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Patriots trying to keep Ridley’s confidence up

New England Patriots v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The Patriots have proven they need Stevan Ridley.

But he had to prove he could hang onto the ball first.

After coughing it up three times in his previous two games, Ridley kept a firm grip on his responsibilities last week against the Jaguars.

“That’s what we had to focus on, because of the couple turnovers we had, starting with myself,” Ridley said, via Michael Whitmer of the Boston Globe. “We focused on that, and that’s what we have to do. When we carry the ball, we have to carry it back to our offense. We can’t turn it over, we can’t have fumbles.”

Ridley said extra attention was placed on ball security, both in practice and the film room. While they’ve pulled him from individual games (such as when Danny Woodhead replaced him during the 49ers game), they keep going back to him for a reason.

With 1,189 yards and 10 touchdowns, he’s clearly the most explosive threat they have in the backfield, and last week’s closer-than-expected win over the Jags was used to build him up. He got the ball on the first six rushing plays, proof that they believe in him, or that they want to.

“When you look at issues, whether it be ball security or pass protection or the ability to run the ball outside or whatever the issue may be, there is always a reason,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “Our goal is to try to give the player enough resources and enough instruction that he might be able to effectively improve that situation, that issue, if it exists.”

It clearly exists, but they’re clearly choosing to work through the issue rather than just putting him in the doghouse.

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NFL: Rams-Raiders will remain in St. Louis

Shaun Hill AP

On Wednesday, there was a report in the Indianapolis Star about the “remote possibility” that Sunday’s game between the Raiders and Rams would be moved from St. Louis to a Monday start in Indianapolis because of the ongoing tension in Ferguson, Missouri.

The report said that Lucas Oil Stadium was ready to serve as a site for the game in the event that a decision was made that it wasn’t safe enough to play as scheduled, but that won’t be necessary. While we don’t know when that tension in Ferguson will ease, we do know that the remote possibility is no longer a possibility at all.

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com passes along word from a league spokesman that the game will be played as scheduled at the Edward Jones Dome with a 1 p.m. ET kickoff on Sunday. That avoids a second straight week with two Monday night games after the Jets and Bills were shifted to Detroit in Week 12 after the mammoth blizzard that buried Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.

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Will any Thanksgiving records fall today?

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As the first of three Thanksgiving games approaches, let’s take a quick look at the history of the best of the best performances on the fourth Thursday in November.

Courtesy of the 2014 Official NFL Record & Fact Book, here are the single-game records from the league’s annual Thanksgiving game.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1929, Ernie Nevers scored six touchdowns for the Cardinals in a game against the Bears.  On three other Thanksgiving occasions, players have scored four times.  Most recently, NBCSN’s Brian Westbrook racked up a quartet of touchdowns for the Eagles against the Cardinals in 2008.

Another record could be a little easier to beat today, but not much.  On Thanksgiving in 1976, Bills running back O.J. Simpson (pictured) gained 273 yards on the ground against the Lions.  There hasn’t even been another 200-yard Thanksgiving rushing performance, with Bob Hoernschemeyer gaining 198 for the Lions in 1950 against the New York Yankees, and Earl Campbell grinding out 195 for the Oilers against the Cowboys in 1979.

Through the air, Troy Aikman passed for 455 yards against the Vikings on the day then-rookie Randy Moss exploded for three touchdowns on three catches.  Matthew Stafford nearly matched that total for the Lions in 2012, with 441 yards passing.  And long before Scott Mitchell went for nearly four spins on the scale, he threw for 410 yards for the Lions in a 1995 Thanksgiving Day win over the Vikings.

When it comes to receiving yardage, Jim Benton of the Browns racked up 303 yards against the Lions 69 years ago on Thanksgiving.  The next highest total came in 2012, with Andre Johnson generating 188 yards for the Texans against the Lions.

Will any of those records fall today?  It’s one of the wrinkles that will fascinate fans and fantasy owners as kickoff approaches.

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Reggie Bush, Riley Reiff out for Lions against Bears

Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Lions hoped to have running back Reggie Bush back this week, but his ankle didn’t cooperate.

