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Mason Crosby isn’t losing his job

Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay AP

When your coach gives you monthly votes of confidence, it is a pretty good sign that things haven’t been going your way on the football field.

Things have been going decidedly wrong for Packers kicker Mason Crosby for most of the year. He missed two field goals in Sunday’s 21-13 victory over the Bears, extending his streak to eight straight games with a missed field goal and dropping him to 17-of-29 on his attempts for the season. As you’d probably imagine, that’s the worst percentage in the league among qualified kickers by a large margin.

It isn’t enough for Crosby to lose his job, though. Just as he did last month, Packers coach Mike McCarthy has affirmed his support for Crosby in the mounting avalanche of missed kicks.

“We’re not changing our kicker, so you can write that down right now,” McCarthy said, via the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “He’s our guy. He needs to make those kicks. He knows that. We’re at that time of year.”

Crosby missed from 42 and 43 yards on Sunday and the Packers went for it on a fourth down in the third quarter instead of trying another one from 43 yards. They converted that fourth down and went on to a touchdown, but it’s pretty risky to pass on points come the postseason. McCarthy’s loyalty is laudable, but he can’t let it come at the expense of the other 52 players on the team.

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Seahawks scored on 11 of 13 drives led by Russell Wilson this preseason

Seattle Seahawks v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

After leading the Seattle Seahawks to their first Super Bowl last February, quarterback Russell Wilson appears to have elevated him game significantly entering his third season in the NFL.

Wilson – who has won more games than any quarterback in history in their first two seasons in the league – has been under center for 13 offensive possessions in Seattle’s four preseason games. They scored points on 11 of those possessions and punted just once.

Those 13 possessions ended with nine touchdowns, two field goals, a missed field goal and a punt.

In his only possession against Oakland Thursday night, Wilson led the Seahawks on a four-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Wilson was a perfect 3-for-3 for 77 yards and a touchdown on the drive, capped by a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Luke Willson.

For the entirety of the preseason, Wilson was 33-for-42 for 437 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 61 yards on nine carries and three touchdowns. His passer rating for the preseason is 133.8.

Wilson has been nearly flawless this preseason. If Wilson and the Seahawks offense can carry this production over to the regular season to pair with their already strong defense and special teams units, they could be nearly unstoppable this season.

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Watkins re-injured ribs

Watkins AP

Bills receiver Sammy Watkins returned from a rib injury to suffer a new rib injury.  To the same ribs.

The Bills disclosed that Watkins departed the preseason shutout finale against the Lions with the same injury that knocked him out of the team’s third preseason game (of five) against Pittsburgh.

Watkins’ availability will now come into question for Week One at Chicago, with coach Doug Marrone not wanting Watkins to talk about the situation and with Marrone required to commence filing an injury report as of next Wednesday.

Watkins finished the preseason with three catches for 21 yards, all of which came against the Panthers in the first week of the preseason, after the Bills opened the exhibition slate in the Hall of Fame game.

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Derek Carr leads Raiders to four touchdown drives against Seahawks

Derek Carr AP

Derek Carr is making the most of his final preseason opportunity against the Seattle Seahawks.

The rookie quarterback has led the Oakland Raiders to four consecutive touchdown drives to open the game against the Seahawks.

Carr led a 12-play, 68-yard scoring drive to tie the game at 7-7 after Seattle took an early lead. Carr converted a pair of 3rd-and-10 opportunities on the drive before Latavius Murray capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.

Oakland’s special teams then helped set up two more scores.

Keith McGill stripped Seattle kick returner Bryan Walters on the ensuing kickoff  which Oakland managed to recover. It took just one play for Carr to connect with Denarius Moore for a 36-yard touchdown behind former Oakland cornerback Phillip Adams for a touchdown.

After a Seattle three-and-out, T.J. Carrie returned the punt 45 yards into Seattle territory. Again, it took one play for Carr to strike as tight end Mychal Rivera reeled a tipped pass by Malcolm Smith for a 20-yard touchdown.

Another three-and-out by Seattle led to another touchdown by Oakland. Carr marched the Raiders 61 yards on eight plays with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Moore to cap the drive and give the Raiders a 28-7 lead.

