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McGahee eligible to practice tomorrow, hopes to return

Willis McGahee AP

Broncos running back Willis McGahee is eligible to begin practicing tomorrow. But he was honest about his own condition, saying he’s not ready to play yet.

No, I couldn’t go,” he said Monday, via the Associated Press.

After being placed on injured reserve/designated for return on Nov. 18 with an MCL injury, McGahee isn’t eligible to return until the Jan. 20 AFC Championship Game anyway, and he said that’s still a possibility.

“This isn’t my first rodeo for a knee,” McGahee said. “I’ve been through a lot worse.”

While Knowshon Moreno has had flashes in his absence, he hasn’t run the way McGahee did earlier this year.

McGahee finished as the team leader with 731 rushing yards, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Moreno has 525 yards in six starts, at 3.8 per attempt.

And while McGahee is eager to get back, the fact that Moreno is in his spot now doesn’t bother him after his first four cracks at the playoffs fell short of the title game.

“We’re winning,” he said. “Three more games to the Super Bowl, as long as we keep winning. My selfish days are over with. It’s time to get a ring.”

He might get one anyway, but if he can come back at anything resembling his previous form, the chances go way up.

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Sunday Night wrap-up: Drew Brees can still get it done, differently

Drew Brees AP

Drew Brees was never a strong-armed downfield thrower, he’s gotten by this long and this well by being precise.

But whether it’s the shoulder injury that kept him out last week or the lack of decent protection or some combination of the two, Brees is a different quarterback now.

There were a few adult throws mixed in, but Brees was largely reduced to playing small-ball in the Saints 26-20 overtime win over the Cowboys, which makes it curious that he went yard to win the game.

He averaged 6.3 yards per pass attempt for most of the game, as they were clearly focusing on him getting the ball out quickly. But that may be a necessity the rest of the year, unless something significant changes. That number pumped up to 7.2 after his last-minute-of-regulation drive, and 8.8 after his 80-yard pass to C.J. Spiller that won the game in overtime.

Brees is going through some of the same kind of late-in-his-game changes Peyton Manning has had to accept, although the recent injury makes it unclear how much of it is by choice.

Watching him labor through some throws (the super slow-motion replays on NBC showed he’s not winding up as he used to), it’s clear he’s not 100 percent. Obviously some smaller percentage of Brees gives them a better chance than 100 percent of anyone else, but it does force them to adapt.

And how well he’s able to will determine whether the Saints will be able to salvage anything of this season after a horrid start.

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

1. Raise your hand if you want to play for the Cowboys. Seriously, they need you.

Losing third-down back Lance Dunbar to a knee injury was bad enough, but then wide receiver Brice Butler went down with a hamstring, after he caught a 67-yard pass.

It’s a good thing for them that tight end Jason Witten has superhuman healing powers, because they’re running out of options.

The fact they’ll get quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant back at some point alleviates some of the worry, but getting to the point of their return with a chance might only be possible because they live in the NFC East.

2. It’ll be curious to see if the Saints can make anything of this season. Or whether they can rebuild their home field advantage.

For what used to be the toughest building in the league to leave with a win, the Saints have been hospitable hosts, having lost six straight there.

But now they’re 1-4, and have won one in a row.

3. Defensively, the Saints are kind of a grease fire. But there are some solid parts to work with, if they can only add to that number.

Rookie pass-rusher Hau’oli Kikaha is one of those parts. The second-rounder picked up his third sack of the season in the third quarter, and has shown quite a bit of potential.

He’s more of an effort rusher than a guy who gets there on raw physical gifts (though he’s not untalented), but he’s getting there often enough to be noticed.

There are guys at each level of the Saints defense you have to account for (defensive end Cameron Jordan and a healthy safety Jairus Byrd could play for a lot of teams), but there aren’t enough of them.

There are a lot of young kids who are playing a lot of snaps because why not, but guys such as Stephone Anthony, Bobby Richardson and Tyeler Davison along with Kikaha suggest there is hope it gets better some day.

4. Jerry Jones was right. The Brandon Weeden touchdown pass to Terrance Williams in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty.

It also gives Matt Cassel another week to learn the playbook, as the veteran trade acquisition was inactive again Sunday.

Weeden wasn’t offensive Sunday night, and isn’t nearly the problem.

5. Neither one of these teams is particularly disciplined.

The Saints extended several Dallas drives in the first half with penalties on their defense, but the Cowboys returned the favor in the second half.