Bush is inactive for Detroit’s Thanksgiving game against the Bears, making it three straight games that Bush has missed as a result of the injury. He also missed two other games earlier in the year, which may be a contributing factor to the Lions ranking 28th in points scored this season.

Compounding the issues for the Lions Offense on Thursday will be the absence of left tackle Riley Reiff. Like Bush, Reiff was listed as questionable for the game but left off the 46-man roster. Reiff is dealing with a knee injury that knocked him out of last weekend’s lopsided loss to the Patriots. Cornelius Lucas is expected to play in his place.

The Bears had one questionable player on Wednesday, but cornerback Kyle Fuller got the nod in spite of a knee injury. That keeps alive the possibility that he’ll face off with his brother, Lions wideout Corey Fuller, at some point on a day usually spent with family. Linebacker Lance Briggs, wide receiver Chris Williams, linebacker Darryl Sharpton, defensive end Trevor Scott, offensive lineman Eben Britton, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and cornerback Terrance Mitchell are inactive for Chicago.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, guard Larry Warford, quarterback Kellen Moore, receiver Ryan Broyles and defensive end Larry Webster round out Detroit’s list of inactives.

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Colts make a change at cornerback

Cassius Vaughn, Jalil Brown, Randy Bullock AP

The arrival of Shaun Phillips isn’t the only change for the Indianapolis defense this week.

The team announced that they have signed cornerback Jalil Brown and waived cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy.

Brown was released by the Dolphins earlier in the week and will be making his third tour of duty with the Colts. Brown spent time with them late last season and played two games with them earlier this year. Brown also has another spell with the Dolphins and began his career with the Chiefs after they took him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.

He’ll likely fill the same special teams-centric role that Purifoy played for the team, although there’s a chance he could see time on defense with Vontae Davis, Josh Gordy and Greg Toler all appearing on this week’s injury report.

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Peterson materials due to be filed by Friday

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Next Tuesday, the appeal hearing in Adrian Peterson’s case will commence at 10:00 a.m. ET.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Peterson has until Friday, November 28 to submit any materials that he intends to introduce at the hearing.

It’s unknown what, if anything, Peterson will introduce.  Peterson submitted nothing to the NFL before the decision was made to suspend him for the rest of the 2014 season.

What Peterson submits potentially could have a huge impact on the outcome of the appeal.  If, of course, hearing officer Harold Henderson is willing to break from his track record of siding with the NFL in these appeals.

It’s unclear how quickly a ruling will be issued.  In theory, Peterson could be back as soon as December 7, for a visit from the Jets.

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Odell Beckham gives all the love to the glove

Odell Beckham Jr. AP

Making the catch of the year was mostly Odell Beckham.

But the Giants wide receiver admitted he’s not sure if he could have made his now-famous, falling-backward, three-fingered catch without his gloves.

I have no idea,” Beckham said, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.

Beckham’s gloves are Nike Vapor Jets, size XXXL (which may also explain how he catches flying things with one hand), which he’s been wearing since his college days at LSU.

“I definitely told them they were some of my favorites that they made,” Beckham said. “It’s just the way that they fit. They’re a tight fit, they’re very light, and they feel like they’re a part of your hand.”

If the gloves were the secret, everyone would be wearing them, but we suspect Beckham’s hands deserve a little more of the credit.

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Thanks NFL for giving us three great games today

turkey-pic-getty-images-185517752 Getty Images

On Thanksgiving, the NFL enjoys a captive audience.  With a trio of games starting at 12:30 p.m. ET and lasting possibly until midnight, monitors throughout America will be bouncing from CBS to FOX to NBC.

As Costanza said when asked why anyone would watch a show about nothing, “Because it’s on TV.”  Whatever NFL games would be on TV today, we’d all be watching.

But the NFL has given us a trio of great games, involving five of the seven NFC teams vying for the five playoff spots that won’t go to the none-of-the-above NFC South.  It starts with Bears-Lions, a Thanksgiving matchup that has happened 10 prior times.  It continues with the first of two games involving what turned out to be the top two teams in the NFC East, the 8-3 Eagles and 8-3 Cowboys.

And it finishes with the first encounter between the Seahawks and 49ers since January.  That time, it was an elimination game.  This time, it could have the same effect, knocking the loser to 7-5 and making it much harder to get to the postseason.

