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Robert Griffin III remains on track to return

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III throws a pass during the team's pre-game warm up for their NFL football game against the Browns in Cleveland Reuters

There’s just one more hurdle for Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to clear before he’s back in the lineup.

Coach Mike Shanahan likes the chances that the former college hurdling star makes it to the other side in one piece. Zac Boyer of the Free Lance-Star reports that Shanahan said Griffin “looked good” in practice and remains on track to play despite not yet having official medical clearance.

Shanahan expects that clearance to come on Friday night, which is why he listed Griffin as probable to play for the Redskins against the Eagles. Griffin, who took all the reps in Friday’s practice, sprained his LCL in the Week 14 victory over the Ravens and Kirk Cousins played in his place in last week’s win against the Browns.

Linebacker London Fletcher is also probable, which means he’s likely to remain tied with Buccaneers safety Ronde Barber for the longest consecutive games played streak among active players.

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Washington promotes Greg Manusky to defensive coordinator

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - CIRCA 2010: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Greg Manusky of the San Francisco 49ers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)

Washington head coach Jay Gruden didn’t go far to find his new defensive coordinator.

Greg Manusky has been promoted to the top assistant job, NFL Network reports.

Manusky spent last season as the outside linebackers coach in Washington. Prior to that he was a defensive coordinator for nine years, with the Colts for four seasons, the Chargers for one season and the 49ers for four seasons.

The 50-year-old Manusky had a 12-year playing career in Washington, Minnesota and Kansas City.

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Gillette Stadium briefly cleared of people after fire alarm

FOXBORO, MA - JULY 10:  The United States stands for their national anthem before the 2015 CONCACAF  Gold Cup match between United States and Haiti at Gillette Stadium on July 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Sunday morning has seen #alternativefacts become a trending topic on Twitter and #alternativefirealarms are trending in New England.

A man was arrested on Sunday for allegedly pulling a fire alarm in the Steelers’ hotel early on Sunday morning, leading the fire department to respond and the hotel to be evacuated while they made sure there was no actual emergency. It wasn’t long before there was another evacuation in the area.

Media members at Gillette Stadium well ahead of Sunday evening’s kickoff reported that the building was cleared of people after an alarm went off around 10 a.m. ET. It didn’t take long before the all clear was given for people to return with no apparent signs of trouble at the site of the AFC Championship Game.

Hopefully this brings an end to the fire alarm stories, false or not, and that football is the only thing generating headlines in New England the rest of the day.

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Source: Facebook encouraged Antonio Brown to do locker-room live broadcast

unknown Getty Images

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown’s ill-advised decision to broadcast live from the post-game locker room in Kansas City can no longer be chalked up to an exercise of unbridled enthusiasm.

Per a league source, Facebook actually encouraged Brown to engage in a Facebook Live session from the locker room after the game.

A Facebook spokesperson declined comment on the situation. One other source, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted that there has been contact between Facebook and Brown but insisted that Brown was not directed to broadcast live from the locker room.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the reality that one or more Facebook representatives may have thrown out ideas for ways to generate more interest and bigger audiences for Brown’s Facebook Live broadcasts. Coupled with the report from NFL Media that Brown has a six-figure deal with Facebook, it would hardly be a surprise to learn that Facebook has tried to steer Brown toward strategies for using Facebook Live that would have maximum impact.

It provides another layer to Brown’s blatant violation of the league’s social-media policy, and it pulls a corporate behemoth into the middle of the potential violation of the league’s broadcast deals by infringing on the exclusive rights of the networks to broadcast locker-room video and audio.

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Colts have begun reaching out to G.M. candidates

jim-irsay Getty Images

Maybe Colts owner Jim Irsay doesn’t already know what his next move will be.

Per a league source, the Colts have commenced the process of reaching out to candidates currently employed by other NFL teams in the immediate aftermath of the firing of G.M. Ryan Grigson. It was previously believed that Irsay was not considering persons already working in the league as potential replacements for Grigson before cutting him loose, based on the absence of any effort to explore the interest of some of the no-brainer G.M. candidates working in lesser capacities elsewhere.

