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Bears’ big win in Arizona keeps playoff hopes alive

The Chicago Bears defense celebrate a touchdown by Zackary Bowman against the Arizona Cardinals in the first half during their NFL football game in Phoenix Reuters

Heading into Week 17, the Bears are still in playoff contention.

A 28-13 win over the Cardinals in Arizona on Sunday snapped a three-game losing streak and kept the Bears alive, with a game next week against the Lions in the season finale. The NFC wild card race is still undecided, but after a late-season slide that saw the Bears lose five of their last six, Chicago fans just have to be happy that they’re still in it as the season comes to a close.

It was the Bears’ defense that did most of the work on a day when quarterback Jay Cutler struggled and running back Matt Forte suffered an ankle injury. Chicago got defensive touchdowns from Zack Bowman, who scored on a fumble recovery in the first quarter, and from Charles Tillman, who scored on an interception return in the third quarter. The Bears controlled the game throughout, and the final score looked closer than the game really was, thanks to the Cardinals blocking a Bears field goal attempt and running it back for a touchdown with less than two minutes left.

Of course, you could make the case that this was less a great defensive effort from the Bears than a horrendous offensive effort from the Cardinals. Arizona’s offense has been terrible all season, and on Sunday Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt turned to his fourth quarterback of the year, benching Ryan Lindley for Brian Hoyer.

But whether you want to credit the Bears’ defense or blame the Cardinals’ offense, the result is the same: A one-sided victory for Chicago, and a chance to make the playoffs: If the Bears beat the Lions next week and the Packers beat the Vikings, Chicago is going to the postseason.

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Wilson thinks NFL fines for Marshawn are excessive

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Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is one of the NFL’s golden boys, a player who conducts himself in public exactly the way the league wants. But if Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has a different approach, Wilson thinks that’s fine.

Wilson said he thinks the fines that the NFL has threatened Lynch with are excessive. All Wilson cares about is that Lynch is a good teammate.

“There’s times I don’t think he should be fined, that’s for sure, especially to the extent that people try to fine him for,” Wilson said. “That’s just my honest opinion. I think the guy loves the game, people love the way he is, and sometimes people try to take certain things away from people, the way they are. I don’t know. I don’t think he should be fined for it, personally.”

Lynch has risked fines this week both for spending only five minutes a day in the presence of reporters and for wearing his own Beast Mode hats rather than NFL-authorized gear. It wouldn’t be surprising if the NFL ends up fining Lynch so much that he actually loses money for appearing in the Super Bowl. That sounds ridiculous to Wilson — and surely to many NFL players who think the NFL is too heavy-handed in its practice of fining players.

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Austin Collie joins CFL’s B.C. Lions

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Austin Collie is headed to the Canadian Football League.

Collie, the former Colts, 49ers and Patriots wide receiver, has signed with the British Columbia Lions, the team said Thursday.

A Hamilton, Ontario native, the 29-year-old Collie has caught 179 passes for 1,908 yards and 13 TDs in five NFL seasons, with the bulk of his experience with Indianapolis from 2009 through 2012. He also had stints with San Francisco and New England in 2013, catching four passes for 57 yards in the 2013 AFC title game with the Patriots. Collie did not play for an NFL club in 2014.

Collie endured multiple significant injuries in his Colts career, missing extended time in 2010 because of a concussion and nearly all of 2012 because of a patellar tendon tear.

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NFL didn’t log the PSI of each Patriots football

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What was the precise PSI of each of the 12 footballs the Patriots’ offense used in the AFC Championship Game? We’ll probably never know.

NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino confirmed today that the NFL didn’t log the exact PSI of each football. According to Blandino, when officials inspect footballs to see if they’re properly inflated, they simply approve them or disapprove them.

In other words, although the Patriots did play with under-inflated footballs, the NFL hasn’t kept detailed records of whether those footballs were slightly under-inflated (which could be the result of a change in temperature) or significantly under-inflated (which would indicate that someone purposely let air out of the footballs).