The biggest challenge for today?  Staying awake for the whole thing after gobbling up plenty of gobble gobble gobble turkey from jive turkey gobblers.

Of course, the NFL’s goal isn’t entirely altruistic.  Bigger games ensure even bigger audiences.  Also, the sense of gratitude that comes from having compelling games broken out from the scrum of Sunday action helps strengthen the bond with customers.

Regardless, it worked.  Thank you, NFL, for choosing great games for the fourth Sunday in Thanksgiving.

The nationally-televised games on Sunday’s slate — Patriots-Packers and Broncos-Chiefs — aren’t too shabby, either.  As to Monday night and the Dolphins at the Jets, well, I guess we can’t have everything.

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Coaching staff wanted Vick, gets Geno instead

Vick AP

There’s no greater sign of dysfunction in a professional sports organization than folks who lack the qualifications to make coaching decisions making coaching decisions.

In the current chase for the title of most dysfunctional organization in the NFL, the Jets have a clear edge over Washington in this category.

In Washington, coach Jay Gruden apparently has the power to pick his quarterback.  In New York, coach Rex Ryan apparently doesn’t.

Per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, Ryan, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and the “majority” of others in the organization wanted to stick with Mike Vick.  Instead, Geno Smith will return to the starting lineup.

Vick seems to have the same sense of resignation that prompted the coaching staff to go along with the switch back to Geno Smith.

“I don’t own this organization,” Vick said Wednesday.  “I just play for it.  Why do things happen?  I don’t know.  I don’t ask too many questions.”

The decision to return to Smith possibly arises from a desire to answer any lingering question about whether Smith has a future with the organization.  Or maybe owner Woody Johnson has realized that there are legitimate ways to improve draft position by tanking games down the stretch.  With the Jets eliminated from the playoffs, why not make it easier to climb higher in the pecking order to get the true franchise quarterback that the franchise hasn’t had since . . . since . . . Joe Namath?

Ultimately, the dysfunction that results in the front office and/or ownership overriding the coaching staff could be the only solution to a 4.5-decade failure to get back to the Super Bowl.

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Report: Indy ready for “remote possibility” of Rams game moving

St. Louis Rams vs San Diego Chargers Getty Images

While it seems unlikely at this point, the NFL has at least looked into the chance of moving Sunday’s Raiders-Rams game in St. Louis because of the tension in nearby Ferguson.

According to Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star, a league source called it a “remote possibility,” though Indianapolis would be ready to host the game Monday if need be.

He cited public safety officials saying they’d be ready and concessions workers saying they were “on call,” if the game needed to be played there Monday.

While it’s likely just a contingency plan (one which frankly every team should have in a folder in a locked drawer somwhere), the fact it’s a possibility should underscore the seriousness of the situation in Missouri.

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Sean Payton reminding Saints of past turnarounds

Sean Payton AP

When the Saints won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season, they became the first team to take home a Lombardi Trophy after losing their final three games of the regular season.

That doesn’t mean that every team with championship aspirations should be trying to drop games at the end of the season, but it does mean that good runs can follow bad ones over the course of a year. That’s a message that Saints coach Sean Payton is trying to send to this year’s edition after they dropped three straight games at the Superdome to miss a chance to grab control of the NFC South.

Instead they fell to 4-7 and Payton feels there’s “value to referencing” past turnarounds in New Orleans and elsewhere as a way to keep the team focused on what’s still possible for them this season.

“You’re constantly, as a teacher, trying to do that,” Payton said, via the Associated Press. “You look at some parallels, some comparisons.”

Whether it’s those Saints, a Giants team that saved Tom Coughlin’s job or any of the other moments in sports history when a contender rose off the mat, there are plenty of examples that show it ain’t over until it’s over. This version of the Saints will have to play much better to join those teams, starting with this Sunday in Pittsburgh.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Terrell Suggs (55) AP

Donte Whitner’s not backing off comments he made about Buffalo and the Bills.

The Dolphins aren’t fooling themselves about the late-season danger of the Jets.

Patriots special teamer Matt Slater is thankful for a new contract.

The Jets fans who buy billboards have a new target — owner Woody Johnson.

Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs reached the 100-sack milestone last week.

