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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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Bill O’Brien frustrated by Texans performance

Bill O'Brien AP

The Houston Texans have lost three straight games and four out of their last five after falling 30-23 to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.

And Texans head coach Bill O’Brien is none too happy about it.

O’Brien was noticeably heated in his post-game press conference after watching his team allow 21 points in less than 90 seconds at the end of the first half. The Texans never recovered and were unable to rally against Pittsburgh.

“You can’t turn the ball over. You can’t field a kick, bobble the kick. We can’t give up shot plays. You can’t have 12 men on the field on third down to give them a first down. We just can’t do those things,” O’Brien said. “And with all that being said, we’re one onside kick away and these questions are like we lost 50-0. We lost by a touchdown. With all of that stuff that we did. We have to improve it. We gotta coach it better and we gotta play better.”

Houston turned the ball over twice backed up inside their own 20-yard line that led to two quick touchdowns for the Steelers.

“It’s very frustrating when you turn the ball over on your own 2-yard line,” O’Brien said. “The whole thing’s frustrating. Players are frustrated, coaches are frustrated, but again, it’s not like, again, we’re an onside kick away, which, we almost recovered. Almost only counts in horseshoes, but we’re an onside kick away from having a chance to tie the game with all of that being said that we did wrong.”

It’s the second straight week the Texans had allowed 24 points in a quarter. They fell behind Indianapolis 24-0 last week in a 33-28 loss to the Colts.

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Steelers overcome early deficit to earn 30-23 victory over Texans

Houston Texans v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers scored 21 points in the final three minutes of the second quarter to help dig out of an early 13-0 hole en route to a 30-23 victory over the Houston Texans on Monday night.

The Texans took the early lead on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Alfred Blue and a pair of field goals by Randy Bullock to take a 13-0 lead.

But it went all downhill after that for Houston.

After a 44-yard Shaun Suisham field goal put Pittsburgh on the board, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sparked the Steelers offense on their next possession.

It took just two plays for the Steelers to march 63 yards for a touchdown. Roethlisberger connected with LeVeon Bell for 28 yards and then hit rookie Martavis Bryant for a 35-yard touchdown to pull Pittsburgh within three. It was the first career catch of Bryant’s career.

Backed up inside their own 10-yard line, Arian Foster coughed up the ball as he was stripped by Jason Worilds and the fumble was recovered by Sean Spence.

On the next play, Antonio Brown came in motion and took a handoff from Roethlisberger, pivoted and rolled to the left and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore to give the Steelers their first lead.

The deluge continued for Houston as Fitzpatrick was intercepted by Brett Kiesel on the first play of their next possession to give possession back to the Steelers. Two plays later, Roethlisberger hit Bell for a 2-yard score to take a 24-13 lead into halftime.

The Steelers scored 21 points in less than 90 seconds to completely flip the game into their hands. It was the first time since 2002 that a team scored 21 points in that short a time span. The Seattle Seahawks scored 21 points in the span of 90 seconds against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 29, 2002.

Two Suisham field goals extended the lead to 30-16 with three minutes to play. Fitzgerald’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Arian Foster pulled Houston within a score with 1:31 left but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Steelers to seal the victory.

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Saints re-sign TE Tom Crabtree

Tom Crabtree AP

Two days after releasing tight end Tom Crabtree, the Saints have brought him back.

The club re-signed Crabtree, the ex-Buccaneer and ex-Packer, on Monday, according to the NFL’s transactions.

The 28-year-old Crabtree gives the Saints a fourth tight end behind Jimmy Graham, Josh Hill and Ben Watson. Graham, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, played just 30 offensive snaps in Sunday’s loss at Detroit, catching no passes on two targets.

In another roster move Monday, the Saints waived rookie linebacker Todd Davis, whom they signed on Saturday, which necessitated Crabtree’s release. Davis played 18 snaps on special teams and two snaps on defense at Detroit.

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Pete Carroll believes there won’t be fallout from locker room on Harvin trade

Percy Harvin, Russell Wilson AP

Percy Harvin’s former teammates with the Seattle Seahawks were just as surprised as anyone when they learned the mercurial receiver had been dealt to the New York Jets for a conditional draft pick on Friday.

The players found out about the trade as the team was boarding buses to head to the airport for their flight to St. Louis on Friday afternoon. A Seahawks player said Friday night he found out about the trade on Twitter and wasn’t the only one.

While Harvin had altercations with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin during his tenure in Seattle, he certainly wasn’t a universally disliked member of their locker room. Finding out one of the focal point pieces of the team’s offense through the first five games of the season had been traded as the end of a week of preparation had certainly stunned the rest of the team as well.

Head coach Pete Carroll said Monday he spent much of the flight to St. Louis Friday evening conversing with players and discussing the decision with the team so they understood what had happened.

“We had a really good talk about it and talked with guys from across the board on our team. I think it was pretty clear that it was accepted as the next thing that we had to do and we did the right thing and on we go,” Carroll said.

“They took it in stride. I think they trust our decision-making and they’ve stood by us throughout. I don’t think there is any fallout at all,” he added.

Receiver Doug Baldwin said after the game Sunday that the trade of Harvin had an effect on the players as they learned of the decision. Carroll said he understands that reaction but also believes the players didn’t let it affect them during their game against the Rams.

“Obviously, like (Baldwin) said, you’re human, you react and you have a response to it but I don’t think anybody had any problem and everybody was concerned about getting to business of playing football. So I think it was fine.” Carroll said.

