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Ponder limited in practice, should be fine for game

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder looks for a pass during the first half of their NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis Reuters

The Vikings released their first injury report for the week on Wednesday and starting quarterback Christian Ponder popped up as limited with an elbow injury.

Ponder bruised his right elbow when he was hit by Packers safety Morgan Burnett during last Sunday’s 37-34 win over the Packers. Ponder was never forced out of the game, one of the best he’s played in his short career, and coach Leslie Frazier’s comments suggest that the Vikings are just proceeding with an abundance of caution when it comes to their starting quarterback.

“I think he’ll be fine — just got to get some work in tomorrow, see how much he progresses,” Frazier said, via the Pioneer Press. “We need to ramp it up a little bit tomorrow, so we’ll see where he is.”

The team’s more pessimistic about linebacker Tyrone McKenzie’s chances of playing with a shoulder injury. The other players limited in or held out of practice — running back Adrian Peterson, safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Antoine Winfield and defensive end Brian Robison — are expected to play on Saturday night.

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Kapri Bibbs dealing with a high ankle sprain

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 04:   Kapri Bibbs #35 of the Denver Broncos runs for yardage against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on December 4, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos offense didn’t do much in Sunday’s 20-10 victory over the Jaguars, producing just 206 yards while playing without starting quarterback Trevor Siemian.

It looked for a while like running back Kapri Bibbs might provide some spark as he put up 37 rushing yards on the team’s lone touchdown drive of the day, but Bibbs’ afternoon ended a short time later thanks to an ankle injury. After the game, Bibbs, who ran five times for 49 yards overall, was in a walking boot and said he suffered a high ankle sprain.

“It was going to be a real good day,” Bibbs said, via the Denver Post. “I can bring a lot to this team. I can help this team a lot and that’s all I want to do.”

The Broncos will surely be doing more tests on Bibbs’ ankle, but such injuries typically mean missed time for players. If that’s the case, the Broncos may need to look for help with Devontae Booker and Juwan Thompson as the only other running backs on the roster.

One option could be Justin Forsett. The veteran was dropped by the Lions on Friday and played for Broncos coach Gary Kubiak in both Houston and Baltimore.

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Rex Ryan: It just snowballed on us

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Head coach Rex Ryan of the Buffalo Bills looks on from the sidelines against the Oakland Raiders during their NFL game at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on December 4, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills were up 24-9 against the Raiders after running back Mike Gillislee ran for a touchdown with nine minutes to go in the third quarter, but any thoughts that they’d win the game and rally to move back into the mix for a playoff spot soon disappeared.

The Raiders would draw within one point before the quarter was over and they’d tack on 15 more points in the fourth quarter on their way to a 38-24 victory. Everything unraveled at once for the Bills as the offense went three-and-out three times while the Raiders were driving for touchdowns and two fourth quarter turnovers sealed the deal for Buffalo.

Cornerback Corey Graham said he was in “shock” as things fell apart for a team that’s now 6-6 and looking at the longest of playoff shots.

“Well, it hasn’t happened a whole lot in my career, but it has happened before,” coach Rex Ryan said, via the Buffalo News. “Sometimes you feel that momentum shift and it just snowballed on us. Sometimes, I think we lose confidence. You can’t ever have that happen to you.”

Things may not play out like that very often for the Bills, but the story of Buffalo’s season has been one of finding a way to lose when matched with tougher competition. That’s not so different from the path they took to 8-8 in 2015, which leaves the team with an obvious area for improvement next season.

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Mike Pouncey doesn’t know if he’ll play again this year or not

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 04:   Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins awaits the snap from Mike Pouncey #51 of the Miami Dolphins during the game against New York Jets at Wembley Stadium on October 4, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) Getty Images

Mike Pouncey hasn’t played in the last three games because of a recurring hip problem.

He doesn’t know if he’ll play in any of the next four, either.

The Dolphins center admitted he wasn’t sure when or if he’d be back this season, deferring the question to coach Adam Gase

“You’ve got to ask coach Gase that one,” Pouncey said, via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald. “I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes.”

He said he didn’t know how he re-injured the hip, but said it “feels good.” But he visited a specialist while the team was on the West Coast, and was told he didn’t need another surgery.

