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NFL morning after: Statement Sunday — or was it?

Falcons tight end Gonzalez celebrates after a touchdown against the New York Giants in the first half at their NFL football game in Atlanta Reuters

With six different games matching up teams with winning records, yesterday was hyped by the NFL as “Statement Sunday.” And while it didn’t deliver a lot of particularly competitive games, it certainly did deliver a lot of statements: Statements about the strengths of the Falcons, Packers, Broncos, Texans, Cowboys and 49ers, and statements about the weaknesses of the Giants, Bears, Ravens, Colts, Steelers and Patriots.

But the thing about statements made in the NFL in December is that they often don’t hold up in January. And I’m not so sure that the teams that made statements on Sunday are going to be the teams that continue to make statements in the playoffs. So let me go through a few of the statements that were made on Sunday, and explain which ones are true and which ones are false.

1. The Falcons are the best team in the NFC. FALSE: Yes, the Falcons can make the statement that they’re the best team in the conference, both on the strength of their 34-0 win over the Giants and on their status as the team with the best record in the NFC. But the Falcons don’t play that well consistently — let’s not forget that a week earlier, they lost by 10 to a bad Carolina team. I’d pick either the Packers or the 49ers to win at Atlanta in January.

2. The Giants are in danger. TRUE: The flip side of the Falcons’ blowout over the Giants is that it really did expose some serious problems with the Giants, namely that Eli Manning has been painfully inconsistent, and that injuries in the secondary have done major damage to the defense. Early in the season it looked like the NFC East would belong to the Giants, but now it’s a three-team race, and the Redskins and Cowboys actually appear to be in better shape. The good news for the Giants is that they’ll make the playoffs if they win their final two. The bad news is that the way they played on Sunday, I don’t have a lot of confidence that they’ll win their final two.

3. The Bears are in free fall and will miss the playoffs. FALSE: It’s easy to see why Bears fans are panicking, having lost five of their last six games. But Chicago’s schedule is about to get a lot easier, with trips to Arizona and Detroit. I see the Bears winning both games, finishing 10-6, and sneaking into the playoffs.

4. The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through Houston. TRUE: After the Texans’ disastrous loss in New England on Monday night, it would have been easy to disregard the Texans as legitimate title contenders. But the Texans clinched the AFC South with Sunday’s win over the Colts, and they’re now a win away from clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. I think they’ll get that win against the Vikings on Sunday and ensure that if they rematch the Patriots, it will be in Houston.

5. The Broncos are the best team Peyton Manning has ever played on. TRUE: Does it sound premature to say that this year’s Broncos are better than Manning’s Super Bowl-winning 2006 team in Indianapolis? Maybe. But that team — like many of Manning’s teams in Indianapolis — had major holes on both defense and special teams that the Manning-led offense had to overcome. This Broncos team is winning every bit as much because of its defense as because of the Manning-led offense. If we could stuff these 2012 Broncos into a DeLorean and send them back in time to play any of Manning’s Indianapolis playoff teams, I’d pick these Broncos to win.

6. The Steelers blew it in overtime in Dallas and blew their postseason hopes. FALSE: The Steelers’ final two games are both at home, against the Bengals and the Browns, and if they win both they’re in the playoffs. I think Pittsburgh is going to do it.

7. New England’s Super Bowl hopes were dealt a big blow on Sunday night. FALSE: The Patriots’ loss to the 49ers probably means they’ll have to host a wild card team in the first playoff weekend, then win a couple of road games after that to get to the Super Bowl. But you know what? As much as I like the Broncos and Texans, I like the Patriots’ chances of winning at Denver and at Houston in back-to-back weeks. New England is still a formidable Super Bowl contender.

That’s where I stand on the statements NFL teams made on Sunday. And now here are my statements about the rest of Sunday’s action:

Adrian Peterson is making Eric Dickerson nervous. After his 212-yard effort on Sunday, Peterson needs to total 293 yards over the final two games of the season to break Dickerson’s NFL record of 2,105 rushing yards in a season. Gaining 293 yards in two weeks isn’t easy, but it’s certainly doable for Peterson, considering that he has 366 in the last two games. In the last eight games, Peterson has rushed for 1,313 yards, a stunning yardage total that no NFL player has ever matched over an eight-game stretch of a season.

