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Ravens loss sets up Colts’ return to Baltimore

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

The Ravens treated the regular-season finale like a garden-variety preseason game.  Baltimore’s wild-card playoff game will be anything but.

By losing to the Bengals on Sunday by the score of 23-17, the Ravens have locked in to the No. 4 seed.  Which means that they’ll host the fifth-seeded Colts next weekend.

Which means that Jim Irsay will be loading up the Mayflower and returning to Baltimore, at least for a day.

The other connections are numerous, and intriguing.  Colts coach Chuck Pagano served as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator in 2011.  Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell served as Indy’s head coach through 2011.  Some Ravens players shaved their heads in support of Pagano.

And the Colts look more than good enough to go to Baltimore and win the game — especially since the Ravens have looked bad enough lately to lose it.

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Sunday night wrap-up: Jay Cutler leads the Bears back to win

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn’t really look like much until it looked like the 49ers collapsed his lungs.

But after taking that helmet-to-sternum shot from 49ers defensive end Quinton Dial just before halftime, Cutler actually looked sharper than before.

Cutler led the Bears back to a 28-20 win over the 49ers, after they trailed 17-0 in the second quarter.

He only threw for 176 yards, but that was as much game plan as anything (they wanted to run and feature the tight ends early), as the four touchdown passes made up for that.

It’s clear that wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery weren’t 100 percent because of injuries which forced roster moves late in the week.

And with neither able to run the way they normally can, it’s not a total surprise that Cutler was missing them high throughout the first half.

It’s also a surprise that Cutler survived the hit.

But after taking that shot, Cutler and Marshall found each other, and three touchdown passes later, they had the lead.

Assuming they’re all well at the same time, the Bears have the potential to have one of the league’s best passing attacks. They can’t afford slow starts like this every week, but the fact they recovered the way they did is only a good sign for the rest of the season.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. Colin Kaepernick usually only looks this bad against the Seahawks.

The 49ers quarterback turned it over four times, opening the door for the unlikely Bears comeback.

Despite the contract extension this offseason, he’s still very much a work in progress as a passer.

His first read is his best friend, and Bears rookie Kyle Fuller figured that out for two picks.

Kaepernick is a remarkably talented player, but he and the 49ers need to realize he’s far from a finished product.

Coupled with the fact he drew the league’s first inappropriate language penalty, and it was a night to forget.

2. Bears veteran cornerback Charles Tillman left the game in the third quarter with a right triceps injury, and was clearly emotional on the sideline.

His season was cut short last year by an injury to the same area, though there’s no word yet on his status for the rest of the season.

The 33-year-old Tillman has been a class act for the Bears on and off the field, and the hope is that he’s able to recover.

Coupled with a shoulder injury to safety Chris Conte that knocked him out of the game, the Bears secondary was reeling by the end of the game.

But if Tillman is out for any extended time, the damage will be beyond the simple need to find another corner, as he’s the kind of cornerstone player whose value transcends covering wide receivers.

3. The 49ers keep trying to give running back Frank Gore’s job away, or at least bring in replacements.

And he keeps not letting them.

The 31-year-old doesn’t appear to be slowing down, finishing with 13 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown.

But his best run might have been the first-half touchdown which was called back on a holding penalty on Anquan Boldin. That one showed the kind of vision and ability to set up blocks that has made Gore the kind of guy who is hard to replace.

The latest kid brought in with an eye toward the future, Carlos Hyde had four carries for zero (0) yards.

Meanwhile, Gore continued to provide the real rhythm of the 49ers offense, and gives them a stable base to build on while they fiddle with Kaepernick and the passing game.

4. Maybe the Bears like flying into Santa Clara better.

They haven’t beaten the 49ers on the road since 1985, and had lost their previous eight games there by an average score of 34-6.

But this looked like a different team, after exorcising the ghosts of Candlestick.

5. The game was played on the third layer of sod in a month at Levi’s Stadium.

But this version appeared to hold up well, without the dangerous chunks of turf flying around as were the case in the preseason and during a 49ers practice when Jim Harbaugh had to pull his team off the field for their own safety.

And with Snoop Dogg playing a halftime concert, it’s clear they had the grass issues taken care of.

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Seahawks assistant Pat Ruel hospitalized with irregular heartbeat

Seattle Seahawks 2011 Headshots Getty Images

Seahawks assistant offensive line coach Pat Ruel was hospitalized after Sunday’s game at San Diego because of an irregular heartbeat, according to multiple published reports.

According to Terry Blount of, the 63-year-old Ruel is slated to be held overnight at an area hospital for observation.

Ruel has been on the Seahawks’ coaching staff since Pete Carroll became head coach in 2010. He had previous NFL coaching stints with the Giants, Bills, Packers and Lions.

The Seahawks fell 30-21 to the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday.

