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Sunday night wrap-up: Morris becomes a Redskins legend

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Getty Images

For most of the year, Redskins running back Alfred Morris was the other rookie, if that.

Sunday night, he put his name up with John Riggins, or at least Timmy Smith.

Morris ran 33 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns, in the Redskins 28-18 win over the Cowboys. With their seventh straight win, the Redskins advance to the playoffs as the NFC East champion, and will host the Seahawks next Sunday.

The Cowboys’ season ends with an 8-8 record.

And it ended thanks in large part to the sixth-rounder from Florida Atlantic.

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was obviously ailing (and threw for only 100 yards), so it was on Morris to carry the load offensively.

He did that, and then some, controlling the game from the inside out, even though the Cowboys knew what was coming. It’s the kind of performance that sets up an old school duel with Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch next week.

But even before the playoffs start, it was the kind of game that made Morris part of a rich history of runners.

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

1. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo had thrown three interceptions in his previous eight games.

His three picks Sunday night will continue to define him, such that the definition changed.

It’s a shame, because he had played so well the last month, and been so good in fourth quarters.

But he may never be able to escape the fact that when it’s time for a play to be made, he ends up making it for the other team. Defensive end Jason Hatcher tried to take him off the hook with a ridiculous penalty at a ridiculous time (the first of the night for the Cowboys), but Romo will remain the focus, as he should.

2. Between the evaluation of Mike Shanahan or the budding genius of his son Kyle drawing up plays for the offense, it’s been easy to miss to work done by Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

Keep in mind, this is a coach that lost his best pass-rusher in Brian Orakpo along with defensive end Adam Carriker two games into the season.

He’s built the thing around London Fletcher, who has battled injuries all year and wasn’t the fastest to begin with. But Haslett dialed up pressure, and it got home enough to keep the Cowboys off-balance.

It’s not an easy thing he’s done, but the Redskins have responded on that side of the ball. They’re not great, but they’ve been good enough, long enough.

3. That said, the Cowboys were running out of numbers and nametags on defense.

They entered the night with a one-armed DeMarcus Ware, then outside linebacker Anthony Spencer went down with an injury in the third quarter, though he’d come back.

They had put inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter on injured reserve previously, and lost nose tackle Jay Ratliff to a groin injury.

That many losses to the front seven finally became more than they could bear.

4. The converse of the Cowboys injury plagued defense is the Redskins offensive line, which has been greater than the sum of its parts all year.

Left tackle Trent Williams has first-round pedigree. But left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, center Will Montgomery, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Tyler Polumbus are the kind of guys you fill in the blanks with.

For the Redskins, they’re a foundation.

Polumbus missed one game with a concussion, otherwise the group has been intact all season. Rookie Josh LeRibeus replaced Lichtensteiger briefly in the third quarter, but they finished the game the way they’ve played the second half of the season.

Together.

5. DeAngelo Hall gave Dez Bryant the “Back up off me bro” treatment for most of the night.

The Redskins cornerback, who has traditionally been more talk than walk in his career, kept the clamps on the Cowboys star wideout most of the evening.

Bryant finished with four catches for 71 yards before leaving with an injury, but wasn’t a factor, which your best player needs to be in this type of game.

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Titans second-rounder Kevin Dodd out until camp after foot surgery

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Draftee Kevin Dodd of Clemson arrives to the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

One of the three players selected in the second round of the draft by the Titans won’t be on the field for the rest of the team’s offseason work.

Coach Mike Mularkey said that defensive end Kevin Dodd had “preventative” foot surgery on Thursday and will miss the rest of OTAs and the team’s mandatory minicamp as a result. Mularkey said that the team expects to have Dodd back for training camp.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Dodd has a stress fracture in his fifth metatarsal and that a screw was inserted to repair the injury.

Dodd was the 33rd overall pick in the draft after wrapping up his career at Clemson. He has 12 sacks while playing on the same line with Bills first-round pick Shaq Lawson, who is also going to be off the field for a while due to a shoulder injury that required surgery.