There are two ways to interpret this. First, Irsay knows who he will hire and is doing everything he can to create the impression that he doesn’t. Second, Irsay was unable to get the person(s) he wanted (Peyton Manning and whoever else Irsay may have pursued) and decided in lieu of sticking with Grigson to rip the Band-Aid away and fish for an upgrade.

Here’s the problem with the delayed search. Multiple potential candidates, like Packers executives Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst, already have flirted with leaving and gotten new deals to stay put. If Irsay had simply pulled the rip cord three weeks ago, he would have had a shot at some of the candidates who already have considered leaving their current places of employment and decided to stay.

While some could change their minds, the Irsay factor will also be a consideration. Some won’t want to deal with a meddling owner who has created his own share of distractions over the years, from his Twitter account and elsewhere. Ultimately, the question becomes whether the lure of building a team around Andrew Luck overcomes other considerations.

Unless, of course, Irsay already knows who he’ll hire and this process of kicking tires on other candidates is aimed at creating the impression that Irsay engaged in a thorough and rational and analytic and deliberate process even if he made a knee-jerk, gut-level decision before announcing his decision to fire Grigson.

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Irsay’s slow, deliberate decision ultimately was made by gut feeling

Indianapolis Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay announces that he has relieved general manager Ryan Grigson of his duties with the team during a press conference at the NFL team's facility in Indianapolis, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) AP

In announcing and explaining the belated decision to fire G.M. Ryan Grigson, Colts owner Jim Irsay spent plenty of time trying to create the impression that the delay had nothing to do with lining up Grigson’s replacement and everything to do with engaging in a thorough and rational and analytic and deliberate process regarding whether to fire him.

A thorough and rational and analytic and deliberate process that boiled down to a raw, basic gut feeling.

“It was a gut, intuitive instinct from looking at where we were and where we are as a franchise,” Irsay told reporters, via the transcript provided by the team. “I think that we needed to make a change. Intuitively you get the feeling when the timing is right, where a change will help. Whereas continuity is something that I really want and long to have as much as we can have it, but in this case I really felt that the time was right to make a change, that we needed some new direction in the vision of our football program. That is from talking to a lot of people and giving it a lot of thought.”

So why did it take 20 days to develop the gut feeling needed to make a change, especially when Irsay had all season to ponder whether another 8-8 season and/or a non-banner-hanging third-place finish in the AFC South should have consequences? Every other team that made a major change based on 2016 did it during or immediately after (as in, the same day) the season ended.

“There is no question in my mind that this was the right move for the franchise,” Irsay said. “There is also no question in my mind that we went through an extremely thorough process before we reached that decision so I feel a lot of comfort in knowing that.”

That process obviously included trying to line up a replacement before letting Grigson go. Irsay tried hard to downplay that, disputing that he talked to Jon Gruden about coaching the team and denying that Peyton Manning may be running the franchise.

Irsay possibly is motivated by a desire to create the impression that he spent the last 20 days focusing only on the up-or-down decision on whether to fire Grigson and nothing more, and that Irsay will now turn his attention for the first time to finding Grigson’s successor. Common sense, fueled by the unrebutted-at-the-time reports that Gruden and Manning were courted, suggests that Irsay made this move only after coming to the conclusion that he can and will do better than Grigson.

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Sunday morning one-liners

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 08:  Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers defends against  Jake Matthews #70 of the Atlanta Falcons in the third quarter at Lambeau Field on December 8, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

A list of quarterbacks with connections to Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.

Some free agent options for the Dolphins’ defensive front.

Patriots WR Danny Amendola is ready to play any role the team asks of him.

Will the Jets draft an offensive tackle?

Ravens RB Kenneth Dixon learned a few things during his rookie season.

What will the offseason bring for Bengals QB A.J. McCarron?

The Browns will get a close look at many draft prospects at the Senior Bowl.

The Steelers pass rush will be crucial to their chances of winning on Sunday.

Early mock drafts are all over the map for the Texans.

Some reaction to the Colts firing General Manager Ryan Grigson.

