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Graham’s hustle play a good sign for Saints rebound

New Orleans Saints v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

The Saints are used to seeing tight end Jimmy Graham make plays.

But they’re used to seeing his athleticism at work catching passes and running with them.

Graham recovered a Marques Colston fumble Sunday, which set up the game-winning field goal against the Cowboys in overtime.

But that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.

Just two plays before Graham’s hustle play, he left the field with a dislocated right ring finger, which was put back into place. Along with a wrist injury, and with no promise of playoffs on the line, it would have been easy for Graham to stay with the trainers.

That’s why we hustle! That’s what we do!” tight end David Thomas shouted at Graham as they left the field, via Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “You did this! You got this win for us!”

The win moved them to 7-8, but showed a level of heart that was only occasionally evident this season.

“I didn’t think about the finger,” Graham said. “It felt like a loose ball on the basketball court, and I had to dive in and get it. I’ve been diving on hardwood since I was a little kid. . . .

“That’s just what this team does. We’ve got a lot of resolve. We’ve been through so much. We all give all we have.”

That’s a good sign for the future, assuming they get a deal done with coach Sean Payton and can build on the bits of evidence they’ve shown this year.

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Broncos open as slight favorites at Kansas City

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As was the case when the clubs met in September, the Broncos are favored over the Chiefs next Sunday night.

However, the Broncos aren’t favored by much.

Several Las Vegas sports books have installed 8-3 Denver as a 1- to 1.5-point favorite at Kansas City. If the line holds, it will be the 10th time in 11 regular-season games the Broncos have been favored.

Still, the line suggests the gap between Denver and Kansas City (7-4) has narrowed over the course of the season. When the Broncos hosted the Chiefs in Week Two, Kansas City was a 13-point underdog off a disappointing season-opening loss to Tennessee.

The Broncos would prevail 24-17, but the Chiefs did beat the point spread, and they have won 7-of-9 since falling to 0-2. That said, they come off a loss at previously winless Oakland, while Denver grinded out a 39-36 win vs. Miami.

For the record, the Chiefs are 8-3 against the point spread this season, per “The Linemakers” of Sporting News. The Broncos, however, are 5-6 vs. the number after failing to cover the seven-point spread vs. the Dolphins.

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Odell Beckham questionable to return with back injury

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After making the catch of the season, Odell Beckham might not be back to see the end of the game.

The Giants wide receiver went to the locker room with trainers, who were checking him for a back injury.

He went down awkwardly after a normal catch, and appeared to take a elbow to the head from Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick.

It was a relatively innocuous looking fall, especially with his acrobatics earlier in the night, and it seems to have taken the air out of the home crowd at MetLife Stadium.

He returned later in the fourth quarter, however, giving them a bit of a boost.

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Cowboys come back to take lead on Giants in third quarter

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Early on, it looked like the Giants might run away with this, but the Cowboys seem intent on making this a close finish on Sunday Night Football.

After cutting the lead to 21-17 on Cole Beasley’s 45-yard touchdown, the Cowboys stopped the Giants’ chance to answer when safety Barry Church picked off Eli Manning.

Church was sitting in center field when Manning sailed a pass over Preston Parker, swinging the momentum of this one in a hurry.

When Tony Romo hit a wide-open Dez Bryant for a 31-yard touchdown, it gave the Cowboys a 24-21 lead going into the fourth.

For all the lopsided games we’ve had on Sunday nights, this one is shaping up as a memorable one, for many reasons.

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New “pay as we play” postseason invoice procedure debuts

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After the NFL narrowly avoided three blackouts during the four-game wild-card weekend, the league decided to adopt a new approach to postseason ticket purchases.  In March, the owners voted to prohibit teams from charging for playoff tickets until they actually qualify for a home playoff game.

But that doesn’t keep teams from lining up buyers, via the distribution of playoff ticket invoices that must be submitted well before qualification for the postseason.  Under the new “pay as we play” policy, the customer’s credit card won’t be charged until the team in question earns a home playoff game.

According to the league, all teams still mathematically in contention for the postseason must send invoices to their season-ticket holders by December 1.  The Packers already have, with a deadline for submitting the invoices by December 3.

Last year, the Packers inexplicably faced a potential blackout because thousands of season-ticket holders opted not to pay for tickets to games that, based on how the team was playing while quarterback Aaron Rodgers was out with a broken collarbone, it appeared would never be played.

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Odell Beckham and the Giants lead Cowboys 21-10 at halftime

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Getty Images

Other stuff happened, yeah.

But did you see Odell Beckham?