The Bills described that surgery as preventative as well, although the history of players missing time after having surgery they don’t absolutely need isn’t a particularly long one.

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NFL fines John Harbaugh, cancels a week of Ravens’ OTAs

John Harbaugh AP

The Ravens and head coach John Harbaugh have been punished by the NFL for breaking the rule requiring rookie minicamp to consist only of non-contact practices without pads.

“We made a mistake and we are sorry for that. We accept the NFL discipline,” the Ravens said in a statement.

That discipline will consist of a fine for both Harbaugh individually and the Ravens as a team, as well as forfeiting their OTAs which had been scheduled to take place June 1-3.

The Ravens used the word “mistake” in their statement, but the NFL reportedly believes that the Ravens knew the rule against full-pad practices at rookie minicamp and violated it anyway. That’s not a mistake, it’s a conscious effort to break a rule that all teams must abide by.

The decision to fine the Ravens and dock them some practices is consistent with language in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that says more stringent penalties — including losing draft picks — will only be imposed if a team breaks the rule multiple times in a year. But in a league where there’s a widespread belief that the rules are enforced inconsistently, fans of other teams will surely say the Ravens are getting off easy.

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More criticism appears regarding Washington Post poll

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Last Thursday, the Washington Post published a poll of 504 self-identifying Native American adults, 90 percent of whom said they aren’t bothered by the name of the local NFL team. Although some supporters of the name continue to insist that this means any lingering opposition to the name comes only from white liberal journalists, multiple Native American voices have criticized the poll.

The National Congress of American Indians has called it irrelevant, and the Native American Journalists Association has questioned whether ongoing use of a dictionary-defined slur should be the subject of public opinion, regardless of the outcome. Now, the co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry has challenged both the methodology of the poll and the decision to conduct it.

In an item appearing at TheNation.com, Jacqueline Keeler explores the flaws in the polling process, from failure to verify that the self-identifying Native Americans are indeed Native American to skewing the group polled in a way that does not properly reflect demographics like gender and age to using a geographic distribution that fails to properly represent the Native American community.

“Even if the poll was conducted perfectly and even if the results had been completely reversed,” Keeler writes, “the Washington Post did a grave disservice by utterly ignoring studies that clearly demonstrate the harm mascotting causes to Native youth — the most vulnerable population in the country by almost any statistic.”

Keeler explains that Native American youth “suffer measurably lower self-esteem after exposure to a Native American mascot,” and that those Native Americans who claim to have no issue with terms like the name of the Washington team “actually experience a greater drop in self-esteem.”

Via Keeler, Scott Clement of the Post responded to the criticism from groups like the NAJA by pointing out that the newspaper “pursued this poll without any idea as to how it would turn out and had no vested interest in the outcome.” Clement also defended the poll by explaining that “it’s entirely appropriate for a news organization to conduct a survey to test any assertions made about the breadth and depth of offense among Native Americans” by those who oppose the name, adding that it is “customary for any other public policy issue.”

“But is this really customary?” Keeler asks. “Are pollsters judging the ‘breadth and depth’ of how offensive other dictionary-defined slurs are? Tragically, it is only Native Americans who have to suffer this kind of humiliation, especially when the multibillion-dollar brand of the paper’s local football team hangs in the balance.”

And so the Post poll definitely won’t end the debate, even though many supporters of the name believe it should. If anything, the criticism of the poll should spark a meaningful debate over whether it’s proper to make any dictionary-defined slur the subject of polling or debate.

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Davante Adams “wasn’t proud” of his 2015 season

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When Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in the 2015 preseason, immediate fears about what it would mean for the Packers offense were lessened by the presence of Davante Adams.

Adams had been the subject of praise around the team all offseason, including Aaron Rodgers predicting stardom for the 2014 second-round pick. As is often the case, offseason hype didn’t materialize in regular season production.

Adams hurt his ankle early in the year and his knee in the playoffs while filling the middle with underwhelming production and chemistry with Rodgers.