The Bengals are comfortable on the road.

Browns LB Karlos Dansby is “close” to coming back from a knee injury.

Steelers backup RBs Dri Archer and Josh Harris are ready for their chance to run.

Finding an answer at QB tops the Texans’ offseason priorities (since it didn’t last offseason).

The Colts can’t be sure their running game will carry them into January.

After poking holes in QB Blake Bortles earlier in the week, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was building him back up.

The Titans added a LB after releasing veteran Shaun Phillips.

Broncos LB Danny Trevathan returned to practice.

The Chiefs will have a tough time replacing S Eric Berry.

Raiders G Gabe Jackson is working his way back to the starting lineup.

Chargers C Chris Watt is the next man up, again.

Cowboys LB Keith Smith is riding the practice squad roller coaster.

The Giants are trying to blitz, it’s just not working.

The Eagles are still giving up far too many downfield plays.

Some Washington teammates were surprised by the decision to bench Robert Griffin III.

The Bears can’t worry about style points today.

Will this be Lions DT Ndamukong Suh’s last Thanksgiving with the team?

Packers WR Jordy Nelson isn’t sure which Patriots CB he’ll draw.

Vikings RT Phil Loadholt expects to be back by training camp.

The Falcons added some WR depth to the practice squad.

The Panthers aren’t expecting DT Star Lotulelei back this week.

Saints TE Benjamin Watson’s Facebook post about Ferguson went viral.

The Buccaneers continue to be hamstrung by a series of, well, hamstrings.

Cardinals DE Josh Mauro made a good first impression.

Rams WR Stedman Bailey has emerged as an option in the passing game again.

49ers RT Jonathan Martin is set to make his seventh start tonight.

The Seahawks are back on top of the league’s defensive rankings.

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Division winners should lose automatic home playoff game

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The NFL’s current structure of four divisions per conference and four teams per division creates a neat, tidy, and symmetrical collection of franchises.  It looks great on paper.  And it makes it easier for the league to craft a scheduling formula that permits every team to play every other team every four years.  It also gives season-ticket holders a chance to see every team in the league once every eight years.  (Unless one of those interconference games gets shipped to London.)

But the structure has its flaws.  To get to the playoffs — and to host a postseason game — a team needs only to be the best of four teams.  No matter how bad any of those four teams are in any given year.

This year, four teams with bad records have congregated in the NFC South, where the Saints and Falcons stand at 4-7, the Panthers have a record of 3-7-1, and the Buccaneers sit only two games back, despite winning only two of 11 games.

The best cure to the problem would come from shifting back to three divisions per conference.  The league used that structure before the Texans joined the NFL in 2002, with five divisions having five teams each and one sporting six.  Now with 32 franchises, four divisions would have five teams, and two would have six.

Having at least five teams in a given division would make it much harder for a team to win a division with a non-winning record.  Which would result in three divisions winners plus three wild cards per conference filling out the postseason dance card.

The next best alternative would be to remove the guaranteed home game in the wild-card round for a division winner.  Give the four division champs plus the next best two teams tickets to the party, but seed them based not on division title but on overall record.

Some would say that would be an overreaction to the possibility that a five-win team will be hosting a playoff game in January.  Actually, it would be an appropriate reaction to a trend that has forced better teams to travel to face lesser teams in the postseason.

Last year, the 12-4 49ers had to play the 8-7-1 Packers in Green Bay.  The home-field advantage was exacerbated by dangerously cold conditions, but the 49ers overcame the inherently unfair requirement that a team with 50 percent more wins had to hit the road.

The prior season, a 10-6 Ravens team launched its Super Bowl run by hosting an 11-5 Colts team.  While the difference in records wasn’t as glaring, the Colts had a better season than the Ravens.  The game should have been played in Indianapolis.

After 2011, the 8-8 Broncos earned a home game against the 12-4 Steelers.  Pittsburgh headed to Denver without safety Ryan Clark, whose sickle-cell trait prevents him from playing at altitude.  If that game had been played at Heinz Field, Clark would have been available — and perhaps Tebowmania wouldn’t have fueled an unlikely overtime win.

