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John Harbaugh: Terrell Suggs getting closer to normal

AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Getty Images

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs might be quieter than usual during the run-up to the Super Bowl, but that may be because he’s concentrating on getting his game back to its usual level.

Suggs’ start to the season was delayed by an offseason Achilles injury and he suffered a torn biceps near the end of the season, a pair of injuries that limited the effectiveness of the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Ravens coach John Harbaugh is seeing more and more signs of the old Suggs starting to peek through, however.

“He’s getting better,” Harbaugh said, via the Carroll County Times. “He’s becoming quicker, faster, more explosive — all of those things. You can tell that [the Achilles] is healing. He’s just playing more like a normal 100-percent Terrell Suggs would play.”

There’s been on-field evidence to support Harbaugh’s belief. After recording 22 tackles and two sacks in eight regular season games, Suggs has come up with 19 tackles in three playoff games. He had two sacks and a forced fumble in the double overtime win over the Broncos, which is exactly the kind of Suggs performance that qualifies as normal as well as exactly the kind of performance the Ravens hope to see next week.

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Seahawks praise Marshawn Lynch after “one of the best runs ever”

Marshawn Lynch, Justin Britt, Earl Thomas AP

Marshawn Lynch may be hearing from the league this week about the way that he chose to put an exclamation point on his 79-yard touchdown run against the Cardinals on Sunday night, but his Seahawks teammates were a bit more concerned about the journey to the end zone than the grab of the nether regions that punctuated his arrival at his destination.

Coach Pete Carroll called the run, which saw Lynch go through and around the Cardinals Defense before tip-toeing down the sideline and then exploding into top gear, as good as any he can remember seeing and defensive end Michael Bennett also put it in the top spot in his own personal memory bank.

“Twenty years from now we’ll go back and we’ll say that was one of the best runs ever in the National Football League,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said, via the team’s website. “And in football period. From little league all the way up. You’ll probably never see anything like that ever again. And if you do, it’ll probably come from Marshawn.”

Cornerback Richard Sherman called Lynch a “bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, continue to say bad, man” and promoted Lynch as an MVP candidate with Sunday night’s run making up most of his case. That candidacy probably isn’t going to go anywhere, but the Seahawks stand a much better chance of having another Super Bowl MVP in their organization thanks to Lynch’s exploits on Sunday night.

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Buccaneers move closer to clinching the top pick in 2015 Draft

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If the Buccaneers want to focus on drafting a quarterback to fix their mess, they’re close to having the opportunity to take any one they want.

With a week to play, the 2-13 Bucs are close to clinching the top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

A loss next week to the Saints should seal the deal, as playing in the NFC South gives them a lower strength of schedule number than the teams they’re nearest in the standings, and that’s how selection order ties are broken.

The Titans are in the second slot at the moment, and those two cleared some distance as the other teams at the bottom won cosmetic games.

As it stands today, the Jaguars would pick third, the Jets fourth and the Raiders fifth, followed by Washington, the Bears, Falcons, Vikings and Saints.

Of course, if the Falcons beat the Panthers next week and take the NFC South title, they’d fall all the way to 21st (or lower, depending on how they do in the playoffs).

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Julio Jones shows what a “stud” he is during comeback

Julio Jones, Pierre Warren AP

It might not have been as dramatic as a car wreck, but Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was playing through some pain too.

But it was hard to tell by the way he played.

Jones was a last-minute decision to play as he came off an oblique injury, but had seven catches for 107 yards as the Falcons beat the Saints 30-14 to set up next week’s win-and-in playoff game with the Panthers.

“You can’t say enough about what Julio did today,” quarterback Matt Ryan said, via Vaughn McClure of “Obviously, he’s been hurting the last couple of weeks and for him to gut it out and play the way he did today, I think that speaks volumes about his great toughness but also showcases what a stud he is. When he’s out there, he’s making plays that a lot of other people aren’t capable of making, So, obviously when he’s on the field, that’s a big deal for us.”

