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Jason Witten is the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year

Jason Witten AP

The only NFL award that combines on-field excellence with off-field service has been given to Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

The NFL has confirmed that Witten is the winner of its Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, given annually to an NFL player who exemplifies everything it means to be a great NFL player both on and off the field.

Witten works with victims of domestic violence, and his foundation has launched a “Coaching Boys Into Men” initiative designed to educate youth football players about domestic violence.

On the field, Witten is coming off an excellent season in which he had 110 catches for 1,039 yards.

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Browns claim Callahan, Ikard

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 01:  Quarterback Joe Callahan #6 of the Green Bay Packers passes as Ramik Wilson #53 of the Kansas City Chiefs defends during the preseason game at Arrowhead Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Browns have claimed rookie quarterback Joe Callahan after he was waived by the Saints on Saturday, NFL Network reported.

The Saints had claimed Callahan from the Packers eight days earlier. With the Browns, Callahan finds himself as close to actually playing as he’s been after Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati.

Rookie Kevin Hogan took over for Kessler. The Browns had Kessler and Hogan active for Sunday’s game, and Josh McCown has been working his way back from a broken collarbone. It’s not yet known if Kessler or McCown will be cleared ahead of Sunday’s game vs. the Jets.

An undrafted rookie out of Div. III Wesley, Callahan played against the Browns in August, starting the preseason opener for both the Browns and the Packers. He got extended time in the preseason because Packers backup Brett Hundley was battling an ankle injury, and he’s used that to make a bunch of game checks. Both the Packers and Saints waived him late in the week due to injury situations at other positions.

The Browns also claimed offensive line Gabe Ikard, per a tweet from Ikard’s agent, Ken Sarnoff. Ikard was waived last week by the Bills as they activated first-round pick Shaq Lawson and made other roster moves to address injury situations.

The addition of Ikard, who’s played in six career games, is probably related to the situation involving Browns center Cameron Erving, who had to leave Sunday’s game due to an illness. Erving suffered a bruised lung earlier in the season.

At 0-7, the Browns are taking advantage of their standing atop the waiver wire to see if they can find future contributors.

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One day later, Mike Zimmer is still salty and vowing to “change things up”

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 23: Head coach Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings looks down as he walks the sidelines during the third quarter of a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on October 23, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Vikings 21-10. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy with his team’s performance after Sunday’s loss at Philadelphia. A day later, he’s still upset.

“We’re trying to figure out everything right now,” Zimmer said Monday, via Chris Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “This is a gut check day. . . . We’re going to change some things up this week.”

After a showing that prompted Zimmer to call his offensive line “soft,” he offered up this biting critique that should force every player to engage in soul searching: “I have faith in this football team. But faith is belief without proof, and I have no proof yet.”

The defense has given Zimmer plenty of proof, but defense alone isn’t enough. As to the offense, Zimmer was careful to broaden his disdain beyond the tackles, guards, and center.

“Everyone said how I said it was the offensive line not doing good,” Zimmer said. “The offense in general wasn’t very good.”

The good news is that, one week from tonight, the Vikings face the not-very-good Bears. But if Minnesota stubs its toe against their 1-6 rivals from Chicago, Zimmer’s flavor of choice will continue to be salty.

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Jordan Reed cleared to practice this week

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 2: Tight end Jordan Reed #86 of the Washington Redskins scores a first quarter touchdown past free safety Jordan Poyer #33 of the Cleveland Browns at FedExField on October 2, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Tight end Jordan Reed missed his second straight game with a concussion on Sunday, but he is making progress toward getting back into the lineup.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Monday that Reed has been cleared to practice when the team begins on-field preparations for their Week Eight game against the Bengals. Reed did get in one day of practice in a non-contact jersey last week before missing sessions on Thursday and Friday ahead of the loss to the Lions, so there are still steps to clear before he’ll be cleared for the game.

The window for getting cleared may be a little narrower as this week’s game will take place in London and Reed may not make the trip if he’s still dealing with any symptoms from the concussion. The Redskins will have a bye in Week Nine after returning from the game against Cincinnati.

Cornerback Josh Norman is also in the concussion protocol to start the week.

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Jets to stick with Ryan Fitzpatrick as starter after Geno Smith ACL tear

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 02:  Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets looks on at the end of a 27-17 loss against the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium on October 2, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jets coach Todd Bowles confirmed that quarterback Geno Smith would be out for the year with a torn ACL, and he’s not ready to start experimenting with other quarterbacks yet.

Bowles just told reporters that Ryan Fitzpatrick would start this week, with Smith going to injured reserve.

