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Josh Brent on Cowboys sidelines Sunday

Josh Brent AP

Citing the forgiveness shown by Jerry Brown’s mother, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said this week that the Cowboys would embrace defensive lineman Josh Brent as he deals with the intoxication manslaughter charges he faces as a result of driving drunk and getting into the accident that killed Brown.

That would explain Brent’s presence on the team’s sideline at Cowboys Stadium while they face the Steelers on Sunday afternoon. It makes for an odd juxtaposition with the helmet stickers the Cowboys are wearing to honor Brown and it is sure to be met with a wide range of reactions from around the football world.

My own reaction is that it feels very awkward to see Brent there given what happened a couple of weeks ago. At the same time, it’s hard to know what kinds of conversations went on in Dallas before coming to this decision and that makes any judgment of the appropriateness difficult.

The Cowboys lead 3-0 with a little more than 10 minutes gone in the first quarter of the game.

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Lions aim to pull one of the biggest Foxborough surprises in Belichick’s tenure

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Patriots are seven-point home favorites Sunday vs. Detroit. That may not sound like a lot of points — just a touchdown and an extra point.

But with the Patriots, those seven points can seem like 70.

According to Spreadapedia.com, the Patriots have recorded 50 wins and just four losses as home regular-season favorites of seven points or more in Bill Belichick’s 15 seasons as head coach — a 92.6 percent success rate.

By contrast, since Belichick became New England’s coach in 2000, all other NFL clubs have won about four in every five games as seven-point regular season home favorites (681-175-2, 79.5 percent).

The lone regular season underdogs of seven-plus points to knock off New England were the 2006 Jets (+10.5), the 2008 Dolphins (+12.5), the 2011 Giants (+9.5) and 2012 Cardinals (+13.5).

In the playoffs, the Patriots are 9-2 straight-up as home favorites of at least seven points, with the only defeats to the 2010 Jets (+9.5) and 2012 Ravens (+8).

Interestingly enough, the Patriots aren’t great bets as big home favorites, covering in just 24-of-54 regular season games and just 5-of-11 playoff contests when laying seven points or more since 2000.

Still, there’s a difference between wedging the door open with your foot and having said door slammed on said foot.

In short, in a league where big favorites generally take care of business, the Patriots almost always get the job done.

Which is why they’re the Patriots.

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Ricardo Lockette fined $10,000 after last week’s ejection

Ricardo Lockette AP

Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette joined running back Marshawn Lynch in returning a lost wallet earlier this week and now he’s joined Lynch as the recipient of a fine from the NFL.

PFT has confirmed with the league that Lockette has been fined $10,000 for the actions that led him to be ejected from last Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs. At the tail end of a long De’Anthony Thomas punt return, Lockette responded to a shove from Chiefs defensive back Kurt Coleman by throwing a punch that connected with Coleman’s helmet. Lockette was penalized and ejected from the game as a result.

While Lockette has no one to blame but himself for throwing the punch or getting tossed from the game, he can grumble a bit about the circumstances that led to the punch.

Upon replay, officials ruled that Thomas stepped out of bounds well before he was tackled on the Seattle 40-yard-line and there likely wouldn’t have been an altercation had they made the correct ruling on the field in the first place.

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Rob Gronkowski fined $8,268 for bouncer move

New England Patriots v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Rob Gronkowski is going to have to work a lot of weekends as a bouncer to make up for this one.

The league office tells PFT that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was fined $8,268 for unnecessary roughness during last week’s game against the Colts.

The fine stemmed from his “blocking” Colts safety Sergio Brown out of bounds and into a cameraman late in their Sunday night win.

Gronkowski joked afterward he had thrown Brown “out of the club.”

Now he gets to make a donation instead of paying the cover charge.

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Larry Fitzgerald officially questionable for Sunday

Larry Fitzgerald AP

The Cardinals practiced without wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald again on Friday, making it an entire week of missed practices for the veteran.

That’s not enough to rule him out for Sunday’s game against the Seahawks, however. Fitzgerald is listed as questionable and coach Bruce Arians said, via Darren Urban of the team’s website, that the team will monitor him over the weekend before making a game-time decision about his status on Sunday afternoon.

Fitzgerald has maintained an optimistic attitude about his chances of playing all week and said that his knee has been feeling better, but the Cardinals have to weigh how much he can help them in a diminished state against the possibility that playing him against Seattle leaves him compromised moving into the future. The 9-1 start to the season has left the Cardinals in a very strong position heading into the final six games, but three of those games are against the Seahawks and 49ers so they definitely don’t want to lose sight of the end goal by taking too many risks this weekend.