Jones said he’s still not what he’d describe as fully well, but he knew he needed to be out there.

“I felt OK,” Jones said. “I know I needed to be out there with my teammates. I missed last week. Before the game, I went out and ran around. I felt pretty good: Not 100 percent, but it was good enough to go out there and get the `W.'”

“Yeah, I’ll be OK. Just keep getting treatment. They’ve been doing a great job here with me. And I’ve got to keep going.”

He has one more week to go, meaning that pain will be the furthest thing from his mind next week.

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Johnny Manziel doesn’t leave much tape, but wants to be the guy in Cleveland

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel hurt his hamstring early in Sunday’s loss to the Panthers, knocking him out of the game and possibly dropping the curtain on his rookie season a week earlier than expected.

Coach Mike Pettine said that Manziel’s availability will be determined this week, but a negative prognosis will only make quarterback decisions more difficult for the Browns. The team was reportedly already planning to evaluate all options at the position and they’ll have less than six full quarters of Manziel’s work (and just 51 offensive snaps over two starts) to use as part of their evaluation if he doesn’t play against the Ravens in Week 17.

Manziel said after Sunday’s game that he felt more comfortable running the offense against Carolina than he had against Cincinnati and sounded like he was looking past Week 17 to the offseason when he said that he plans to show the Browns that he wants to be the man in charge of the offense.

“And that’s what I want to do and that’s what I want to be for this organization so for me, if anything, this has motivated me more to head into this offseason,” Manziel said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “We had a better team than we have had here in years past, and we need to capitalize on these guys that we have coming back next year and the talent that we do have on this roster that our coaching staff and our management has put on this team. So if anything it makes me more hungry to work in this offseason and get with these guys and stay on top of this stuff and come back next year and come out and try to have some success early in the season and sustain that through a season.”

It’s a long way from September 2015, which makes looking into the crystal ball a dicey enterprise. What seems clear, though, is that Manziel hasn’t convinced anyone that he can be the man for the Browns and that will keep the intrigue dialed up in Cleveland this offseason.

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Cam Newton’s toughness on display yet again

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

That Cam Newton was able to bounce back from a potentially game-killing interception was one thing.

But the fact he bounced back so quickly after breaking two bones in his back less than two weeks ago inspired his Panthers teammates. After missing last week’s game following his car wreck, Newton led the Panthers to the verge of the playoffs with a 17-13 win over the Browns.

It kind of speaks to who he is and his toughness, his mental toughness, his physical toughness,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review. “But also what he means to his teammates. Just the fact that every day he came back out, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and the way his teammates rallied around him and worked with him. I think that was extraordinary. It is one of those moments that you as a coach like to see. It kind of shows that the guys are behind him as well.”

Newton was downplayed his own role in it, thanked the trainers and medical staff, and said he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary in terms of pain management (he hates needles).

And of the drama of the last two weeks of his life, he seemed exhausted by it all.

“It was somewhat tiring, honestly, just to go through so much,” Newton said. “But yet, I can remember family members and loved ones at the hospital and they would not turn it to ESPN. They would not turn to any news channels. I was like, do people know? Then when I saw the helicopter, it was like okay, it’s a big deal.

“But, for me to come out of an injury like that, or an accident like that, all praise goes to God and it just shows that he’s using me in a positive way and I’m using my influence in a positive way. I’m on a pinnacle each and every day whether I want to or not. So, whether I do good things or bad things, people are going to be affected, and I just want to use mine in a positive light to encourage the next person. Whether a child, whether a male, female, what have you, that’s what we are on this earth for – to make people better.”

He made those around him better Sunday, and has given hope to a previously hopeless team.

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NFC playoff picture: Seahawks take control

ricardolockette AP

Five of the six NFC playoff teams have been determined, as the Seahawks, Cardinals, Lions, Packers and Cowboys have all clinched playoff berths. And the sixth will be determined on Sunday, when the Panthers visit the Falcons.

