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Saints take advantage of turnover, lead 24-17

Pierre Thomas AP

The big plays to Dez Bryant were pretty,

But the Cowboys haven’t made enough of the small ones, and the Saints have taken the lead late in the third quarter.

Taking advantage of a DeMarco Murray fumble deep in his own territory, the Saints went up 24-17 on a Drew Brees touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas.

The Cowboys are comfortable coming back, but if they have any aspirations beyond the regular season, they’ll need to look better than they do against a poor Saints defense.

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Report: Philip Rivers has significant back injury

Rivers Getty Images

For several weeks, questions have swirled regarding whether and to what extent Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is playing with injuries.  He could be playing with an injury that is bad enough that perhaps he shouldn’t be playing.

The Chargers recently acknowledged that Rivers has a back injury.  He missed practice Tuesday and Wednesday, critical sessions before a Saturday game against the 49ers, due to the injury.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the back injury is “more severe than the team has acknowledged.”

Technically, teams aren’t required to acknowledge the severity of any injury.  Teams simply must disclose on the thrice-weekly practice reports whether the player didn’t practice, practiced on a limited basis, or practiced fully with one or more injuries.  Once per week, the team must apply a label reflecting the player’s anticipated availability for the game.

In Rivers’ case, the fact that he actually missed practice due to the back injury suggests that it’s significant, given that he had missed no practices due to what teammate Antonio Gates told reporters was a “severe rib injury.”  (Gates later backtracked, predictably; the team eventually disclosed that Rivers has a chest injury.)

Rivers said Wednesday that he’ll play on Saturday.  Thursday’s final injury report before the Saturday night game will reveal plenty about whether Rivers will indeed be able to go.

Given that the guy once played a postseason game with a torn ACL and presumably has battled through plenty of other injuries to do his job, don’t be surprised to see him play.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Getty Images

The Bills’ offensive line has room for improvement.

The Dolphins got four injured LBs back to practice, but it’s unclear if they’ll all be available.

Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski. Sausage. Write your own punch line.

Former Jets CB Darrelle Revis said “It’s kind of sad” the way coach Rex Ryan is going out.

Ravens TE Owen Daniels is ready to make some plays.

The Bengals still have to win a pressure game to convince many.

Browns QB Johnny Manziel’s not buying the report that some teammates snubbed him.

The Steelers may be taking another look at the no-huddle offense.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien is going to leave us in suspense until Sunday about his starting QB (which will give us time to Google them).

Colts WR Hakeem Nicks still has time to save a lost season.

No team has started more rookies than the Jaguars.

The Titans have something to play for tonight (other than draft position).

The Broncos added S Josh Bush to the active roster.

The Chiefs got two players back from concussions.

Raiders QB Derek Carr is sore but expected to play.

Chargers practice squad G Craig Watts was suspended four games for violating the league’s PED policy.

The Cowboys have been surprisingly bad at home this year.

Giants S Antrel Rolle wants to stay with the team.

Former Eagles coach Andy Reid tried to lure Troy Aikman out of retirement once, in the middle of a game.

Washington players don’t think a lot of penalties means they’re undisciplined.

At least deposed Bears QB Jay Cutler has Charles Barkley on his side.

Lions S Glover Quin thinks he’s one of the best in the league.

The Packers are trying not to be overconfident against two-win Tampa Bay.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wants his team tougher in the fourth quarter.

Falcons CB Robert McClain is ready if the Saints want to target him.

Even big-talking Panthers CB Josh Norman is mum about Johnny Manziel.

The Saints added a kicker to the practice squad.

The future of Buccaneers QB Mike Glennon is unclear.

Cardinals QB Drew Stanton’s improving, but unlikely to play this week.

The Rams are making some noise on special teams.

Injuries have hit the 49ers hard.

The Seahawks were missing 60 percent of their offensive line Wednesday.

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Ray Rice makes a public appearance, feels support in Baltimore

New York Giants v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

Ray Rice made a rare public appearance on Wednesday, attending an event hosted by Ravens receiver Torrey Smith aimed at collecting donations for needy children at Christmas.

Rice said he wanted to do something to support his community, and that he in turn feels supported by the people in Baltimore.

“I’ve been back out but coming to Jimmy’s and Toys For Tots, this is the best time to give back,” Rice told CBS in Baltimore. “It’s a warm welcome just to know that there are still people out there who still do support.”

Rice says he thinks many people are willing to forgive him for the domestic violence incident that caused him to be suspended by the NFL and caused the NFL to be thrown into turmoil.

“I made a horrible mistake in my life but if you truly believe in second chances, they will forgive me,” Rice said. “I think all the fans have looked deep into who I am.”

Rice said he wants to remain active in the community.