“Anytime you don’t have to get surgery, it’s the best news in the world,” he said.

The Dolphins started Anthony Steen in his place during Sunday’s loss to the Ravens, while Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil were just coming back from injuries. The line as a whole didn’t hold up well, and could clearly use some stability in the middle.

Pouncey missed the first four games of the season, but then returned to the lineup before missing the last three.

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Woody Johnson under consideration for U.K. ambassadorship

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: New York Jets owner Woody Johnson talks on the sidelines before the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on September 15, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Michael Adamucci/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the NFL continues to expand its presence in England, it may have an owner there on a full-time basis.

The New York Post reports that Jets owner Woody Johnson is under consideration for the position of ambassador to the United Kingdom. Johnson, who supported President-Elect Donald Trump, is a “leading contender” for the position, according to the report.

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney served as ambassador to Ireland from 2009 through 2012. He was appointed to the position by President Barack Obama.

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Mike Zimmer returns to Vikings, is expected to travel with team

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 18:  Head coach Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings looks on against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on August 18, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Vikings haven’t gotten much good news lately. They got some on Monday.

“Mike Zimmer has returned to his coaching duties and is expected to travel with the team to Jacksonville for this weekend’s game,” G.M. Rick Spielman announced.

The phrase “travel with the team” implies he’ll be flying from Minneapolis to Jacksonville. The phrase “is expected to” implies that plans could change.

Zimmer, who had emergency surgery on Wednesday to repair a detached retina, will need clearance to fly in a pressurized cabin. Otherwise, the Vikings would have to find another way to get Zimmer to Florida.

The 6-6 Vikings remain alive for the wild-card berth. They have a longer shot to win the NFC North; they’ll need to run the table and hope the Lions lose three of their final four games.

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NFC playoff picture: Buccaneers making a move

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 04:   Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks to pass under pressure from  Kyle Emanuel #51 of the San Diego Chargers during the second half of a game at Qualcomm Stadium on December 4, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

If the playoffs started today, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be in. How many people saw that coming?

With yesterday’s win over the Chargers, the Bucs now have a 7-5 record and a half-game lead over Washington in the wild card race. Tampa Bay also has a good chance at catching Atlanta in the NFC South, although the 7-5 Falcons currently have the tiebreaker advantage.

Here’s how the whole NFC looks with four games to go:

LEADERS
1. Cowboys (11-1): With a three-game lead in the NFC East, Dallas has already clinched at least a wild card and appears poised to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

2. Seahawks (8-3-1): The NFC West race is all but over.

3. Lions (8-4): Detroit has a two-game lead in the division with four to play.

4. Falcons (7-5): Atlanta is in danger of losing what looked like a comfortable division lead.

5. Giants (8-4): Sunday’s loss probably ruined any hope the Giants had of winning the division.

6. Buccaneers (7-5): Keep winning and they’re in the playoffs.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. Washington (6-5-1): That tie game in London is starting to loom large.

8. Vikings (6-6): Currently owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay.

9. Packers (6-6): If they win out they only need the Lions to lose once between now and the Week 17 finale.

10. Cardinals (5-6-1): Sunday’s win is probably too little, too late.

11. Saints (5-7): Losing to the Lions at home sealed their fate.

12. Eagles (5-7): Both the offense and the defense have declined significantly since a promising start.

13. Panthers (4-8): A blowout loss to Seattle ended the reigning NFC champions’ hopes.

14. Rams (4-8): Yet another non-winning season for Jeff Fisher.

15. Bears (3-9): At least they’re better than the 49ers.

16. 49ers (1-11): At least they’re better than the Browns.

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Doug Martin says he’s fine, but Bucs offense took some injury hits

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Doug Martin #22 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers  carries the ball while being pursued by Denzel Perryman #52 of the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter at Qualcomm Stadium on December 4, 2016 in San Diego, California. The Buccaneers defeated the Chargers 28-21.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Buccaneers closed out Sunday’s 28-21 win over the Chargers with running back Doug Martin on the bench, but it doesn’t look like the veteran is going to be out for another extended period.

Martin, who missed six games with a hamstring injury this year, watched while Jacquizz Rodgers made a big catch on the game-winning touchdown drive and then ran the clock out on the next Tampa possession. He said after the game, via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, that he was “bent back” before heading for the sideline and that he expects to be fine.