And the defending champions are now the favorites to get back to the Super Bowl: Seattle’s win on Sunday night means the Seahawks are currently the No. 1 team in the conference and the favorite to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Here’s how the NFC playoff picture looks with one week to go:

1. Seattle Seahawks (11-4) The Seahawks will be the No. 1 seed if they beat the Rams on Sunday, unless the Lions and Packers tie and the Cowboys win.

2. Detroit Lions (11-4) The Lions currently own the tiebreaker over the Packers, but they’ll have to win or tie at Green Bay on Sunday to win the NFC North. If the Packers win, the Lions will be a wild card.

3. Dallas Cowboys (11-4) The Cowboys have won the NFC East. They can get a first-round bye if both the Seahawks and Cardinals lose on Sunday.

4. Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) The Panthers will be the 4 seed if they win or tie in Week 17. If the Panthers lose to the Falcons, the Falcons will be the 4 seed.

5. Green Bay Packers (11-4) The Packers would be a wild card if the playoffs started today, but they’re favored to win the NFC North and get a first-round bye with a win over the Lions on Sunday.

6. Arizona Cardinals (11-4) The Cardinals can still win the NFC West if they beat the 49ers on Sunday and the Seahawks lose to the Rams. Otherwise, the Cardinals will be a wild card.

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Steve Smith expects criticism of Ravens offense, won’t pay attention to it

Torrey Smith, Steve Smith AP

Sunday was a miserable day for the Ravens Offense.

They gained just 211 yards, quarterback Joe Flacco threw three interceptions while picking up under four yards per attempt and generally looked inept from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. Wide receiver Steve Smith, who had five catches for 49 yards, didn’t search too hard for a way to describe what went down on Sunday.

“Bottom line is offensively, we just got our ass kicked,” Smith said, via “That’s what happened. That’s what the score looks like. That’s what it looks like when you just lose. That is the consequences of losing.”

Smith’s succinct explanation of a disastrous day for the Ravens offense doesn’t mean that he’s keen on hearing any criticism of the team’s effort. Smith told reporters to write about concern for the offense so that Smith could tell them how much BS it was and told anyone else who might find fault with the team that their words are going to fall on deaf ears.

“We expect and understand and anticipate all of the negative feedback and all of the fat, lazy, sorry couch quarterbacks are going to come out,” Smith said. “We expect that and understand that. We’re not going to pay attention to it.”

Ass kickings come with negative feedback whether Smith and the Ravens want to hear it or not and putting a positive spin on being the worse offense in a game that saw Case Keenum quarterback the other team isn’t going to change the realities for Baltimore. They don’t control their playoff destiny and could see their season end in seven days even if they’re the ones doing the ass kicking against the Browns.

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NFL morning after: Playing hard, with nothing to play for

marcelreece AP

I admire the upset pulled off by Washington this weekend. I respect the way the Bears and Jets played in hard-fought losses. And I’m amazed by what the Texans did to the Ravens.

But the most surprising result might have been that the Raiders — considered the worst team in the league for most of the season — pulled off a big upset and ended the Bills’ playoff hopes. That game was a fitting end for Sunday afternoon in the NFL, as this was a weekend that reminded us that even when we, the fans, say there’s “nothing to play for,” football players have a funny way of deciding for themselves that they have something to play for.

It happens every year, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m always impressed by the teams that seemingly have every reason to pack it in and give up on their seasons, and instead put forth a spirited effort.

Washington has looked like a disaster for most of this season, but on Saturday, in a game the Eagles desperately needed to win, it was Washington that won a hard-fought, back-and-forth battle. And Houston seemed like it was even more of a disaster, down to fourth-string quarterback Case Keenum. But the Texans, whose playoff hopes are slim, put their quarterback issues aside and dominated the Ravens, who are right in the thick of the battle for a playoff berth.

And even the teams that came up short showed a lot of heart. Everyone thought the Bears had quit on this season, and yet Jimmy Clausen, starting after Jay Cutler’s benching, looked pretty good as Chicago gave Detroit a tough four quarters of play. Then there were the Jets, whose coach, Rex Ryan, is sure to be fired a week from now. They did everything they could to give Ryan a win over the rival Patriots before coming up just short.