 

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The Ibillarod: Bills send snowmobiles to get players to stadium

Wintry Weather AP

As the Bills are trying to get to Detroit to practice tonight, they’ve had to employ some unique measures to get to the airport.

With many players snowed in by this week’s blizzard, the team sent out snowmobiles to collect some of them, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. They finally collected all 53 players, and are en route now.

There has been a driving ban in greater Buffalo after this week’s storms, which dumped nearly eight feet (FEET!) of snow in some places.

Not all were lucky enough to get a ride, as wide receiver Chris Hogan tweeted that he was walking to Ralph Wilson Stadium, where buses were ready to take players to the airport.

What would have been better is a dog sled, as they could have had themselves an Ibillarod. Either that, or sent out the St. Bernards with flasks for the stragglers, and those who don’t get to escape to balmy Detroit.

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Lions hope fewer plays leads to more productive offense

Matthew Stafford, Alex Okafor AP

The Lions are coming off their worst offensive showing of the season in a 14-6 loss to the Cardinals, a game that marked the first time since 2009 that the Lions failed to score a touchdown.

That leaves the team with an average of just under 19 points per game, which ranks 26th in the league and is down almost six points from last year’s totals. That certainly wasn’t the desired outcome when the team hired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi away from the Saints in the offseason and it leaves them vulnerable to falling out of playoff position even if their defense remains the stingiest in the league in terms of points allowed.

Lombardi’s got a plan he hopes will get the offense going again. He’s taken some plays out of the playbook in order to give the unit more time to practice the remaining plays against more defensive looks so that they’re better prepared for Sunday.

“We have probably somewhere upwards of 200 reps a week that we’re working on in practice and then you have some walk-through reps,” Lombardi said, via the Detroit Free Press. “You have a certain number of calls or maybe you get this one play repped against one or maybe two defenses, so if you have less calls you can kind of show more situations and you’re not just talking about them. It’s just a matter of practicing fewer plays and then they’re able to handle all the different looks that come up.”

They’ll get their first test of how well things are working out against the Patriots this weekend. If all goes well, the Lions will improve their chances of improving on last season’s dismal finish to the season.

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Goodell delegates Peterson appeal to Harold Henderson

Peterson Getty Images

The NFLPA got what it wanted.  Kind of.  Sort of.  Not really.

Commissioner Roger Goodell will not handle the appeal of Adrian Peterson’s rest-of-season suspension.  Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reports that Goodell has delegated the appeal to Harold Henderson, a former NFL executive who routinely resolves appeals under the league’s substance-abuse and PED policies.

Most recently, Henderson handled the appeal of Browns receiver Josh Gordon’s full-season suspension, upholding the banishment before a revised substance-abuse policy reduced the penalty to 10 games.

The NFLPA had wanted an independent arbitrator.  Henderson isn’t entirely independent.  But it’s not Goodell or any current NFL official or executive.

Peterson’s appeal contends that the NFL is applying a rule that was adopted after the conduct for which Peterson is being disciplined occurred.  Peterson’s appeal also claims that the punishment is too extreme in comparison to other punishments in other cases.

Per Glazer, the hearing will be held on December 2.  Depending on the ruling and its timing, Peterson could be back with the Vikings by December 7, against the Jets.

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Report: Jonas Gray late for work Friday, sent home, doesn’t practice

Close-Up Of Old Alarm Clock On Table At Home

As it turns out, an injury was not the cause of Patriots tailback Jonas Gray sitting out practice Friday.

Instead, we can file this one under lateness.

According to Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, Gray was not on time for the Patriots’ workday on Friday. Thus, he didn’t take part in New England’s workout after being “sent home,” according to the Journal. How or whether this affects Gray’s playing time for Sunday’s matchup vs. Detroit remains to be seen.

Mike Reiss of ESPN.com reported that Gray’s phone battery is alleged to have run out, which prevented an alarm from going off.

Anyways, missed alarms happen. Even the old-school alarms weren’t failsafe.

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League checking options if Bills are on the road again next week

Willie Nelson AP

With the Bills on the way to Detroit now, the matter of this week’s game is taken care of.

Where they play the next one remains to be seen.

The Bills had already mentioned the possibility that Ralph Wilson Stadium might not be ready for next week’s game against the Browns, and now others are wondering.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the league is looking into alternate sites for the game if the stadium can’t be cleared in time.

While Detroit has become the Bills’ home away from home this week, it’s unclear if they’d go back next week. With the Lions playing Thursday, Ford Field would be available.

Playing the game in Cleveland would seem to be a possibility, based only on proximity. That would bring back memories of the Saints’ 2005 “home game” at Giants Stadium, which was necessitated by Hurricane Katrina.