A 12-men-on-the-field penalty gave the Saints just enough yardage to let kicker Zach Hocker try a 51-yarder, and he hit it to tie the game at 10-10 in the third.

The Cowboys were called for the same penalty last week, which makes it seem kind of inexcusable. But at the rate people are getting hurt there, some degree of confusion is probably expected.

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Devonta Freeman gets off to a great start as a starter

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In his second NFL season, Falcons running back Devonta Freeman hadn’t started a game before Week Three. He has now started two in a row. And, according to the NFL, he’s the first player at least since the merger to score three touchdowns in each of his first two NFL starts.

With seven total touchdowns this year, Freeman is the first player since Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005 to rush for at least seven touchdowns in the first four games of a season.

Also, and as Field Yates of ESPN noted during the game, Freeman is the first player to score three touchdowns in consecutive weeks since Tomlinson in his MVP season of 2006.

Freeman also has 252 yards rushing, four more than he had in 16 games as a rookie in 2014.

More importantly, the Falcons are 4-0 with five winnable games coming up before their Week 10 bye.

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Lions’ DeAndre Levy out again Monday night in Seattle

deandrelevy AP

The Lions expected linebacker DeAndre Levy to be the best player on their defense this season, but he won’t play a snap in the first quarter of the season.

Levy, who missed the first three games with a hip injury, is out for Week Four against the Seahawks as well. The Lions have confirmed that Levy did not take the team flight to Seattle.

That’s a big loss for a Lions team that’s 0-3 and desperate to turn things around. Levy was able to do some work in practice last week, leading to some hope that he might be able to play. Instead, he’ll be watching on TV.

The Lions also confirmed that offensive tackle Corey Robinson will miss Monday night’s game.

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Lance Dunbar goes down with knee injury

Minnesota Vikings  v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

The Cowboys continue to lose playmakers at an alarming late, with the latest one coming on the opening kickoff of the second half.

Running back/return man Lance Dunbar just suffered what appears to be a significant left knee injury, and was helped off the field by trainers.

Dunbar caught 10 passes for 100 yards last week against the Falcons, and has impressed early this year as a third-down back.

The Cowboys are already without a few guys you might have heard of — Tony Romo and Dez Bryant — and also lost linebacker Sean Lee to a concussion in the first half.

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Dwayne Bowe, Johnny Manziel do nothing on Sunday

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On Friday, Browns receiver Dwayne Bowe said, “It starts Sunday.” He didn’t say which Sunday.

It wasn’t this Sunday.

Bowe played against the Chargers, but he had no catches and was targeted only once.

Not playing at all was quarterback Johnny Manziel, even though offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said this week that the Browns have a package of plays for him.

After the loss, the Browns fell to 1-3. The question now becomes whether Bowe will do anything next Sunday — and whether Manziel will have a chance to.

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Sean Lee out the rest of the night with a concussion

Dallas Cowboys mini camp Getty Images

The Cowboys are hanging onto a 10-7 halftime lead over the Saints, but they’re going to have to hang on the rest of the night without their best defensive player.

Linebacker Sean Lee has been ruled out with a concussion, ending his night after he took a hard shot to the helmet.

Lee has been excellent since rehabbing last year’s torn ACL and moving to the outside, and his kind of impact will be hard for the Cowboys to replace.

The Saints have their own issues as well, as left tackle Terron Amstead left the game, though no reason has been given for his absence. He was replaced by first-rounder Andrus Peat.

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After Jared Allen trade, Willie Young asked for one, too

Miami Dolphins v Chicago Bears Getty Images

In trading linebacker Jared Allen to the Panthers, the Bears said the move would allow linebacker Willie Young to get more reps. Young, however, doesn’t want them.

Per a source close to the team, Young asked to be traded in the wake of the Allen deal.

Young, like Allen, prefers playing defensive end in the 4-3 to playing linebacker in the 3-4. Last year as a defensive end in the 4-3, Young had 10 sacks before tearing an Achilles tendon. In three games this year (he didn’t play in Week Three at Seattle), Young has no sacks.

The Bears officially aren’t having a fire sale, but they’ll reportedly listen to anyone who makes an offer. If the Bears believes as Young does that he doesn’t fit in the defense, the Bears should be willing to move on from Young, if they get a decent offer.

Young signed a three-year, $9 million deal before the 2014 season. He has a base salary of $2.45 million this year and next year.

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Sean Lee leaves to be checked for concussion, Cowboys take lead

SeanLee AP

The Cowboys are back on top of the Saints, but it’s a good news/bad news situation.