CB Aaron Colvin could be a candidate for a contract extension.

Said Titans RB Derrick Henry of DeMarco Murray, “I got better during practice, and it showed during the games, by just watching him.”

Broncos QB Paxton Lynch is looking forward to getting his chance in a new offense.

A position-by-position report card for the Chiefs.

Raiders G.M. Reggie McKenzie reflected on free agent signings that worked out well.

A church outside San Diego took a shot at the Chargers.

Their season is over, but Cowboys QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott are still hanging together.

An argument against the Giants using their top pick on a running back.

What did the Eagles learn about coach Doug Pederson this season?

The ups and downs for the Redskins running backs and tight ends in 2016.

Lovie Smith looks back at the Bears team he coached to an NFC title.

Breaking down the 2016 Lions draft class.

The Packers pass protection has plenty of admirers.

Said Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell, “It’s not what I need to do, it’s gaining the trust and the opportunities from the coaches. Every year you just need to keep getting better. Everybody is going to get better in the offseason.”

Falcons T Jake Matthews may be blocking his cousin Clay at times in Sunday’s game.

Ric Flair’s wavering football allegiances irk Panthers DE Charles Johnson.

A preview of what to expect from the Saints this offseason.

Lessons the Buccaneers can learn from the teams playing on Sunday.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians remains hopeful that WR Larry Fitzgerald will play in 2017.

Former Rams players helped out as coaches at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

49ers fans will likely be paying close attention to how Kyle Shanahan and the Falcons fare on Sunday.

Sizing up the Seahawks receiving corps.

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Brice Butler rule could be eliminated or modified

INDIANAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 30: The referee Tony Corrente #99 makes a call during the game betweeen the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts during the NFL game on September 30, 2007 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

The rule that wiped out a 22-yard gain and turned it into a 15-yard loss for the Cowboys on Sunday eventually could be earned from the rule book.

A vestige of the ’50s, the rule that allows the referee to flag the offense for unsportsmanlike conduct if a player not in the game approaches the huddle and then leaves without participating in a play could soon be expunged.

As one source with thorough knowledge of the rule book and its application told PFT on Saturday, current game mechanics aimed at giving the defense a fair chance to match any changes the offense may be making in an effort to confuse the opponent make the threat of a 15-yard penalty irrelevant. Put simply, the so-called (at least by me) Brice Butler rule has become outdated.

For now, it exists. And it’s no coincidence that referee Tony Corrente is the man who called the foul on Sunday in Dallas. Corrente called the foul the last time the rule was invoked during a Washington-Dallas game in 2014. He’s regarded as the lone stickler on this issue among the NFL’s referees.

At a minimum, the rule book could be (and should be) cleaned up to eliminate conflict between the actual rule regarding offensive players who quickly enter and exit (Rule 5, Section 2, Article 5) and a provision that lists the penalties for various types of illegal substitutions (Rule 5, Section 2, Article 8) and that inaccurately summarizes the text of the rule to prohibit a player from “mov[ing] onto the field inside the field numerals and leaves without participating in one play.”

Even if the rule isn’t changed or modified, the NFL may consider making it a dead-ball foul. Since the violation locks in before the snap, there’s no reason to wait until after the play to call it and to enforce it. That would lessen the potential impact of the call; last Sunday, the Cowboys wouldn’t have lost 22 yards before losing 15.

Then there’s the practical impact of clinging to this archaic rule. If Corrente had never thrown the flag, it never would have been an issue. The Packers wouldn’t have complained that they didn’t get a fair chance to match the offensive personnel and/or that the 22-yard gain should have been wiped out due to a technicality. If they had, many would have accused the Packers of complaining about a goofy technicality.

Instead, the issue has become a distraction to what was an excellent and memorable playoff game — even though (as PFT has learned) the Cowboys never complained about it.

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Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan expected to play for Patriots

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 12:  Malcolm Mitchell #19 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on December 12, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Patriots had a few injury concerns among their pass catchers this week, but it doesn’t look like they are going to result in any absences from the lineup on Sunday.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that wide receivers Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell are both expected to play against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. Hogan had to leave last Saturday’s victory over the Texans after injuring his thigh in the third quarter, but expressed confidence all week about being well enough to play.