The Giants put on a show on offense along with their rookie receiver’s Matrix-style touchdown catch, and they lead the Cowboys 21-10 at halftime of Sunday Night Football.

Their offense looked as crisp as it has at any point this year, with Eli Manning passing efficiently, and rookie running back Andre Williams doing his part as well with a touchdown (perhaps benefiting from a dubious replay review).

Manning is 14-of-16 for 191 yards and two touchdowns, which somehow doesn’t equal a perfect passer rating (his 156.0 just off the immaculate 158.3).

But the thing we’ll all be talking about is the Beckham catch. We should, it was incredible.

And with the Giants getting the ball to start the second half, he has a chance to add to the legend.

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Cowboys score, while everybody is still watching highlights

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The Giants have had some pretty good catches, including David Tyree winning a Super Bowl by snagging one with his helmet.

I’m not sure anyone has ever had one quite like Odell Beckham.

The Giants’ rookie’s second touchdown was one of the most incredible catches ever, giving the Giants a 14-3 lead over the Cowboys.

After being tugged to the ground by Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, Beckham reached up with his right hand, back over his head, and pulled Eli Manning’s pass in.

Officials reviewed it, but I suspect it was because they just wanted to look at it again.

The Cowboys responded with a nine-play touchdown drive of their own, but a shovel pass to Jason Witten was so pedestrian by comparison, that cutting it to 14-10 just means they’re giving Beckham another chance.

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Mallett could miss several weeks with pectoral injury

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The Ryan Mallett era may not be over (there is one?), but it could be interrupted.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that Mallett has a pectoral injury that possibly will knock him out of action for several weeks.

An MRI will reveal the extent of the damage.  If Mallett can’t play, the Texans likely will turn back to Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Mallett played with the injury — possibly for the entire game.  There’s chatter that the injury may have occurred during pregame warmups.

The fourth-year player led the Texans to a win last weekend in his first NFL start at Cleveland.  In a loss to the Bengals, Mallett completed 21 of 45 passes for 189 yards and one interception, which equates to a passer rating of 49.2.

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Lynch meets with reporters, doesn’t say much more than “yeah”

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The NFL requires all players to meet with reporters after every game.  Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has failed from time to time to comply with that requirement, triggering a $100,000 fine this past week.

On Sunday, he complied with the mandate after a win over the Cardinals, opting to exercise his prerogative to say as little as possible.

Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News-Tribune has the full transcript of Lynch’s remarks, which in response to most questions consisted of simply a remark.  As in a one-word response.

In many cases, it was simply, “Yeah.”  Even if the question didn’t call for a “yes” or a “no.”  (Or a “yeah.”)

How did your back feel?  “Yeah.”

Thoughts on how the defense played?  “Yeah.”

Anything to add about today?  “Yeah.”

Talk about the Cardinals Defense.  “Yeah.”

What did you think of Russell Wilson’s day, overall?  “Yeah.”

How is your back doing?  “Yeah.”

So, yeah, it’s far more productive and meaningful for Lynch to talk to a reporter on the phone from the bus than it is for him to talk to the media in the locker room.  And it remains to be seen whether the NFL accepts non-responsive responses to most of the questions posed to Lynch.

UPDATE 9:49 p.m. ET:  The Seahawks have posted the video at the team’s website. It’s obvious Lynch had no desire to say anything other than “yeah.”  (He did add a couple of “maybes.”)

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Odell Beckham touchdown gets Giants out to early lead

Odell Beckham AP

The Cowboys tried to get all their yards at once.

The Giants were willing to take theirs a bit at a time.

The result was the Giants getting out to a 7-0 lead over the Cowboys, with an Odell Beckham Jr. touchdown to open Sunday Night Football.

Their first drive was a methodical affair, taking 13 plays to move 80 yards, showing a good mix of running and short passes.

The Cowboys were the opposite on their first series, with a loud three-and-out, with Tony Romo throwing incomplete to a triple-covered Dez Bryant downfield to end it.

We’ll see if the Giants can keep up this offensive competence, as the Cowboys have proven over the course of the year they can score.

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Chargers hold off Rams, move to 7-4

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With their final five games against clubs with winning records, the Chargers absolutely had to have a win Sunday vs. St. Louis.

And they got it.

Overcoming several big mistakes, getting a lift from multiple Rams penalties and making a game-saving interception in the final minute, the Chargers held on for a 27-24 win in San Diego.

With the victory, the Chargers move to 7-4, which places them one game behind Denver in the AFC West. San Diego is also one of four 7-4 teams vying for two wild-card spots, with Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Cleveland the others.