Carr’s night was done after the fourth touchdown drive of the game and was replaced by Matt McGloin. Carr finished 11-for-13 for 143 yards and three touchdowns. With Matt Schaub battling a sore elbow, Carr put together a terrific final impression before the start of the regular season that may cause second thoughts as to who should start the season opener against the New York Jets.

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Bruce Arians delegates play calling in preseason finale

Bruce Arians AP

Be wary of playing poker with the man in the Kangol.

Arizona head coach Brian Arians gave play calling duties to offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin in preseason finale against San Diego, Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ website reported Thursday night.

As Urban noted, part of the reasoning for Arians’ decision could be that the Cardinals and Chargers play again in less than two weeks in the regular season opener. And, of course, Thursday’s game is meaningless in the standings. So it’s a dry run for Goodwin, should he ever need to call plays, and it could also be a nice bit of strategy from Arians.

So good hand, Coach Arians. If we see you at the two-five no-limit table at the Wynn, we’ll just head to the coffee shop instead, thank you very much.

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Santonio Holmes impresses in Bears’ exhibition finale

Santonio Holmes, Justin Gilbert AP

In the span of a little less than 10 minutes in Thursday night’s exhibition at Cleveland, new Bears wide receiver Santonio Holmes made a pair of plays that suggest he’s got some good football left to play.

First, the 30-year-old Holmes turned a short reception into a 32-yard touchdown when Browns rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert took a bad angle. Then, minutes later, Holmes broke a 30-yard punt return, running through two tackle attempts, keeping his balance and finding plenty of open space toward the Browns’ sideline. The return set up a Chicago field goal.

Off the field, Holmes did something notable, too. According to Bears sideline reporter Lou Canellis, Holmes gave the ball from his first Bears TD to rookie quarterback David Fales, who threw the pass. It was Fales’ first scoring throw as a pro, and Holmes wanted him to have the ball as a keepsake, Canellis said on the Bears’ telecast of the game.

In all, it was a good stretch for Holmes, who’s trying to find a role with the Bears after being released by the Jets earlier in the offseason.

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Brian Hoyer ends his preseason with a touchdown drive

Brian Hoyer AP

Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer spent most of the preseason competing to become the starting quarterback in Cleveland and may have prolonged the process with mediocre play in the team’s early preseason games, but he ended the summer on a good note.

Hoyer played one series against the Bears on Thursday night and took the Browns on a 13-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a Ben Tate touchdown run. Hoyer was 6-of-8 for 69 yards on the drive, including two passes to rookie Taylor Gabriel for 38 yards.

At 5-foot-8 and 167 pounds, Gabriel isn’t going to be a fill-in for the suspended Josh Gordon but the Browns could use all the encouraging developments they can get at wide receiver. Tight end Jordan Cameron, who is expected to see his targets go up with Gordon out of the lineup, also had a catch.

All of this came against Chicago backups, so the success will and should be taken with a few grains of salt. As George Costanza would tell you, though, it’s always good to exit on a high note.

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Sleepy Derek Anderson leaves game with hand injury

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Maybe Derek Anderson should have stayed home with the family and gotten some sleep.

And maybe the Panthers would have been better off if he had.

The Panthers quarterback stayed in Charlotte last night to witness the birth of his daughter, flew to Pittsburgh this morning because they only had one other healthy quarterback, and was promptly injured.

Anderson just went to the locker room with a trainer and the team doctor after taking a shot on his throwing hand while trying to cover an air-mailed snap.

He was checked out on the sidelines by trainers before heading in for X-rays, and won’t return to the game.

With starter Cam Newton out nursing a hairline fracture of a rib, that leaves Joe Webb as their only remaining quarterback.

It was a solid gesture of Anderson to make the trip considering Newton’s injury, but if he’s hurt, they’re going to wish they insisted he take a longer maternity leave.

UPDATE 9:17 p.m. ET: X-rays on Anderson’s hand were negative, but he won’t return.

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How much has the domestic violence policy really changed? (Possibly a lot.)