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Charles Tillman leaves with triceps injury

Charles Tillman AP

One of the Bears’ most experienced defensive players departed Sunday’s game at San Francisco with a potentially worrisome injury.

Cornerback Charles Tillman will miss the rest of the contest after suffering a right triceps injury on the first drive of the third quarter, NBC’s Michelle Tafoya reported.

The 33-year-old Tillman missed the final eight games of the 2013 season with a torn right triceps. He appeared emotional on the sideline after the latest injury.

A second-round pick in the 2003 draft, Tillman has spent his entire career with Chicago.

Rookie Kyle Fuller replaced Tillman in the lineup.

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NFL: Harvin touchdown was incorrectly confirmed

Percy Harvin, Richard Marshall AP

In the first quarter of Sunday’s 30-21 Chargers win over the Seahawks, Seattle wide receiver Percy Harvin scored on a 51-yard touchdown run that shouldn’t have counted.

Replays showed that Harvin clearly stepped out of bounds on his way to the end zone, but it wasn’t overturned as part of the replay procedure that follows every scoring play. The NFL has confirmed that the process did not got properly during the game and that Harvin’s touchdown shouldn’t have counted.

“All scoring plays are reviewed by the instant replay official, in conjunction with the NFL officiating staff in New York, and are not subject to a coach’s challenge. Following the first quarter touchdown run by Percy Harvin, the game should have been stopped for a replay review, either by the replay official or by the officiating staff in New York,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora wrote in an email to PFT. “The touchdown was incorrectly confirmed, and as a result, the game was not stopped. Had the game been stopped for a replay review, the touchdown would have been reversed because Harvin stepped out of bounds at the San Diego 21-yard line.”

The breakdown in communications would have made for a bigger issue had the Seahawks won the game by a slim margin, but it wound up not having much impact in a game that the Chargers led from early in the second quarter until the final whistle.

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Vikings haven’t decided anything about Adrian Peterson

Peterson AP

On Friday, the Vikings decided that running back Adrian Peterson shouldn’t play on Sunday.  The team has not yet decided when and if Peterson will be playing on future Sundays.

Peter King explained during halftime of Sunday Night Football that the Vikings haven’t made any determinations about Peterson’s status.

“There’s a lot of speculation, a million rumors out there,” G.M. Rick Spielman told King.  “We haven’t decided anything yet.”

There’s no specific timetable for making a decision about Peterson.  Other than the fact that they play next Sunday in New Orleans.

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Jay Cutler comes back from vicious hit to get Bears close

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

It looked like Jay Cutler was going to have to come out of the game.

Instead, he got the Bears back into it.

After taking a devastating shot to the sternum from 49ers defensive end Quinton Dial, Cutler delivered a highlight-reel touchdown to Brandon Marshall to cut the 49ers lead to 17-7 at halftime.

The Bears showed little life in the first half until their final possession of the half.

After a 25-yard scramble by Cutler, he took the painful-looking shot from Dial, but stayed in to deliver a high pass which Marshall was the only person in the end zone capable of reaching.

The 49ers controlled the game otherwise, as the Bears still only have 93 yards of offense.

But with Cutler hanging tough so far, it’s hard to say they’re out of it.

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Vikings reinstate Mike Priefer

mikepriefer AP

Mike Priefer, the Vikings special teams coordinator who was suspended for homophobic comments, will be back at work on Monday morning.

The Vikings announced Sunday evening that Priefer will be officially reinstated on Monday. The Vikings initially announced that Priefer would be suspended three games with the possibility to be reduced to two games if he met certain requirements including sensitivity training, so Priefer has presumably done everything asked of him.

In its announcement of Priefer’s reinstatement, the Vikings said he completed “anti-harassment, diversity and sexual orientation training” and that he “was fully and thoughtfully engaged throughout the process and successfully completed the program.”

Priefer’s suspension came after former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe accused Priefer of making homophobic comments in response to Kluwe began advocating for gay marriage. Priefer initially denied making the comments but later admitted that Kluwe’s allegations were true.

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Charles Woodson on Raiders after defeat to Houston: “We suck”

Chimdi Chekwa, DeAndre Hopkins, Arian Foster, Charles Woodson AP

In their home opener Sunday vs. Houston, the Raiders committed four turnovers and didn’t score their first points until the fourth quarter in a 30-14 loss.

And afterwards, veteran safety Charles Woodson gave an unflattering assessment of Oakland’s performance.

We suck,” Woodson said, according to Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area and other Raiders reporters.

Woodson said he knew the performance was a downer for Raiders fans, who haven’t seen their club make the postseason since 2002 and witnessed Oakland fall to 0-2 in a game in which it trailed by at least 14 points for three-quarters of the contest.