The NFL will apply a low standard of proof to the Deflategate investigation, which means that the NFL doesn’t necessarily need an air-tight case to conclude that the Patriots broke the rules. But anyone who wants the NFL to get to the bottom of this should want the NFL to be as careful as it possibly can to preserve every piece of evidence it possibly can. And a detailed log of the inflation levels of each football is a piece of evidence the NFL should have.

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Earl Thomas apparently angry about random HGH test

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The Seahawks have found something else to be aggravated with the NFL about.

Safety Earl Thomas posted a tweet this morning about being tested for HGH, and some of his teammates aren’t too pleased about it.

According to Ed Werder of ESPN, Thomas wouldn’t elaborate today, but another Seahawks player told him: “We are being treated like criminals, tested like people on parole.”

The league began testing in October, and they tested six players from eight randomly selected teams each week.

So while Thomas might have just coincidentally been on the list for this week, he and his teammates certainly don’t see it that way.

 

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Jonathan Dwyer placed on probation after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct

Jonathan Dwyer AP

Running back Jonathan Dwyer saw his 2014 season come to an early end when the Cardinals placed him on the non-football illness list following an arrest related to an incident with his wife in September.

The legal matters stemming from that arrest came to an end this week when Dwyer pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct in Maricopa County, Arizona. Maricopa County Superior Court spokesman Vincent Funari said, via the Associated Press, that Dwyer has been sentenced to 18 months of probation and community service as a result of the plea.

Dwyer was originally facing a felony count of aggravated assault and other misdemeanor charges before the plea as a result of the incident, which allegedly featured Dwyer head butting his wife in the face and breaking her nose.

The NFL could discipline Dwyer as well, although it’s not clear how much of a playing future Dwyer has ahead of him given his mediocre on-field production at a position where teams have proven adept at finding productive players on a regular basis.

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Lions have proposed expanding replay to cover penalty calls

Cowboys take down Lions; head to Green Bay next Getty Images

The Lions lost to the Cowboys in the Wild Card round of the playoffs in a game that featured officials picking up a flag for pass interference on Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens in the fourth quarter.

That decision helped keep the door open for Dallas to win the game and NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said in the days after the game that there should have been a defensive holding call on the play at the very least. The Lions would like to see all teams have a chance to challenge such rulings in the future.

At a press conference in Arizona Thursday, Blandino said that the Lions have made a proposal to expand replay so that it includes penalty calls in the future.

“We’ve had discussions going back to last offseason talking about expanding replay and adding to the list of reviewable plays,” Blandino said, via the Lions website. “I think when you look at the evolution of replay and where it started, it was always based in fact. Did the football touch the ground? Did the foot touch the sideline? And we stayed away from the areas that involved subjective judgement. There’s always judgement, but there’s different levels of subjective judgement and that was in the areas of pass interference and offensive holding. I think it’s something as the technology has improved and now we have high definition and super slow motion and 4K, all of that technology begs the question can we eliminate some of the mistakes that happen during the game? I think that’s something that’s going to be on the agenda this offseason.”

Over the years, one of the chief objections to expanding replay is that it would lead to slower games. It’s hard to see where there would be a huge rise in the number of challenges if the current arrangement for coaches is kept in place, however, and the ability to make the correct ruling on the field rather than in a press release after a game should be an appealing one.

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LeSean McCoy wants to talk to Eagles, but not about pay cut

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Eagles running back LeSean McCoy wants to work with the Eagles.

He just doesn’t want to work for less.

Via Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, McCoy said he’s happy to restructure his contract, so long as it doesn’t mean a cut in pay.

“I know how hard it is to keep a team together and I want to be part of this team. But I don’t want to take less money,” McCoy said. “I want to figure a way to make it happen [where] we’re all together.”

