer (and former Chiefs assistant) Tony Dungy, and Vikings defensive end Brian Robison.

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T.J. Lang back to practice for Packers following broken foot

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 13:  T.J. Lang #70 of the Green Bay Packers is carted off the field during the first half of a game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) Getty Images

Green Bay Packers guard T.J.Lang returned to the practice field Wednesday for the first time since breaking his foot in a game against the Tennessee Titans last month.

According to Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Lang was limited in his first practice on Wednesday. He’s missed the last three games for Green Bay due to the injury.

“I think we’re still kind of in the process of feeling things out, testing it,” Lang said. “Did some running last week, did a little bit more Monday, was able to get on the practice field today and run a little bit, although it was in a limited fashion. Everything I’m doing right now is just kind of feeling my way through and just kind of testing the water a little bit to see where the progress is.”

The injury was initially referred to as a sprain before Lang said it was actually a broken foot.

Lang admitted it’s unlikely he’ll be able to play this week against the Seattle Seahawks. Don Barclay replaced Lang for one game with Jason Spriggs started the last two in his place at right guard.

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Titans cautious, hopeful about Casey’s status

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, left, passes as he is pressured by Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, center, and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (98) in the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/James Kenney) AP

Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey did not practice Wednesday, but Titans coach Mike Mularkey told reporters he’s hopeful that Casey will be in the starting lineup Sunday vs. the Broncos.

Casey is dealing with a sprained foot, and Mularkey called giving him an extra day of rest “a smart decision” as the Titans prepare for Sunday and the stretch run. At 6-6, they’re in a three-way tie atop the AFC South with the Colts and Texans.

“I know Jurrell pretty well. I know he’s going to play if he can play,” Mularkey said. “We’ve got lots of time before [Sunday]. I think we’re handling it the right way the way we’re treating it and holding him out of some of the stuff. Again, it’s early in the week.”

Casey was named to his first Pro Bowl last season. He’s missed only one game in his six-year career.

The Titans are as healthy as they could hope to be coming off a Week 13 bye. Casey was the only player listed on their Wednesday injury and participation report. Running back DeMarco Murray has been getting maintenance days off over the last several weeks but was a full practice participant.

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Richard Sherman expects Earl Thomas to return

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 04: Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks defends against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field on December 4, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, in the immediate aftermath of a season-ending broken leg, has been musing about retirement. At least one of his defensive teammates doesn’t buy it.

“I expect him to come back,” cornerback Richard Sherman told reporters on Wednesday.

Without Thomas, the defense will be different. Sherman explained the impact of the safety’s absence.

“Just his energy,” Sherman said. “He’s a constant energy, it’s always infectious, he plays hard every snap. Just a guy that always where you need him.”

The defense itself, however, won’t change without Thomas.

“[W]e’re running the same stuff we’ve been running,” Sherman said.

The Thomas-free defense will get an immediate test on Sunday, against the Packers in Green Bay. Led by a quarterback who knows how to make the most of the rules.

“They’ll do the double count thing and since people don’t know the rules about double count, jumping off sides and things like that and free plays,” Sherman said. “Aaron Rodgers makes a living off of free plays. He’s one of the most adept at it probably in league history. Drawing people offsides and getting deep penalties on people, pass interference. I think they got the longest pass interference of the season this year, like 70 yards or something like that. That’s one of those rules that needs to change and needed to change long time ago. Until they do, people will keep taking advantage of it.”

The challenge for the Seahawks without Thomas will be to not let the Packers take advantage of those two rules. The bigger challenge will be to find a way to cool off a Green Bay team that has won two games in a row and that knows it needs to keep winning.

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Chris Spielman sees Matthew Stafford as an MVP candidate

228794 Getty Images

Former Lions linebacker Chris Spielman, who currently analyzes NFL action for FOX, paid a visit to Wednesday’s PFT Live. And Spielman likes what he sees from his former team.

He specifically likes what Detroit’s quarterback is doing, and Spielman made the case for Matthew Stafford getting MVP consideration.

On all topics, Spielman was great. Unconstrained by the 10-15 seconds he has to talk between plays during a game broadcast, he shared fascinating assessments of the clues culled from film study, keys during games, and other technical aspects of football that will make you feel like you’re on the field.

Come from me accidentally calling him “Rick,” and stay for some quality analysis and football conversation.

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Goff misses practice due to illness, considered probable for Sunday

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 02:  Quarterback Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams throws the football during warm ups prior to the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) Getty Images

Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff was sent home Wednesday due to an illness and did not practice.

Rams Coach Jeff Fisher told reporters that Goff was part of the team’s usual meetings and participated in a pre-practice walkthrough before leaving the team facility. As long as Goff gets healthy, he’ll make his fourth start Sunday against the Falcons.

The Rams are still trying to get Goff his first win. He had his worst game last week in a blowout loss at New England, completing 14-of-32 passes for 161 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Patriots sacked Goff four times.

Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, who missed last week’s game with a chest injury, was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice. Defensive end Robert Quinn, who missed last week’s game with a concussion, was a limited participant.

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Lions moving on from Pettigrew

Brandon Pettigrew, Sean Lee AP

The Lions have placed tight end Brandon Pettigrew on the non-football injury list — and cleaned out his locker.

Per the Detroit Free Press, the team will officially release Pettigrew soon.

“We made a decision on him,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “I think it’s been reported and that’s about all we can say on the matter. It was best for us.”

So, Pettigrew’s tenure ends with the Lions without much explanation.

The Lions drafted Pettigrew in the first round in 2009, and for five seasons he was a major contributor when healthy. He caught 71 passes in 2010 and 83 in 2011, and he’s caught 17 career touchdown passes.

Pettigrew suffered a torn ACL last December and was placed on the physically unable to perform list last summer. He had returned to practice Nov. 22, opening a three-week window for the team to evaluate his status before making a roster decision.

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Tyrod Taylor shows frustration at Wednesday press conference

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Buffalo Bills rushes with the ball against the Oakland Raiders during their NFL game at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on December 4, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor is feeling the frustration of a season that is inching closer and closer to implosion.

Via Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News, Taylor abruptly ended his midweek press conference by declaring to no one in particular “I’m done talking” and walking away.

Taylor has drawn plenty of criticism in recent weeks, and a contract that requires the team to decide by early March whether to cut him or guarantee more than $30 million over the next two seasons hovers over the final four games of 2016.

“I’ve taken everything that y’all have stood up here and asked me right on the chest,” Taylor said at one point. “It doesn’t affect me emotionally or physically. I take it every week, so whatever y’all want to blame, I’ll take that. Like I said, my job is to get the team into a position where we can win on Sundays. Can I be better, yes. But it doesn’t just take me, it’s a collective effort out there on the field each and every Sunday.”

He’s right, but Taylor has been the focal point for the criticism. Despite his apparent irritation, he claims he doesn’t see or hear it.

“I don’t have Instagram on my phone,” Taylor said. “Twitter. Don’t watch TV, so don’t see it, don’t hear it. Continue to keep pounding away. We’re still in it, last time I checked.”

Yes, they’re still in it. But the window went from wide open to nearly closed after a 24-9 lead over the Raiders quickly became a 38-24 deficit. In that same game, Taylor plunged from completing eight of nine passes for 102 yards in the first quarter to completing 10 of 26 for 89 yards in quarters two, three, and four.

The real question is whether Taylor will have a third season in Buffalo. Whether he will hinges on whether the team keeps its current power structure in place — which may hinge on whether Taylor can get the Bills to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

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Andre Johnson spends $20,000 to bring Christmas to kids

andrejohnson

Andre Johnson stopped drawing an NFL paycheck when he retired in October, but he’s not done using his money to do good.

Today at a toy store in Houston, Johnson did what he has done for the last nine years: He asked Houston Child Protective Services to bring together a group of children who have had a rough year and deserve a special Christmas, and he footed the bill for whatever toys they could grab while running through the store for 80 seconds. (Johnson wore No. 80 during his NFL career.) This year the bill for 12 kids came to $19,144.58, and after Johnson finished paying he posed with the receipts, which were as tall as he is.

Johnson said he sees a lot of himself in the kids who come to his annual toy drive.

“When you grow up in certain situations you kind of understand so, there were times when I was not able to get what I wanted for Christmas. So I know that a lot kids don’t get what they want for Christmas. This idea was brought to me and I just kind of took it and ran with it,” Johnson told ABC 13 in Houston.

After Johnson retired, there were discussions of whether he’s had a Hall of Fame career. There’s no doubt that he’s a Hall of Fame person.

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Cedric Thornton isn’t interested in talking about whacking Sam Bradford in the head

Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Cedric Thornton, left, sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King) AP

Last Thursday night’s win by the Cowboys over the Vikings was sealed when referee Tony Corrente did his best Stevie Wonder impersonation on a two-point conversion try.

Cowboys defensive lineman Cedric Thornton whacked Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford in the head, Corrente didn’t see it, and the Vikings didn’t get a second opportunity to tie the game and force overtime.

Six days later, Thornton had no desire to revisit the events of last Thursday night.

Man, we’re playing the Giants this week,” Thornton said, via Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, when asked about the play.

Thornton did say that he has yet to hear from the league regarding a fine. With the league possessing plenty of discretion when it comes to imposing fines, this could be one of those situations in which the NFL decides not to pick a player’s pocket, in order to avoid underscoring Corrente’s error.

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Jadeveon Clowney one of six Texans to miss practice

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Tyrell Williams #16 of the San Diego Chargers runs after a reception pursued by Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on November 27, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Texans’ three-game losing streak has created a three-way logjam at the top of the AFC South that won’t be in place come the end of Week 14.

Houston will be in Indianapolis to face the Colts, who have the same 6-6 record as the Texans and Titans. The Texans got on the field Wednesday for their first practice leading up to that game and they were missing a half-dozen players because of injuries.