“Everybody’s optimistic. You know, it’s our first home game. They’re excited to see their Raiders, and what was that we put out there on the field?” Woodson said afterwards, according to a video clip posted by Marcus Thompson of Bay Area News Group. “That’s embarrassing. And I’m embarrassed for this team, I’m embarrassed for the fans, and the thing about is, I’m part of it. I don’t know what we need to do as a team going forward, but something’s going to have to be done. I don’t know what that is, but we’ve go to do better than we did today.”

The Raiders play the Patriots in New England next Sunday, then travel to London to face the Dolphins on Sept. 28. Their bye is in Week Five, giving them a little extra time to regroup. For now, though, the Raiders are left to adjust on the fly, for as Woodson indicated, their current level of play isn’t up to par.

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Richard Sherman refuses to speak to media after being “exposed”

Sherman Getty Images

Unlike the Packers, the Chargers decided to throw at Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.  And it worked.  And Sherman was in no mood to discuss it after San Diego’s 30-21 win over the defending NFL champions.

Via Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego (and surely others), Sherman refused to talk to the media following the game.

Per Gehlken, multiple Chargers described Sherman with the same single word:  “Exposed.”  Eventually, the NFL may describe Sherman with another single word:  “Fined.”

UPDATE 9:14 p.m. ET:  Sherman didn’t speak to the media.  But he did speak to the Twitter.  “Lmao Exposed? …. Complete 3 passes 0 touchdowns 0 explosive passes…. These guys make me laugh,” Sherman said.

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Early turnover leads to Michael Crabtree TD, 49ers lead

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The Bears made the early mistake, and the 49ers made them pay for it.

San Francisco’s already up 7-0 over the Bears, barely over two minutes into the game.

After a Bears three-and-out to start the game, 49ers rookie linebacker Aaron Lynch blocked the Chicago punt, setting up an easy touchdown.

Michael Crabtree had to climb the ladder to snag Colin Kaepernick’s short pass, but he came down with it, giving the locals something to cheer about in the grand opening of Levi’s Stadium.

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NFLPA should launch its own investigation into Rice case

Ray Rice AP

With the NFL’s independent investigation into the Ray Rice situation not as independent as it could be or should be and with the coming Ray Rice appeal of his indefinite suspension subject to whatever procedural and evidentiary limitations the NFL may choose to apply, there’s another entity that can look into the case.

The NFL Players Association has plenty of reasons to want to know what went so wrong in this case, especially since the same mechanism that bungled the Rice situation could result in other botched investigations.  The NFLPA has done it before, including most recently in connection with the MRSA and Josh Freeman situations in Tampa.

The NFLPA should do the same thing regarding the Rice fiasco.  And don’t be surprised if the NFLPA does just that.

Making an investigation even more important is the increasingly clear battle lines that the NFL is drawing on the question of whether Rice told the truth to the Ravens and the league.  On Sunday, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports said that Rice lied to the team and lied to the league regarding what happened in the elevator, claiming that he struck Janay Palmer Rice with an open hand, and that she then hit her head and went unconscious.

As the league, which began the week tiptoeing around the question by using words like ambiguous and inconsistent, characterizes the circumstances to Glazer as outright lying, the stakes will be higher than ever when Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome repeats under oath what he already has said on the record:  Rice didn’t lie.

It’s clear that someone is lying.  And it’s clear that the NFLPA needs to join the hunt for the truth, in order to ensure that the truth doesn’t accidentally slid into the same crevice where the league’s version of the Rice video reportedly resides.

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California’s Lieutenant Governor calls for 49ers to bench Ray McDonald

McDonald AP

The 49ers, unlike the Panthers, have refused to bow to public pressure regarding a player with pending domestic violence charges.  But the pressure on the 49ers is mounting.

The media has been getting louder and louder about the team’s decision to continue to honor the age-old sports double standard that excuses are made for stars and examples are made of scrubs. The 49ers want McDonald on that field, they need McDonald on that field. So they’ve take up residence under the cover of “due process.”

The politicians are pushing the issue now, with California Lieutenant Governor and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome and his wife, Jen Seibel Newsom, calling on the 49ers to sit McDonald.

“The City and County of San Francisco and the entire Bay Area has long stood staunchly on the forefront of domestic violence awareness and prevention,” the Newsoms said.  “That’s why the 49ers’ continued insistence on playing Ray McDonald during his ongoing criminal investigation is a painful affront to every victim of domestic violence and sends a troubling message to our community and especially our children that ‘zero tolerance’ are empty words, not real actions.  In light of the increased public  awareness of this issue in the wake of the horrific Ray Rice assault and today’s decision by the Carolina Panthers to deactivate Greg Hardy, we strongly urge the 49er organization we grew up revering to do the right thing — right now — and bench Ray McDonald, pending the outcome of his felony domestic violence investigation by San Jose law enforcement.”

