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London Fletcher named NFC defensive player of the month

London Fletcher AP

The Redskins are riding a seven-game winning streak into Sunday’s game against the Seahawks and one of the biggest reasons for their turnaround after a 3-6 start has been the improved play of the defense.

They forced 15 turnovers and sacked quarterbacks 18 times over the course of the winning streak and one of the key players on the unit has been recognized for his efforts in making that happen. Linebacker London Fletcher is the NFC defensive player of the month for December.

Fletcher had interceptions in three consecutive December games and then capped off the month with two sacks of Tony Romo in last Sunday’s division clinching 28-18 win against the Cowboys. Fletcher also racked up 51 tackles over the course of the month, allowing him to finish the year as Washington’s leading tackler.

That’s no surprise, since Fletcher routinely leads his team in tackles while playing every single game of every single season since he’s entered the NFL. He’s tied with Ronde Barber for the league’s longest active consecutive games played streak at 240, a number that will likely continue to grow in 2013 given how well Fletcher was able to play this season.

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Lardarius Webb fined $16,537 for horse-collar tackle

Joe Morgan, Lardarius Webb AP

On the second play of Monday night’s Ravens win over the Saints, Baltimore cornerback Lardarius Webb saved a touchdown by dragging Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan down on the 2-yard-line with a horse-collar tackle.

The play was flagged as a personal foul and Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that Webb has been fined $16,537 by the NFL for the infraction. It’s a tidy sum of money, but well spent from the Ravens’ perspective.

The Ravens Defense was able to stop the Saints on four straight plays after Webb’s tackle stopped Morgan after a 67-yard run on an end around. The Ravens drove for a touchdown on the ensuing possession, putting them up seven points on the way to a 34-27 victory.

Wilson also reports that neither Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith nor Saints safety Kenny Vacarro were fined for an altercation that saw Vacarro penalized during the game. Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata also avoided a fine for a roughing the passer penalty.

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Ray Rice thanks judge, apologizes to his wife

Ray Rice, Janay Palmer

The NFLPA has every reason to gloat, for what is clearly a big win for the union with the reinstatement of former Ravens running back Ray Rice.

Rice, on the other hand, needs to show a bit more contrition since this whole deal began with him punching his wife in the face.

In a statement sent out by the union, Rice again expressed remorse for assaulting his wife Janay.

“I would like to thank Judge Barbara Jones, the NFL Players Association, my attorneys, agents, advisors, family, friends and fans — but most importantly, my wife Janay,” Rice said. “I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions. I am thankful that there was a proper appeals process in place to address this issue.

“I will continue working hard to improve myself and be the best husband, father and friend, while giving back to my community and helping others to learn from my mistakes.”

Whether he plays another down of football, fixing that relationship will be his biggest priority.

Rice said previously that at some point he hoped to be able to become an advocate in the fight against violence toward women.

Today clearly puts him a step closer to that, but only time will tell if his actions match his words.

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NFLPA hopes Rice decision helps “fix a broken process”

Super Bowl XLVIII NFLPA Press Conference Getty Images

Let the gloating begin.

In the wake of Judge Barbara Jones reinstating former Ravens running back Ray Rice, the players union has responded to what it views as a big win.

“This decision is a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “This union will always stand up and fight for the due process rights of our players. While we take no pleasure in seeing a decision that confirms what we have been saying about the Commissioner’s office acting arbitrarily, we hope that this will bring the NFL owners to the collective bargaining table to fix a broken process.

“It is clear that this decision should force the NFL to embrace neutral arbitration as part of a necessary due process in all cases. The players thank Judge Barbara Jones for her time and thoroughness in this matter.”

While the players had the opportunity to bargain collectively for changes to this system previously, it’s clear that it will be a big issue next time they negotiate, and they’ll use this as evidence that Goodell has too much power.

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Janay Rice: My apology followed the Ravens’ suggested script

Ray Rice, Janay Rice AP

One of the many ugly elements of the Ray Rice domestic violence case was the way the victim, Janay Rice, was treated in some quarters like she deserved blame for the incident. That was exemplified by a press conference hosted by the Ravens in which Janay apologized for her role in the attack, an apology that was promptly trumpeted by the Ravens on Twitter.