They were given a touchdown when running back Joseph Randle stuck the ball over the plane of the goal-line one-handed, a play the Saints thought they had smacked away for a fumble.

It’s an ill-advised move for a guy who needs to make sure he hangs onto the ball, as the Cowboys don’t have the kind of margin of error right now to give away chances to score.

But the Cowboys also have other problems, despite their 10-7 lead.

Linebacker Sean Lee just went to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion, and team officials took his helmet away before he was sent inside to be tested.

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Drew Brees completes 5,000th pass, gives Saints early lead

150922 brees getty Getty Images

Drew Brees has clearly been given the green light to throw tonight.

And he just completed a milestone pass to give the Saints an early lead.

Breer just hit Josh Hill for a short touchdown pass, giving the Saints a 7-3 lead over the Cowboys.

It was Brees’s 5,000th career completion, a list he’s third on all-time (behind two guys named Brett Favre and Peyton Manning).

While he’s not airing it out (though he did complete a nice 19-yard pass across the field), he doesn’t appear to be limited, after missing last week with a bruised rotator cuff.

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Packers to Kaepernick: You ain’t Russell Wilson

during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. Getty Images

The Packers didn’t have much success against 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in past meetings, but they handled him just fine on Sunday.

Kaepernick ran for 57 yards and completed 13-of-25 passes for 160 yards and an interception in a 17-3 loss that marked the first time the Packers have won a game started by Kaepernick. The Packers sacked Kaepernick six times on the way to the victory and added a verbal hit to the pounding after Kaepernick slid for a short gain late in the game.

Microphones from the FOX broadcast pick up a Packers player, linebacker Clay Matthews is the main suspect, telling Kaepernick “you ain’t Russell Wilson, bro.” Matthews and Kaepernick have some history after a late hit by Matthews touched off a scuffle the last time the two teams faced each other and Matthews also borrowed Kaepernick’s bicep-kissing celebration earlier in the game.

The Packers beat Wilson for the first time in Week Two, so Kaepernick does have something in common with the Seahawks signal caller. It’s just not the things that some thought might be in Kaepernick’s future when he went to the Super Bowl and NFC title games after the 2012 and 2013 seasons, which is one of the problems plaguing the 49ers as the 2015 season unfolds.

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Alec Ogletree needs ankle surgery, could be out for the year

David Johnson, Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron AP

The Rams picked up a big road win today, but lost a key member of their defense.

Outside linebacker Alec Ogletree had to be carted off the field in the second half of their win over the Cardinals, and he could be lost for the season.

According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Ogletree would need surgery to repair the damage to his ankle.

That likely means he’s at least headed for injured reserve/designated for return, if not the season-ending version.

That’s a significant blow for a defense which plays as fast and physically as any in the league, at least when they’re fired up for a division game.

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Cowboys-Saints coming up on NBC Sports Live Extra

Tony Romo AP

How often do a pair of quarterbacks with a double-e in their last names square off on a Sunday night in early October? I have no idea how to research that but it probably doesn’t happen very often. Which is all the more reason to tune in to NBC for Sunday night’s game between the Cowboys and Brandon Weeden and the Saints and Drew Brees.

If you don’t have access to a TV or if someone else in the household insists on watching something else, you can still see Sunday night’s game via desktop, laptop, or tablet — by not with whatever device Brees is miming in the photo.

Just go to NBC Sports Live Extra, or download the NBC Sports Live Extra app on your Microsoft Surface or other tablet.

The game starts at 8:25 p.m. ET, with the 0-3 Saints trying to snap a six-game home losing streak and the Cowboys trying to stay a game ahead of (I can’t believe I’m typing this) the Giants and Washington.

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Philbin decision is expected by tomorrow

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And just as I hit “publish” on the last item regarding Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, some new information has surfaced regarding the situation.

Per a league source with knowledge of the situation, owner Stephen Ross is now expected to make a decision on Philbin’s job status by Monday. The prior thinking was that Ross would be doing a lot of thinking over the next couple of days.

Despite the absence of any obvious internal candidates, one of the big factors will be a desire by the owner to demonstrate to key players that he’s committed to improving the situation. Which is an ominous sign for Philbin.

Making a move now also gives the team a head start on finding a new coach for 2016, which will make it easier for executive V.P. of football operations Mike Tannenbaum to make the best possible hire. Speaking of Tannenbaum, he’s surely livid about the outcome of the last two games, losses by a combined score of 68-28 to Rex Ryan, who worked for Tannenbaum in New York, and now the Jets, who fired Tannenbaum after the 2012 season.