McDonald presumably will continue to play, in part because the 49ers believe he did nothing wrong. At some point, the NFL will have to investigate the case and make a decision as to whether McDonald is blameless. Otherwise, the issue could linger for months.

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Texans put away mistake-prone Raiders early, secure 30-14 win

Derek Newton, Arian Foster, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin AP

For the fifth straight season, the Texans are off to a 2-0 start.

Led by an opportunistic defense, efficient play from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and strong output from tailback Arian Foster, the Texans rolled to a 30-14 victory Sunday in Oakland.

The Texans had Oakland chasing throughout, scoring on their first three possessions and building a 27-0 lead before the Raiders added a couple of fourth-quarter TDs to make the score respectable. Oakland (0-2) committed four turnovers, which resulted in 17 Houston points.

Foster exceeded 100 yards rushing for the second straight week, racking up 138 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, was 14-of-19 passing for 139 yards with two TD tosses and no turnovers.

The first of Fitzpatrick’s touchdowns went to  . . . J.J. Watt. Yes, the J.J. Watt. Lined up as an in-line tight end, the Texans’ star defensive lineman ran a pass route and scored a one-yard TD, putting Houston up 7-0 in the first quarter. Watt wasn’t credited with a single tackle on defense, but he did put a tremendous hit on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr late in the game.

Carr, for his part, was solid enough in his second NFL start, completing 27-of-42 passes for 263 yards. However, he threw two picks, and tight end Mychal Rivera and wideout James Jones lost fumbles in Houston territory.

The Texans travel to face the winless Giants next Sunday, with the Raiders now having to regroup and face the Patriots in Foxborough.

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Packers take 31-24 win in wild one against the Jets

Jordy Nelson, Darrin Walls AP

Jets history is filled with all manners of painful defeats and Sunday’s 31-24 loss to the Packers fits right in.

The Jets led 21-3 early in the game thanks to fine play from Geno Smith and a defense that was giving Aaron Rodgers fits, but they would up handing all of their lead back to the home team by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. It was 31-24 Packers, but the Jets were driving with time running short when they faced a fourth down from the Green Bay 36-yard line.

The offense remained on the field and Smith delivered a 36-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Kerley that seemed to push an already wild game to another level. That wound up happening, but not because the game was tied. The touchdown was waved off and a touchdown was charged to the Jets because of what appeared to be offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg screaming to tell Rex Ryan to call a timeout that the head coach didn’t call. The Jets converted the fourth down, but they ran out of downs a few plays later and one Packers first down iced the game.

There was also a David Harris interception deep in Packers territory negated because Damon Harrison didn’t quite make it off the field before the ball was snapped and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson’s third quarter ejection to keep Jets fans up on Sunday night. They might remember some of the bright spots for Smith and four sacks by the defense, but the pain of this loss is likely to linger for a bit.

Packers fans, meanwhile, can feel very good about their quarterback’s ability to thrive despite early adversity. Rodgers pulled himself together and wound up throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns, including the go-ahead 80-yarder to Jordy Nelson. Nelson ended the day with 209 receiving yards and outran the clearly not 100 percent Dee Milliner on the big score.

They can also feel good about a defense that was awful early before rebounding to allow 100 yards and three points in the second half of the game. That would probably have wound up being totally ignored if Kerley’s catch had remained on the board, but it didn’t and the Packers eventually made things stick. That leaves them at 1-1 heading into road dates with the Lions and Bears that will set the early pecking order in the NFC North.

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Austin Davis leads Rams to 19-17 win over Bucs

Josh McCown, Janoris Jenkins, Rodney McLeod AP

Austin Davis made his first NFL start a special one.

The Rams’ third-string quarterback, playing because of injuries to Sam Bradford and Shaun Hill, played a sharp game in the Rams’ 19-17 win over the Buccaneers Sunday.

Davis was an efficient 22-of-29 for 235 yards, and drove them to within range for Greg Zuerlein’s 38-yard game-winning field goal.

Davis spread the ball among eight receivers, and while it wasn’t a dynamic stat line, it was efficient enough for a defense that can play with anyone in the league.

The game became one of attrition, with both sides losing key pieces to injury.

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (broken hand) and linebacker Mason Foster (shoulder) were forced from the game, while the Rams lost wide receiver Tavon Austin (knee).

The Bucs were still able to run, even with Doug Martin out of the game with a knee injury. Replacement Bobby Rainey had 22 carries for 144 yards. But it wasn’t enough to overcome an anemic passing game, with Josh McCown throwing for just 179 yards with an interception.

The game ended with a pass which could have gotten the Bucs into position for a field goal attempt, but Mike Evans was injured on the play with eight seconds left. With no timeouts and the required 10-second run-off, the Bucs lost that chance.

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