The Rams (4-7) gave the Chargers all they could handle, and they looked likely to take the lead or send the game into overtime in the final minute. However, quarterback Shaun Hill was picked by Chargers safety Marcus Gilchrist in the endzone, and San Diego ran out the clock.

This was a roller-coaster game for both clubs. Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins set the tone early, picking off Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and taking it back for a 99-yard second-quarter TD to give St. Louis a 10-3 lead.

But the Rams missed a couple of chances to add to their edge in the first half. A penalty nullified a long Kenny Britt TD catch, and the Rams also had a field goal blocked.

Those squandered opportunities loomed large as the Chargers scored two TDs in a 21-second span in the third quarter. First, tailback Ryan Mathews — again bothered by a shoulder ailment — rushed for a 32-yard TD about five minutes into the period. Then, the Chargers got a big play from the defense, with Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget causing Hill to fumble and Andrew Gachkar taking it in for a 13-yard score.

Suddenly, the Chargers had a 20-10 lead. But San Diego couldn’t put away St. Louis. A fumbled punt set up the Rams’ second TD of the game, a six-yard run by Tavon Austin that cut the lead to 20-17. On their next drive, the Chargers would then turn the ball over deep in Rams territory, with Jenkins causing Keenan Allen to fumble.

But as the fourth quarter began, the Chargers were in the midst of one of their classic clock-chewing drives, and when Rivers hit Allen for a 29-yard TD with 8:09 left, the Rams found themselves down 27-17.

The Rams’ subsequent drive looked set to be a three-and-out, but St. Louis, backed up on its 26 and facing a 4th-and-4, faked the punt, with punter Johnny Hekker hitting Stedman Bailey for 19 yards. The Rams would capitalize, with Hill connecting with Bailey for a seven-yard score with 2:04 left.

The Rams would then hold on defense, and on the ensuing punt, Austin would break a 73-yard return down to the San Diego 5. However, a questionable holding call would take that off the board.

Still, the Rams would again get off the mat, and when Hill hit Britt for 27 yards down to the San Diego 6 with about a minute left, the Chargers had their backs against the wall. But Gilchrist would then make a potentially season-saving play for San Diego.

Rivers completed 29-of-35 passes for 291 yards with the touchdown and the pick, with Allen hauling in six passes for 104 yards and a TD. Hill was just 18-of-35 passing for 194 yards with the scoring pass and two interceptions.

Mathews racked up 105 yards rushing on 12 carries for San Diego, which plays at Baltimore next Sunday. The Rams host 1-10 Oakland.

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NFL, NFLPA to meet this week

Green Bay Packers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

In a week that will include fairly little work (especially in those states where deer hunting is a big deal), the NFL and NFL Players Association will carve out some time to get together before they commence carving the carcass of a large bird with intelligence inversely proportional to its tastiness.

Per a league source, the league and union will meet this week to discuss, among other things, potential revisions to the personal conduct policy.  The two sides have met three prior times, with the NFLPA wanting formal “collective bargaining” over possible changes to the policy and the NFL not wanting to make the possible tweaks a subject of formal bargaining.

Regardless of whether it is or isn’t deemed bargaining in the classic labor-relations sense, the players want all appeals of employee discipline to be handled by an independent third-party arbitrator.  The NFL wants to retain the Commissioner’s ability to impose discipline and to handle the appeal directly or to designate the responsibility to someone of the Commissioner’s choosing.

The issue takes on greater importance given the decision of Commissioner Roger Goodell to appoint former NFL executive Harold Henderson as the hearing officer in the Adrian Peterson appeal.  The NFLPA doesn’t regard Henderson as truly independent, in part due to his track record of upholding the NFL’s decisions.

It’s believed that, since 2008, Henderson has affirmed 90 percent or more of the NFL’s decisions in the nearly 90 appeals he has handled under various league policies, with the only widely-known reduction coming in the case of receiver Brandon Marshall, whose three-game suspension was reduced to a one-game suspension and a one-game fine by Henderson.  The union prefers the use of an arbitrator with no connection to the NFL; the league used that approach in selecting a hearing officer for the Ray Rice appeal.

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49ers escape with win after late Carlos Hyde touchdown

Jim Harbaugh AP

The 49ers didn’t make many big plays on offense Sunday, but wide receiver Anquan Boldin came up with one at exactly the right moment in the fourth quarter.

Boldin caught a pass in traffic and shrugged off a hit from Redskins safety Ryan Clark, who led with his helmet, to gain 29 yards. Clark’s penalty added 15 more yards to the total, pushing the 49ers into the red zone. Carlos Hyde scored three plays later and the 49ers had a 17-13 lead with three minutes left to play.

