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NFL morning after: Don’t overlook the Packers

Tennessee Titans v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

With 11 NFL games played simultaneously early Sunday afternoon, there were half a dozen big ones with playoff implications. The Vikings pounded the Texans. The Bengals snatched the final AFC playoff spot away from the Steelers. The Redskins held on to beat the Eagles. The Cowboys lost a thriller to the Saints. The Colts clinched a return to the playoffs in Kansas City. The Patriots struggled to put away the pesky Jaguars.

Those were all good games, so you can be forgiven if you overlooked the Packers’ 55-7 blowout of the Titans, a snoozer that was over a few minutes after it began. But for my money, the Packers made a stronger statement about their status as a Super Bowl contender than any of the teams in those other games I mentioned.

Yes, the Titans are a bad team, but even against the bad teams, you can be impressed with the way a good team plays. And I have to be impressed when I see Aaron Rodgers go 27-for-38 for 342 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. I have to be impressed when I see three wide receivers — James Jones, Randall Cobb and Greg Jennings — all catch touchdown passes, while tight end Jermichael Finley had his best game of the season, with 70 receiving yards. I have to be impressed when running back Ryan Grant, last year’s starter who just re-signed in Green Bay three weeks ago, gained 80 yards and scored two touchdowns.

But we already knew the Packers would be fine on offense, as long as Rodgers is around. Even more importantly, I was impressed with a Green Bay defense that saw six different players — A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Mike Neal, Dezman Moses and Sam Shields — sack Titans quarterback Jake Locker. And I was even impressed by the special teams — which had been the biggest weakness of the Packers this season — stepping up on Sunday. Jeremy Ross had a 58-yard punt return, while Mason Crosby finally settled down and made both of his field goal attempts, although his 48-yarder bounced off the upright before falling through.

Does all that add up to the Packers being the best team in the NFL right now? I don’t know. If I had to pick a best team right now I’d probably go with Seattle, which pounded San Francisco on Sunday night for its third straight blowout win. But I’m not sure how relevant the title of “best team” is at this time of year. We often see that the universally recognized best team in the league in late December isn’t still standing in early February — as the Packers found out the hard way last year.

What I do think that is that if I were a fan of a playoff team, the Packers — who have now won four straight and nine of their last 10 — are the team I’d least want to be playing when the postseason starts. This Green Bay team is really, really good, and remember: If we have a rematch of that Seahawks-Packers “Fail Mary” replacement ref debacle in the postseason, the rematch will most likely be at Lambeau Field. A Seahawks-Packers playoff rematch would be a matchup of the two NFC teams that are playing their best football right now, and in Green Bay, I’d pick the Packers.

That 55-7 Packers score was what really made me sit up and take notice on Sunday. Here are the other items that caught my eye:

The NFL’s schedule makers dropped the ball with Sunday afternoon’s slate. Putting 11 games in the 1 o’clock kickoff slot and only three games in the 4 o’clock kickoff slot is a dumb way to divide up the afternoon games. With a bunch of good games in the early window, it was hard to follow all the action. And with three lousy games in the late window, the end of the day felt like a letdown.

Jamaal Charles tops Jim Brown. Charles didn’t just rush for 226 yards in the Chiefs’ loss to the Colts. He also broke Jim Brown’s half-century old record for the highest career yards per carry average for a running back. In the official NFL Record and Fact Book, a player needs 750 career carries to qualify for the all-time record, and among running backs, Jim Brown’s career average of 5.22 yards per carry has always been the gold standard. But on Sunday, Charles got his 750th career carry and jumped ahead of Brown in the record book. Charles now has 770 career carries for 4,483 yards, an incredible career average of 5.82 yards a carry. Any time a running back tops Jim Brown, he has done something special. To top Jim Brown’s longstanding record average by more than half a yard per carry is stunning.

Janoris Jenkins has had a remarkable rookie season. Jenkins entered this year’s NFL draft widely regarded as one of the most talented players available, but also as an off-field problem child who could turn out to be more trouble than he’s worth. Well, the Rams drafted Jenkins in the second round, and he has had some off-field trouble — Rams coach Jeff Fisher benched him for one game for missing curfew — but no one could possibly argue that Jenkins is more trouble than he’s worth anymore. Jenkins has been a fantastic cornerback on an improving St. Louis defense, and on Sunday he scored his fourth defensive touchdown of the season. Do you know how hard that is to do? Deion Sanders is the best defensive player I ever saw at making plays after turnovers, and even Deion never scored four defensive touchdowns in a season. Jenkins is one of only three players in NFL history to have three interception returns for a touchdown in his rookie season, and the other two — Lem Barney and Ronnie Lott — are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If Jenkins can steer clear of off-field trouble, then Fisher is going to look back on drafting Jenkins as the single most important decision he made in his first year as the Rams’ coach.