Mitchell has missed the last two games with a knee injury, but was able to participate in practice all week. Wide receiver Danny Amendola was also listed as questionable after returning from an ankle injury last week and having all three up along with Julian Edelman may not leave room for Michael Floyd as well.

Tight end Martellus Bennett is also expected to play after drawing the questionable designation, which should give Tom Brady a full complement of targets against Pittsburgh.

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Police apprehend Boston man for false alarm at Steelers’ hotel

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 08:  Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers walks off the field after defeating the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card game at Heinz Field on January 8, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers got a 3 a.m. wakeup call courtesy of a false fire alarm at their team hotel in New England, and the authorities were quick to act.

Sal Paolantonio of ESPN reports that Massachusetts State Police have apprehended a 25-year-old Boston man on charges of disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and pulling a false alarm at the Steelers’ hotel.

The false alarm was apparently planned out in advance by Patriots fans wanting to disturb the Steelers: Paolantonio reports that the man pulled the alarm, ran out of the hotel and jumped into a waiting car, fleeing the scene. But police were nonetheless able to catch up to them.

The Steelers were awakened by the alarm but may still be able to get a decent amount of rest before today’s 6:40 p.m. ET kickoff.

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Report: Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams expected to play

DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 1: Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers looks for yards against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on January 1, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers called up a wide receiver from their practice squad on Saturday, giving themselves a healthy body at the position in the event that one or more of their three unhealthy ones isn’t able to play against the Falcons on Sunday afternoon.

Max McCaffery may be headed for an afternoon as an observer, however. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison will all be in the lineup for the NFC Championship Game unless they have trouble during pregame warmups.

Nelson missed last week’s game with broken ribs suffered against the Giants in the Wild Card round and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Nelson ordered extra kevlar padding to protect his injury. Adams and Allison also drew questionable tags on the team’s injury report after missing practice during the week.

Safety Morgan Burnett is also expected to be available. He injured his thigh against the Cowboys in the divisional round.

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False fire alarm causes Steelers hotel to be evacuated

A firetruck and ambulance leave the Capitol grounds as they drive down Constitution Avenue after gun shots were reportedly fired at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center March 28, 2016 in Washington, DC.  A gunman was reportedly captured and a police officer shot at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers had their night of sleep interrupted early on Sunday morning by a fire alarm.

Alarms began going off at the hotel where the team is staying ahead of Sunday evening’s AFC Championship Game around 3 a.m. and Rich Walsh of KDKA reports that the entire building had to be evacuated while the fire department responded. The ringing continued for 30 minutes before everyone was allowed back to their rooms.

Walsh reports hotel personnel told him that the alarm was a false one. The person responsible for triggering that false alarm isn’t known, but it would not be the first time that a visiting team (or one preparing for a neutral site game) had to deal with attempts to throw them out of their comfort zone.

The Steelers have the late kickoff on Sunday with their game against the Patriots getting underway at 6:40 p.m. ET.

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Packers couldn’t fly out of Green Bay, got to Atlanta late

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers consults with head coach Mike McCarthy during a timeout against the Oakland Raiders in the second quarter on December 20, 2015 at Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Packers won 30-20. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The trip to Atlanta did not go smoothly for the Packers.

Although the team was supposed to get a flight from Green Bay to Atlanta, dense fog in Green Bay prevented that, as the plane that was supposed to take the Packers to their destination couldn’t land in Green Bay because of the fog.

As a result, the Packers had to board buses from Green Bay to Milwaukee, then fly from Milwaukee to Atlanta.

The Packers landed in Atlanta at 8:30 p.m. ET, much later than road teams usually arrive on a Saturday before a game. So while the Packers made it to their Atlanta hotel in time to get a good night’s sleep, it wasn’t as smooth a trip as they would have liked before the NFC Championship Game.