By Week 16, when the playoffs are within reach, we have a tendency to write off those teams who have been eliminated from playoff contention. But we shouldn’t. There are a whole lot of players still playing hard, even if we don’t think they have anything to play for. The Jimmy Clausens and the Case Keenums of the world don’t get a lot of credit, but they were some of my favorite players on the field on Sunday.

Here are my other thoughts on this weekend’s action:

J.J. Watt for B.F.P. J.J. Watt won’t win the Most Valuable Player award, mostly because when people think about what constitutes “valuable” they almost always think of a quarterback, or maybe a running back — and they almost always think of a player on a playoff team. But I propose another award, the Best Football Player award, or BFP. If we gave an award for the best player in football, is there any doubt that Watt would win it? In Sunday’s win over the Ravens, Watt had seven solo tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss and four quarterback hits. There’s no better football player than J.J. Watt.

A surprising vote of confidence for Joe Philbin. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said after Sunday’s game that Philbin will remain his head coach, despite the Dolphins being eliminated from the playoffs. That’s surprising. I’m not at all convinced that Philbin, who still hasn’t made the playoffs after three seasons at the helm, deserves to keep his job. Miami has not improved during his time at the helm.

Chip Kelly’s blunder. I like Chip Kelly. I said when he was at Oregon that I thought his system could work in the NFL, and I still think it can. But Kelly made a huge mistake when he cut receiver DeSean Jackson, and it probably cost the Eagles a playoff berth. Jackson burned Philadelphia’s secondary for 126 receiving yards when the Eagles lost at Washington on Sunday, and the Eagles, who averaged 6.8 yards a pass, could have used a big play threat. Sometimes a player is talented enough that a coach has to put up with him, even if the coach doesn’t much like him. Kelly should have sucked it up and put up with Jackson. Cutting Jackson was a mistake.

Robert Griffin III didn’t look good. There’s a tendency to praise any quarterback who wins, but let’s be honest: Even though Washington pulled off an upset over Philadelphia on Saturday, RG3 didn’t play very well. He managed only 220 passing yards and no touchdowns, didn’t do anything impressive running the ball, and threw an ugly interception on an underthrown pass to DeSean Jackson. If Jay Gruden wasn’t convinced before Saturday’s game that RG3 is his quarterback of the future, he isn’t convinced now, either.

Joe Flacco was terrible. Flacco’s halftime stats: 3-for-18, 27 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, one sack, one fumble and a 0.0 passer rating. Flacco was a little better in the second half (he couldn’t really be any worse), but this was still an abysmal performance by Flacco. The Ravens are paying Flacco a fortune because he came through in a big way when they won the Super Bowl two years ago. But Flacco was nothing short of terrible in a big loss to the Texans on Sunday.

A future Hall of Famer joins an exclusive club. Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson got his 60th interception on Sunday, making him just the 11th player in NFL history to pick off 60 passes. Woodson is the career leader in interceptions among active players and is still playing surprisingly well at age 38. Woodson isn’t getting much attention because he’s on a terrible team in Oakland, but he’s still playing well at an age when few defensive backs are still playing at all.

Panthers-Falcons: Great game or terrible game? There’s no Week 17 game with more at stake than Panthers-Falcons, which is essentially a playoff game because the winner wins the NFC South and the loser goes home. And yet it’s also a matchup of a 6-8-1 team and a 6-9 team. The NFC South is awful, but I confess that I’m looking forward to seeing which seven-win team wins the division. I feel pretty confident saying that those two losing teams will still be playing hard until the end.

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Cowboys bang MVP drum for Tony Romo

Tony Romo, Brandon Carr AP

Sunday was a good day for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

He led a 42-7 rout of the Colts that sewed up the NFC East title and returned the Cowboys to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. He also passed Troy Aikman to become the leading passer in the history of the franchise and continued a December run that’s been nearly flawless for both individual and team. Romo has 10 touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 79.2 percent of his passes in a closing kick that has some in Dallas talking about Romo as the MVP.