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is on that list. Oft-injured in his first two NFL seasons, Clowney missed his first game of 2016 last weekend because of elbow and wrist injuries which left the already J.J. Watt-less Texans defense thinner than they’d like.

It got even thinner when cornerback Johnathan Joseph left with an injury that’s since been diagnosed as cracked ribs and a bruised lung. Joseph also missed practice on Wednesday.

Quarterback Tom Savage, running back Tyler Ervin, wide receiver Braxton Miller and linebacker John Simon rounded out the group of non-participants.

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After walkthrough, Broncos estimate Siemian as limited participant

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 13:  Trevor Siemian #13 of the Denver Broncos runs with the ball during the first half of a game against the San Diego Chargers  at Qualcomm Stadium on October 13, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos only offered an estimated injury report Wednesday after holding a walkthrough, and on that report quarterback Trevor Siemian was listed as a limited participant had the team held a real practice.

Estimated, unofficial, insert your own asterisk here. Siemian missed last week’s game due to a sprained left foot, and the Broncos will be cautious this week as they try to get him ready to play Sunday at Tennessee.

In a radio interview on Tuesday, Siemian said he’s “making some progress” and “getting better every day.” He’s clearly been well coached in what to say, but he did offer that he’s out of the protective boot he wore on his foot last week.

Siemian didn’t practice at all last week. Broncos Coach Gary Kubiak said then that he believed Siemian could have played without practicing, and he said Wednesday that rookie Paxton Lynch, who started last week, again took reps with the No. 1 offense in the walkthrough. Kubiak said the team will try to get both Lynch and Siemian ready to play.

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Hue Jackson says he’s not trying to fool the Bengals regarding Sunday’s quarterback

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 27:  Josh McCown #13 talks with head coach Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns during the first quarter against the New York Giants at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 27, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the Browns emerge from their bye, they have arguably one more decent chance to say hello to victory: At home on Sunday against the Bengals.

Some think that Browns coach Hue Jackson is concealing his quarterback choice for Sunday in order to keep the Bengals guessing. Jackson says he’s not.

“I think you guys know who I am,” Jackson told reporters on Wednesday. “Until I see guys do certain things [at] practice am I going to make that decision because it all has to fit. It is not just about one guy. It is about a unit playing together. We have not played as well together in several weeks. It is important that we practice, and I feel good about that decision so we can go out and give ourselves the best chance to win.”

One candidate to start is Robert Griffin III. Jackson explained that he needs to see more in practice from Griffin, who suffered a broken shoulder in Week One, before making that decision.

“I do need to see Robert go through the week,” Jackson said. “It is not so much gamesmanship. We are talking about a young man that has not played much football this year. I need to be for sure about everything that could potentially go on. Before you stick him out there, you want to make sure you are putting guys in the right situation, give him the right opportunity. We will keep practicing and we will keep getting these guys ready to play.”

Jackson agreed that one major factor in determining whether Griffin should play is the fact that he has played in only one regular-season game since the end of the 2014 season.

“[T]here is probably some rust there,” Jackson said. “He has not played a lot of football. Practice is only a simulation of what the game could be. The game is a very different game. That is why I am taking every consideration before truly making this decision about who is going to step out there.”

Whoever it is, the Browns need the quarterback to play better than any quarterback has played all year long for the Browns. Otherwise, 0-12 becomes 0-13 and the Browns move to within games against the Bills, Chargers, and Steelers of matching the Lions in 2008 with zero wins in 16 tries.

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NFL says refs have discretion to penalize players’ snow angels

Green Bay Packers' Randall Cobb does a snow angel after catching a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer) AP

Sunday afternoon’s NFL action featured two snow games, and two players deciding to have a little fun by making snow angels. But only one player was flagged.

In Chicago, 49ers cornerback Rashard Robinson celebrated a big play by making a snow angel and was penalized. But in Green Bay, Packers receiver Randall Cobb also made a snow angel, and he didn’t draw a flag. What gives?

“I think our officials used some discretion there,” NFL Senior V.P. of Officiating Dean Blandino said on NFL Network. “We do give the officials some discretion there and we don’t want to take the emotion out, and the spontaneity of the game. When you get to the 49ers game . . . the officials thought it was excessive and they flagged it. . . . I understand the questions about why is one snow angel illegal and one legal. But, again, the officials do have some discretion.”

Blandino added that the 49ers’ snow angel celebration lasted “a little bit longer,” although there doesn’t seem to be any clear standard for how long a snow angel celebration can last before a penalty flag comes out. It would seem that the NFL’s officials should have more important things to worry about than how long a player’s snow angel lasts, but it’s not the officials’ fault that the league has told them to make celebration penalties a priority.

Perhaps some day the league will come up with a clearer standard, such as treating celebrations like delay of game: If a celebration delays the game, it’s a delay of game penalty. If not, it’s not a penalty at all.

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