McCoy is scheduled to make $9.75 million this year, but carries a cap charge of nearly $12 million. That’s a big number for a team that also wants to keep wide receiver Jeremy Maclin out of free agency.

“We’re going to work it work it out and see what happens,” McCoy said. “I got to pay my boy Mac.”

But it’s not going to be out of his own pocket, if it’s up to McCoy.

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Archie Manning: Peyton evaluating everything before making a decision

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wants to see Peyton Manning back in the NFL in 2015, but Manning’s father said Thursday that his son is still weighing his options.

Archie Manning said that Peyton is evaluating everything about the decision to return for another season and that he’s confident his son will make the right decision when the time comes. The first Manning to play quarterback in the NFL added that his son was disappointed that offensive coordinator Adam Gase joined John Fox in moving from Denver to Chicago this offseason, but that Gase’s departure probably wouldn’t swing things in any direction.

“Peyton’s going to try to decide whether he wants to play or retire. If he decides to play, he’ll be fine. It’ll be another coordinator. He’ll deal with it,” Manning said, via NBC San Diego.

Peyton Manning won’t have to do too much guesswork about what new wrinkles might be in the Denver offense since coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison have a long history designing schemes in the NFL. Kubiak also said that he’s going to work with Manning to design the offense if the veteran returns for another season with the Broncos.

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49ers hire Tom Gamble as senior personnel executive

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The 49ers are bringing back Tom Gamble.

Gamble, most recently the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel, has joined San Francisco as a senior personnel executive, the team said Thursday.

The Eagles parted ways with Gamble in December after two seasons on the job. He spent the previous eight seasons with San Francisco, serving as the club’s director of player personnel in 2011 and 2012.

“Tom is one of the most experienced, knowledgeable, and respected personnel men in the business,” 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke said in a team-issued statement. “He played an instrumental role in our personnel department from 2005-2012, and is well versed in our system having played a role in its development. This familiarity, along with his many strengths, will be tremendous assets as we prepare for free agency and the draft.  It is great to have Tom back with the 49ers.”

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Jets tab Jimmie Johnson as tight ends coach

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The Jets have added a pair of assistants with NFL playing experience to their coaching staff.

The club announced the hiring of Jimmie Johnson as tight ends coach and Daylon McCutcheon as a defensive backs assistant on Thursday.

Johnson, 48, was the Vikings’ tight ends coach from 2006 through 2013. He played 10 NFL seasons at tight end (1989-1998).

McCutcheon, 38, played eight NFL seasons at cornerback for Cleveland (1999-2006). The Jets’ new head coach, Todd Bowles, had a pair of secondary-coaching roles for the Browns from 2001 through 2004. McCutcheon had a coaching internship with Arizona in 2014, when Bowles was the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator.

Johnson and Bowles were teammates with Washington in 1989 and 1990.

The Jets also announced the hiring of Ryan Slowik as a defensive line assistant and a defensive quality control coach. Slowik was assistant defensive backs coach in Arizona in 2013 and 2014.

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NFL health and safety report says concussions, ACLs are down

New York Giants v New York Jets

Good news everybody, football isn’t dangerous any more.

The league issued its annual health and safety report Thursday, highlighting all the progress seemingly made in the prevention of injuries.

Among the numbers, they cite concussions down 25 percent from 2013 to 2014, and concussions caused by helmet-to-helmet hits down 28 percent in the last year.

Of course, the raw numbers are still alarming, as there were a total of 202 concussions in practice, preseason and regular season games last year, down from 229 in 2013 and 261 in 2012.

The league numbers also dispute the anecdotal notion (held by much of their workforce) that Thursday games are bad for your health, with an average of 4.8 injuries per Thursday games last year compared to 6.9 injuries per game on Sundays and Mondays.

Of course, that doesn’t take into account the wear and tear provided by the short weeks, and how the shortened recovery time could contribute to some of those weekend aches and pains.