Fitzpatrick had just been benched the week before, and said after the game he was angry because he felt abandoned by the organization.

If pissed off is going to stop the turnovers I’m more than happy to have him pissed off the whole time,” Bowles said.

Fitzpatrick had thrown 11 interceptions in his first six starts, with just five touchdowns.

The Jets are 2-5 and close to the point when it’s reasonable to find out if Bryce Petty and/or Christian Hackenberg can play. With the 0-7 Browns on deck, it was reasonable to wonder if it was time to look to the future.

But getting to 3-5 at the midway point in the season would still leave some reason for hope, and Fitzpatrick likely still provides the best cause for that.

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Cardinals confirm Jaron Brown done for year with torn ACL

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 11:  Wide receiver Jaron Brown #13 of the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL game against the New England Patriots at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 23-21.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The word from Arizona after wide receiver Jaron Brown injured his knee in Sunday night’s tie with the Seahawks was that Brown suffered a torn ACL.

That was the word from Cardinals coach Bruce Arians on Monday as well. Arians confirmed that Brown tore the ligament and will miss the rest of the season while on injured reserve.

Those will be the first games that Brown has missed since making the team as an undrafted free agent in 2013.

Brown has been bumped into a bigger role in recent weeks with Michael Floyd falling out of favor and John Brown sidelined by leg pain caused by a sickle cell trait. Floyd had five catches on Sunday night and J.J. Nelson, who had three catches for 84 yards, is also on hand in the event Brown’s absence continues.

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Ratings still shrinking

115872288 Getty Images

After seven weeks, the NFL has a problem. Whether the league wants it acknowledge it publicly or privately or will try to minimize it with damage-control doublespeak (“we don’t have fewer viewers, the same viewers are viewing less“), the NFL has a problem.

Ratings are down, every week in nearly every broadcasting window.

For Week Seven, the 9.4 overnight rating for the Bears-Packers game reflected an 18.2-percent drop from the Week Seven TNF game in 2015, a 20-3 win by the Seahawks over the 49ers. The Sunday night game between the Seahawks and Cardinals dropped by 15 percent from last year’s Eagles-Panthers game, with an 11.6 rating.

The Sunday late-afternoon window, which has for the most part been performing better than prime-time games, also was down sharply, with a 13.2-percent drop in the Patriots-Steelers game on CBS in 2016 and the Week Seven 2015 game between the Cowboys and Giants.

Plenty of potential reasons have been identified for the decline, but perhaps the simplest is that too many games (especially in prime time) lack real excitement, in part because they lack scoring. When the Seahawks and Cardinals are engaged in a punt-fest deadlocked (emphasis on the dead) 3-0 at halftime, who wouldn’t give in to the strong temptation to change the channel and/or go do something else for an hour or so, or long? It quickly became clear on Sunday night that it made sense to check out until 11:15 p.m. ET, or to check out for good.

No one cares about a game that has six total points scored through 60 minutes of action. Four decades ago, the NFL realized that 38-35 was much more exciting than 13-9, which prompted the league to make a series of rules changes aimed at infusing more offense into the game. Which led to more score and more excitement and eventually fueled the rise of fantasy football.

The challenge for the league, beyond cultivating more stars (by, you know, embracing their individuality and not suppressing it), developing more talent (especially at quarterback), and picking better games for prime-time programming, becomes finding a way to make football exciting again. Currently, not nearly enough people think it is.

And before anyone at 345 Park Avenue starts percolating possibilities for tweaking the rules in order to light up scoreboards, here’s hoping that all potential unintended consequences will be fully considered. Because if the NFL’s notion for pumping nitrous oxide into offenses has the same impact as that bright idea for reducing kickoff returns, there will be more snore-inducing defensive struggles in the future.

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Packers will put Jared Abbrederis on injured reserve

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 16:  Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis #84 of the Green Bay Packers runs after a catch in the first half against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 16, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) Getty Images

With injuries piled up at running back and cornerback, the Packers need some roster spots right now.

They’re opening one by placing defensive back Chris Banjo on injured reserve and Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that he’s getting some company. Per Silverstein, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis will also make the move to I.R. on Monday.

Abbrederis has been dealing with a thigh injury and did not play against the Bears last Thursday. He didn’t play much when he was in the lineup, seeing 24 snaps on offense and catching one pass for eight yards in five games.

The 2014 fifth-round pick remains under contract for one more year with the Packers, who have yet to confirm either I.R. move or announce who will be joining the 53-man roster ahead of this week’s game against the Falcons.