Blair Walsh has had a remarkable rookie season, too. Never before in NFL history had anyone kicked more than eight 50-yard field goals in a season. Walsh, Minnesota’s rookie kicker, booted his ninth field goal of 50 yards or longer when he connected from 56 yards against the Texans on Sunday. Everyone knows the Vikings are playoff contenders because they have the NFL’s best running back in Adrian Peterson. But don’t overlook the importance of having the NFL’s best kicker in Walsh.

The Broncos are doing it at the right time. We that the six AFC playoff teams will be the Texans, Broncos, Patriots, Ravens, Colts and Bengals. But the only one of those six teams that really looks like it’s playing its best football late in the season is Denver. The Texans got pushed around by the Vikings on Sunday, the Patriots followed a loss to the 49ers last week with an ugly win over the Jaguars this week, the Ravens played well on Sunday but have struggled through most of the last month, and the Bengals and Colts barely squeaked by in their wild-card clinching wins on Sunday. I see big question marks about those five AFC playoff teams, but no major questions about the Broncos, who played great offense and great defense in pounding the Browns on Sunday. How does Peyton Manning leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers sound?

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Slim chance Romo plays again this year

Tony Romo AP

On Friday, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will find out whether his left clavicle has indeed been fractured again. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the bone most likely has once again been broken.

If it’s broken, Romo won’t play again this year. But what if it’s not broken?

ESPN’s Ed Werder reports that Romo’s season is over regardless of the outcome of the CT scan. PFT has been told, however, that there’s still a slim chance Romo will return.

First, the collarbone would have to not be broken. Second, the Cowboys would have to win multiple games without Romo in order to make his return in three weeks or so relevant to the team’s effort to catch the Giants in the NFC East.

That’s a tall order, given that the Cowboys are 0-7 without Romo in 2015.

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Lacy rolling early, just misses blooper-reel play

Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Eddie Lacy is running like he has something to prove, and the Packers have an early 7-0 lead on the Bears.

Lacy turned a short pass from Aaron Rodgers into a 25-yard touchdown with 5:15 left in the first quarter. After losing his starting job earlier this season amid struggles with injuries and his weight, Lacy looks fast and determined tonight.

The touchdown survived a review. Lacy flipped the ball backwards near the goal line, close enough that a second and third look were necessary to make sure the ball had crossed the goal line before he flung it backwards into the air.

It would have been the kind of blooper-reel play that lived for a long time.

Lacy has 6 carries for 48 yards. He had a 29-yard run on the game’s first possession but was stuffed on fourth and 2 as the Packers chose to be aggressive early in the game.

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Watch Bears-Packers on NBC Sports Live Extra

Aaron Rodgers AP

Not everyone is currently crowded around a TV. For those of you who aren’t, you can still see the Thanksgiving NFL nightcap.

The Bears-Packers contest can be seen at NBC Sports Live Extra. You also can watch the game by downloading the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

After a couple of snoozers to start the day, here’s hoping the Bears give the Packers all they can handle, while you keep giving your gullet all the food and drink it can handle. And then some.

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Source: “Most likely” a small fracture for Romo

Tony Romo AP

X-rays apparently were inconclusive. By Friday, an answer will emerge as to the status of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s twice-broken left collarbone.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, there’s “most likely” a small fracture in the bone.

After Thursday’s loss, Romo told reporters that the sensation was similar to his past experiences with breaking the bone. He’ll have a CT scan to determine whether the bone is indeed broken.

If it’s broken, Romo undoubtedly will be done for the year. If it’s not broken, it’ll be interesting to see when he returns — especially with the Cowboys at 3-8.

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Tony Romo: Shoulder “feels similar” to first broken collarbone

Tony Romo AP

Tony Romo’s immediate reaction gave no reason for optimism.

And while they’re not calling it yet, there’s not much reason for any.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he didn’t have any update on the injured left shoulder that knocked his quarterback out Sunday, but Romo didn’t seem confident, as he stood at the podium with his left arm in a sling.