Calvin Johnson is making Jerry Rice nervous. After his 121-yard effort on Sunday, Johnson needs to total 181 yards over the final two games of the season to break Rice’s NFL record of 1,848 receiving yards in a season. Johnson tied an NFL record with his seventh consecutive 100-yard game on Sunday, so totaling 181 yards over the next two games shouldn’t be a problem. Johnson also became the first player in NFL history to gain 1,600 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. Unfortunately for Johnson (and unlike Peterson), he’s threatening an NFL record while playing meaningless games for a bad team.

What’s JaMarcus Russell up to these days? I ask because the Raiders chose Russell first overall in the 2007 NFL draft, leaving Johnson available for the Lions to draft second overall, and Peterson available for the Vikings to draft seventh overall. Sorry to have to bring that one up, Raiders fans.

Trent Richardson’s first touchdown run was a thing of beauty. If you love good, old-fashioned, hard-nosed football, it doesn’t get much better than Richardson taking a handoff up the middle at the six-yard line, plunging into the middle and getting stacked up just as he crossed the line of scrimmage, and then simply refusing to go down as he drove forward, churning his legs and getting help from his entire offensive line while the entire Redskins’ defensive line was trying to stop him, and finally falling forward through that massive rugby scrum and into the end zone. As a rookie Richardson hasn’t been the big-play runner the Browns were hoping they’d get when they traded up to take him with the third overall pick in the draft, but he might be the toughest runner to tackle in the league.

Randall Cobb is better than you realize. Cobb had an unreal leaping catch along the sideline in the second quarter in Chicago, picking up 31 yards on third-and-six and somehow getting both feet down in bounds despite taking a hard hit just as he was grabbing the ball. Cobb has been an excellent player for the Packers since arriving last season as a second-round draft pick, but I don’t know if most fans realize just how excellent. Cobb has 2,241 combined rushing, receiving and return yards this season, and 3,857 all-purpose yards so far in his NFL career. That’s an incredible career total for a guy who’s only 22 years old.

The Seahawks are stunning. After beating the Cardinals 58-0 last week, the Seahawks beat the Bills 50-17 this week. The last NFL team to score 50 or more points in back-to-back weeks was the 1950 New York Giants, who beat the Chicago Cardinals 51-21 and then beat the Baltimore Colts 55-20 a week later. (A note of caution for Seahawks fans: Those 1950 Giants were held to just three points in a postseason loss that year.)

I guess Cam Cameron wasn’t the only problem with the Ravens’ offense. The Ravens fired Cameron as their offensive coordinator last week. So how did the offense in Baltimore do in the first game without him? Badly: The Ravens had six three-and-outs, the most of any team in the NFL all season, as they lost 34-17. On Statement Sunday, the Ravens made a statement that they’re not contenders in the AFC, and Cameron made a major statement in his absence: Don’t blame me.

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Evan Mathis cleared to practice

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The Eagles have been without their preferred starting offensive line the entire season, but they are getting closer to having everyone healthy and available at the same time.

Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly reports that Mathis has been cleared to return to practice as he makes his way back from an injured MCL and that he will do so on Wednesday. That’s the first day that Mathis is eligible to practice after being placed on injured reserve with the designation to return. He won’t be eligible to play until Week 10 and plans to ramp things up accordingly.

“I won’t jump back into it full speed. There’s no rushing into it,” Mathis said. “I have three weeks of practice before I have to play.”

With right tackle Lane Johnson back from suspension, center Jason Kelce is the other missing starter. Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News reported Monday that Kelce hasn’t been cleared for full practice yet, but has been on track for a Week 10 return as well since having sports hernia surgery.

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Reggie Wayne, Trent Richardson having MRIs after Sunday injuries

Reggie Wayne, Terence Newman AP

The Colts didn’t have much stress during their shutout of the Bengals on Sunday, but they’ll have a bit of worrying to do as a few of their players head for MRIs after getting dinged on Sunday.

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, running back Trent Richardson and linebacker Jerrell Freeman are all headed to the tube to have their injuries evaluated.