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Hue Jackson says Browns aren’t trading Joe Thomas

Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas celebrates after a 24-6 win over the Detroit Lions in a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) AP

The Browns lost their seventh game of the year on Sunday and, barring a remarkable change of fortunes, they are on their way to a 14th straight season without a playoff berth.

Assuming that’s the case, that would run left tackle Joe Thomas’ own streak to 10 straight seasons. Unless, of course, there’s a trade that sends Thomas to a team with brighter immediate prospects than the Browns can offer.

Mike Florio reported Sunday that such a trade is a possibility a year after Thomas was reportedly close to landing with the Broncos at the trade deadline, but coach Hue Jackson insisted on Monday that no deal would happen.

“We are not going to trade Joe Thomas,” Jackson said at his press conference.

There’s no equivocation in that response or in the team’s tweet about his answer, although the old saying goes that everything has its price so there may be an offer that the Browns feel they can’t refuse given the wholesale teardown that’s been going on in Cleveland since the current regime took over.

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Jeff Fisher: Jared Goff will play when he’s ready

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, left, and quarterback Case Keenum warm up prior to an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo) AP

Rams coach Jeff Fisher says quarterback Jared Goff, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, is not yet ready to take over as the team’s starting quarterback.

Asked about benching starter Case Keenum after Keenum’s four-interception game on Sunday, Fisher insisted that the loss wasn’t Keenum’s fault and it’s not time to make a change.

“Jared’s going to play when we feel Jared’s ready. Had we won this game you wouldn’t be asking about Jared,” Fisher said. “We didn’t lose this game because of the quarterback play. We lost it because of some other positions.”

There are two separate issues facing the Rams at the quarterback position: One is whether Keenum is playing well enough, and the other is whether Goff is ready to be a starter. What Fisher made clear is that he both thinks Keenum is playing well enough and thinks Goff still needs time before he’s ready to start.

Until Fisher’s opinion changes on both of those matters, Goff will remain on the bench.

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Frustrated Hue Jackson ditches headset to deal with defense

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 23:  Head Coach Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns instructs his players as they warm up prior to the start of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

Browns coach Hue Jackson had enough. Enough losing, enough frustration, enough of Cincinnati’s offense ramming the ball down Cleveland’s throat on Sunday.

And so Jackson eventually ditched his headset and delegated the task of calling offensive plays to offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Jackson did it so that he could give the team’s struggling defense a piece of his mind.

I took them off,” Jackson said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I called the team out. Yeah, I was disappointed because I don’t want anybody running the ball like that on us. We’ve got to get some things squared away, but I take responsibility for it all. It’s not our players; we’ve got to fix some things and keep working on some things and we will.”

Meanwhile, Jackson will be subject to giving in to basic human emotions.

“I can get disappointed,” Jackson said. “I don’t like where we are as a football team, and this is my responsibility, so, at the end of the day in my mind, I have to find a way to fix it — and as fast as I can as best I can, so that’s what I have to do. . . . I keep telling you guys — I’m not discouraged. I’m disappointed in losing. I’ve never lost like this. But I’m going to find a way [to win], I promise you that. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I’m going to find a way and that’s what we’ve got to do.”

The Browns have nine more chances to get a win, with not many clear chances left on the schedule. The Jets, who come to town on Sunday, have the worst record of the team’s remaining foes, at 2-5. The remaining schedule also includes two games against Pittsburgh, another against Baltimore and Cincinnati, and contests against the Cowboys, Giants, Bills, and Chargers.

In other words, maybe Brian Billick shouldn’t have backed off.

But even if the Browns go 0-16, better times are coming. I promise you that. I just don’t know when and, for now, I don’t know how.

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Packers to put safety Chris Banjo on injured reserve

LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 10: Cornerback Chris Banjo #32 of the Green Bay Packers scuffles with cornerback Deshazor Everett #22 of the Washington Redskins in the second quarter during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at FedExField on January 10, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers are struggling to keep defensive backs on the field, and now another one is headed to injured reserve.

According to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, Packers safety Chris Banjo is going on IR.

Banjo apparently has a short-term injury, and might have been available in three or four weeks. But with a spate of other problems in the secondary, the team apparently decided it could not wait that long.

The Packers have recently put cornerback Sam Shields on IR, and Damarious Randall will miss some time after surgery to repair a groin injury so they needed the bodies.

Banjo, 26, has been a solid backup and special teams player, and will be a restricted free agent after this season.

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Dez Bryant practices Monday, Tyron Smith doesn’t

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on before a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears at AT&T Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cowboys returned from their week off for a practice on Monday and it appears wide receiver Dez Bryant remains on track to make his return to the lineup after missing the last three games with a hairline fracture in his knee.