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Conference championship ratings almost certainly will drop

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 23:  A woman walks in blizzard-like conditions on January 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Northeast and parts of the South are experiencing heavy snow and ice from a slow moving winter storm. Numerous deaths from traffic accidents have already been reported as the storm makes its way up the coast.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The apples-to-apples comparison of last year’s conference championship games to this year’s conference championship games will be hampered by one major difference between the broader circumstances from this same weekend from 12 months ago.

Last year at this time, much of the northeast was buried in snow after a blizzard hit on Friday and Saturday, the two days before the AFC and NFC title games. So with millions snowed in, millions tuned in.

On average, 53.3 million watched the Patriots-Broncos game, which went down to the wire. The Cardinals-Panthers game, which was a blowout, averaged 45.7 million.

This year, with no snow and seasonably warm temperatures throughout much of the country, it will be very difficult for Packers-Falcons and Steelers-Patriots to match those numbers, no matter how compelling the games are.

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Jim Irsay: Peyton Manning won’t be joining the Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 07:  Peyton Manning (L) and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay hug during a press conference announcing that the Colts will release Manning at Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on March 7, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joey Foley/Getty Images) Getty Images

Colts owner Jim Irsay finally has done that which seemed quite possible if not likely three weeks ago: He has fired G.M. Ryan Grigson.

At a press conference to announce the move, Irsay said that Peyton Manning will not be joining the team as the G.M. But Irsay may have taken his position on Peyton Manning a bit too far by claiming that Manning and Jon Gruden joining the team was “never in the cards.”

Multiple reports indicated that Irsay tried to woo Gruden and Manning as a package deal. The two men are close friends (it’s not quite The Odd Couple, but it’s close), and the goal was to get both of them. If those reports were all #fakenews, Irsay should have shot them down days ago.

Irsay said he has a list of G.M. candidates, that it could expand, and that he’ll interview current Colts executive Jimmy Raye III for the job. (I think Irsay knows who he’ll hire, but he’s trying to ensure the perception of a full and fair search.)

As to coach Chuck Pagano, Irsay explained that Pagano will be back for 2017, but it’s obvious he’ll be on the hot seat — especially if the new G.M. comes from outside the organization. Every coach wants his own quarterback and every G.M. wants his own coach, and half-measures of this kind rarely work.

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Blandino explains accuracy of Chiefs holding call

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 12:  Side Judge Carl Cheffers #51 listens in as the officials discuss a play during the game between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears on September 12, 2004 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Lions defeated the Bears 20-16. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The outrage over the holding call that wiped out what would have been a game-tying two-point conversion last Sunday night in Kansas City was entertaining but, ultimately, not accurate. Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher held Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

In his weekly officiating video, NFL senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino confirmed the accuracy of the call made by referee Carl Cheffers, whose assignment on such plays when positioned on the right side of the quarterback includes watching the interaction between the left tackle and the man he’s blocking.

“We talk about position, body position,” Blandino said. “We talk about feet. If the blocker can maintain good feet and he can maintain position in front of the defender and if he can stay square to the defender and he can continue to move his feet, we’re not gonna have a foul for holding. If the defender gets outside his feet and the blocker has to reach, now he reaches with his left arm across the body of the defender and he’s gonna grab . .  on the jersey. When we see that, now we have to look for restriction. Does he materially affect the defender’s ability to get to the ball carrier?”

The foul occurred when Harrison tried to break free from Fisher, and when Fisher knocked Harrison down.

“The other factor, we have a rip . . . technique,” Blandino said. “Where the defender’s gonna bring his arm under the arm of the blocker, try to gain leverage, and get through to the quarterback. When there’s a rip, there’s no foul for holding unless the defender’s feet are taken away. And you can see clearly the defender’s feet are gonna be taken away as he’s taken to the ground.”

The explanation is useful, but the simpler point is that it looks like holding, clearly and unmistakably. So while it was surely disappointing for the Chiefs to have two critical points taken from the board in the closing minutes of an elimination game, the foul occurred — and kudos to Cheffers for having the will to throw the flag at a time when plenty of officials take a “let them play” approach, which essentially means when obvious fouls aren’t called, “Let them cheat.”

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