“It does feel good to be out and amongst the Baltimore community and just to give back,” Rice said.

A charity appearance is the kind of small step Rice will need to make if he ever wants to rehabilitate his reputation. Despite the support he’s feeling from some in Baltimore, he still has a long way to go.

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Bryan Bulaga “looks great” after Sunday’s concussion

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Packers had a devil of a time keeping the Bills defensive line from harassing Aaron Rodgers during last Sunday’s loss in Buffalo, something that wasn’t helped by the loss of right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a concussion during the game.

Bulaga’s absence was particularly notable on a late sack by Bills defensive end Mario Williams, who beat J.C. Tretter and stripped Rodgers of the ball in the end zone for what wound up as a safety that accounted for the final points in a 21-13 Buffalo win. Bulaga hasn’t been cleared through the concussion protocol yet, but he has started working out and that’s left Packers coach Mike McCarthy feeling optimistic about the tackle’s chances of playing against the Buccaneers.

“Looks great,” McCarthy said, via ESPN.com. “Saw him in the weight room, in the meetings this morning. Making progress.”

Several other Packers were limited participants on Wednesday or sat out practice altogether, but McCarthy didn’t appear concerned that running back Eddie Lacy or linebacker Clay Matthews were at risk of missing the game.

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49ers players react to “unfortunate” Ray McDonald situation

Ray McDonald AP

The 49ers released defensive end Ray McDonald on Wednesday in the wake of news that he’s the subject of a sexual assault investigation that comes a short time after McDonald was investigated, but not charged, in a domestic violence case.

McDonald hasn’t been arrested and the 49ers stuck with McDonald through the first allegations by making frequent arguments in support of his right to due process, but they’re not going down that road this time. General Manager Trent Baalke cited a pattern of poor decision making when making the announcement that McDonald was gone from the team.

On Wednesday, quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he supported the team’s decision while also hoping McDonald is cleared of any wrongdoing.

“It’s very unfortunate. I understand why the team did what it did. Outside of that, it’s not my business,” Kaepernick said, via Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “He’s a good friend to a lot people on this team. No one around him ever thought bad of him. So hopefully it’s just a misunderstanding.”

Another player who didn’t want to be identified also spoke to Inman and was critical of the team handling things differently this time.

“If the organization wanted to save face, they should have done this [release of McDonald] the first time, and not now when we’re playing for nothing,” the player said.

Saving face may be part of the idea, but it’s a tough sell since releasing McDonald now makes it look like the team only cares about due process when there’s something for them to gain and that’s not a good look for the organization in any circumstances.

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C.J. Spiller’s limited, but hoping to play Sunday

Green Bay Packers v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

There are a number of things Bills running back C.J. Spiller’s going to have to get used to in a hurry, if he’s going to play this week.

Namely, shoulder pads.

Spiller took his off midway through Bills practice yesterday, his first since coming back from a broken collarbone.

“Yeah, I was just getting used to [wearing them] again,” Spiller said, via Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News. “It’s been two months since I’ve had them on so I just wanted to see what it felt like to put them back.”

Spiller was listed as limited in practice Wednesday, his first since injuring his shoulder Oct. 19. But the Bills seem inclined to activate him for Sunday’s game against the Raiders. The roster spot they need is waiting for him after fullback Frank Summers was released.

“He looked good,” coach Doug Marrone said. “But he’s still working his way back into the football part of it.”

Spiller said he felt “good” after practice, and when asked what would decide whether he’d play, he replied: “How I feel.”

So it stands to reason that they’ll activate him sometime before Saturday at 4 p.m., and give him a chance to give them a boost toward an unexpected playoff push.

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Rex Ryan blanches at the words he heard from Tom Brady

See-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil-monkeys-14750406-500-375

Jets coach Rex Ryan was trying to watch a television copy of the Patriots to prepare for this week’s game, when the words he heard offended his delicate ears.

Specifically, the F-bombs dropped by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady caught him by surprise.

“I even take the TV copies of the games and I watch them, but to be honest with you, I couldn’t watch all of the game. I was offended by the language I saw,” Ryan said, via Seth Walder of the New York Daily News. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ “I’m thinking, ‘Boy, that fine’s got to really be hefty because that’s one, two, three, four, five, of those bad boys I think.’”

Of course, Ryan was just poking fun at Brady, since he has his own colorful way with the language, and some background with the censors in charge.

Ryan was docked $100,000 earlier this year for swearing at a ref, which is different from just having a regular potty mouth like Brady.

Of course, it’s all our fault that the world knows the Patriots quarterback talks like a sailor, so perhaps we should apologize.

Or, they can all go f-ine themselves.