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Saints get some needed defensive help back on field tonight

Jairus Byrd, Terrance Williams AP

The Saints are going to get some guys they really need back on the field tonight.

Oh, and also Drew Brees.

In addition to getting their starting quarterback back on the field for tonight’s game against the Cowboys, the Saints are getting some guys they’ve been missing on defense.

Safety Jairus Byrd, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Keenan Lewis are all active, giving them some more bodies on the side of the ball which has been the biggest issue for them this season.

The Saints deactivated guard Jahri Evans, quarterback Garrett Grayson, defensive tackle Kaleb Eulls, defensive end Obum Gwacham, wide receiver Joe Morgan, defensive back Kyle Wilson, and recent trade acquisition/tight end Michael Hoomanawanui tonight.

For the Cowboys, running back Christine Michael is active, and could play a role tonight. He was inactive for the first three weeks after being acquired in trade from the Seahawks.

With starting guard Ronald Leary healthy again, the Cowboys deactivated rookie guard La’El Collins, along with quarterback Matt Cassel, defensive lineman Ryan Russell, wide receivers Dez Bryant and Lucky Whitehead, tight end Geoff Swaim and defensive end Randy Gregory.

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Browns jump offsides, Chargers win on next try

Philip Rivers AP

Rookie Chargers kicker Josh Lambo pushed a 39-yard field goal try to the right as time expired Sunday, and the Browns and Chargers appeared headed for overtime.

But there was a flag. The Browns were offside — cornerback Tramon Williams was called for it — and Lambo got another try from five yards closer.

Final: Chargers 30, Browns 27.

The teams combined for 31 points in a wild second half. Trailing by eight, the Browns put together an impressive drive with Josh McCown — he played his best game in a Browns’ uniform — and tied the game with 2:09 left on a 1-yard pass to Gary Barnidge and a two-point conversion pass to Taylor Gabriel.

But the Browns gave up too many big plays throughout the day, and Philip Rivers drove the Chargers to set up the winning field goal tries. Rivers passed for 358 yards and three touchdowns. The Browns got one touchdown out of four red-zone opportunities and were penalized 12 times for 91 yards.

We just made too many mistakes,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said.

It was a difficult way to lose, even by Browns’ standards.

The Browns have spent a lot of money on their defense but have given up 102 points through four games. Neither team played much defense Sunday, though the Chargers sacked McCown four times. The Chargers had just one sack through their first three games.

McCown and the Browns kept moving and kept answering Sunday, though. McCown completed 32-of-41 passes for 356 yards and two touchdowns.

Five Chargers caught at least three passes from Rivers, who completed 23-of-38. His touchdown passes went to Ladarius Green, John Phillips and Keenan Allen.

The Chargers snap a two-game skid and improve to 2-2 on the season. They host the Steelers next week on Monday Night Football.

The Browns drop to 1-3 and are at Baltimore next week.

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Broncos improve to 4-0 with late Brandon McManus field goal

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 4:  Linebacker Shane Ray #56 of the Denver Broncos sacks quarterback Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Minnesota Vikings during a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 4, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos pass rush caused problems for Teddy Bridgewater all day on Sunday, so it was fitting that it forced the turnover that allowed Denver to escape with a 23-20 win.

T.J. Ward stripped Bridgewater of the ball as the Vikings tried to rally back after Brandon McManus’s field goal put the Broncos ahead late in the fourth quarter. It was the seventh sack of the day for the Broncos defense and it gave them a win on a day when they blew a 10-point lead in the final 15 minutes.

Bridgewater completed 13-of-15 passes in the second half and Adrian Peterson went 48 yards for a touchdown on a fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter as the Vikings erased that Broncos lead to tie the game at 20 with 5:11 left to play. Peyton Manning completed a couple of passes to help the Broncos get in position for McManus’s third field goal of the day, but that wasn’t enough to make the day a great one for the Broncos quarterback.

Manning threw a pair of interceptions that the Vikings turned into 10 points and was 17-of-27 for 213 yards overall. Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combined for 146 yards on 22 carries, although almost half of them came on Hillman’s 72-yard touchdown run in the first half. It was another unimpressive offensive performance all things considered, but the Broncos remain undefeated thanks in large part to the defense that Wade Phillips has put together in his first year back in Denver.

Peterson’s big run was the only moment that he had a major impact on the game and Bridgewater’s hot run in the second half came at the price of many hits and constant pressure in the pocket. That he stood up to it well enough to bring the team back reflects well, but the early struggles were enough to send the Vikings to 2-2 on the year.