The outlook is less positive for wide receiver Cecil Shorts. Shorts had to be carted off with a knee injury and the team fears that he tore multiple ligaments while also dislocating his knee.

“I don’t know how he was conscious after that,” tight end Cameron Brate said. “That was one of the most gruesome hits I’ve ever seen.”

Tight end Luke Stocker left for the day with an ankle injury and wide receiver Adam Humphries was knocked out with a concussion. Freddie Martino stepped up at receiver and Brate caught the winning touchdown, allowing the Bucs to end the day with the same record as the Falcons with four games left to decide the NFC South.

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Sickness, Saints didn’t slow down Matthew Stafford

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 04: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions reacts during the first half of a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Lions have made a habit out of playing nailbiters this season, but they went the other way against the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday.

Their defense held the Saints to 13 points and Matthew Stafford threw a pair of touchdown passes, including a 66-yarder to wide receiver Golden Tate that allowed them to breathe more comfortably in a 28-13 victory. It was a big day overall for Stafford, who hit on 16-of-17 passes to open the game and ended up 30-of-42 for 341 yards.

All of that came on a day when Stafford was feeling less than 100 percent. Tate revealed that Stafford showed up feeling sick on Sunday, “but just found a way.” Stafford downplayed any effect of the sickness, which coach Jim Caldwell said he didn’t even know about until after the game.

“He got rolling,” Caldwell said, via MLive.com. “Things you know — he had two touchdown passes, whatever his percentages were, he earned a [111.3 quarterback] rating. But he does much more than that for us. This was a team that blitzed us quite a bit. Getting us into the right protections, giving us a chance to try to get some big plays as a result of pressures, getting runs, taking us out of bad runs, getting us into better run situations. He does a lot of those things, but not only that, just in terms of leadership on the field, he does a tremendous job. He seems to just get better and better every week.”

The Lions hold a two-game lead in the NFC North and Stafford’s been a big reason for that as he turns in perhaps the best season of his career. The Bears will get the next crack at slowing him down, but there’s been little evidence that either defenses or bacteria can find the right formula this year.

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Larry Fitzgerald glad milestones came in a win

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 04:  Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals embraces teammate J.J. Nelson #14 after Nelson's touchdown catch against the Washington Redskins during the fourth quarter of a game at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald passed a pair of Hall of Famers on the all-time receptions list, and since his team won Sunday, he was able to appreciate that accomplishment for a second.

But the context of the list as a whole doesn’t escape him.

Fitzgerald caught 10 passes in the Cards’ win over Washington, passing Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison for third place on the list.

“The thing I’m most happy about is it came in a winning effort,” Fitzgerald said, via Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. “A tough, hard-fought game at home that we definitely needed. It’s always nice to be able to climb up a little higher, but it is humbling to know that I am still 400 catches behind Jerry Rice.”

Rice’s 1,549 and Tony Gonzalez’s 1,325 are still seasons (plural) beyond anything Fitzgerald can reach (he has 1,106), but he’s put himself in a rare category. And he joked that at his age, the catch that pushed him past Harrison was a 3-yarder.

“They keep getting shorter and shorter,” Fitzgerald said. “But, hey, I am still getting it thrown to me, so that is all I can ask for.”

He’s also 10th on the all-time receiving yards list, with his 78 against Washington moving him past Andre Johnson. He now has 14,246 yards.

“Mind-boggling,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “I’ve been around some great receivers, but to see those statistics and the names he just passed is mind-boggling and hats to a great player and an even better person.”

The 33-year-old Fitzgerald may not be the same kind of downfield threat he once was, but he has proven himself dependable over time and could climb even higher (he’s 99 yards behind Reggie Wayne for ninth on the yardage list).

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Brock Osweiler: We’re close to exploding on offense

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 04:  Brock Osweiler #17 of the Houston Texans drops back to pass in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 4, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) Getty Images

There have been plenty of games this season when the play of quarterback Brock Osweiler was a major negative for the Texans, but he turned in one of his better games of the year in Green Bay on Sunday.