Via Ed Werder of ESPN, Romo said “It feels similar” to the broken clavicle he suffered in Week Two against the Eagles, but that he wanted to wait for more tests tomorrow.

Romo landed hard on his shoulder near the end of the third quarter, as he was being tackled by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis. He immediately grabbed his left shoulder, in obvious pain.

Now the questions will turn to whether Romo returned too soon from what Jones said was six fractures. He was wearing extra padding to try to protect the area, but it clearly didn’t work.

And now, the Cowboys can’t expect to either.

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Panthers stay perfect with thorough thrashing of Cowboys

Luke Kuechly, Bene' Benwikere, Cole Beasley AP

The Panthers stayed undefeated, and made perhaps their most convincing case yet that their 11-0 record is not an accident.

And the Cowboys found out there was something worse than Tony Romo throwing three interceptions in the first half.

The Panthers rolled to a dominant 33-14 win over the Cowboys, whose nightmare season took another turn as Romo left late in the third quarter to get X-rays on his left clavicle.

While that dropped the Cowboys to 3-8, it also extinguished any hope they had of turning things around if Romo’s not going to be able to return. They had a bit of confidence when he came back last week and helped them snap a seven-game losing streak, which coincided with his absence from his first broken left clavicle.

But for the Panthers, it was a celebration long before Romo gave way to Matt Cassel.

They turned three Romo interceptions into 17 points in the first half and never looked back, sustaining drives in the second half with a powerful run game. They needed it, as the Cowboys played well enough defensively in the first half to keep it reasonably close.

But at this point, the Panthers’ formula is evident, as they won their 15th straight regular season game, dating back to last season. By the time they play their next game on Dec. 6, it will be 371 days since they last lost a regular season game (Nov. 30, 2014 at the Vikings).

They can run the ball, topping 100 yards as a team for the 22nd straight game.

They can pass-protect better than advertised, keeping a largely clean pocket for Cam Newton, and negating Greg Hardy’s effort at revenge. Newton was sacked just once, and Hardy made no impact on the game against his old team.

They can stop the run, limiting Dallas to 16 rushing yards in the first half and just 15 in the second.

And they can create takeaways, as they entered the week leading the league in turnovers created and points off turnovers. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly had a pair of interceptions, returning one for a score (after safety Kurt Coleman had a pick-six of his own).

It’s a formula that could carry them to the Super Bowl, and give them a serious chance at a 16-0 season. Their remaining five games are at New Orleans, at home against the Falcons, followed by back-to-back road games against the Giants and Falcons and their home finale against the Buccaneers.

While they were a Vegas underdog to start this week, it’s hard to see that being the case again, unless the oddsmakers see the trip to New York as a potential slip.

But even if they do lose a game at some point, they showed a national audience Thursday that their success is legitimate, and that they’re one of the two most dangerous teams in the league.

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Forte, Jeffery active for Thursday nightcap

Forte Getty Images

The Bears will have running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the lineup for Thursday night’s game at Green Bay.

Forte (knee) and Jeffery (groin) had been listed as questionable. Forte has missed the last three games, and rookie Jeremy Langford has played well in his place.

As previously announced, the Bears will be without tight end Martellus Bennett (ribs) and wide receiver Eddie Royal (knee). Bennett leads the Bears with 50 receptions, while Jeffery leads the team with 515 receiving yards.

Linebacker Pernell McPhee, who had also been questionable with a knee injury, will also play. Starting defensive Will Sutton was not on the injury report but is inactive.

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X-rays for Romo on left collarbone

Tony Romo AP

In the second game of the season, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo broke his left collarbone. In his second game back from the injury, he may have broken it again.

Via Tracy Wolfson of CBS, Romo currently is getting X-rays on the clavicle, which owner Jerry Jones recently suggested was broken in multiple places.

‘To give you an idea, if you ever want to make a picture of his positive competitive mentality, do it when he came back off a shoulder that had six fractures,” Jones said Sunday, after a 24-14 win at Miami. “OK? Six. OK!”

Regardless of whether it’s one break or more, the Cowboys are now facing life without Romo again, which would almost certainly bring an end to a season that started with such high expectations, after an unexpected surge to 12-4 in 2014.

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Panthers rolling, Tony Romo leaves game after shot to shoulder

Cam Newton, Randy Gregory AP

It looked like the Cowboys were going to trade field goals with the Panthers to open the second half.

But then they made another mistake, one that they can’t trace to Tony Romo, and the Panthers are pulling away.