Wayne injured his elbow during the contest, but was able to play through it. He wound up with four catches for 15 yards, giving him eight for 50 yards over two weeks that have had him looking like he’s a 35-year-old wideout returning from a torn ACL.

Richardson shrugged off his hamstring injury as nothing serious after the game, which was one of his best as a member of the Colts. Richardson gained 77 yards on 14 carries and added 41 more yards as a receiver. Freeman hurt his hip during the game, but returned to action.

Wednesday should bring updates on all three as the Colts start preparing for their trip to Pittsburgh.

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NFL and other sports leagues file suit to stop New Jersey betting

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With New Jersey planning to launch sports wagering this weekend, the NFL and others have filed a lawsuit hoping to block the expansion of gambling in a state that two pro football franchises technically call home.

Via ESPN.com, the NFL, NCAA, and other sports leagues initiated a legal action on Monday.  On Tuesday, a request will be made to block sports wagering while the case proceeds.

The NFL contends that the latest effort to legalize sports wagering in New Jersey attempts to circumvent federal law.  The NFL previously defeated under applicable federal law an effort by New Jersey to permit wagering on sports.

If New Jersey prevails, it’s unlikely that another Super Bowl would be hosted at MetLife Stadium.  Depending on how strongly the NFL feels about the issue, it’s also possible that the next Jets/Giants stadium would be built somewhere in New York.

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Jon Beason going to see a foot specialist again

Jon Beason AP

A frustrating season has continued for Giants linebacker Jon Beason.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin told reporters that Beason was going to see foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson after leaving yesterday’s game against the Cowboys.

Beason’s been bothered by a toe problem all season, and may have aggravated it yesterday. He’s missed three games, and hasn’t been able to stay well this season.

If anything, there’s familiarity there, as Anderson knows Beason’s (growing thicker) medical file well since he’s the Panthers’ team doctor as well.

When Beason’s on the field, he’s a difference-maker for the Giants defense. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to this season.

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Ravens sign a new long snapper after Morgan Cox tears ACL

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It’s good that a player the caliber of Haloti Ngata is versatile, but the Ravens didn’t want to make him their full-time long-snapper.

So they found a new one today.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, the Ravens are signing veteran long snapper Kevin McDermott, after Morgan Cox tore his ACL in yesterday’s win over the Falcons.

McDermott has played with the 49ers and Broncos in the past.

When Cox left yesterday’s game, Ngata came in to snap for a late extra point. There seemed to be some confusion on the Ravens sideline about going for two given the injury to the snapper, but the veteran defensive tackle did the job capably.

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Kyle Fuller doesn’t need surgery on broken hand

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The Bears are trying to combat reports of a broken locker room after frustrations spilled over after Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, something that a win next week would surely help.

Their chances of getting that win would be improved if cornerback Kyle Fuller is able to play when they take on the Patriots, but he has a break of his own to contend with this week. Coach Marc Trestman confirmed Monday that Fuller broke his right hand during the game.

Fuller’s injury might not keep him out of the game, however. Trestman said that Fuller doesn’t need to have surgery to repair the injury and could play this week, although the condition of the hip pointer he also picked up on Sunday will have a lot to do with his chances of playing.

“He went out of the game because of his hip more than his hand,” Trestman said, via CBS Chicago. “So we’ll see where he’s at. He said he felt good today. He’ll be day-to-day. I don’t know that the hand will deter him. Up to this point today, I’ve heard it to be a non-surgical issue.”

Fuller, who was the NFL’s defensive rookie of the month for September, is tied for the league lead with three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Sherrick McManis replaced him against Miami.

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Dr. Marvin Lewis says Vontaze Burfict is “fine”

Ahmad Bradshaw, Vontaze Burfict AP

A week ago, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was asked about linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s string of concussions, and he effectively blamed the media for making them linger.

So maybe we shouldn’t jump to too many conclusions about his latest diagnosis.

According to Coley Harvey of ESPN.com, Lewis said Burfict was “fine” after leaving yesterday’s game with a cervical strain.

While the problems may not be connected, Burfict clearly has issues with leading with his head. It’s caused fines in the past, but sticking the crown of his helmet into Andrew Luck left him with that sore neck.

