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Andrew Luck goes out, RG3 goes down and Russell Wilson arrives

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We’d never seen this before, a playoff Sunday with three rookie quarterbacks starting, and if you were hoping for one of them to put up spectacular passing numbers, you turned off your TV feeling disappointed. But one of those three rookie quarterbacks, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, was anything but a disappointment.

It really is amazing, thinking back over the last year, to consider that Wilson now stands head and shoulders above the rest of this year’s fantastic class of rookie quarterbacks. Andrew Luck, the can’t-miss prospect drafted first overall by the Colts, had a phenomenal rookie season that came to an end with a tough loss to the Ravens. Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winner drafted second overall by the Redskins, hobbled around on a bad knee against the Seahawks until it buckled underneath him and he limped off the field, ending his own phenomenal rookie season.

But there’s Wilson, the allegedly too-short quarterback drafted 75th overall by the Seahawks, still alive heading into the divisional round, where he’ll lead the Seahawks against the Falcons next weekend. And Wilson was better than either of his fellow rookies on Sunday, completing 15 of 26 passes for 187 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, and adding 67 rushing yards on eight carries.

Wilson was good all season, but he really arrived on Sunday. It’s not just that he’s got the arm and the feet to threaten any NFL defense, it’s the way he commands an offense and leads a football team. It’s the way he runs out in front to throw blocks to spring Marshawn Lynch for big gains. It’s the way he knows when to tuck the ball under his arm and take off running, and when to stay in the pocket and scan the field for an open receiver. It’s also the way he knows — and this is important — when to take a sack and when to throw the ball away when there are no plays to make, as he wisely did a few times on Sunday.

I don’t know how Wilson will compare to Luck and Griffin when we’ve had several years to compare their careers, but I do know this: Russell Wilson has arrived as a legitimate NFL star. Not bad for a rookie who was supposed to be too short.

Wilson was my favorite player on the field Sunday. Here are some other observations:

Line judge Mark Perlman made the call of the playoffs. Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice made a sensational 27-yard catch along the sideline in the second quarter, but the first official on the play ruled that Rice didn’t get his feet down inbounds. Perlman was the official who correctly came in and overruled his colleague, calling it a catch. The NFL uses all-star officiating crews during the playoffs, meaning these officials haven’t been working together all season, and sometimes postseason officiating is criticized because the officials don’t work well together as a unit. But Perlman did his job perfectly on that play.

We narrowly missed one of the all-time great playoff moments. When Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage in the second quarter, it bounced right into the arms of Ray Lewis, playing in Baltimore for the last time. It would have been an easy interception, and given how much daylight he had in front of him, Lewis might have taken it back for a touchdown. That would have been an amazing way for Lewis to go out in style in Baltimore, but unfortunately he dropped the pass. “I’ll never live that down,” Lewis said after the game. Actually, everyone in Baltimore will gladly overlook it. But it would have been some great moment.

The Colts need to revamp their offensive line. It was amazing how often Luck would take the snap, drop back and have three Ravens in his face before he could set his feet in the pocket. The offensive line has been a major problem for the Colts all season, and it’s a testament to Luck’s toughness that he managed to stay healthy the entire year. Luck is going to be a great quarterback for a long time, but the Colts can’t let him get killed back there.

Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton had my favorite play of the day. With the Colts facing third-and-26 with 12 seconds left in the first half, Luck found Hilton open about 20 yards downfield. Luck’s throw was too high, but Hilton leapt up and caught it, then raced past three Ravens defenders (picking up a nice block from tight end Coby Fleener) to get the first down and then get out of bounds with three seconds left, setting up Adam Vinatieri’s 52-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.

Who says fullbacks are dead? The fullback position isn’t used as often in NFL offenses as it once was, but all four teams that won this weekend got key plays from fullbacks. Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson and Ravens fullback Vontae Leach both scored touchdowns on Sunday. Packers fullback John Kuhn scored two touchdowns on Saturday. And Texans fullback James Casey had a 20-yard catch and also did an outstanding job as a lead blocker for Arian Foster in the weekend’s first playoff game.

Reggie Wayne is building his Hall of Fame resume. It should come as a surprise to no one that the NFL record for all-time postseason catches is owned by Jerry Rice. But I bet a lot of people will be surprised to learn that Colts receiver Reggie Wayne is No. 2. Rice had 151 catches in his 29 career playoff games, a record that may never be broken. But on Sunday Wayne played his 18th career postseason game, and his nine catches against the Ravens moved him ahead of Michael Irvin and Hines Ward, into second place on the all-time playoff receiving list, with 92.