But you can bet with the Browns in the playoff chase for once, their division rivals would howl about the competitive implications of nine home games for them.

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Phil Simms is offended by complaints about Thursday Night Football

Simms Getty Images

Last night’s game between the Chiefs and Raiders ended up being much better than expected.  Then again, the bar was low.

But the surprisingly strong performance from Oakland and the late victory from the previously winless home team and its ability to hold off a Chiefs franchise that had been 7-3 represents an exception for Thursday nights in 2014.  Actually, it represents an exception for most prime-time games this season.

Phil Simms of CBS, the outlet that broadcast Thursday Night Football through Week Eight and that now loans Simms and the rest of the production team to NFL Network, doesn’t appreciate the concerns that have been raised about the quality of the weekly short-week games.

“That’s a lot of talk from other people with games on other networks, and I want to say to them, ‘Look in the mirror and see how your games are going,’” Simms told 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City on Thursday.  “I see blowout after blowout in some of these night games, and nobody talks about the quality of play there.  You know, I’m a little offended by it, and I want to tell them to be quiet and worry about what you do, and we’ll worry about what we do at CBS.”

Simms expressed specific objection to criticism of last week’s Thursday night contest.  (Frankly, I don’t think it was a bad game, and I don’t recall hearing any complaints about it.)

“I heard some, you know, experts, you know, commentators, talking this past week about the Buffalo-Miami game,” Simms said.  “I thought it was very well played, an exciting game.  Tense, hard hitting.  Everything you’d want in a game. . . . Buffalo has struggled moving the ball against everybody.  What’d you expect their offense to come out there and be great?  So I get a little ticked off about those questions. . . . Let’s look at some of the numbers on the other games that are going and compare them and then tell me what you think.”

He’s absolutely right about that.  Sunday Night Football has consisted of plenty of lopsided games this year.  Ditto for Monday Night Football.  The difference is that the Sunday night package on NBC, which essentially took the reins from Monday night when Monday night migrated from broadcast to cable in 2006, entails games of significance, regardless of the outcome.  The portion of the Thursday night package that was simulcast on CBS and NFLN featured divisional games only, adding a rivalry dynamic to games that wouldn’t naturally draw as much widespread interest.

Simms misses the mark when assuming that the criticism comes from people who work for other networks.  Most if not all of the other networks want to acquire the rights to the Thursday night games when the package is finalized for 2015 and beyond.  Most of the concern about Thursday night games comes from folks with no direct or indirect connection to the broadcasting industry.

The concern extends beyond the quality of the contests.  Playing with only four days between games has triggered a string of complaints from players and coaches over the years.  Simms speaks as if the opposition from those who have to perform with only four days in between is narrow and limited.

“I have not heard a player or coach complain to us — a few players have spoken out, ‘Oh, it’s stupid and this,’” Simms said.  “But you do it once a year, and let’s be honest.  Most players on a team play 20 to 30 snaps every game.  They’re not out there for 60 or 70.  There’s a few.  Offensive linemen.  A few special people on defense, whatever.  But all in all, I’ve gotten great feedback from the players.  The one reason they like it, they get that mini-break when it’s over.  And even the coaches say the same thing to me, almost universally, that this is good.  Play the game, get a few days off, and start again.”

In my own experience, it’s more mixed. Plenty of players like it, plenty of players don’t like it.  Most coaches don’t like it, but they tolerate it. Coaches prefer as few variables as possible; for them, the best schedule has every game being played at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.  All coaches definitely prefer having more than three days between game days to get a team ready to play again.

Simms also defended short-week football from an injury perspective.

“We haven’t had like a rash of injuries on Thursday night,” Simms said. “I can think of very few, really.  So, you know, I don’t know the numbers.  I’m sure somebody has crunched those numbers, and the fact that I haven’t heard them tells me that they’re not negative towards the Thursday night game.  Because if they were . . . other people doing games would bring them out.”

There’s that whole “only people who work for other networks complain about Thursday night” thing again.  Regardless, the issue with player health and safety isn’t that there are more injuries on Thursday.  It’s that players with injuries from the prior Sunday have less time to recover.  Making it harder for them to play well or to play at all.  It also exposes them to enhanced risk of injury aggravation.

Bottom line?  Thursday Night Football will continue.  And the complaints about it will continue, no matter how much it ticks off Phil Simms or whoever is serving as the analyst for the Thursday night games.  And the complaints will have no connection to inter-company politics and rivalries about which no one outside the industry really cares.

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Colts rule out Dwayne Allen and Gosder Cherilus

Dwayne Allen AP

The Colts will face the Jaguars on Sunday without two players who have caught 13 of the 28 touchdown passes that Andrew Luck has thrown this season.