That was plenty of time for the Washington offense to make something happen, but they weren’t able to do it. Aldon Smith sacked Robert Griffin III to help thwart one drive and the final Redskins possession of the day ended when Griffin lost a fumble on a sack by Justin Smith. Those were two of the five sacks that the 49ers racked up along with numerous other big hits on Griffin that left the quarterback even more beleaguered than he was during a week that saw him torn apart by fans, the media and coach Jay Gruden.

Nothing Griffin did on Sunday will stop the criticism from mounting. He was 11-of-19 for 109 yards and the Redskins couldn’t take enough advantage of three 49ers turnovers. It was never bad enough that it felt like Colt McCoy would be getting the call from the sideline, if only because the pass rush would have suffocated him as well, but it wasn’t good enough to make anyone feel better about the overall offensive situation either.

Neither was the 49ers offense for much of the day. Colin Kaepernick was 20-of-29 for 256 yards and Boldin caught nine balls for 137 yards, but Hyde and Frank Gore each fumbled while combining for 52 yards on 20 carries.

The Niners have now scored 33 points in the last two weeks against two NFC East teams going nowhere and they’ll need to find a way to generate more points if they are going to win the games against the Seahawks and Cardinals that they’ll need to win to ensure themselves a playoff spot. The defense will make it hard for anyone to blow them out, but close losses will be just as costly.

They’ll get their first chance to do better on Thanksgiving night against Seattle.

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Broncos turn it on late to beat the Dolphins, 39-36

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After getting off to a sluggish start, the Broncos turned in a dominant fourth quarter today to beat the Dolphins in Denver.

The Broncos, who have been getting off to sluggish starts for about a month now, looked early on like something might be really wrong: Peyton Manning wasn’t connecting with his receivers, and the Dolphins’ offense was moving down the field easily. But when the Broncos needed to make plays, they made them.

Manning threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes and C.J. Anderson ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown as well, and the Broncos’ defense played well against the Dolphins in the final 15 minutes, and Denver won 39-36.

Although it hasn’t always been pretty for the Broncos recently, by winning they improved to 8-3 and are the clear favorites in the AFC West. If the Broncos win next week in Kansas City, they’ll be in great shape to win their division again.

The Dolphins, however, have just been dealt a blow from which they may not recover. At 6-5 Miami is still in the hunt, but this was the type of game the Dolphins needed to win if they wanted to be contenders. With their disappointing fourth quarter, the Dolphins showed they aren’t on the same level as the Broncos.

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Ravens bus involved in minor accident

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Earlier this year, a Washington bus was involved in a crash that could have resulted in serious injuries, but didn’t.  On Sunday in New Orleans, a Baltimore Ravens bus was involved in a far less significant accident.

According to CSNBaltimore.com, one of Baltimore’s six buses was involved in a minor wreck while taking personnel from the airport to the hotel.

The bus reportedly struck a car.  No injuries were reported.

The Ravens face the Saints on Monday night at the Superdome.

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Seahawks step up, shut down the Cardinals 19-3

Russell Wilson AP

The Seahawks have had plenty of issues this season. But for a moment, they looked like the team that won the Super Bowl last year.

And it took that kind of effort to beat what might be the best team in the NFC this year.

The Seahawks snapped Arizona’s six-game hot streak with a 19-3 win at home, keeping the defending champions in the NFC playoff chase.

They put the shackles on the Cardinals, limiting them to 204 total yards.

The Cardinals had won six in a row, and they played the kind of defense for most of the day to extend that streak. But they couldn’t get into the end zone with chances, and couldn’t match the Seahawks when they finally woke up.

After a first half which saw the two teams combine for 232 yards, the Seahawks finally put together something resembling offense in the third quarter.

Quarterback Russell Wilson was 7-for-7 for 75 yards and a touchdown in the third, finally answering the Cardinals pressure. A scrambling, ducking-out-of-a-sack pass to Marshawn Lynch went for a 23-yard gain, and gave Seattle the spark it was looking for. Wilson finished the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cooper Helfet.

But it was far from a polished effort for Wilson and the Seahawks, as he was sacked seven times.

But the Cardinals finally looked like a team that was forced to go next-man-up one too many times, falling to 9-2. They’re still a game clear of the rest of the NFC in pursuit of home field advantage for the playoffs, but their schedule stiffens after next week’s game against the Falcons, closing with the Chiefs and three division games.

The Seahawks improved to 7-4, but they’re still on the outside looking in for a wild card spot.

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