Rice AP

The NFL received a much-deserved round of national applause for finally admitting that which pretty much everyone knew:  The league got it wrong when suspending Ravens running back Ray Rice for only two games for committing domestic violence against his then-fiancée.

But setting aside the rare public mea culpa, which didn’t happen in the bungled bounty case against the Saints, the question becomes whether anything has really changed.

It’s a fair question that was flagged by Barry Petchesky of Deadspin.  The language of the new policy states that the NFL can consider “[m]itigating circumstances” in reducing a suspension below the six-game standard penalty for a first offense.

In other words, the league can reduce the suspension below six games, pointing to the same excuses that were identified both publicly and privately in defending the two-game suspension for Rice, from Rice’s clean history to his high character to the potential for extreme provocation from the victim to the decision of prosecutors to allow Rice to enter a diversionary program.  Indeed, it’s possible that Rice, under the new standard, still would have been suspended only two games.

Possible, but not likely.  The NFL’s mistake in the Rice case arose from the league’s belief that, in most cases, significant penalties should not apply for a first-time offender.  The new domestic violence policy, by pegging the baseline discipline at six games for a first offense, breaks from the prior presumption that once may be an accident, but that twice is definitely a trend.

The far more significant change to the new domestic violence/sexual assault policy comes in response to a second offense.  Now, the NFL will implement a mandatory banishment of at least one year for a player who engages in the same or similar behavior twice:  “A second offense will result in banishment from the league; an offender may petition for reinstatement after one year but there is no assurance that the petition will be granted.”

That’s a harsh standard, which says nothing about mitigating factors or any of the other wiggle room that would allow the league to reduce the punishment below one year.

Also, an “offense” for the new policy isn’t confined to domestic violence and sexual assault.  The enhanced policy also generally includes assault and battery.  Technically, this means that a pair of bar fights can, in theory, get a guy kicked out of the league.

Whether the new policy is applied that strictly remains to be seen, especially when it’s unclear what a player’s offense actually was.  If, for example, a player initially is arrested for assault but later pleads guilty to disorderly conduct even if the facts suggest an assault occurred, will that be a first offense?  And will that next reduced plea to disorderly conduct get him thrown out of the league for a full year?

Based on the plain language of the new policy, it’s entirely possible that the new policy will be applied strictly and broadly.  In the end, the message from the league office to all players could be this:  “If you didn’t like what we did to Ray Rice, you’re gonna hate what we may do to you.”

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Another dismal outing for Giants offense

Eli Manning AP

Tom Coughlin threatened his offense with playing in the fifth preseason game of the summer if they didn’t pick up their game against the Jets and followed through with it on Thursday night against the Patriots.

The Pats threw a crew of backups out on defense against them, but the Giants starters couldn’t take advantage. They played two series, got one first down and punted twice before being pulled out of either injury prevention or exasperation.

Eli Manning was 1-of-4 passing the ball with his one completion going for no gain when tight end Kellen Davis was stoned by Tavon Wilson on a third-and-two in the first quarter. That brings his preseason to a close with 14 completions in 34 tries for 145 yards and a touchdown. The blocking wasn’t great on Thursday night either, so it’s an understatement to say that the passing offense still looks far away from where it needs to be when the games start counting.

If there were a sixth preseason game, Coughlin would surely be threatening them with that as well. There isn’t, of course, and Coughlin’s going to have to play them against the Lions in the opener. That means the only threat right now is one to Coughlin’s ability to avoid turning his skin permanently crimson while watching the unit flail about.

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Jerry Jones admits to talking to Adrian Peterson, doesn’t address the key issue

Jones AP

In a pre-game radio interview that aired on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Cowboys owner/General Manager/unofficial team doctor Jerry Jones addressed the now-notorious June conversation with Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, which reportedly included Peterson expressing a desire to play for the Cowboys.

Jones admitted talking to Peterson, explaining that an associate of Peterson’s gave Jones the phone, possibly passing it through the ESPN writer who was working on a profile of Jerry Jones.

“We basically talked,” Jones said.  “Adrian’s from Texas and certainly it was easy to talk to such a great player.”