“Obviously, the season I had last year, I wasn’t proud of it. So I’ve got to change it and do what I’ve got to do to move forward,” Adams said, via ESPN.com. “It’s a new year. Obviously, not everything goes the way you plan it to go. You can’t control some things. I hurt my ankle, I hurt my knee; I can’t do anything about that. What I can do is bounce back from it. It’s not just [about] proving it to the team but proving it to myself.”

He’ll need to prove it to both to maintain a prominent role in the offense. Jeff Janis, Ty Montgomery and Jared Abbrederis give the team other options to go with Nelson and Randall Cobb, which could leave Adams in a precarious position should last year’s issues continue to be part of the picture.

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Stephen Jones: Cowboys aren’t looking for outside help at defensive end

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 20:  Stephen Jones walks onto the field before the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys on September 20, 2014 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

Veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney is making the rounds right now in search of a home for the 2016 season, but a stop in Dallas doesn’t look like it will be one of the tour dates.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Thursday, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, that the team is not in the market for veteran help at defensive end despite a need to upgrade their pass rush from 2015 levels and a pair of players serving four-game suspensions to open the season. Jones said the team wants to see what younger players can do before potentially looking for an outside addition.

One of the young players that the Cowboys will be looking at is Randy Gregory, although anything he may show them will be mitigated by his status as one of the players facing a suspension at the start of the year. Jerry Jones said recently that “all thumbs are up” with Gregory and coach Jason Garrett says he’s seen progress, although he added plenty of unknowns remain.

“Just in everything he does, how he handles himself,” Garrett said, via the Dallas Morning News. “Again, it’s a work in progress. He has gotten better. But he has a long way to go. A lot of guys have a long way to go.”

The Cowboys have expressed confidence that a better offense will make the defense look better than it did last year, which may need to be the case because there hasn’t been much on the defensive side this offseason to suggest the unit is poised to make a leap of its own.

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Art Briles should be a coaching pariah after Baylor investigation

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 5: Head coach Art Briles of the Baylor Bears waits in the tunnel before the Bears take on the Texas Longhorns at McLane Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) Getty Images

When news broke this morning that Baylor would fire head football coach Art Briles, I dashed off a quick post about whether he would have a future in the NFL. A few minutes later, Baylor posted a statement about the investigation that led to Briles’ firing.

Having now read that statement, here’s what I think about Briles’ coaching future: Briles should have no coaching future.

Baylor’s statement suggests that women who were sexually assaulted by football players were discouraged from reporting those assaults, and in at least one case a woman actually faced retaliation for reporting an assault.

“There are significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct,” Baylor’s statement reads.

That ultimately falls on Briles. Major college football programs are essentially dictatorships in which the head coach outranks even the college president and athletic director, and if there’s a pattern of sexual assault and a refusal to hold football players accountable for sexual assaults, that falls on the head football coach. Briles was a highly successful coach and well respected offensive innovator, but that will not be his legacy at Baylor. His legacy will be the damning statement Baylor released today that made it clear that Briles cared more about winning than about the safety of Baylor students who were victimized by his players.

The football world should treat Briles as a pariah.

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Panthers get Kelvin Benjamin back on the field after torn ACL

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 10:   Kelvin Benjamin #13 of the Carolina Panthers in action against the Seattle Seahawks during the 2015 NFC Divisional Playoff game at CenturyLink Field on January 10, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers offense was already pretty good last year, thanks to an MVP season from quarterback Cam Newton.

It might be even better today.

Via the team’s official website, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was back on the field Thursday for OTAs, his first on-field work since tearing his ACL in training camp last year.

Benjamin was a force his rookie year, catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns.

But even though they went 15-1 and made it to the Super Bowl, their lack of a guy who could get open and catch it if he did was exposed by the Broncos in that final game.

Getting Benjamin back, along with the development of Devin Funchess, gives the Panthers the chance to improve significantly in the passing game.

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Kawann Short “not rushing” things on contract front

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 17:   Kawann Short #99 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a sack against the Seattle Seahawks in the 1st quarter during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag they gave cornerback Josh Norman, there was immediate discussion about the Panthers using some of the money earmarked for Norman toward an extension for defensive tackle Kawann Short.