The story of the day is the injury suffered by Robert Griffin III. A day that started with a report that the Redskins had disregarded medical advice to rush Griffin onto the field ended with Griffin exiting with a knee injury. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has to be regretting his decision to let Griffin play on a bad knee. Here’s hoping bad knees don’t slow Griffin’s progress. We should be seeing him square off with Wilson in the NFC playoffs for years to come.

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Falcons activate safety William Moore from IR/designated for return

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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”

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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 he was while discussing the incident after word of it initially 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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Fletcher Cox finally gets noticed

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Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has said the team’s defensive line hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.  As a result of a dominant performance in Dallas on Thursday, that will no longer be a problem.

I would say it’s one of my best games,” Cox said after the 33-10 win, via Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com.  “It comes off guys doing their jobs.  Trent [Cole] setting the edge and Connor [Barwin] setting [the] edge and Bennie [Logan] stuffing the middle.  It’s not just me, it’s guys around me doing their jobs, and they made it kind of easy for me.”

A first-round pick in 2012, Cox notched his third sack in four games.  He has only three for the year.  Per Mosher, teammates previously credited Cox for forcing the quarterback to move, making it easier for others to get sacks.

“Early in the year [people asked], ‘When are the sacks going to come?’ Cox said. “Hey, I got three and I just want to keep working man.”

Those teammates now think a Pro Bowl berth should come.

“Fletcher Cox is great every day,” Barwin said.  “He’s a Pro Bowl player.”

On Thursday, Cox was disruptive all day.  It happened on the kind of stage that will make it hard for folks to continue to think that the Eagles are simply a high-powered offense and a competent defense.  Against the Cowboys, the defense dominated one of the best and most balanced offenses in the league.

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Muhammad Wilkerson likely out on Monday, doesn’t need toe surgery

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The Jets don’t have many building blocks for the future on their roster at the moment, so they’d like to see the ones they do have avoid any serious injuries.

It’s good news, then, that coach Rex Ryan said Friday, via Kimberley Martin of Newsday, that defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson doesn’t need surgery to repair the toe injury that’s kept him out of practice this week. Ryan said he hopes that Wilkerson can return this season, although they’re likely to be without him on Monday night against the Dolphins. That’s hardly ideal but is a lot better than having your best defensive player facing an extended rehab because of surgery.

Whether Wilkerson plays again this year or not, the Jets have some decisions to make about a contract extension for the 2011 first-rounder this offseason. They exercised their fifth-year option on Wilkerson’s contract so there’s no immediate fear of losing him as a free agent, but they held onto a lot of cap space this year and keeping cash on hand to fund an extension for Wilkerson is one of the best reasons for that approach.

Sheldon Richardson and Quinton Coples are expected to be at defensive end in Wilkerson’s place as the Jets attempt to play spoiler to the Dolphins’ playoff hopes for the second straight season.

 

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Rex Ryan “anticipates” Geno Smith starting the rest of the year

rexgeno AP

There are reports that would indicate that Jets coach Rex Ryan neither anticipated or wanted Geno Smith to start at quarterback this week.

But now, he’s expecting that to be the case the rest of the year.

Ryan wouldn’t specify to reporters this afternoon that Smith would start the rest of the year, but did say: “I would anticipate that and hope that’s the case.”

Gosh, it’s almost like Ryan isn’t on the same page as team management, which seems ready for the “What the heck?” portion of the season to begin, so they can get on with the “What do we do now?” portion of the offseason.

Ryan also said backup quarterback Michael Vick became ill sometime during the team’s walk-through this morning.

Probably the part when they were putting in the offense, no doubt.

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Roddy White questionable, but Falcons expect him to play

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Falcons wide receiver Roddy White didn’t practice on Friday, making it a full week without on-field work for the veteran as he deals with an ankle injury.

That won’t rule him out of Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, however. Coach Mike Smith said that White’s lack of practice time during the week isn’t an obstacle to playing him if White feels good on gameday.

“Because Roddy studies the game and understands how people are going to try to defend him. And he’s been in this league for over 10 years. We’ve done it multiple times last season in terms of him not being able to get out on the practice field,” Smith said, via ESPN.com. “He did work with our [athletic performance] people today and got good reports on where he was in terms of moving around. I feel confident, still, that he’ll play on Sunday.”

