It’s being reported Ray Lewis may have used a banned substance to recover from a triceps injury, and Mike Florio shoots down any indication that Lewis might be suspended from playing in the Super Bowl.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
ProFootballTalk: Lewis in jeopardy of missing Super Bowl?
At the start of the season, Dolphins coach Adam Gase was so down on running back Jay Ajayi that Gase left Ajayi home for the team’s Week One trip to Seattle. A whole lot has changed since then.
On Sunday, Ajayi became just the fourth player in NFL history to rush for more than 200 yards in back-to-back games, and Gase said today on PFT Live that Ajayi’s success has been all about improving his work ethic. Gase said that the team had some issues with Ajayi between the end of the preseason and the start of the regular season, but those issues are all in the past.
“He had 10 bad days there from the fourth preseason game to the first game, but he’s been great every day besides having that little rough spot,” Gase said. “He’s done a great job grabbing this thing and taking advantage of it, and he’s done everything we needed him to do.”
Gase said he could tell as soon as the Dolphins returned from Seattle that Ajayi was committed to having a positive impact on the team this year.
“When we got back for that next week, he was great in the meetings, he practiced hard, he did everything we asked him to do,” Gase said. “And that’s why he’s in this position.”
It was less than two months ago that the Dolphins didn’t even think Ajayi was one of the 46 players they wanted on the field for Week One. Now Ajayi looks like one of the best running backs in the NFL.
The Saints had a chance to improve their record to 3-3 in Kansas City on Sunday, which would have left them right in the thick of an NFC South race that’s tightened up over the last two weeks thanks to a pair of Falcons losses.
A series of errors, both physical and mental, undermined that effort, however. Drew Brees had an interception returned for a touchdown, running back Mark Ingram lost a fumble inside the Chiefs’ 10-yard-line in the fourth quarter and the Saints committed 10 penalties in a 27-21 loss that saw them gain 137 more yards than Kansas City.
Among those penalties was an unnecessary roughness call on defensive tackle Nick Fairley that gave the Chiefs a first down and allowed them to run two more minutes off the clock before hitting a field goal that extended their lead to six points. It was the kind of sloppy play that left Brees saying the Saints “got what we deserved” and coach Sean Payton didn’t dispute that notion.
“We’re not a good enough team to overcome some of those type of mistakes,” Payton said, via ESPN.com. “We didn’t do enough smart things in the end to give ourselves a chance.”
Regardless of the environment, there aren’t many teams that can overcome the types of errors that the Saints made on Sunday and the loss increases the need for the team to go on a winning run if the second half is going to offer the hope for more than playing out the string.
At a time when the league and the Giants are spending plenty of time trying to rationalize and justify their approach to kicker Josh Brown, who in May 2015 committed an act of domestic violence that the league didn’t deem to be sufficiently serious to suspend him for the baseline of six games (and that the team didn’t deem to be sufficiently serious to disqualify him from a new two-year contract), at least one franchise is making it clear that there is no gray area on this subject.
“I’m going to speak for the New England Patriots, and I think going back to the days of Christian Peter, we’ve been pretty stringent about it and I think ahead of the curve when it comes to the seriousness of this issue,” Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said on 98.5 The Sports Hub on Sunday, via the Boston Herald. “I don’t think there’s an issue that you could say . . . there might be some that are as serious, but there’s nothing more serious than what’s going on in the domestic violence and the sexual abuse area. It’s something that we have felt strongly about since we’ve owned the franchise.”
It’s more than the Patriots making it clear that their own employees should not engage in domestic violence or sexual abuse — or, as in the case of Christian Peter, relinquishing the rights to a draft pick after ownership became aware of his history.
“[W]e’re using the power of professional sports and our players and our brand to make sure, at the teenage level that . . . we help prevent teenage assault and abuse and hopefully start to teach young men when they’re still in their formative years that it’s something that’s totally unacceptable and it’s not something that we’re ever going to tolerate here at the New England Patriots,” Kraft said. “[W]e have taken it seriously for the 24 years we’ve owned the team. And [it] is something, for us, there literally is no gray area. It’s a very definitive and clear situation.”
True zero tolerance is a tough standard to enforce, because it means that serious consequences will apply to anyone who violates it — from coach to quarterback to any other stat player or valued employee. The Patriots apparently are willing to walk the talk; the true test will come if/when a key member of the organization faces domestic violence allegations.
The most befuddling aspect of the Josh Brown case continues to be the reality that he hardly is a key employee. While New England’s approach is the right one, it will be a challenge at times to apply it across the board. When a lax, clumsy approach is applied to a player who hardly is central to the team’s effort, the perception is reinforced that the NFL doesn’t care as much about domestic violence as it claims.