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Chip Kelly: If we win 11 games and miss playoffs, shame on us

Tennessee Titans v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The NFL changes a lot from year to year, something that the Eagles could learn the hard way this season.

In 2013, the Eagles won 10 games and that was enough to make them NFC East champions and hosts of a home game in the playoffs. This year, the Eagles could wind up with 11 wins and get nothing for their efforts but the chance to start the offseason before 2015 gets underway. Should that happen, coach Chip Kelly won’t be chalking it up to bad luck or the breaks of the game.

“Right now, we’ve only got nine wins,” Kelly said, via ESPN.com. “I mean, for us to think of questions like that, that doesn’t help us beat Washington. So I don’t really think about it. If we win 11 games and it’s not good enough to get in, shame on us because we didn’t win the right games. That’s the bottom line. That’s what this whole deal is all about and we know it going in.”

Kelly’s right on the money when it comes to losing the wrong games. The Eagles have lost five games in the NFC, including matchups with the Cardinals, Seahawks and Packers that could result in their elimination from the playoffs via a head-to-head tiebreaker. Throw in last week’s loss to the Cowboys and that would make four losses to teams in the NFC playoff field, which is a couple too many for a real hard luck argument.

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Falcons not biting on Saints “funeral” trash talk

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Saints are ready to bury the Falcons once and for all.

But the Falcons aren’t biting on a eulogy offered by Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis.

Via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Lewis was talking about not letting the Falcons pass for 500 yards against them when he said: “We’re definitely gonna give them their funeral.”

To his credit, Falcons wide receiver Roddy White didn’t pay it a whole lot of mind.

“Nope,” White said. “May we rest in peace until Sunday.”

The 6-8 Saints, leaders of a miserable division, can eliminate the 5-9 Falcons from the playoffs Sunday.

“It is what it is because you play the game on the field,” Douglas said. “I’ve never seen anybody play the game talking. All we’ve got to do is play the type of football we have to play, and the rest will take care of itself.

“Lewis is a great player. He’s a competitor. But it boils down to New Orleans vs. Atlanta. We don’t like them, and they don’t like us. You leave it all out there on Sunday. That’s when I’m going to play the game: on Sunday. I can’t play the game on Wednesday.”

The Falcons beat the Saints in the opener, and the Saints have been historically bad at home this year, so the possibility of the NFC pillowfight going down to the last week still exists.

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Russell Okung not ruled out, Max Unger has chance to play against Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said left tackle Russell Okung has yet to be ruled out for this week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

“He’s still in the mix,” Carroll said. “He’s going to have some stuff done tomorrow that will let us know where he sits and all that. He’s not out of the plan yet.”

Carroll said Monday that Okung would likely miss 1-2 weeks due to a bruised lung suffered against the San Francisco 49ers. Okung was replaced by Alvin Bailey for the remainder of the game after Okung was injured on the final play of the first half.

Center Max Unger did not practice on Wednesday as Carroll said Unger was struggling to recover from the workload he went through in practice last Friday.

“He had a tough recovery from last Friday’s practice so he’s gonna be not going today, so we’ll see how he is tomorrow,” Carroll said. “We’re taking it one day at a time now. It’s close enough where we have a chance [to get him back].”

Unger has missed the last four games for Seattle after suffered a sprained ankle and knee injuries against the Kansas City Chiefs. Lemuel Jeanpierre and Patrick Lewis have started in Unger’s absence the last several weeks.

With Seattle giving up seven sacks to the Cardinals the last time they placed four weeks ago, the Seahawks could use Okung and Unger healthy and in the lineup. The game will either give the Cardinals the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the playoffs or put the Seahawks in the driver’s seat to accomplish both feats heading into the final week of the regular season.

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Lions claim Josh Thomas off waivers from the Jets

New York Jets v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

Cornerback Josh Thomas was released by the New York Jets on Tuesday after having his playbook and passport stolen.

However, Thomas wasn’t out of work long as he was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Lions on Wednesday.

Thomas played in one game for the Jets and appeared in three games for the Seattle Seahawks earlier this season. He spent the previous three years with the Carolina Panthers. He recorded two tackles and two passes defended.

To make room on the roster, the Lions placed tackle LaAdrian Waddle on injured reserve. Waddle started 10 games for the Lions this season before suffering a knee injury last week against the Minnesota Vikings.

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Russell Wilson moves on from Bus Cook

Russell AP

As quarterback Russell Wilson closes in on the payday for which he becomes eligible the day after Week 17 ends, he’ll have a new agent to help him.

Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, Wilson has parted ways with Bus Cook, who has represented Wilson since he was drafted in 2012.  And as further proof of the carefully-manicured Russell Wilson image, the leak to Schefter came with an obvious request that the move be characterized as something other than what it really is.