Fewer ACL’s are being sprained however, with “just” 49 this year as opposed to 57 the year before. MCL’s are doing worse, with 138 this year after 136 the last year.

The reality is, football remains dangerous to those who play it, despite any efforts to make it safer, or to suggest that it’s becoming safer.

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Michael Bidwill: We’ve had a lot of great conversations with Larry Fitzgerald

Larry Fitzgerald AP

One of the first orders of business for the Cardinals this offseason is addressing wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s contract, which currently calls for him to account for $23.6 million of their salary cap space in 2015.

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim has said that the team has planned for Fitzgerald’s cap hit and that they won’t cut him to make life easier financially, but the team would prefer to have more room available to address other needs. Doing so would mean restructuring or extending Fitzgerald’s contract and team president Michael Bidwill told Mike Florio on PFT Live Thursday that he’s confident that things will work out.

“I think so. We’ve had a lot of great conversations and I’m feeling very comfortable we’ll get something worked out,” Bidwill said. “He’s been traveling since the end of the season and he’s back in town now. Obviously everybody’s busy this week, but I think in the coming weeks we’ll get something sorted out.”

For the rest of what Bidwill had to say about playing the role of host for the NFL this week, check out the entire interview below.

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Justin Tuck: Ndamukong Suh fits the Raider mold

Ndamukong Suh AP

The Raiders have a lot of cap space at their disposal this offseason and defensive end Justin Tuck knows how he’d like the team to spend some of it.

Speaking from the Super Bowl on Thursday, Tuck shared his thoughts on the impending free agency of Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. While he thinks you could “probably do without” some of the on-field tactics that have landed Suh in trouble during his career, Tuck said Suh is a “hell of a football player” whose overall game makes him seem “to be an Oakland Raider.”

“[He’s] Raider-ish,” Tuck said, via the Detroit Free Press. “And that’s one of the reasons why I know Raider Nation would applaud that move, beyond the fact that he’s an awesome football player. He kind of fits the mold of … the toughness and the ferocious player that built the Oakland Raiders.”

It would help to know who will be running the defense, but adding Suh to a defensive front that features 2014 first-round pick Khalil Mack, linebacker Sio Moore and Tuck would seem to be a step in the right direction for a team that gave up the most points in the league last season.

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Vermeil blames “poor management” for changes in San Francisco

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Former Eagles, Rams and Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil doesn’t care for the way Jim Harbaugh was treated on the way out the door in San Francisco.

Vermeil said on PFT Live that the 49ers should have shown enough respect for the work Harbaugh did to hold onto him.

“San Francisco was a mess before Jim Harbaugh took over. He straightened it out,” Vermeil said. “To me, that should never happen.”

Vermeil believes that if the 49ers’ management is committed to winning, then the 49ers need to find a way to make things work with a successful coach like Harbaugh.

“To me, it’s poor management. It’s probably more personal than anything. But if you’re mature you’ve got to be able to work those things out,” Vermeil said.

The 49ers’ management couldn’t work things out with Harbaugh. If Jim Tomsula doesn’t have the kind of success in San Francisco that Harbaugh did, plenty of San Francisco fans will agree with Vermeil, and blame owner Jed York and General Manager Trent Baalke for poorly managing Harbaugh’s departure.

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Chargers add Mike Nolan as linebackers coach

Mike Nolan AP

The Chargers added some experience to their coaching staff, landing former Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to coach their linebackers.

He replaces Joe Barry, who left to become Washington’s defensive coordinator.

“Mike is a tremendous coach with a wealth of experience and he’ll be a great addition to our coaching staff,” head coach Mike McCoy. “I’ve known him for many years having coached both with him and against him and it’s great to have him here with us with the Chargers.”

Nolan has 28 years of coaching experience, with 17 in the NFL and a largely unfortunate stint as the head coach of the 49ers.

He was the defensive coordinator in Denver in 2009, when McCoy was the Broncos offensive coordinator.

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