The Ravens’ tweet, reading, “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident,” became a symbol of the tone deaf way the Ravens and the NFL handled the Rice case in particular and domestic violence generally. Now Janay Rice has come forward to say it was the Ravens who scripted the apology in the first place.

Janay Rice and ESPN’s Jemele Hill have collaborated on a first-person account of Janay’s perspective of everything that has transpired since the night Ray assaulted her. In that first-person account, Rice says that the Ravens didn’t make her say anything she didn’t believe, but the Ravens did suggest a script, and that when she was apologizing for her role, she was following the Ravens’ suggestion.

“When it was my turn to speak, I said I regretted my role in the incident,” Janay Rice says. “I know some people disagreed with me publicly apologizing. I’m not saying that what Ray did wasn’t wrong. He and I both know it was wrong. It’s been made clear to him that it was wrong. But at the same time, who am I to put my hands on somebody? I had already apologized to Ray, and I felt that I should take responsibility for what I did. Even though this followed the Ravens’ suggested script, I owned my words.”

Janay Rice also said the press conference was something the Ravens wanted, although she also was glad that people could get an image of her other than the only one they had, which was that of her being dragged out of an elevator by Ray.

“The Ravens just said it was something that they felt we should do,” Janay Rice says of the press conference.

That doesn’t speak well of the Ravens. If Janay Rice wanted to speak about this case, she should have been made to feel free to do so in whatever setting she wished. She should not have been pressured by the Ravens to give a press conference at their headquarters, in which they suggested the script.

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Tom Brady is probable for Green Bay, because he always was

Tom Brady AP

Sometimes it seems like the Patriots only bother monkeying around with the injury report for big games.

So naturally, with the Packers this weekend, something has to be wrong with Tom Brady.

The venerable quarterback is listed as probable for Sunday’s trip to Green Bay with an ankle injury, which means of course he’s playing.

The rest of the Patriots injury reports lists defensive lineman Chandler Jones as questionable, along with running back Shane Vereen, wide receiver Brandon LaFell and guard Dan Connolly.

It’s hard to gauge on Jones, who has missed a month with a hip injury, and was considered borderline for this game. So making him 50-50 on the report is about as much intrigue as we’ll actually have.

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Potential landing spots hard to find for Ray Rice in 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

Judge Barbara Jones has reinstated former Ravens running back Ray Rice from his indefinite suspension after finding that Rice did not mislead the NFL about striking Janay Palmer Rice and knocking her unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator earlier this year.

The ruling frees Rice to sign with any team to continue his playing career, but a return this year doesn’t look particularly promising. In addition to the sizable baggage Rice carries as a result of hitting his now-wife, Rice is coming off a season that saw him run for 3.1 yards per carry and he would be coming in cold to a new team with little time left in the regular season.

In looking at potential landing spots, we’re eliminating teams out of playoff contention since the benefits of adding Rice wouldn’t make much of a difference to them this season when compared to the negative attention such a move would likely create. Among teams with active playoff hopes, one team jumps immediately to mind but, as if to illustrate the difficulties Rice faces getting work this year, they are reportedly uninterested in Rice’s services.

Colts: The Colts lost Ahmad Bradshaw for the season, leaving them with the underwhelming combo of Trent Richardson and Dan Herron at tailback. Rice could give them some of what they lost in the passing game with Bradshaw gone and he knows Colts coach Chuck Pagano from Indianapolis, but, as mentioned, there have already been reports that the Colts are not interested in pursuing Rice.

Cardinals: Arizona currently ranks 31st in the league in rushing yards per game and they signed Michael Bush off the street this week, so they are looking for help alongside Andre Ellington in the backfield. Bush wasn’t any more productive than Rice last season, but he does look like a better fit as a more power-oriented back since Ellington has been fairly effective catching passes out of the backfield.