Osweiler didn’t turn the ball over while completing 22-of-35 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown in the 21-13 loss. While that wasn’t enough for the team to get a win or score more than two touchdowns for the second time this season, it was enough for Osweiler to say after the game that he feels the offense is close to catching fire.

“I feel like we’re very close to exploding as an offense,” Osweiler said, via ESPN.com. “We are three, four plays away from changing multiple football games. Because of that, I don’t think we can get discouraged. … We’re tired of being close. We really are, as a team. We’re all able to see it on the film. We see it on the film every single week that we’re so close to turning that corner.”

Sunday’s loss dropped the Texans to 6-6, which is the same record as the Titans and the Colts can join them with a win over the Jets on Monday night. The Texans are in Indianapolis next Sunday and close out the year in Tennessee, so it would be a fine time for Osweiler and company to turn that corner once and for all.

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Victor Cruz peeved by lack of throws his way

In this Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, photo, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) is tackled by Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr (39) after catching a pass during an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys haven't forced a turnover in four games and couldn't get a sack of Washington's Kirk Cousins despite 53 pass attempts. After an early season surge into the top 10, the Cowboys have slid a bit. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth) AP

After the Giants beat the Browns in Week 12, quarterback Eli Manning apologized to wide receiver Sterling Shepard for not targeting him with any passes.

Shepard was back in the mix against the Steelers, but another wideout found himself shorter on activity than he would have liked. Victor Cruz drew the short end of the stick this time around as he drew no throws while playing on fewer snaps than Roger Lewis.

“I’m going to talk to somebody. Somebody’s got to give me an answer as to why,” Cruz said, via the New York Daily News. “Absolutely, there’s always opportunities for everybody to get the ball out there and I didn’t get those today.”

Quarterback Eli Manning pointed to “what defenses are doing” as a reason for Cruz’s shutout. It’s the second time that Cruz has gone untargeted in a game this season and his drop in playing time signals the greater shift in circumstances for a wideout who hasn’t returned to his former role after missing most of two seasons following a torn patellar tendon in his knee.

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Dennis Pitta has finally found his way back to the end zone

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 4: Tight end Dennis Pitta #88 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with teammate quarterback Joe Flacco #5 after scoring a second quarter touchdown against the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

People in Baltimore were beginning to wonder if Dennis Pitta was ever going to get back into the end zone.

Then the Dolphins had to wonder if he was ever going to be anywhere else.

The Ravens tight end finally scored a touchdown, and then followed it quickly with another one as part of a rout of the Dolphins.

“Yes, I had a couple touchdowns, but I feel like I have been producing all year,” Pitta said, via Edward Lee of the Baltimore Sun. “I don’t think after a game like this, I say, ‘Oh, I’m back.’ I feel like I have been back since Week One. It feels good though. . . .

“It feels good to get back in the end zone and obviously to have the kind of win and team win and offensive production that we had today was huge.”

The 31-year-old Pitta, who missed most of the last two seasons with hip problems, hadn’t scored a touchdown since Dec. 8, 2013. So it was interesting that the outburst of scoring came four days after quarterback Joe Flacco was asked what he had to do to get Pitta back into the mix.

“I wish I could take credit for all that, but no,” Flacco said. “I think we probably saw things the same way on the first one. On the first one, I’m standing behind [center Jeremy Zuttah], and you could tell that it was probably going to have a decent chance of being able to hit Dennis in the middle of the field. On the second one, he’s anywhere from second, third, anywhere in the progression. I think I had a guy coming off my right side, and he made me go left a little bit, and I just got the ball off to him, and he did a good job getting in the end zone.”

The last time Pitta scored twice in a game was Dec. 16, 2012, but he’s been contributing throughout. He leads the Ravens in receptions (61) and is third in yards (529), making him a valuable part of a passing game that is clicking heading toward the playoffs. And now that he knows where the end zone is again, he’s even more dangerous.

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Monday morning one-liners

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 4: Tight end Dennis Pitta #88 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with teammate wide receiver Kamar Aiken #11 after scoring a second quarter touchdown against the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Sunday marked the ninth time in history that the Bills handed back a 15-point lead.

Dolphins WR DeVante Parker had one touchdown on Sunday, but missed a chance for a second score.

DT Alan Branch is happy to be in the Patriots’ plans for the rest of the season now that his suspension has been rescinded.