Bryant was on the field working with his teammates during Monday’s session and said last week that he feels ready for game action. The Cowboys don’t have to issue an injury report for Sunday’s game against the Eagles until Wednesday, but Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News reports that Bryant, who was limited in the team’s one bye week practice by a cut on his hand, was catching passes and running routes while the practice was open to the media.

Several other Cowboys who went into the bye week dealing with injuries returned to work, including cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive end DaMarcus Lawrence.

Left tackle Tyron Smith did not practice as he continues to deal with the back injury that kept him out of two games. Quarterback Tony Romo also has not been cleared for practice yet, leaving Dak Prescott to continue adding to the strong case he’s already made to hold onto the job.

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Jay Cutler cleared to return from thumb injury

Jay Cutler AP

The Bears just lost another quarterback to injury, but got one back Monday.

Bears coach John Fox told reporters that Jay Cutler has been cleared to return from his thumb injury, the week after they lost Brian Hoyer to a broken arm.

Cutler’s been out since Week Two, and during his absence, Fox was very careful to not promise the job back to the incumbent. But Fox was also careful to not discount the possibility. When he said “we don’t have a plan,” he wasn’t being difficult as much as he was acknowledging that until Cutler was well enough to return, it didn’t matter.

But Fox also described Cutler as “tough-minded” and “a good teammate,” during the absence, which is helpful since they don’t have much of a choice.

Hoyer’s out with a broken arm (he had surgery yesterday), the Bears at least have someone to go with Matt Barkley next week against the Vikings.

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Report: Jets believe Geno Smith tore his ACL

New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) is sacked by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Matt Judon (91) during the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) AP

It appears Jets quarterback Geno Smith has suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the initial MRI of the knee that Smith injured on Sunday against the Ravens leaves the Jets with the belief that Smith suffered a torn ACL.

Smith exited the game in the second quarter after taking a sack from Ravens linebacker Matt Judon. He said after the game that he didn’t feel the injury was a significant one, but this is hardly the first time that we’ve seen a player get worse news than anticipated once further testing took place.

Assuming the diagnosis holds, Smith will miss the rest of the season and likely has played his final snap with the Jets with his contract expiring after the season. It’s a tough blow for Smith, who was in line to start last season before he suffered a broken jaw when then-teammate IK Enemkpali punched him in the jaw. Enemkpali also suffered a torn ACL this year, although Smith will likely look elsewhere for tips on how to rehab the injury.

Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Smith on Sunday and said he believes he should be the starter before anything was known about the severity of the injury. The Jets also have Bryce Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg on hand, but may opt to go back to Fitzpatrick in hopes that he can show something closer to his 2015 performance than he did in the first six weeks of the year.

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Tom Brady is anti-domestic violence, but won’t compare to his suspension

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 23:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots warms up prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady goes to great lengths to say nothing.

And even in as safe a space as being against domestic violence, Brady isn’t going to allow himself to be dragged into revealing any opinions he may or may not have.

During his weekly appearance on WEEI, Brady expressed the requisite anger with Giants kicker Josh Brown, who admitted to years of abuse of his then-wife and has been placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, after an initial one-game suspension.

“I grew up with three sisters, I was very fortunate to learn from a loving father and a loving mother how to treat and respect women,” Brady said. “I have a daughter of my own and domestic violence is a horrible issue. It’s a tragedy when it happens. Any type of abuse or bullying of people who can’t defend or fight for themselves, I have no respect for that.

“Like I said, the NFL, they claim to take tough stances and this is their situation. This is their situation to deal with. I’ll let them deal with it. Like I said, I was very fortunate to grow up with sisters, a mother — I condone no part of that. That is absolutely something I would never be a part of or do. It’s a terrible tragedy.”

Of course, Brady was also punished by the NFL for something far less loathsome, and he was asked if it was frustrating that Brown could be suspended for one game while he was banished for four. And that’s when he grabbed the wheel tightly with both hands and steered straight for the middle of the road.

“I think it is the league’s issue,” Brady said. “Obviously, there is a lot of controversy with that. I’m trying to stay out of all that. I will let them handle it. I think that is their responsibility. I certainly don’t condone any part of domestic violence. I think it is a terrible, terrible thing. I think the league, they have to handle those types of things.”

“I’m just going to stay in my lane. Like I said, it’s up to them to decide whatever they want to do. I’m just going to try and stay out of any kind of my opinion. I certainly have opinions, I just don’t really care to share them.”

Say this for Brady, even though he has some preferences some may not care for, he’s non-expressing his non-opinions consistently.

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