Falcons: The Falcons haven’t been much better on the ground than the Cardinals, but their issues on the offensive line make it hard to believe that Rice would be able to do much more than Steven Jackson, Devonta Freeman and Jacquizz Rodgers offer the team.

Lions: In the event that Reggie Bush’s ankle injury continues to keep him on the sidelines, the Lions could be in the market for backfield help. There’s no sign that’s the case at this point, however, and Joique Bell and Theo Riddick were effective on Thanksgiving.

Broncos: Continuing along the theme of teams dealing with injuries, the Broncos are waiting to get Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball back in the lineup. Their offense isn’t an easy one to pick up, though, and C.J. Anderson appears to have it down pat, which doesn’t leave much reason to go down the Rice road.

Chargers: The Chargers rank near the Cardinals and Falcons and were once victimized by a Rice catch-and-run on 4th-and-29, so they saw first-hand what he can do with the ball in his hands. They also just got Ryan Mathews back from injury and they have run for 270 yards in the last two weeks, leaving them much less likely to be in the market for backfield help.

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Rice had second video, and NFL never asked for it

Rice

It’s taken nearly three months, but finally a conclusive answer has been provided to one of the most basic questions in the Ray Rice case:  Could the NFL have gotten the elevator video from Rice himself?

Answer:  Yes.

In her 17-page ruling announcing the reversal of Rice’s indefinite suspension, former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones concludes that Rice had obtained the video from the prosecution as part of the discovery process in his criminal case, and that the NFL (which supposedly was doing everything in its power to get the video) didn’t ask Rice for a copy of the video.

From page four of the written decision, “Rice had received this video in discovery during his criminal case, but the NFL never asked Rice for the second video.”

That’s a point that was first raised in this space on August 4, more than a month before the second video was released.  At a time when everyone assumed that the NFL had seen the video of the strike that knocked Janay Palmer Rice out, Jay Glazer of FOX said on The Dan Patrick Show that the NFL hadn’t seen the video.  Alarmed by that disclosure, I determined the NFL hadn’t seen the video, but that it could have gotten the video easily.

The topic was revisited on September 8, after the video emerged, the Ravens cut Rice, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.  But the league had never publicly addressed whether it asked Rice for the video.

Privately, some have pointed to a strong likelihood that Rice’s lawyer wouldn’t have allowed him to produce the tape.  Those concerns appear nowhere within Judge Jones’ ruling, and for good reason.  Rice, as the client, owns the contents of the lawyer’s file.  Rice, as the client, has the power to tell the lawyer what will and won’t be shared with, for example, Rice’s employer.

Regardless of why the NFL didn’t ask for the video, the truth is that:  (1) Rice had it; and (2) the NFL never said the magic words.

That simple failure by the NFL makes everything else regarding the case irrelevant.  Either the league office didn’t want to see the video or it failed to exercise any degree of reasonable diligence in attempting to get it.  Regardless of the explanation, it’s not the kind of outcome that the stakeholders in professional football should expect, or tolerate.

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Jordan Cameron practices again Friday, listed as questionable

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The Browns could have tight end Jordan Cameron back in the lineup as they try for their eighth win of the season in Buffalo on Sunday.

Cameron practiced for the third straight day on Friday, leading the team to list him as questionable to play in his first game since suffering a concussion in Week Eight. Cameron has missed four games as a result, although the Browns have won three of those four contests.

Earlier this week, coach Mike Pettine said that Cameron had to string together a few practices without any concussion symptoms before he’d have a chance of playing this weekend. Now that he’s done that, you’d expect to see him on the field come Sunday unless there’s something holding him back from getting the final green light to emerge from the concussion protocol.

If Cameron does play, it will be the first time this season that the Browns will have him and Josh Gordon in the lineup at the same time. That should be a boost to both their offense and their chances of making the playoffs.

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Rice decision could make Mueller investigation moot

Mueller Getty Images

While much remains to be digested from the written ruling issued by former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones and the transcript from two days of testimony that the case has generated, the ultimate result of the Ray Rice appeal says plenty about the NFL’s handling of the Rice case.