“A source close to Wilson said Cook was not fired, but simply the quarterback was making a change,” Schefter wrote on Facebook.

Sure, Wilson was making a change.  He was making a change by firing Cook.

You can’t change an agent without firing the agent.  Unless Cook resigned or retired (and he didn’t), Wilson initiated the process of changing agents; Wilson fired Cook.

(Why would Schefter push something so obviously not true, you may ask?  Bookmark this page for when Schefter breaks the news that Wilson has signed a new mega-contract with a Seahawks.)

Wilson eventually will hire Mark Rodgers, a baseball-certified agent who currently has no active NFL clients, according to the NFLPA website.  Eventually, Rodgers will have a fairly big one — and his first order of business will be to negotiate a contract that cuts against the recent trend of paying young quarterbacks on a year-to-year basis.

But, hey, at least Rodgers won’t have to worry about getting fired if Wilson’s next contract is lacking.

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Bears may be protecting Cutler against injury

Cutler Getty Images

Question:  What team benches a quarterback who signed a contract that pays him $22.5 million in 2014 and another fully-guaranteed $15.5 million in 2015?

Answer:  A team that doesn’t want an injury to derail a plan to trade or cut the quarterback.

Yes, Cutler will get $2.8125 million to not play in the final two weeks of the season.  It’s an obvious effort to keep Cutler healthy, so that he can be dangled in the offseason to a team that would be willing to assume Cutler’s contract.

The cap hit for trading Cutler would be fairly small, given that his 2014 pay started as a fully-guaranteed base salary.  In March, $5 million was converted to a signing bonus, clearing $4 million in cap space that assisted with the signing of defensive end Jared Allen.  That $4 million would hit the 2015 cap if Cutler is traded, but it would clear $11.5 million in total cap space for the next season.  And it would get the Bears off the hook for $15.5 million that they owe Cutler whether he’s on the team or not.

So while the decision to bench Cutler is a message to the player and the fans that poor performances won’t be tolerated, it’s actually a message to every other team in the league.  Cutler is available.

Who would possibly trade for Cutler?  That’ll be the subject of another post.

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Michigan reportedly makes run at Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh Getty Images

When it first became obvious Brady Hoke wouldn’t be back next year as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, a report suggested that the folks at Ann Arbor were more interested in John Harbaugh (who didn’t go to Michigan) than Jim (who did).

Now, Michigan apparently has a keen interest in the soon-to-be-former 49ers coach.

Per multiple reports, Michigan has offered Harbaugh the job.  The package leaked to the media would pay Harbaugh $8 million per year over six years.

That’s far more than Harbaugh currently makes in San Francisco, and far more than the 49ers had offered in failed negotiations on a new deal.  The impasse arose, as one source with knowledge of the talks previously told PFT, because Harbaugh wanted to be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach without, you know, winning a Super Bowl.

If the offer from Michigan, where it’s easy to finance a large coaching salary since the players get jack squat and free snacks, is real, he’d be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach without winning a Super Bowl and without ever competing for one for as long as he’s at Michigan.

The leak and its origin suggest that Harbaugh’s agent hopes to use the offer as leverage in talks with interested NFL teams.  If Michigan will pay $8 million per year, how much will the Raiders, Dolphins, or other interested team fork over?  With the talent gap among teams as narrow as ever, a great coach can be the difference between mediocrity and a championship; great coaches at the NFL are worth far more than they currently get.

The possibility that Harbaugh will leave for Michigan also pressures Jed York and company to be very reasonable in any trade talks regarding Harbaugh.  If he chooses to go back to college, the 49ers get nothing.

Then again, the 49ers may prefer that outcome, since they wouldn’t have to worry about Harbaugh finishing with another franchise that which he started in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, some have suggested that Harbaugh wouldn’t use his alma mater as leverage for a better NFL job.  Why shouldn’t he?  Harbaugh played football there at a high level.  In return he got jack squat, without the free snacks.

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Bears bench Jay Cutler, start Jimmy Clausen

Jimmy Clausen, Micheal Spurlock AP

The Bears’ collapse has reached epic proportions, as Jay Cutler has lost his job as Chicago’s starting quarterback.

Cutler has been benched and Jimmy Clausen will start on Sunday against the Lions, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

For Cutler to get benched after playing just 14 games into the enormous contract he signed this offseason demonstrates just how big the mess in Chicago is. That contract may cost both Bears G.M. Phil Emery and Bears coach Marc Trestman their jobs.

And Cutler’s play has already cost him his job. Whether Cutler has any future in Chicago or anywhere else in the NFL remains to be seen, and the Bears owe Cutler a guaranteed salary of $15.5 million next season whether he’s on their team or not.

But at the present, Cutler is out, and Clausen is the Bears’ starting quarterback.

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