White, who is officially listed as questionable, and the Falcons had the same kind of confidence in Week Three when White missed practice time with a hamstring injury, but he wound up inactive in that game. Given the significance of this game to the Falcons, however, you’d expect White to have every opportunity to get on the field Sunday so the Cardinals can’t focus too much of their defensive attention on Julio Jones.

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Panthers starting something called Mike Remmers at right tackle

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If you had Mike Remmers in the pool, you win.

Unless you’re Cam Newton, of course.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Remmers would start at right tackle this week, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review.

Who is Mike Remmers, you might ask? (And trust me, you did.)

Remmers was one of the Vikings’ final cuts this preseason. He was on the Rams practice squad since then. He’s been a Panther since Oct. 28, and was also a Charger (where he played his one career game) and a Buccaneer and a Bronco at different points in his career. He was originally an undrafted rookie from Oregon State. He likes to hunt moose in his spare time and his favorite color is blue (both those facts are totally made up).

The Panthers are clearly desperate at the position, as they have been all year.

His inclusion into such an illustrious club means the Panthers will have started seven different combinations of offensive linemen in as many weeks.

That, as much as anything, explains why they’re 3-7-1.

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Lavonte David practices Friday

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One of the NFL’s leading tacklers was back on the practice field on Friday.

Buccaneers weak-side linebacker Lavonte David was taking part in the club’s workout, Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times reported.

David had missed the previous four practices with a hamstring injury, and he was also held out of Sunday’s loss at Chicago.

David shares the league lead in tackles with Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly and Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy (116). However, David has tallied his tackles in one fewer game than Kuechly and two fewer than Levy. The 24-year-old David has recorded at least 10 tackles in 7-of-10 games for the Buccaneers, who host the Bengals on Sunday afternoon.

According to Pro Football Focus, David has been on the field for all but 15 defensive snaps in the games in which he’s played, and 13 of those missed reps came in a blowout loss at Atlanta.

The Buccaneers’ injury report will be released later Friday.

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Michael Vick is sick, and not just of watching Jets

Michael Vick AP

Somebody ate too much turkey yesterday.

Or is at least sick of being the patsy for one.

OK, maybe it’s neither, but the timing is coincidental.

Jets quarterback Michael Vick isn’t practicing today because of an illness, via Darryl Slater of NJ.com.

Of course, you wonder if he’d have been able to plow through whatever malady it is if he were still starting, rather than being replaced by Geno Smith as the Jets play out the string.

They’re such a disaster now it doesn’t matter, but if he can’t go Monday against the Dolphins, they’d have to turn to Matt Simms to back up.

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Glover Quin scoffs at Bears trying to pad stats late in loss

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It was bad enough for the Lions to embarrass the Bears on Thanksgiving.

Then they went and laughed at their division rivals for trying to pad their stats.

Lions safety Glover Quin trolled the Bears for throwing late in the game when things were well in hand, accusing them of trying to make their fantasy stats better.

“I was a little frustrated when we came back out there because I knew Jay Cutler had like 190 passing yards,” Quin said, via  Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press. “They only had like 206 [yards on offense].

“I was like, ‘Man, we’re going to go back out here and they’re going to dink and dunk and get 50, 60 yards and make it look like he had a good day.’ And then he was trying to score at the end. I’m glad he threw a pick.”

Granted, the Bears weren’t going to come back and win, trailing by 17 with 1:55 left from their own 15.  But the best way to prove their point was by James Ihedigbo getting the interception in the end zone.
That doesn’t mean Quin didn’t enjoy sticking it to them, however.
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Vontaze Burfict not taking part in Friday practice

Vontaze Burfict AP

One of the Bengals’ defensive standouts continues to be on the mend with an injury that’s ailed him for several weeks.

Outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) wasn’t participating in Friday’s practice, Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com reported.

The 24-year-old Burfict has sat out the last four games for Cincinnati, which leads the AFC North at 7-3-1. He has not practiced since arthroscopic knee surgery in late October, and a return to workouts would seem likely for him to rejoin the Bengals’ starting lineup.

According to ESPN.com’s Coley Harvey, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis previously indicated Burfict might take part in practice this week.