Owner Jerry Jones said Romo is the MVP in his book, tight end Jason Witten admitted his bias while saying Romo should be in the mix and Dez Bryant is all for the guy who has helped him to 14 touchdowns this season.

“Hell yeah, he is. He’s the MVP,” Bryant said, via “Look at the performance. He’s giving ‘em hell in December. Icing on the cake. Give it to him. He’s doing a hell of a job.”

In addition to his strong finishing kick, Romo leads the league in yards per attempt and completion percentage over the course of the entire season and there’s no arguing with the leadership he’s provided to the division champions in Dallas. That should earn him a look from MVP voters, although Aaron Rodgers may ice his own cake with a big outing against the Lions in Week 17’s matchup for the NFC North title.

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Sunday Night wrap-up: Seahawks have too many big plays

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Seahawks had more than enough offense to beat the Cardinals Sunday.

Actually, they had more than enough on four snaps.

The Seahawks traded on big plays and an opponent which couldn’t score, taking a 35-6 win over the Cardinals and the inside track for the NFC West title.

They racked up 596 yards, but 263 of those yards came on four plays.

They’re hurt up front and they’re thin in receiving threats, but they had enough Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch to make the difference.

Lynch came back from an upset stomach which kept him out for a quarter to run for 113 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Wilson’s 55-yard scramble was impressive, but it was his 80-yard touchdown pass to Luke Willson which gave the Seahawks a double-digit edge they weren’t going to give up. Throw in a 49-yard pass to Doug Baldwin, and they had enough home run plays to overwhelm.

Whether that’s enough to compete with teams that might actually be able to score points is another matter.

As long as they can run and play defense the way they do, they’re going to have a chance against anyone in the league.

But when they’re able to get yards in chunks the way they did this week, it might be hard for anyone to have a chance against them.

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

1. Back in my former life as a newspaper reporter, I covered one of the truly ridiculous games in NFL history.

With both teams beset by injuries at quarterback in 2007, the Cardinals and Panthers ended up competing for the signature of Vinny Testaverde. The Panthers won the battle and the war, as the Cardinals ended up signing Tim Rattay and then beating him the following week in Arizona.

Which is a long way of saying, either Testaverde or Rattay might be a better option than Ryan Lindley right now.

Bless his heart, the poor kid simply doesn’t look competitive, especially against a defense the quality of Seattle’s. The Cardinals even tried to run Logan Thomas out there for a change of pace (to throw a deep ball, not run), but it didn’t work.

At the moment, barring a Testaverde comeback at age 51 or Drew Stanton making a quick comeback, it’s hard to see how the Cards have much of a chance in the playoffs against anyone.

2. The Seahawks played without left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger. But they actually protected fairly well.

The Cardinals sacked Wilson seven times in the first meeting, but got him just once this week. Credit to Alvin Bailey and Patrick Lewis for replacing injured starters and allowing their offense to continue at record pace.

That’s a solid showing for the group they scrapped together, which they hope will be back to normal soon.

3. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians gets a lot of credit (which he should), but defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was making chicken salad too, prior to Sunday

The Cards are not just competitive, they’ve been good with a defense missing three difference-makers in Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington and John Abraham, which is emblematic of their next-man-up approach.

They don’t really have what you’d call a pass-rusher, and they’ve got a bunch of role players like Larry Foote and Frostee Rucker playing bigger roles than you’d normally expect of them.

It was hard to tell against the Seahawks once the avalanche started rolling downhill, but this can still be a dangerous defense.

4. Should we be worried about Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka missing three field goals?

Of course we should.

The misses are rare for Hauschka, and they were from distance. But kicking is a confidence game, and misses in big games can linger.

Until he hits something, it’s worthy of being concerned about, as you pick out every little weakness in a team playing well.

5. Willson, the tight end (man, that extra L in a similar last name is murder on spellcheck), can be a match-up problem for a lot of teams.