At some point, one would guess that the Broncos’ middling offensive production will catch up with them. At this point, though, they remain undefeated with a trip to Oakland and a chance to take firm control of the AFC West coming up next weekend.

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Rams ride defense and Todd Gurley to win at Arizona

Todd Gurley, Deone Bucannon

The Rams already had a great defense, and some good running backs.

But now they have an available quarterback and a potential star in Todd Gurley, and things might be different.

The Rams were able to keep the Cardinals offense in check, and had enough of their own for a change, beating Arizona 24-22 on the road.

Gurley had 146 yards on 19 carries, and showed presence of mind staying bounds to keep the clock rolling as he was salting away the game.

But the story was the Rams defense, which has played well in the past but seemed to be at a different gear Sunday as they improved to 2-2.

The Cardinals were averaging 42.0 points per game in winning their first three, but didn’t approach that. The Rams sacked Carson Palmer four times and picked him off once, keeping him off balance throughout the day.

In addition to three lost Cardinals fumbles, they routinely stalled in the red zone, settling for field goals too many times, with three of them from inside 30 yards (i.e. shorter than extra points). They didn’t find the end zone until the fourth quarter, by which point the Rams had built enough of a lead.

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Next couple of days will determine Philbin’s fate

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After Sunday’s 27-14 loss to the Jets in London, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said he’s not worried about his job. He probably should be.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, there will be a lot of thinking done over the next couple of days regarding Philbin’s future.

Philbin, who was hired in 2012, currently is signed through 2016. So the buyout wouldn’t be a major obstacle. The question of his replacement could be.

There’s no obvious candidate to take his place currently on the staff. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor have been criticized relentlessly during the team’s 1-3 start, and the staff otherwise contains no assistant head coach or other name that jumps off the page as an interim head coach who could turn the team around.

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Kaepernick struggles as 49ers fall to Packers

Colin Kaepernick AP

Colin Kaepernick is just not the star quarterback he once looked like he was becoming. Nothing shows that more clearly than his performances against the Packers.

In his three previous starts against the Packers, Kaepernick torched Green Bay’s defense both on the ground and through the air, and those games were a big part of what made Kaepernick appear to be a budding star. But today against the Packers, Kaepernick struggled all day long as Green Bay won, 17-3. The win improves the Packers’ record to 4-0 and drops the 49ers to 1-3.

The 49ers’ first seven offensive possessions ended with six punts and a field goal. On the eighth possession, Kaepernick finally got the 49ers down the field with a couple of big passes, but that possession ended when Kaepernick got sacked on a fourth down. Overall, Kaepernick was sacked six times on the day. He also threw an interception and fumbled once.

Kaepernick’s sacks are a growing problem. He tries too hard to rely on his legs to bail him out when he’s under pressure, and he needs to get better at getting rid of the ball in a hurry when the pressure is coming. Some of the fault lies with the 49ers’ offensive line, but most of the fault lies with Kaepernick. He’s just not good enough at feeling the rush and reacting to it.

The bad game by the 49ers’ offense wasted a big day by the 49ers’ defense. Aaron Rodgers made some good throws — he is Aaron Rodgers, after all — but for the most part the 49ers did a good job of holding him in check, and the Packers had to punt five times. San Francisco linebacker Aaron Lynch had a particularly big day, with two sacks, two quarterback hits and three tackles for loss.

That defense won’t be enough to win until the offense can start putting more than three points on the board. And that won’t happen until Kaepernick gets better.

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Demaryius Thomas questionable to return after neck injury

Demaryius Thomas AP

The Broncos have added to their lead over the Vikings in the third quarter, but they’ve also lost their top wide receiver.

Demaryius Thomas left the game with a neck injury after taking a hard hit from Vikings safety Harrison Smith. Thomas’s return is being called questionable by the Broncos.

Thomas is Denver’s leading receiver on the day with eight catches for 78 yards, although it was a big play to Emmanuel Sanders that set up the second Broncos touchdown of the day. Sanders picked up 40 yards on a catch to move the ball inside the Minnesota 10-yard-line and then added a few more when Xavier Rhodes brought him down with a horse collar tackle.

Manning hit Owen Daniels for a one-yard score four plays later, expanding the Denver lead to 20-10. As of now, it looks like they’ll have to make it stand up without Thomas’s help.

UPDATE 6:57 p.m. ET: Thomas returned to the game in the fourth quarter, although the second pass thrown his way was intercepted by Smith. The Vikings trail 20-17 and have the ball with nine minutes to play.

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