Running back Ahmad Bradshaw won’t play again this season after fracturing his fibula against the Patriots last Monday night and tight end Dwayne Allen is out for at least this week after suffering an ankle injury in the same game.

Allen said early this week that he was day-to-day, but things obviously didn’t progress as hoped over the last few days. With Allen out, Coby Fleener should play a prominent role again this week after catching seven passes for 144 yards against New England.

The Colts will also be without right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who missed practice all week because of a shoulder injury. Joe Reitz or Xavier Nixon will take Cherilus’s place in the lineup.

Cornerback Greg Toler is the third starter ruled out for the Jacksonville game. He’s going through the concussion protocol and hasn’t progressed enough to play this weekend, leaving Vontae Davis, Darius Butler and Josh Gordy to do much of the work at corner.

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Nick Perry’s shoulder could change Clay Matthews’ role

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Having Nick Perry around made it easier for the Packers to shift Clay Matthews inside.

But if Perry’s not able to go this weekend, it could force them to go back to the old plan.

According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, Perry is questionable for Sunday’s game with the Vikings because of a shoulder injury, and hasn’t practiced all week.

They could simply plug Mike Neal in, as he’s taken more snaps at outside linebacker since Matthews was moved inside two weeks ago. Or they could abandon the plan, and let Matthews go back to his natural position.

“It will adjust, no doubt,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of the plan. “Certain reps will go to different players, obviously. But we’re prepared for that. That’s really why you operate in the different personnel groups during the week, which we have. We’ll be ready to go either way.”

Matthews swears he’s not unhappy with the move, although it takes him out of his conventional pass-rushing role.

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Emmanuel Sanders back at practice

Denver Broncos v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

The Broncos got some good news on the status of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on Friday.

Sanders was cleared to practice through the league’s concussion protocol and took part in the team’s final practice of the week after missing work on Wednesday and Thursday. Sanders suffered a concussion early in the second half of last weekend’s loss to the Rams and will still need to get final clearance to play against the Dolphins from an independent neurologist, but that’s expected after he was listed as probable for Sunday.

Sanders hasn’t been the only one of Peyton Manning’s receiving targets to miss time this week. Tight end Julius Thomas also missed the first two days of practice with an ankle injury, but Troy Renck of the Denver Post reports that Thomas also had a helmet on while going through drills on Friday.

Renck cautions that Thomas appeared limited during the portion of practice open to the media and said Thursday that he’ll play if he can go. That and the fact that he’s been listed as questionable suggests he’ll be a game-time decision as the Broncos try to avoid their third loss in the last four weeks.

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Justin Pugh ruled out for Giants

Eli Manning, Justin Pugh AP

The Giants will have a different look on the offensive line on Sunday night.

Right tackle Justin Pugh has been ruled out of the game because of the quad injury that knocked him out of last week’s loss to the 49ers. It’s the first time that the 2013 first-round pick will miss a game since becoming a professional.

All indications are that Geoff Schwartz will get the start in Pugh’s place against the Cowboys. After watching Charles Brown struggle to stay in front of pass rushers last weekend, it’s not surprising that the Giants have opted to insert Schwartz at that spot for his 2014 debut despite the fact that they signed Schwartz to be a starting guard.

Schwartz may not be the only new face up front. Jordan Raanan of NJ.com reports that Adam Snyder is expected to replace rookie Weston Richburg at left guard. Richburg moved into the starting lineup when Schwartz went down with a toe injury in preseason and has struggled as a run blocker this season.

Linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) are also out for the Giants.

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Lions know no one man can stop Gronk

Gronkowski AP

As the Lions prepare to face Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on Sunday, they know expecting any one player — linebacker, safety or cornerback — to stop him is unrealistic.

It’s a team effort,” Lions free safety Glover Quin said, via Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News. “Everybody chips in. Obviously, when we get him in situations where he’s having to block, our defensive ends, we’ve got to rough him up. When we get him in situations where he catches the ball, we’ve got to make sure we’re hitting him. When we’ve got him in situations where we’re covering him, we’ve got to make sure we’re covering him. Hopefully, we get some pressure on the quarterback and that forces bad throws. There’s a lot that goes into stopping somebody.”

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said that keeping tabs on Gronkowski will be one of the primary concerns of everyone on Detroit’s defense.

“He’s an exceptional player,” Austin said. “He’s a big man and he can do so many things. He’s outside, he’s inside, he blocks, he runs, he catches the ball well, and he runs after the catch. You have to account for where he is because he such a dynamic player.”

In the last three games, Gronkowski has 22 catches for 325 yards and five touchdowns. Stopping Gronkowski won’t be easy, but it may be necessary if the Lions want to pull an upset in New England.

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