Between the concussions and lingering effects, Burfict has finished exactly one game this season, and that’s the Panthers game in which he was fined for twisting legs.

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Josh McCown returns to practice

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Buccaneers held a workout on Monday to get back in the swing of things after their bye week and one player returned to work after a much longer absence.

Quarterback Josh McCown practiced for the first time since injuring his right thumb in Week Three. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that McCown wore a wrap on his thumb, but didn’t seem to have any problem making throws during the part of practice open to the media.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith has resisted making any pronouncements about who will start at quarterback over the rest of the season since McCown has been out, but has moved closer to shifting Mike Glennon from the quarterback of the future to the quarterback of the present based on his performances over the last three games.

Smith won’t have anything to say about the plans for this week’s game against the Vikings until Wednesday, but Glennon has played better than McCown and his youth gives him the potential for greater growth than the veteran McCown provides. That should matter to a 1-5 team, although we’ll see how Tampa decides to play things.

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Kirk Cousins benched, Colt McCoy will start until RG3 is cleared

grudenmccoy AP

The Kirk Cousins era is over in Washington.

Coach Jay Gruden announced today that Colt McCoy is his new starting quarterback until Robert Griffin III is cleared to return from his ankle injury. Gruden said he doesn’t know when Griffin will be cleared, but if he’s not cleared for next Monday night’s game against Dallas, then McCoy will start.

On one level, that doesn’t come as a big surprise: Cousins has been lousy, and McCoy provided the team with a spark when he came in after Cousins was benched on Sunday. It only makes sense to keep McCoy on the job.

But on another level, it’s a stunner: As recently as a couple weeks ago there was talk that Cousins was the best fit for Gruden’s offense and might keep the job over Griffin. Instead, Cousins is now Washington’s third-string quarterback.

Washington is going nowhere this season, and the most important priority is to get Griffin healthy and see if he can flourish in Gruden’s offense. All Cousins has done is show that not only is he not a threat to unseat Griffin as the No. 1 quarterback, but he’s not even good enough to be a No. 2 quarterback.

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Marc Trestman: Bears are “a very close football team”

trestman AP

Bears coach Marc Trestman says there are no rifts within his team, despite reports of screaming matches in the locker room after Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins.

“This is a very close football team,” Trestman said. “A lot of things can go on because people handle winning and losing differently, and we’re not judgmental about players expressing themselves.”

Asked specifically about receiver Brandon Marshall calling out quarterback Jay Cutler, Trestman said there’s “brotherly love” between Marshall and Cutler and that the two of them are fine, as are the rest of the guys in the locker room.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who I think are very close and like each other,” Trestman said.

Trestman said he’s fine with different players expressing themselves differently and that he welcomes passionate players.

“We have to always be accepting of how people express themselves after the game because they’re coming down from a week of working hard and building their emotions and passions for the game,” he said. “We have to be accepting and not judgmental, and let it pass.”

Ultimately, what the Bears really need to do to avoid players screaming at each other after a loss is to quit losing. With the next two games at New England and at Green Bay, that won’t be easy.

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Falcons place Peter Konz on injured reserve

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The Falcons can’t stop losing offensive linemen to injuries.

The team announced Monday that center Peter Konz has been placed on season-ending injured reserve. He’s the second center to hit IR since the start of the regular season, joining Joe Hawley, and the fourth offensive lineman overall. Tackles Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes were also lost since the start of Week One and offensive lineman Mike Johnson went on injured reserve before the season got underway.

Konz injured his knee during Sunday’s loss to the Ravens and was replaced by James Stone, who figures to remain in the role when the Falcons face the Lions in London in Week Eight. Throwing an undrafted free agent into the middle of the line probably isn’t going to be the answer to the team’s issues with the unit, but they’ll have to make it work if they are going to turn around a season that has gone sour fast for the 2-5 team.

The Falcons also announced that they have signed tackle Jonathan Scott to take Konz’s place on the roster. Scott has played for the Lions, Bills, Steelers and Bears, but hasn’t seen regular season action since the 2012 season.

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Harvin says Jets have told him to be himself

Harvin AP

Jets receiver Percy Harvin met the New York media for the first time on Monday.  And while he wasn’t pressed as aggressively as the New York media’s reputation would suggest, Harvin elaborated much more on his circumstances than when he faced a strong of slo-pitch softballs from the media operation owned by the Jets.