With Burfict hurting, Vincent Rey has stepped in at weak-side linebacker for Burfict, who made the Pro Bowl a season ago.

The Bengals play at Tampa Bay (2-9) on Sunday.

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Seahawks rediscover what took them to the top in 2013

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For every team that wins a Super Bowl, it’s difficult to go back to the valley of 0-0 and dig out again — especially when the reward is to do what the team just did.

For the Seahawks, that didn’t appear it would be a problem given the manner in which they stomped the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII and the ease with which they trounced the Packers to open the season.  But adversity arrived in various ways, from injuries on defense to injuries on the offensive line to the abrupt trade of Percy Harvin to whatever the deal is between the organization and Marshawn Lynch to rumors of internal resentment of quarterback Russell Wilson.

Now, with a pair of 19-3 wins over the Cardinals and 49ers only four days apart, the champs are back, baby.

“[T]hese guys have really joined together and recaptured really what it was that we played with last year,” coach Pete Carroll said after Thursday night’s win at Santa Clara.  “It took us some time to figure out but we have. . . .  There’s no question in the last two weeks that we have elevated our game.  It’s come back from Kam [Chancellor] and Earl [Thomas] and [Richard Sherman] and all those guys. . . .  They’ve touched what it is, and the special attitude with intensity, the toughness that it takes and really it comes back to what they’re doing.”

Offensively, the Seahawks continue to do just enough, even with Harvin and Golden Tate gone, and tight end Zach Miller on injured reserve.  Lynch continues to move the chains, tight end Luke Willson made multiple key catches last night, backup tailback Robert Turbin (pictured) chipped in with the only touchdown of the night on a nifty catch-and-run to the pylon, and Wilson continues to show a rare ability to accelerate out of trouble, to make good decisions under duress, and to launch a periodic missile with his MLB-quality arm.

So, yes, the Seahawks are moving in the right direction.  And they’re playing so well that the presumed Super Bowl preview at Lambeau Field this weekend could be derailed by a team that’s peaking just in time for a title run that could be a bit more complex than last year’s pair of home-field wins, but that ultimately could have the same outcome.

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Nick Foles still not ready to take a hit, but healing well

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It’s hardly a surprise that as Mark Sanchez again looked entirely comfortable under center for the Eagles, the guy he replaced starts feeling better.

According to Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News, a source close to Foles said he was “healing as expected” from his broken collarbone.

Foles isn’t ready to take a hit yet, but the results of a recent CT scan showed he can start ramping up his strengthening work.

The timetable for his return remains uncertain, but if Sanchez continues to play capably, as he has most of the time he’s been starting, there will be less incentive to push Foles before he’s completely healed.

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Trent Williams “definitely optimistic” about getting back this week

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While the quarterback position has made it impossible to get a read on the offense as a whole lately, they’re getting another part back this week which should help.

Left tackle Trent Williams said he was “definitely optimistic,” he’ll be ready to go when his team travels to Indianapolis Sunday.

“I’m not expecting it to be 100 percent, but as long as I can be effective, [I’ll play],” Williams said, via Zac Boyer of the Washington Times.

Williams missed last week’s loss to the 49ers with a sprained MCL, suffered the week before against the Buccaneers. But he got through a full practice Thursday and seemed optimistic about his prospects.

Having him back on the field should help Colt McCoy, as rookie Morgan Moses looked overmatched there against the 49ers.

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Tony Romo: I promise I’ll be better next week

Tony Romo AP

The Cowboys fell down early to the Eagles on Thursday afternoon and never really climbed back into a game that wound up as a 33-10 loss that knocked them out of first place in the NFC East.

As owner Jerry Jones pointed out after the game, the Eagles controlled the line of scrimmage as their offensive and defensive lines won battles and set the tone for the day. That left quarterback Tony Romo under pressure and he responded with a pair of interceptions in perhaps his poorest performance of the season.

Romo said that it was difficult making a quick turnaround from Sunday night, but that there were “no excuses” for the way that he or his teammates played against the Eagles.

“We should have been better,” Romo said, via the Dallas Morning News. “I should have been better. And I am going to play much better next week, I can promise you that.”

After watching Matthew Stafford and the Lions get right offensively against the Bears on Thursday, that’s a promise Romo would seem to have a good chance of keeping. The Cowboys will still need to figure out a better approach against the Eagles, though, because Week 15 is fast approaching.

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