After Cowboys rookie Byron Jones was flagged for leaping over the line on a field goal try, the Panthers kept the drive going and finally found the end zone on offense.

Cam Newton ran in from 4 yards out, giving the Panthers a 30-6 lead late in the third quarter.

But the news got worse for Dallas, as Romo went down on the next to last play of the third quarter, landing hard on his left shoulder. That’s the one with the broken collarbone that cost him seven games.

So as bad as the game is for the Cowboys, the news could be getting even worse.

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Greg Hardy not able to start the second half

hardy_1200 Getty Images

Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy wanted to prove to the Panthers they made a mistake letting him go.

But he hasn’t been able to make an impact on the game so far, and he wasn’t even on the field when the second half began.

Hardy didn’t record a statistic in the first half, the Panthers lead 23-3. Then when they came out for the second half, Hardy came out without a helmet, and took a seat on the bench.

Via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Hardy was taking oxygen on the sidelines during the first series of the second half. Hardy has dealt with asthma his entire career.

UPDATE 6:35 p.m. ET: Hardy returned to the field for the second possession.

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Tony Romo keeps throwing picks, Panthers lead 20-3

Tony Romo

The Panthers aren’t having as much success offensively as they’re accustomed to.

They might not need to do much more.

Luke Kuechly just returned an interception for a touchdown, the second pick-six of Tony Romo on the day, giving the Panthers a 20-3 lead in the second quarter.

Coupled with Kurt Coleman’s touchdown and then another pick by Kuechly, the Panthers are rolling in the late stages of the second quarter.

The big mistakes from Romo have undermined an otherwise good day by his defense, which has kept Cam Newton frustrated, forcing him to settle for a pair of field goals. But with the job the Panthers are doing on Romo (Dez Bryant still doesn’t have a catch), Newton will eventually end up smiling.

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Colts claim RB Boom Herron

Indianapolis Colts v Denver Broncos Getty Images

The Colts claimed running back Boom Herron on Thursday, bringing back the player who emerged as their top running back in last year’s playoffs.

Herron was waived-injured by the Colts after he was injured in the final preseason game, then released with an injury settlement. He signed with the Bills and played four games before being waived Wednesday.

Running back Zurlon Tipton was waived to make room for Herron on the roster.

A sixth-round pick of the Bengals in 2012, Herron played five games for the Colts in 2013 after being signed off of the Bengals’ practice squad. He played in all 16 games and made three starts for the Colts last season. He ran well down the stretch, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and ran 45 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the Colts’ three playoff games.

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Report: Patriots placing Dobson on IR

Aaron Dobson AP

An ankle injury has ended the season for Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson.

ESPN’s Field Yates reported Thursday that the team will place Dobson on injured reserve and replace him on the roster with safety Dewey McDonald.

Dobson suffered what was originally diagnosed as a high ankle sprain during last Monday’s win over the Bills. The Patriots are low on receivers with Julian Edelman out for an extended period, Danny Amendola dealing with a knee injury and Keshawn Martin dealing with a hamstring injury, so the loss of Dobson is significant even though he was not a starter.

The injury situation forced the Patriots to work out three wide receivers on Wednesday.

The Patriots claimed McDonald from the Colts earlier in the season. He’s been on and off the roster since then and is primarily a special teams player.

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Panthers start things off with a quick pick-six

Kurt Coleman AP

It’s hard to imagine not being able to see a Panthers player in these eye-popping blue uniforms they’re wearing today.

And yet, Tony Romo just did.

The Panthers took a quick 7-0 lead in Dallas, with Kurt Coleman picking off Romo and returning it for a touchdown.

The interception was Coleman’s fifth of the year for the Panthers, as he’s proven to be an excellent free agent pickup for a defense that continues to create turnovers.

They followed by forcing a quick three-and-out, establishing an early tone.

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Washington loses Chris Culliver to torn ACL in practice

Detroit Lions v Washington Redskins Getty Images

It’s getting harder for Washington to be thankful today.

According to John Keim of, Washington cornerback Chris Culliver is out for the season, after suffering a torn ACL in practice today.

Culliver joined the team in free agency in March, but hadn’t exactly lived up to his four-year, $32 million contract. He was also suspended a game earlier this season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

Washington is reasonably deep at the position, considering they’ve been working veteran DeAngelo Hall at safety. But with Culliver’s injury coming so late in the season, there will be some reasonable concern as to whether he’ll be ready for next year’s opener.

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