The Jaguars fired Jack Del Rio after nine years as a 68-71 record.
They’re 18-57 since then, and even if the Raiders coach wasn’t going make a big deal of it, his players were going to make sure it was a special day for him.
According to Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com Del Rio was given a game ball after the easy 33-16 win yesterday
“Jack said to focus on being a great teammate and having each other’s back,” Raiders cornerback David Amerson said. “With him coaching here before, we definitely wanted to have his back. We wanted to get him this ‘W,’ it was big for him and our team.”
The Jaguars grew frustrated with Del Rio topping out at seven or eight wins a year, but they haven’t won more than five in a season since he left. He wasn’t going to gloat, taking the high road yesterday instead.
“A lot of great memories here,” Del Rio said. “It was a great place to spend nine years raising the family and being blessed with the opportunity to lead the Jaguar franchise. I was very appreciative of that time. I met a lot of good folks here; a lot of good memories, a lot of good friends. It is good to come back here and get a good effort in this stadium.”
Of course, it’s easier to be gracious when you’re stomping your old team, and making them long for the days when they were actually interesting and somewhat relevant.
Bills outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander is 33 years old. He’s been in the NFL since 2005, when the Panthers signed him as an undrafted free agent. Heading into this season, after more than a decade in the NFL, he had a grand total of nine sacks in his career.
And now, seven games into this season, he has nine sacks in 2016.
Alexander added yet another sack on Sunday against the Dolphins, meaning he has at least half a sack in every game this season. He’s the first player since Jared Allen in 2011 to get a sack in each of the first seven games of a season. He’s also the first Bill to have a sack in seven straight games since Bruce Smith had nine straight games with a sack in 1996-97.
It’s shocking that Alexander is playing this well because he’s never done it before, and because the Bills weren’t expecting it of him this year. He signed a one-year contract for the veteran minimum in the offseason and thought he’d have to contribute on special teams just to make the roster. If first-round rookie Shaq Lawson hadn’t suffered an injury, Alexander wouldn’t be a starter.
But Alexander has started every game, and there’s no getting him out of the lineup now. He’s leading the league in sacks and shocking opposing offensive linemen, who like the rest of us are just now realizing that Lorenzo Alexander is one of the best pass rushers in football.
The Chiefs star running back got a single carry, as they work to protect him as he comes back from last year’s knee injury.
“Things were going OK, so I kind of let it ride there,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, via Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star. “His knee puffed up a little this week, and I’m trying to be as careful as we can with him, . . . and with him in my ear wanting to play.”
Swelling in his surgically repaired knee is obviously a concern, but the Chiefs have managed him carefully, with just 12 carries in the three games in which he has appeared.
Ware has done a solid job as their lead back, and had 17 carries for 77 yards in yesterday’s win over the Saints.
And despite Charles’ lobbying, Reid’s being very conservative with his best offensive weapon, in hopes he’ll be ready for a heavier workload later.
The opening weeks of the 2016 season saw the Chargers lose big leads in the fourth quarter and make late mistakes that allowed their opponents to win games, although things didn’t seem to be setting up that way on Sunday.
The Chargers went down 17 points in the first half of the game and they were on the road, so it seemed that the final score would be painful for other reasons. Quarterback Philip Rivers said there was “no panic” in the locker room at halftime, however, and the Chargers scored the final 10 points of the game to force overtime. Once there, they stopped the Falcons on a fourth down and then drove for the game-winning field goal.
It’s the first two-game winning streak for the Chargers since the 2014 season and their first road win since Week 12 of last season, which added to the flip of the script for San Diego.
“We haven’t won two games in a row in a long time,” Rivers said, via the team’s website. “We haven’t had a road win in a long time, and we’ve lost a lot of games that have been close. A lot of games like this we’ve lost, and not the disastrous ones we’ve had this year, I just mean close games like this; somebody has the ball late in the two-minute drive, we’ve lost those games the last two years. So it was huge.”
The Chargers will try to extend their winning streak to three games in Denver next week and doing so would leave them with a 4-4 record heading into the back half of the season. That didn’t seem to be where the Chargers season was heading a few weeks ago, but Sunday’s game offered a big reminder that counting them out might not be the best strategy this season.
The 49ers defense got torn up again on Sunday, allowing 513 total yards and 249 rushing yards to the Buccaneers in a 34-17 loss that sent them into their bye week with a 1-6 record.