Jones at no point denied that Adrian said he wants to play for the Cowboys after his time with the Vikings ends, and Jones said nothing about the words attributed to him in the ESPN profile regarding the topic of Peterson potentially becoming a Cowboy.

If Peterson indeed said that he wants to play for the Cowboys, Jones should have (under the tampering policy) immediately ended the call and alerted the league office.  Those facts alone could be enough to trigger a violation of the league’s tampering policy.

Moving forward, look for the league to quietly investigate this one, posing far more pointed questions to Peterson, Jones, and anyone else who knows anything about a highly unusual communication between a player who is the face of one franchise, and an owner who is the face of another.

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Sammy Watkins suffers rib injury in preseason finale

Sammy Watkins AP

The Bills saw one of their key offensive starters depart their exhibition finale with an injury.

Rookie wideout Sammy Watkins will miss the rest of Thursday’s game vs. Detroit with a rib injury, reported.

It’s unclear whether Watkins has aggravated his bruised ribs — a preexisting injury he’s dealt with this summer — or suffered a new injury. He left the game not long after being hit in the upper body by Lions linebacker Ashlee Palmer on an incomplete pass in the first quarter.

The Bills played some first-teamers on offense, including quarterback EJ Manuel, in this, their fifth preseason game of the summer. The upside of such an approach is perhaps tied to the offense’s future performance, though it is not easily quantified. The downside to the approach, though, is clear, and the Bills have to hope Watkins was merely shaken up in this meaningless game 10 days before the regular season opener at Chicago.

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Colts lose another offensive lineman to injury

Joe Reitz

The Colts have seen injuries cost them guard Donald Thomas for the season and center Khaled Holmes for all but one drive of preseason action and they didn’t get through their final exhibition of the summer without seeing another offensive lineman go down.

Veteran Joe Reitz, who was playing left tackle for the Colts on Thursday but has played all over the line during his career, left the game with an ankle injury. His return is being called questionable.

If Reitz were to miss any significant time — the Colts announced it is a high ankle sprain — the Colts will have an almost barren cupboard behind their starting offensive line. Things are so thin that they replaced Reitz at left tackle on Thursday with Tyler Hoover, who is on the roster as a defensive end. Chandler Harnish is playing quarterback for the Colts against the Bengals and he might want to speed up his delivery under the circumstances.

Whether or not Reitz misses a lot of time, the Colts should be be looking for offensive line depth on the waiver wire this weekend because they don’t want anyone giving Andrew Luck the same advice this season.

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Kyle Van Noy has surgery to repair core muscle injury

Kyle Van Noy, Rod Streater AP

The Lions are going to start the regular season without second-round pick Kyle Van Noy in the lineup.

Van Noy had surgery to repair a core muscle injury on Thursday and Tim Twentyman of the team’s website suggests that it could be an extended absence for the rookie. Twentyman writes that when the Lions are setting their initial 53-man roster this weekend they will have to decide whether “they’ll look at it week-to-week or place him on injured reserve with the designation to return.”

Van Noy played in the first two preseason games for Detroit, recording two tackles, before going out with the injury during the week leading up to the third game of the summer. If he’s going to be out for anything more than a few weeks, there’s a good chance that the Lions will avail themselves of the ability to bring him back from injured reserve because they’ll need the roster spot at some point in the early part of the season.

Tahir Whitehead started at strong-side linebacker for the second straight game on Thursday night. His 11-tackle, three-sack performance against the Jaguars last week was a pretty good audition for a regular role.

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Blake Bortles continues his strong preseason

bortles AP

The Jacksonville Jaguars insist that rookie quarterback Blake Bortles will spend 2014 on the bench, behind starter Chad Henne. But Bortles sure looks like he’s ready to start in the NFL right now.

Bortles continued his strong preseason performance today in the preseason finale against the Falcons, completing four of his six passes for 86 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Marqise Lee. That touchdown pass was a thing of beauty: Bortles stood in the pocket with pressure in his face and threw the ball about 50 yards in the air, right into Lee’s hands.

Overall, Bortles is now 32-for-51 for 521 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, in the preseason.