The issue bubbled to the surface most conspicuously in 2010, when the 7-9 Seahawks hosted the 11-5 Saints.  After Seattle won, some argued that the outcome validated the structure, since Seattle proved to be the better team.  The truth is that the Seahawks rode an unearned home-field advantage to the win; if the game had been played in New Orleans, the Saints would have been far more likely to prevail.

Perhaps it will take an extreme outcome to provoke change.  If, for example, the Saints finish 5-11 or 6-10 and defeat in the Superdome, for example, an 11-5 or 12-4 Seahawks team, maybe the league will take notice — and take action.  That specific result also would represent the appropriate bookend to the game that first brought the biggest flaw of having eight four-team divisions into focus.

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Michael Bush: I didn’t get a “fair shake” in Chicago

Michael Bush AP

The Cardinals signed veteran running back Michael Bush this week, ending a spell on the unemployment line that started when Bush was released by the Bears in March.

Bush’s departure from Chicago came after two years with the team as the No. 2 behind Matt Forte, but Bush says the 2013 season isn’t one that he really counts. Bush, who ran the ball 63 times for 197 yards, feels like the Bears didn’t make enough use of him during Marc Trestman’s first year as a head coach.

“When people ask me how long I was in Chicago, I say one season because last year, where was I?” Bush said, via ESPN.com. “It has nothing to do with Forte because he played great. He’s a hell of a running back. I just think that I didn’t get a fair shake. And I’m not trying to complain or anything, but if you look at it, maybe two games I didn’t touch the field.”

Bush said he thinks that the limited usage hurt his efforts to get another job after parting ways with the Bears, although he may be underrating the impact that his mediocre first season in Chicago and being 30 had on team’s minds. Bush is fresh at a time in the season when that’s a rarity, however, and that should help him prove that the Bears and the rest of the league overlooked a player who still has something to offer.

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Browns teammates said Josh Gordon needed to “find himself”

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Josh Gordon said he felt alienated during his suspension, felt alone.

And some of his teammates think that’s exactly the point.

“You’re going to have that disconnect,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It’s part of it. You have to find yourself.

“It gave him an opportunity to find himself, and it made him a better person, I think. For him to come back and be so energetic and ready to be a part of this process and be a part of this team, I’m glad to have him back. I think it’s a great thing.”

Gordon told the NFL Network that he felt the cold shoulder from some teammates when he returned, like he had a disease they didn’t want to catch.
But he assimilated quickly on the field, and players said they’re obviously glad to have him back.

“We like Josh Gordon the receiver a lot better than Josh Gordon the used car salesman,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “I don’t think he ever lost our trust. He made some poor choices, I’m sure he’ll admit to them. But throughout his suspension, with the things that he did and the way he conducted and handled himself and came back in shape, he proved that he was a new person that had grown up from the situations.”

Thomas said he’s been impressed with the way Gordon has bounced back, and the professionalism he showed during the suspension.

That matters more than whether Gordon’s feelings are hurt, since producing on the field will heal any wounds that were there.

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Seahawks need to solve offensive line issues, quickly

Wilson AP

As the Seahawks prepare to face the 49ers on Thanksgiving night, Seattle coach Pete Carroll would be thankful if he could find a way to get better performance out of an offensive line that gave up seven sacks four days ago against the Cardinals.

We had all kinds of problems,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, via Terry Blount of ESPN.com.  “We got beat one on one, we had some scheme issues, and we held the ball too long.  To have that kind of an onslaught it took a lot of stuff.”

The good news for the Seahawks is that 40 percent of the offensive line could be different this week.  As noted by Blount, guard James Carpenter could be returning from an ankle injury.  That would send Alvin Bailey to the bench.

Also, with center Max Unger still out, the Seahawks may bench Patrick Lewis for Lemuel Jeanpierre, who had been released in August but who returned after Unger’s injury.

The bad news for the Seahawks is that the 49ers have linebacker Aldon Smith, who produced a pair of sacks on Sunday in his second game back from a nine-game suspension.  Smith now has 44 sacks in 45 career regular-season games.

The Seattle offensive line gets its next test on a national stage, in the annual prime-time Thanksgiving game.  Fail, and they may fall to 7-5 — which could cause the Seahawks to stumble out of the playoffs.

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