Jacquizz Rodgers became the second straight back to gain at least 100 rushing yards in the first half of a game and the struggles on that side of the ball led to questions about defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil’s future with the team. Head coach Chip Kelly said that there will not be any changes to the staff during the bye week and that he doesn’t believe he needs to spend more time with the defense in order to get better results once the team returns to the field.
“No, we spend time together during the week,” Kelly said, via Niners Wire. “We carve out time in terms of how we watch film and what we do and understand the plan as we’re moving forward. There’s good communication going on form that standpoint. It’s not like I don’t know what’s going on on the defensive side of the ball.”
Tweaks to the scheme couldn’t hurt when the unit is performing as poorly as it has this season, but the 49ers need to be better everywhere if the results are going to improve. Their average offensive drive is the shortest in the league and they have the fewest yards in the league, neither of which helps the defense or the team’s chances of ending a six-game losing streak that’s only seen the 49ers finish within one score of their opponent one time.
Colin Kaepernick is the NFL’s most significant player off the field, a player whose simple act of declining to stand during the national anthem has led to wide-ranging discussions across America about race, police brutality, free speech and the role of sport in society. That has been the subject of thousands of commentaries.
But it’s not the subject of this commentary. Instead, I want to talk about why I also consider Kaepernick the most fascinating NFL player off the field. And the reason for that is simple: He has rapidly declined from a very good quarterback to a terrible quarterback, at an age when most quarterbacks are still getting better.
It was less than four years ago that Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith in the middle of the 2012 season and putting an absolute beating on the Bears in his first NFL start. Do you remember how good Kaepernick was that year? The game that sticks with me is when he went to New England in just his fifth NFL start. Everyone said Bill Belichick would have the key to stopping this upstart young quarterback. Instead Kaepernick threw for four touchdown passes as the 49ers put up 41 points in a win over the Patriots. Quarterbacks making career start No. 5 aren’t supposed to shred Belichick’s defense. Kaepernick did.
That year Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, with a ridiculous 263-yard passing, 181-yard rushing playoff win over the Packers along the way. In the Super Bowl he threw for 302 yards, ran for 62 yards and came up just short of delivering the game-winning touchdown. If the 49ers had beaten the Ravens, Kaepernick would have been the Super Bowl MVP.
In his second year as a starter Kaepernick was just as good, again leading the 49ers to the playoffs and this time coming up just short in an NFC Championship Game loss to the Seahawks. That was the year when Ron Jaworski famously said, “I truly believe Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.”
People enjoy needling Jaworski for that hyperbole, but here’s the thing: At the time, everyone was saying Kaepernick had the potential to be a Hall of Fame quarterback. It’s easy to find people who criticize Jaworski’s statement now; it’s hard to find people who disagreed with it on the merits at the time.
And then Kaepernick began to decline in 2014. In 2015, that decline reached such a depth that he was benched for Blaine Gabbert, of all people. This year Kaepernick. has finally taken the job back from Gabbert, but he isn’t very good: Yesterday he averaged a pathetic 4.2 yards per pass and completed less than 50 percent of his passes in an ugly loss to the Buccaneers.
So what happened to Kaepernick? I think it’s three things:
1. Jim Harbaugh left. Harbaugh is a singularly great coach, a coach who has proven everywhere he’s been that he can get the most out of his players. When 49ers owner Jed York and General Manager Trent Baalke foolishly decided they couldn’t get along with Harbaugh anymore, they lost a coach who could find ways to win with Kaepernick’s skill set.
2. Defenses figured him out. Kaepernick always had a strong arm, but he lacks touch on short passes. Defenses seem to be taking away the deep ball and forcing Kaepernick to throw short, and he just doesn’t do that very well. That’s why his average yards per pass has declined every season, from 8.3 in his first season as a starter, to 7.7 in his second year, 7.0 in his third year, 6.6 in his fourth year and now just 5.2 this year.
3. He doesn’t have a supporting cast. In Kaepernick’s first couple seasons, the 49ers were loaded. They’re now a worse team across the board: Worse receivers, worse offensive linemen, worse running backs and a worse defense, which means the 49ers’ offense often ends up having to throw more and run less.
4. He has physically declined. Just looking at Kaepernick, it’s obvious that he’s skinnier and less muscular than he used to be. He had three surgeries that severely limited his ability to work out this offseason, and he has also lost weight after radically changing his diet. He’s just not the big, imposing athlete he was three or four years ago.
Kaepernick may some day find himself playing with a better supporting cast, and it’s possible he’ll get bigger and stronger, but I’m skeptical that he’ll ever be the same player he once was. I don’t think he’s going to end up with another coach who understands his skill set as well as Harbaugh did, and I think the deficiencies opposing defenses have found in his game are going to follow him around. Far from becoming “one of the greatest quarterbacks ever,” I don’t think Kaepernick is even going to be an above-average starter ever again. He had two incredible years, but the Colin Kaepernick of old isn’t coming back.
Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:
Smart move, Doug Pederson. After the Eagles scored a touchdown in the second quarter, they kicked the extra point. But the Vikings were flagged for roughing the kicker, and that’s when Pederson did something smart: Instead of declining the penalty and taking the extra point, Pederson accepted the penalty and went for two, from the 1-yard line after the half-the-distance penalty. Carson Wentz ran the ball in from a yard out, and the Eagles got an additional point. It surprises me how scared NFL coaches are of going for two. Pederson showed some guts, and it paid off.
Tom Brady is as great as ever. After Sunday’s win over the Steelers, Brady is currently leading the league with a whopping 132.6 psaser rating, a number that no quarterback has ever sustained for a full season. He’s showing no sign of age at 39, and he’s showing no sign of rust after his four-game Deflategate suspension.
This is a different Raiders team. We’ve become accustomed in the last decade or so to view the Raiders as an incompetent franchise, and so I think some people haven’t yet caught on to just how good the Raiders are. In Derek Carr they have one of the league’s best young quarterbacks, and they’re keeping him upright. You may remember that Carr’s big brother David was sacked an NFL-record 76 times as a rookie. Carr has now been in the NFL for two and a half seasons, and he still hasn’t been sacked 76 times: Carr has now been sacked 62 times in 39 NFL starts. There’s every reason to believe the Raiders will compete for a playoff spot this year, and for many years to come, with Carr as their leader.
Why play Shady? Playing LeSean McCoy yesterday may turn out to be a huge, season-altering mistake by the Bills. McCoy suffered a hamstring injury in practice last week, and there were conflicting reports about whether he could play. McCoy ended up playing in the loss to the Dolphins but left the game early after another hamstring injury. If this hamstring becomes a chronic problem for McCoy, it would seriously damage the Bills’ offense. The 4-3 Bills are fighting for playoff position, and they can’t afford to be at less than full strength.
An ugly game for Sam Bradford. When the Vikings traded a first-round draft pick and a fourth-round draft pick for Bradford, my immediate reaction was that they overpaid. In his first four starts for the Vikings, Bradford played very well, and rewarded the Vikings’ faith in him. But yesterday’s performance in Philadelphia was awful: Bradford was sacked six times, fumbled four times and threw an interception. The Vikings are using the washed-up offensive tackle Jake Long because they don’t have anybody healthy to play the position, and Bradford looked incredibly uncomfortable behind a patchwork offensive line. The Vikings’ trade for Bradford only makes sense if he can lead them to the playoffs, and he can’t do that if he keeps playing Kaepernick-like games the way he did on Sunday.
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been one of the more reliable kickers in the league since taking over the New England job in 2006, which makes his recent struggles a surprise.
Gostkowski missed an extra point in Sunday’s 27-16 win over the Steelers and has now missed two extra points in the last two weeks. Gostkowski, who also missed an extra point in last year’s AFC title game, has also missed three field goals this year after missing three all of last season.
“I’m not scared to screw up. I’ve screwed up plenty of times in my career. It’s kind of piling on right now,” Gostkowski said, via the Providence Journal. “In my position, you only get so many opportunities and that’s part of it mentally, taking advantage of the opportunities you get. I know that’s the deal coming in. News flash, this is my 11th year doing it. Right now, I just stink and I need to figure out how to get better. It’s not working out and kind of piling on. But [I’ll] hold my head high, keep working hard and keep doing the best I can as long as they keep giving me opportunities.”
Gostkowski’s miss wasn’t the only miscue for the Patriots on Sunday. They lost two fumbles and saw a couple of drives end after dropped passes, but the Steelers couldn’t take full advantage of chances to put points on the board and New England improved to 6-1 without being all that sharp.
The Bills lost the battle up front on both sides of the ball on Sunday.
Were the Patriots lucky to face a injury-depleted Steelers team on Sunday?
Browns defenders know they weren’t good enough on Sunday.
How can the Jaguars boost their offensive production?
The Titans pass rush never got going against the Colts.
Simon Fletcher, Jason Elam and John Lynch are the new members of the Broncos Ring of Honor.
The Raiders defense wasn’t perfect, but it was better against the Jaguars.
The Chargers defense came up big when the team needed it in Atlanta.
Suggesting a few quick fixes for the Bears.
Everyone is pitching in on offense for the Packers right now.
T Jake Long had a rough debut for the Vikings.