Harvin opted not to delve into the events that resulted in the stunning trade that sent him from Seattle to New York.  “All I am is I’m moving forward,” Harvin said.  “I’m leaving what’s in the past in the past.”

On whether he’s a good teammate, Harvin said, “All I can say is judge me off of what you see.”

So what will we see?  Harvin said that management “told me to just come here and be myself.”  (Which reminds me of Bill Cosby’s take on cocaine.)

“I’m definitely not a perfect person,” Harvin said.  “I have a lot of things I wish I would have done a little differently.  I’m moving forward.  I’m learning from those lessons.”

He hopes to put the lessons to use for more than the next nine games.  “It’s definitely a place I want to be for a long time,” Harvin said.

“I just feel good here.  I feel welcome.  I’m ready to go.”

He’s ready to play for coach Rex Ryan.  “I love him,” Harvin said.  “Love him, love him.”

That’s good news for Rex.  Because Harvin reportedly has had multiple confrontations with coaches he didn’t love, love.

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Raiders veterans not sure how to get team moving in the right direction

Tony Sparano AP

The Raiders lost again on Sunday, running their record to 0-6 for the first time in 52 years and continuing a 12-game losing streak that extends into last season.

Among the many things to dislike about the outcome was the fact that the Raiders failed to build on the previous week’s gains on offense while the defense struggled to get off the field after spending the previous week concentrating on improving their play on third down. The Cardinals converted 60 percent of their third down tries, which was even worse than the NFL-worst 51 percent that the defense had given up coming into Week Seven.

“I don’t know how to take that … not being able to get it done,” safety Charles Woodson said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’m not sure where to go with it at this point.”

Woodson’s veteran teammates share his confusion about how to move forward at this point in the season. Defensive tackle Antonio Smith said the team tries to fix things every week, only to be left “wondering why it ain’t working” on gameday. It’s the kind of thing that can make a team want to close up shop, but cornerback Carlos Rogers vowed to keep fighting and keep his teammates fighting in the weeks to come.

Even with that fight, though, he knows that better days aren’t guaranteed for a team that hasn’t won in a very long time.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Rogers said.

The Raiders will be in Cleveland next weekend for their next shot at finding a formula that works.

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Lions add Kellen Davis

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Kellen Davis will continue his NFL career in London.  Technically.

As the Lions prepare to face the Falcons at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, Detroit has added the veteran tight end to the roster.

A pair of tight ends missed Sunday’s win over the Saints.  Joseph Fauria has an ankle injury, and rookie Eric Ebron has a hamstring problem.

Davis spent five years with the Bears, joining the Seahawks for 2013.  He was cut by the Giants before the start of the 2014 regular season.

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Cowboys give game ball to TE coach Mike Pope after beating his former team

Gavin Escobar AP

When the Bills beat the Lions, they carried defensive coordinator and former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz off the field at the end of the game.

The Cowboys didn’t carry anyone off the field at the end of their victory over the Giants on Sunday, but they did recognize that the win meant a little bit extra to one member of the organization. Mike Pope joined the team as their tight ends coach in the offseason after his long tenure with the Giants came to an end with a pink slip.

Pope had been an assistant with Bill Parcells, Jim Fassel and Tom Coughlin, making him part of every Giants team that has ever gone to the Super Bowl, but that history wasn’t enough for him to survive the housecleaning that the Giants did after the offense stumbled badly last season. Pope got some payback when tight end Gavin Escobar caught two touchdowns on the way to a 31-21 win that he’ll get to remember by looking at the game ball the team gave him after the final whistle.

“He spent a lot of time in New York with that team, so to be over on this side and get that win surely means a lot to him. You try to say it’s never personal, but for him to come down here and have success — especially against the Giants — was big,” tight end Jason Witten said, via the New York Post. “We knew he wanted to win this one. This was his big game, and he really wanted it. You know he was loving this after it was over.”

Giants tight end Larry Donnell had a key fumble in the second half of the game, a development that Pope might not have been able to stop if he were still with Giants but one that probably didn’t make the win feel any less sweet for him either.

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