Judge Jones likely has concluded that Rice had told the NFL everything the NFL needed to know when suspending him for only two games, and that the NFL didn’t need to see the video.  If that’s the case, the question of whether the NFL knew about the contents of the video doesn’t matter; the knowledge has been imputed to the league based on the reconstruction of the facts over which Judge Jones presided.

In turn, that potentially makes the ongoing investigation from former FBI director Robert Mueller moot.  Mueller has spent weeks exploring what the NFL knew and when the NFL knew it about the incident that ultimately was demonstrated by video evidence to entail a vicious blow to the head that rendered Janay Palmer Rice unconscious.  If Judge Jones has concluded that the league had everything it needed to know when suspending Rice the first time, Mueller’s investigation doesn’t matter.  Judge Jones — a truly independent party whose firm (unlike Mueller’s) has no other connection to the NFL — quite possibly has determined that the league necessarily knew what was in the video.

If that’s what she concluded, it no longer matters whether someone sent the video to the league office, as the Associated Press reported.  It no longer matters whether the NFL should have asked Rice or his lawyer for the video.  It no longer matters whether the NFL should have asked the casino at which the incident occurred for the video.  It no longer matters whether the NFL should have broken out the checkbook and purchased the video, the same way TMZ did.

None of it matters because the NFL necessarily knew that which the rest of the world first saw on the morning of September 8.

There’s one caveat here, which won’t be known until the ruling is fully examined.  It’s possible that Judge Jones found that Rice’s version of the events created ambiguities that the NFL could have resolved by getting the video, and that the NFL should have gotten the video.  While leading to the same result for the purposes of Rice’s suspension, that nuance potentially clears the NFL from a determination that it possessed the knowledge regarding what happened — and that it lacked the sensitivity, common sense, or human empathy to bother to consider what the incident actually looked like on video.

The answer surely resides in the document Judge Jones has written to support her decision.  It’s possible, if not likely, that the written decision proves that there was no need for Mueller or anyone else to investigate what the league knew and when the league knew it.  Judges Jones’ decision could mean that the NFL knew everything, well before TMZ provided all of us with a window into that elevator.

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Jerick McKinnon says he’s out this week

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

The Vikings listed running back Jerick McKinnon as doubtful on their Friday injury report, but there’s no doubt in McKinnon’s mind about his status.

McKinnon said Friday that he isn’t going to play against the Panthers this weekend because of the back issues that have plagued him for several weeks.

“It’s going to be hard standing on the sidelines not being able to play in the game,” McKinnon said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I know that Matt [Asiata], Joe [Banyard] and all the other guys are going to do the job, do what’s best for the team and lead us to victory. It’s been lingering a little bit, but it’s nothing I can’t play through. It’s just a matter of taking precaution and doing what’s right.”

Asiata didn’t play last week because of a concussion, but is expected back this week. Banyard had five carries for 26 yards in support of McKinnon against the Bears while Ben Tate didn’t play a snap in his first game as a member of the Vikings. Whoever does get the ball should have some opportunities to make plays against a Panthers team that’s allowing 119 yards per game on the ground.

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Rice ruling produces two key documents that have not yet been leaked

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

With former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones scuttling the indefinite suspension of running back Ray Rice, attention now turns to two key pieces of information generated by the Rice appeal.

First, the written ruling may shed light on what the league knew and when the league knew it about the elevator punch that was recorded on video and ultimately acquired by TMZ.  If Judge Jones concluded that the NFL knew or should have known about the video, that will hurt the league both in the court of public opinion and within the confines of the still-ongoing Robert Mueller investigation.

At a minimum, the written ruling will take issue with the NFL’s contention that Rice lied.  The real question is whether Judge Jones has said that the NFL’s contention of untruthfulness was the result of an innocent mistake or deliberate obfuscation.