Short is entering the final year of his rookie contract and a report earlier this month had discussions about that new deal getting underway. Short said this week that his contractual situation isn’t his chief concern at this point in the calendar.

“If it happens, it happens, but we haven’t focused on that,” Short said, via the team’s website. “I’ve still got a lot I need to do. I’ve put myself in the position, but at the same time, I’m not where I want to be. We’re not rushing the issue.”

Outside of protection against a serious injury, there’s not much reason for Short to race into a long-term deal at the moment. The Panthers have the franchise tag in their pocket in the event a deal can’t be struck and there will be no shortage of suitors for his services should Carolina opt against using the tag.

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Vikings defensive tackle B.J. Dubose tears ACL in OTA

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 22: (L-R) B.J. Dubose #90, Audie Cole #57 and Danielle Hunter #99 of the Minnesota Vikings line up against the Oakland Raiders during the preseason game on August 22, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Raiders 20-12. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

On-field practices during OTAs are supposed to be non-contact, but they’re never non-risk.

According to Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Vikings defensive tackle B.J. Dubose suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during Wednesday’s workout, and is expected to miss the entire season.

The injury happened during an 11-on-11 drill.

A sixth-round pick last year from Louisville, he spent most of last year on the practice squad, but was promoted to the 53-man roster prior to the playoff loss to Seattle.

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Report: Abdullah recovering from surgery on torn labrum

New York Jets v Detroit Lions Getty Images

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah had shoulder surgery in January and could be out until training camp, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reported Thursday.

The report said Dr. James Andrews repaired a torn labrum that Adbullah had suffered during a mid-December game. The report also said Abdullah is ahead of schedule in his rehab but the team intends to proceed with caution through the rest of the spring.

Abdullah figures as the starting running back this season for the Lions. He led the team with 597 rushing yards last year as a rookie and also led the NFL in kick return yardage with 1,077.

A second-round pick last spring, he played in all 16 games, carried 143 times and caught 25 passes.

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Dolphins closing in on new stadium naming-rights deal

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The place where the Miami NFL franchise plays has been known by many names. From Dolphins Stadium to Joe Robbie Stadium to Pro Player Stadium to Pro Player Park to Dolphin Stadium to Land Shark Stadium to Sun Life Stadium to a stadium that currently has no naming-rights partner, the venue has carried plenty of labels since it opened in 1987.

Soon, it could have another new name.

During a Wednesday visit to PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald said that Hard Rock International may buy the rights.

Later in the same show, Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel offered this response to a question on the status of the naming rights: “I can’t disclose who the companies are [negotiating], but I can tell you we’re in sort of what I call late-stage discussions with a few different companies. I’m optimistic that we’ve got to get one into the end zone here, but I think we’re in the red zone and pushing towards the goal line. So hopefully we get one done soon and [I’m] excited about the potential of getting a new name on it.”

Getting a Super Bowl necessarily makes the naming rights more valuable to any company that thinks there’s value in having its name attached to a stadium. Fortunately for major sports teams throughout the world, more than enough corporations see the value treating a place where football is played like a giant billboard.

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Kirk Cousins knew Josh Norman had plenty of talent four years ago

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 24:  Josh Norman #24 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals during the NFC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

As Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins waits for a big-money, long-term deal, he’s getting a close look at a guy to whom the organization recently gave a big-money, long-term deal. But it’s not the first time Cousins has witnessed the work of cornerback Josh Norman — apart from last season’s loss to Carolina.

“I was able to train in the same place as him before the draft back in the spring of 2012,” Cousins told reporters on Wednesday regarding Norman. “We would go out and do one-on-ones with several really good receivers who are higher NFL draft picks and had great careers. He would lock a lot of them up in one-on-ones back then. So you could see his ability four years ago, and obviously he’s proven that through his time with the Panthers and hopefully continues that with us. But, it’s exciting to have a player of that caliber to go against every day.”