He seemed to surprise the Cardinals with his speed, but he ran a 4.51 40-yard dash prior to the 2013 NFL Draft, so he’s a legitimate threat to run away from linebackers.

It was still a bit of a shock to see him pull away from a safety, but he has the kind of size and speed to create space, and make the most of it.

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Lynch caps touchdown with dive that probably will provoke a fine


Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch iced Sunday night’s win over the Cardinals with a career-long 79-yard touchdown run.  He entered the end zone with a dive that included a crotch grab.

The maneuver was identical to the manner in which Lynch capped off the “Beastquake” touchdown run from the wild-card playoffs four years ago.  When he did it the last time, no one noticed — so he was neither flagged nor fined.

This time around, it was noticed.  (Even though it wasn’t flagged.)  Lynch will now be in line for a fine.

Last year, Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan was fined $10,000 for making the same gesture.

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Packers favored by at least seven points

Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers AP

The Lions and Packers have identical 11-4 records. Moreover, Detroit won the first 2014 regular-season meeting between the clubs by double digits.

Nevertheless, in the rematch, host Green Bay is a big favorite to knock off Detroit next Sunday and capture the NFC North for a fourth consecutive season.

Oddsmakers have made the Packers 7- to 7.5-point favorites over Detroit at Lambeau Field, where the Lions have not won since 1991.

Per, the Lions haven’t won as underdogs of seven points or more since upsetting Green Bay 7-3 on December 12, 2010.

The Packers, meanwhile, have not lost as favorites of seven or more since falling 27-20 to Chicago on November 4, 2013.

The common factor in both games? Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t finish the game because of injury.

Rodgers, of course, tweaked his calf in Sunday’s victory at Tampa Bay, but he played through it, and the Lions will likely need their best defensive effort to stop Green Bay’s powerful offense on its home turf.

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Steelers host Bengals next Sunday night

Roethlisberger AP

The final Sunday night game of the season has been announced.  And it won’t be the NFC South win-and-in-lose-and-go-home championship game.

Instead, it will be the AFC North title game, with the Steelers hosting the Bengals.  The league opted for Bengals-Steelers even though the Steelers already have clinched a playoff berth.  On Monday night, the Bengals can do the same, with a win over the Broncos.

Of course, Cincy’s Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe tendencies suggest they’ll lose on Monday night.  Which would make Sunday night the equivalent of a playoff game for the Bengals.

Which the Bengals would become more likely to lose because the game is being played in prime time.

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Seahawks offense finally wakes up, now up 14-3

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Marshawn Lynch is obviously feeling better.

The Seahawks running back, who missed exactly the first quarter with what was reported as an upset stomach, has now upset the Cardinals fans.

His touchdown run has given the Seahawks a commanding 14-3 lead, on a night which doesn’t seem to favor the Cardinals ever scoring that many.

The Seahawks scored the game’s first (and looked like possibly only) touchdown when Russell Wilson hit tight end Luke Willson for an 80-yard strike earlier in the second.

It was a surprising play for a number of reasons, including Willson’s ability to run away from the Cardinals secondary.

But the Seahawks Defense has put the clamps on Ryan Lindley, making a comeback look unlikely.

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Cardinals jump out to big 3-0 lead on Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Points are so overrated.

The Seahawks and Cardinals are whaling on each other thus far in this one, and the Cardinals might have just taken a decisive 3-0 lead with a second-quarter field goal.

Cards sub quarterback Ryan Lindley is off to a rough start, hitting 4-of-10 passes for 39 yards. But he managed to scratch together enough short passes and Seahawks penalties to get Chandler Catanzaro in position for a short field goal.

That’s been enough so far, because the Cardinals Defense is doing its part.

Other than a 55-yard scramble by Russell Wilson, the Seahawks haven’t put together much offense.

Marshawn Lynch’s upset stomach miraculously cured itself at the end of the first quarter, but he hasn’t contributed anything to the stat sheet yet.

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