Second, the transcript of the two-day hearing, which had been zealously guarded by all parties, will now presumably surface.  If/when (when) it does, the transcript will be picked apart for anything that would shed light the NFL’s knowledge or lack thereof regarding the video.  Also, the testimony of Commissioner Roger Goodell could be (and should be) scrutinized carefully for statements that could be used against the league in the confines of other disciplinary cases, including the recent suspension of Adrian Peterson.

So while the decision marks the end of Rice’s appeal, it’s the beginning of the next chapter in much longer tale that could still result in major changes at 345 Park Avenue.

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Aqib Talib practices for Broncos

Denver Broncos vs St. Louis Rams, NFL Getty Images

The Broncos have had a variety of injuries to monitor this week and Friday brought updates for several players.

On the positive side of the ledger was the return of cornerback Aqib Talib to practice after he missed the first two days of the week because of a hamstring injury that limited him against the Dolphins last week. Talib’s important to the Broncos secondary under any circumstances, but his presence could be even more valuable this weekend with Kayvon Webster ruled out because of a shoulder injury.

Also on the positive side, Linebacker Brandon Marshall returned to practice after suffering a concussion last weekend and is expected to start on Sunday after being listed as probable. The Broncos should benefit from having Marshall available to help face a Chiefs Offense that likes to run the ball.

The negative side of things features tight end Julius Thomas, who was listed as limited despite media reports that he wasn’t doing much more than stretching. Thomas and Talib have both been listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.

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As expected, Ray Rice wins the appeal of his suspension

ray-rice Getty Images

Now that’s what the NFLPA would call independence and neutrality.

Per a league source, former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones has rejected the NFL’s indefinite suspension of former Ravens running back Ray Rice.  In her designated role as the hearing officer for Rice’s appeal of his suspension, Judge Jones has overturned the suspension.

This outcome, which was expected, presumably means that Rice will be reinstated immediately.  (Unless, of course, the NFL puts him on the Commissioner-Exempt list.)

Rice and the union contended that the league lacked the ability to suspend him a second time for conduct that the NFL already knew about.  The league claimed that Rice had not been truthful in his explanation of the events.

Eligible to play or not, it’s unlikely that teams will be lining up to sign Rice.  For starters, it’s unknown what kind of shape he’s in.  Also, his age, wear and tear, and the distractions inherent to his domestic violence situation will make it harder to justify adding him to a team.

Then again, teams that find themselves in the running for a playoff berth could decide to set aside principle in the hopes of reaching for a silver trophy.

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Falcons activate safety William Moore from IR/designated for return

Atlanta Falcons v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

At the moment, the Falcons are in pole position in the NFC South.

And unlike some of their rivals, they’re actually getting players back on the field.

The Falcons announced that safety William Moore was activated from IR/designated for return today. To make room for him on the roster, they released tackle Cameron Bradfield.

Moore has been out since injuring his shoulder Week Four.

While he might not be the biggest difference maker in the secondary, anything might help in the league’s weakest division.

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Manziel on fight: He came at me “very aggressive” and “very intoxicated”

Oakland Raiders v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel hasn’t played in weeks, but still landed in the news recently because of his involvement in an altercation early last Saturday morning outside an elevator at a hotel/apartment complex in Cleveland.

Manziel and his “entourage” were accused of assaulting a man named Chris Gonos who asked Manziel for a hug upon seeing him waiting for the elevator, but allegedly received a punch to the jaw instead. Manziel’s agent Erik Burkhardt said this week that Manziel and his roommate were defending themselves after being “accosted” by Gonos and his associates.

Manziel addressed the reports on Friday and painted a similar picture of the interaction. Manziel said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that Gonos was “very aggressive” and “very intoxicated” when he “put his hands on me” to touch off the incident. Manziel said he felt that he and his roommate did their best to defuse the situation and Cabot adds that Manziel’s face showed no signs of being smashed by a punch, as Gonos claimed it was while discussing the incident after the initial reports broke.

Browns General Manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine both took issue with the fact that Manziel was out at 2:30 in the morning, but there doesn’t appear to be any disciplinary action coming from either the team or the league as a result of the incident.

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