So why isn’t that enough for Bortles to earn the starting job? Because Jaguars coach Gus Bradley has said all along that there’s nothing Bortles can do to earn the starting job, at least as long as Henne is healthy. The Jaguars have stuck to their plan of giving Bortles a year to learn, while Henne plays.

But if Henne struggles, that’s going to be a difficult plan to stick to. Bortles looks too good to ride the pine. Unless Henne makes the Jaguars a surprise playoff contender, expect Bortles to start as a rookie. Even if it won’t come in Week One.

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Five Questions: Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals won seven of their final nine games last season as they made a late-season push for a playoff spot in a difficult NFC West. The defense finished the year ranked 6th in the league and Carson Palmer passed for over 4,000 yards.

They’ve lost some significant pieces to that defense this offseason and the offensive line continues to have some questions despite the addition of Jared Veldheer at left tackle.

The NFC West looks imposing once again and the Cardinals are looking up at Seattle and San Francisco for bragging rights in the division.

Here are five questions that could ultimately determine whether the Cardinals can rundown the top of the division this season:

1. Have the Cardinals lost too much defensively?

The Cardinals defense was one of the best in the league last season. However, they’ve lost three major pieces from that unit this year.

Karlos Dansby left in free agency for the Cleveland Browns, Daryl Washington was suspended for the season due to repeated substance-abuse violations and Darnell Dockett suffered a torn ACL in training camp.

That leaves a major void that the Cardinals may not be able to fill through the middle of their defense.

Arizona has added Isaac Sopoaga, Ryan McBean, Tommy Kelly, Larry Foote and Ernie Sims in an attempt to patch some of the holes, but the production lost from the departed pieces is significant.

2. Is Carson Palmer able to limit turnovers?

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer passed for 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns last year. The problem with those numbers is that they came along with 22 interceptions and three lost fumbles.

With the continued emergence of receiver Michael Floyd, the Cardinals passing offense became a more dynamic unit last season. However, Palmer turned the ball over too many times and it came back to cost Arizona all too frequently.

Palmer is still a capable quarterback but the turnovers have to come down this season. With the defense looking potentially weakened due to the losses we already detailed, the Cardinals will need to maximize every opportunity they have to possess the ball.

One thing that would help Palmer?

3. Can the offensive line hold up to allow the offense to function at a high level?

Veteran Eric Winston is gone, leaving the right side of the Cardinals offensive line again in doubt.

Paul Fanaika and Bobby Massie have both been fairly pedestrian at best in their opportunities to play in Arizona.

Jared Veldheer is a nice addition at left tackle. Lyle Sendlein is a capable center and second-year guard Jonathan Cooper has great potential. However, the right side could be problematic.

Arizona’s offense has weapons. With Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn and John Brown at receiver and Andre Ellington in the backfield, the potential for a strong offense is there. But the offense line must be able to perform to give their skill players the opportunities they need.

4. Is Arizona capable of dethroning Seattle and/or San Francisco in the NFC West?

Coming off their Super Bowl victory, the Seattle Seahawks look to be as strong as their title team from a season ago.

However, the San Francisco 49ers don’t look nearly as untouchable.

San Francisco’s first-team offense has struggled mightily this preseason to produce points. NaVorro Bowman will miss a sizable chunk of the season. Glenn Dorsey is out for the year and nothing appears to be in sync right now for the 49ers.

Arizona finished 2013 as one of the hottest teams in the league and is the only team in two years to win a game in Seattle. With the strength of the NFC West, it’s likely Arizona will have to supplant either Seattle or San Francisco to find themselves in the postseason this January.

5. Can Andre Ellington carry the rushing attack?

Andre Ellington proved to be a terrific change-of-pace option for the Arizona Cardinals at running back last season.

Ellington carried 118 times for 652 yards and three touchdowns last season as a secondary option to starter Rashard Mendenhall. Now with Mendenhall gone, Ellington will get his chance to be the lead back for the Cardinals.

Ellington started just one game last season as a rookie but posted an impressive 5.5 yards per carry average in the chances he received. Will he be able to duplicate that production with an expanded role?

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