Every day gets Cousins and the team closer to July 15, the deadline for signing him to a long-term contract. Cousins had nothing new to say about the status of negotiations.

“I think everything I could possibly say on the matter of the contract has already been said,” Cousins said. “I’m positive, very confident, that when or if something gets done you guys will be notified. . . . So stay tuned, but I really don’t have anything to add to what’s already been said.”

All that needs to be said is that Cousins has a $19.95 million guaranteed payday in hand for 2016. The question becomes whether the team will offer the kind of long-term deal will get him to trade in both the $19.95 million for 2016 plus either a 20-percent raise in 2017 or a shot at the open market.

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Bucs add two defensive backs

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 7: Javien Elliott #14 of the Florida State Seminoles breaks up a pass intended for Hunter Renfrow #13 of the Clemson Tigers during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Buccaneers Thursday announced the signings of cornerback Javien Elliott and safety Kimario McFadden.

Elliott is an undrafted rookie out of Florida State. He’s a former walk-on who became a productive player at Florida State last season and previously had tried out for the Steelers as part of their rookie minicamp earlier this month.

McFadden has been on and off the Buccaneers roster. He played in three games last season, recording two special teams tackles. McFadden, 25, broke into the league as an undrafted rookie with the Falcons in 2014.

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Washington will hold Junior Galette back until training camp

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 21:  Washington Redskins Junior Galette attends The Stronach Group Owner's Chalet at 141st The Preakness at Pimlico Race Course on May 21, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for The Stronach Group) Getty Images

Washington is encouraged by the progress Junior Galette has shown in his comeback from a torn Achilles, but they’re not going to let him push it.

According to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, the recovering pass-rusher won’t practice until training camp in late July.

While the rest of his teammates were going through OTAs, Galette was working on the side with trainers. Coach Jay Gruden said Galette probably could have practiced, but they want to make sure to give him time to strengthen his leg instead.

“So anxious,” Gruden said of Galette. “He’s like a kid at Christmas, sitting up waiting for Santa Claus and he hasn’t come yet.”

Galette declared himself “85, 90 percent,” and said he understood erring on the side of caution, after missing last season.

“But we’re just being extra careful right now and taking our time instead of rushing into OTAs,” he said. “I could play right now; we’re just being careful. I don’t feel like it’s to my advantage to come out here and really rush and have those sore days.

“I’m as excited as I’ve ever been, probably as excited as I was in 2010 as an undrafted rookie. I’m very excited.”

If Galette can return to form, he adds a dangerous pass-rusher to a defense that also added free agent cornerback Josh Norman this offseason, providing a potentially big boost.

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Mario Williams happy to “cut it loose” in Miami

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 30:   Brian Hoyer #6 of the Cleveland Browns is hit after throwing the ball by Mario Williams #94 of the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 30, 2014 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Defensive end Mario Williams‘ 2015 season with the Bills was marked by his complaints about what the team was asking him to do on defense and complaints from others that Williams wasn’t giving the team everything he had.

That unhappy mix and Williams’ big cap number led the Bills to part ways with Williams once the season came to an end. Williams landed with the Dolphins as a free agent and he’s singing a different tune when it comes to fitting into a defense than he was last season.

“At the end of the day, whatever scheme that defensive coordinators have or whatnot, you have to take it and adjust to it and run with it,” Williams said, via ESPN.com. “It could be anything. It varies not just [for] myself, but my teammates. They’ve been other places and experienced other things.”

The reason behind Williams’ change of heart isn’t difficult to figure out. The Dolphins want Williams to rush the passer first and foremost, which eliminates his biggest bone of contention from last year.

“I think the biggest focal point and exciting for us is knowing that [we can] cut it loose,” Williams said. “It’s almost like saying, ‘Go! Every time, just go. We’re going to put you in the best position for you to get after it and everything else is going to trickle downhill from there.'”

It’s not the first time we’ve heard this kind of positivity from Williams about his role since he joined the Dolphins. That probably won’t make for many smiles in Buffalo, but it could be the foundation for a rebound from Williams in Miami.

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