Seattle’s offense in the second half looked the most productive its been in weeks. The Seahawks scored touchdowns on their final three possessions with each drive covering at least 80 yards. Maybe getting rid of a piece that clearly didn’t fit will jump-start the Seahawks offense. Or maybe they’ll miss one of the more dynamic athletes in the league. Only time will tell.

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Steelers ORT Marcus Gilbert out with concussion

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert has been ruled out of Monday night’s game vs. Houston with a concussion, the team announced.

Mike Adams replaced Gilbert at right tackle for Pittsburgh, which holds a 24-13 lead at halftime.

The 26-year-old Gilbert has started all six games for the Steelers this season. He signed a contract extension with the club in August.

Gilbert will have to be cleared via the NFL’s concussion protocols to return to practice and game action.

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Watt, Mercilus punish Ben, but Steelers storm back

texanssteelers AP

The Texans’ defense got off to a stellar start on Monday night in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers aren’t going away without a fight.

As expected, J.J. Watt is having a big game, with a sack and a recovery of a Ben Roethlisberger fumble. That fumble was forced by Whitney Mercilus, who’s also having a big game, with two sacks in the first half. Mercilus has also knocked down a pass, and Watt has hit Roethlisberger twice.

But Brian Cushing, the linebacker once viewed as one of the best young defensive players in the league, looks like injuries have severely limited him. Cushing just can’t keep up in coverage on Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who already has 89 receiving yards, and as a result the Texans took Cushing off the field and went into a dime package late in the second quarter. That didn’t help, however, as Roethlisberger hit Martavis Bryant for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

That touchdown narrowed the score to 13-10, after the Texans had taken an early 13-0 lead. The Steelers are right back in it.

UPDATE: Then the Steelers scored two quick touchdowns to make it 24-13, Pittsburgh. Wow.

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Arian Foster powers Texans’ fast start

Derek Newton, Arian Foster, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin AP

The Texans rode Arian Foster to a fast start in Pittsburgh.

Foster had five carries for 59 yards on Houston’s first drive as the Texans marched 94 yards in 10 plays to take an early 7-0 lead. The touchdown was scored by Foster’s backup, Alfred Blue, who took a short pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick and ran it in for an 11-yard score.

Foster and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell are dueling for second place on the NFL rushing list, behind DeMarco Murray of the Cowboys. Bell entered the game leading Foster, 542 yards to 513. But after the Texans’ first drive, Foster had moved ahead of Bell. (Neither is close to Murray’s league-leading total of 913 yards.)

Now the Steelers need Bell to get going, as their defense is struggling to contain Foster.

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Report: Austin Pettis late for meeting on Saturday

Austin Pettis AP

The Rams made a somewhat surprising move Monday, waiving wide receiver Austin Pettis, who had caught 107 passes over the last four seasons for St. Louis.

Well, pieces of this puzzle might be starting to emerge.

According to Fox’s Mike Garafolo, Pettis was tardy to a Saturday night team meeting. The next day, Pettis was a healthy scratch for the Rams’ upset of Seattle.

The day after that, he was on waivers.

Garafolo, it should be noted, also opined that Pettis’ tardiness was certainly a contributing factor in his departure, though he didn’t believe it was the only one.

In any event, the reasoning for the release doesn’t matter. Players at Rams Park and points beyond understand being late can come at a big cost, with those outside the starting lineup most vulnerable.

We’ll know by Tuesday afternoon whether the 26-year-old Pettis has been picked up, which is quite possible. He’s making $570,000 this season, per Rotoworld data, and he is in the final year of his contract.

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Jadeveon Clowney inactive vs. Steelers

Jadeveon Clowney AP

The Texans are still waiting for No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to get healthy.

Clowney, the pass rusher who has been sidelined since a Week One knee injury, is inactive for tonight’s game against the Steelers. The Texans had listed Clowney as questionable, and he went onto the field for pregame warmups, but he apparently still isn’t at full speed.

That’s disappointing news: When Clowney had arthroscopic knee surgery, the Texans said he’d be out 4-6 weeks. That surgery was exactly six weeks ago, and he’s still out. So the injury appears to be more serious than the Texans originally believed.

The Texans’ other inactives are OT Jeff Adams, S Josh Aubrey, CB Darryl Morris, CB Jumal Rolle, WR DeVier Posey and QB Tom Savage.

The Steelers’ inactives are QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, CB Ike Taylor, SS Shamarko Thomas, ILB Ryan Shazier, G Chris Hubbard and NT Steve McLendon.

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Rams waive Austin Pettis

Bryan Mattison,  Austin Pettis,  Lionel Smith AP

Austin Pettis’s days in St. Louis are done.

The Rams waived Pettis, a wide receiver and 2011 third-round draft pick, today. Pettis was surprisingly left inactive on Sunday after having played in all five previous games this season.

The 6-foot-3, 203-pound Pettis is a good athlete who showed promise at times but never quite lived up to what the Rams thought they were getting when they drafted him. This year Pettis has 12 catches for 118 yards and one touchdown.

Pettis has contributed enough, both on offense and on special teams as a punt and kickoff returner, that it wouldn’t be surprising to see some other team claim him on waivers tomorrow. But in St. Louis, he’s finished.

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Evan Mathis cleared to practice

Jacksonville Jaguars v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

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

83797196 Getty Images

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

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

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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