The Seahawks defense’s courage was praised by coach Pete Carroll.
During Sunday’s win over the Rams in London, the on-field microphones captured Giants Eli Manning making calls at the line of scrimmage and one play featured what sounded like a very familiar name.
As Manning got the Giants set, it sounded like he was yelling “Trump” over and over again before the ball was finally snapped. Was the audible a message to the team that they shouldn’t accept the results of the play if it didn’t gain them yards? Or was it a reminder to the offensive line that they should build a wall around Manning and then make the Rams pay for it?
Manning was asked about the call after the game and said it wasn’t the name of the GOP candidate while pivoting away from any explanation of what it actually was.
“Trump call, Trump call … nah, no Trump call. No Trump call,” Manning said, via NJ.com. “We have something very similar, but no, it was not a Trump. It was not an audible this week. Nothing there.”
The Giants won 17-10 on Sunday despite generating just 232 yards over the course of the proceedings. They’ll take their bye week now and making the offense great again will likely be on the list of priorities ahead of their return to action.
The Steelers knew that without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger yesterday, other parts of the roster were going to have to play better.
They decidedly did not, and Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier owned his part of it.
“We’re looking like garbage right now,” Shazier said, via Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “[Opposing offenses] can do whatever they want to do right now.”
While harsh in tone, it may also not be inaccurate, as the Patriots hit them for enough big plays to turn an otherwise decent day into a loss.
Of the 362 yards allowed (below their average), the Patriots gained 117 of them on four plays, two of them deep balls to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Those chunk plays were the difference.
Shazier said the early plan on Gronkowski was good, but the Steelers may have fiddled too much with their defense.
“We were giving them calls that Tom didn’t like, and I guess when we changed up a little bit and [Brady] got to seeing things he liked, they took advantage of it,” Shazier said.
“When you think about it, they weren’t having a lot of success,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “And then you throw those two [Gronkowski] plays in the second half, you look at the scoreboard, and that ends up being the difference.
“It’s definitely frustrating. But we’re not looking for comfort. We understand that we dropped the ball with that, execution-wise, a couple plays where we really just didn’t execute the way we needed to, and that’s the difference in the game. It’s frustrating because we know how good we can be, but at the end of the day, when you’re making those mistakes and we‘re not executing the way we need to, you gotta deal with the result.”
And the result was rubbish, according to Shazier.
The Jaguars came into Sunday’s game with the Raiders with a chance to extend their winning streak to three games and move their record to .500 on the year.
That didn’t happen, however. The Jags fell behind 20-6 in the first half and hopes of a comeback were hurt by a series of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and personal fouls that eventually led to the ejections of defensive tackle Malik Jackson and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
The game likely would have remained out of reach without the loss of composure, although that didn’t make it any easier for linebacker Paul Posluszny to see his team melt down in the final quarter of the game.
“I think it’s terrible,” Posluszny said, via Jacksonville.com. “We need to act like professionals at all times, regardless of what happens. To have guys get thrown out, multiple penalties over and over again, that’s not who we are and we can’t tolerate that moving forward. I’ve never seen anything like that before. That’s unacceptable on a lot of different levels. Fans don’t want to see that, you guys don’t want to see that and we don’t want to be a part of it. Just from a higher standard of playing in the NFL, we can’t have that.”
The Jaguars were penalized 13 times for 122 yards overall on Sunday, something that isn’t going to help them win games even if they avoid having any players disqualified from the proceedings. They’ll try to clean things up quickly as they face the Titans on Thursday.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn made a surprising decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 45-yard line in overtime on Sunday. It didn’t work.
The Chargers stuffed the Falcons’ fourth-down attempt and took advantage of their great field position to kick the game-winning field goal, upsetting the Falcons 33-30. Afterward, Quinn said going for it on fourth down was just what he thought was right at the time.
“Honestly, we had real belief we were going to make it and keep the drive going and keep extending it,” Quinn said. “Just a gut feeling that I went with. It didn’t work. We can second guess it, that’s easy to do, but it was more of a mindset. I have such belief in the guys to go get aggressive and get that half-yard that we needed so when we didn’t, that was a costly mistake.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said the players deserve at least as much of the blame as Quinn.
“As players, it’s our responsibility to make him right and to go out there and make the plays, and we had two chances on third-and-short and then fourth-and-short and we didn’t get it done. From a player’s perspective, that’s the point that’s very disappointing,” Ryan said.
It was undeniably disappointing for the Falcons, who lost a game they thought they were going to win. It’s likely that if the Falcons find themselves in a similar situation again, Quinn will have a different gut feeling.