What are the Jets playing for on Monday night?

Ravens TE Dennis Pitta snapped his scoring drought with a couple of touchdowns.

Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict had his first two-interception game.

Some bye week thoughts about the Browns.

Randy Bullock made all his kicks after signing with the Steelers on Saturday.

The Texans ran for more than 100 yards for the seventh straight game.

Is Colts TE Dwayne Allen an underachiever?

Jaguars WR Allen Robinson took issue with Sunday’s officiating.

Setting the stage for the final four weeks of the Titans season.

The Broncos defense avoided a late letdown this week.

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce had a big day in Sunday’s win.

The Raiders run defense found its footing as Sunday’s game unfolded.

The Chargers’ playoff hopes are all but done.

Prime time television won’t be light on the Cowboys down the stretch.

Sunday’s loss made the Giants’ road to the playoffs more difficult.

A thin Eagles receiving group took another hit on Sunday.

LB Ryan Kerrigan said the Redskins defense was to blame in Sunday’s loss.

Bears LB Leonard Floyd made a happy return to the lineup.

QB Matthew Stafford set a Lions record with 13 straight completions in Sunday’s game.

Packers WR Jordy Nelson found a way to make plays in the snow.

LB Chad Greenway believes the Vikings need to do a better job of closing out games.

Failures in the red zone caught up with the Falcons on Sunday.

Said Panthers TE Greg Olsen, “We’re having trouble just trying to win one game. That’s all anybody should care about. Win one game. Prepare that way, play that way. Play smart, execute and win one game. That’s it. Everything else is white noise.”

The Saints offense fizzled in Sunday’s loss to the Lions.

LB Lavonte David made a big play for the Buccaneers.

The Cardinals found some of their old success against the Redskins.

T Greg Robinson was happy to be back in the lineup for the Rams.

Penalties were among the 49ers’ problems in Chicago.

The Seahawks were surprised to see Derek Anderson at quarterback for the Panthers to start Sunday night’s game.

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LeGarrette Blount: I think Jeff Fisher knows our names now

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04:  LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots rushes for a 43-yard touchdown during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

Plenty of people were amused last week when Rams coach Jeff Fisher made references to “Brandon” and “Danny” while discussing the Patriots’ running backs because Brandon Bolden usually only plays special teams and there hasn’t been a Danny at running back in New England since Danny Woodhead left town.

The Rams said Fisher was referring to wide receiver Danny Amendola, but he already knew LeGarrette Blount from a brief time when Blount played for Fisher with the Titans. Blount was joined in the backfield by Dion Lewis and James White in a 26-10 Patriots victory on Sunday and he referenced Fisher’s comments by mentioning them after the game.

“He already knew my name,” Blount said, via the Boston Herald. “I think he knows James and Dion now for sure, though.”

Blount ran 18 times for 88 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, leaving him with 230 carries for 957 yards and 13 touchdowns. The attempts and touchdowns are already career highs and he’s 51 yards away from another one during a year that’s left Blount well known around the league.

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Aaron Rodgers: Got through game without a “major setback” to hamstring

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson during the second half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke) AP

Aaron Rodgers was still limited in his mobility after last week’s hamstring injury, so he couldn’t play in the snow the way he wanted.

He was still able to do enough, but is still far from 100 percent. But the Packers quarterback didn’t have to go into the mystery tent, and he said he didn’t make his left hamstring worse by playing.

Not better than I did coming in, but I feel good about where I’m at,” Rodgers said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “Had decent movement and didn’t do anything to create a major setback.”

Of course, the Packers didn’t call the same kinds of plays they might have ordinarily, as he was clearly not able to move the way he or they were accustomed to. The fact it was snowing and the field was slick was also a factor, as they kept him in the shotgun or pistol formation most of the game (his only fumble came from under center). He completed 20-of-30 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, which was just enough to beat the Texans.

“He’s playing great football,” McCarthy said. “So he deserves a lot of credit. The guy’s an outstanding leader. He does a lot of things that you don’t read about because people don’t hear about it. He’s an exceptional leader, and he’s a great football player. So you do what you want with that. Those are the facts.”

The fact is, he has a week to get ready for Seattle and then three division games to close the season, with his team 6-6 and fighting for a Wild Card berth.

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