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Sapp’s candidacy for Canton will be a good litmus test for voters

Sapp Getty Images

Ten months ago, Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune lamented his looming task of trying to persuade enough other Hall of Fame voters to give defensive tackle Warren Sapp a spot in Canton.

“Some of those people in that room are looking for a reason to vote ‘no’ on this guy based on the way he treated them,” Kaufman explained in April.  “We don’t need any more ammo.  We don’t need him getting fired from NFL Network, which could happen.  We don’t need the bankruptcy.  We don’t need him getting him in trouble with Jeremy Shockey.  Whether it’s true or not, he shouldn’t have said [that Shockey was the Saints bounty snitch].   All these ancillary things are not helping my case.  So from a very selfish and personal point of view, he’s killin’ me.”

And while no one ever will articulate that they won’t vote “no” for a given player because, as Peter King articulately put it on last night’s Pro Football Talk, the voter thinks the player is a “turd,” those factors will necessarily creep into the minds of some of the voters when the time comes to check yes or no.

Technically, the Hall of Fame’s rules and regulations prohibit consideration of anything that happens off the field.  As a practical matter, however, voters are influenced by things that happen outside the white lines, especially in close cases.

Even though I’ve had my share of run-ins with Sapp (and I still have the text messages to prove it), I’d like to think that I’d be willing to set aside the fact that, yes, he can be aggressive and hostile and downright mean (but also funny and charming and downright friendly) in order to put him where he belongs, in the Hall of Fame.

If enough of the voters feel that way, Sapp should get in today.  If they don’t, it will be appropriate to wonder whether the way Sapp treated the media and otherwise conducted his business away from the business of football affected his exclusion.

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Ryan Mallett’s pectoral injury a season-ender

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Getty Images

Ryan Mallett waited nearly four years for a chance to start in the NFL, and that chance ended after two weeks.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the pectoral injury suffered by the Texans quarterback yesterday against the Bengals was season-ending.

The Texans will now have to turn back to Ryan Fitzpatrick, though it’s possible they’ll take a look at fourth-round rookie Tom Savage if they decide they’re in tire-kicking mode again.

The Texans gave up a sixth-round pick in exchange for the former Patriots backup, who will now go into the free agent market as damaged goods.

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NFL has no comment on Lynch’s media comments

Lynch AP

On Sunday, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch complied with the letter of the league’s media policy by meeting with reporters after a 19-3 win over Arizona.  But Lynch violated the spirit of the rule with a series of non-responsive responses to reporter questions, with “yeah” being the predominant answer — even when the question didn’t call for a “yeah” or “nah” answer.

The NFL has “nah” comment on the matter, which sheds no light on whether Lynch will be disciplined for doing what plenty of others have done in recent weeks, from “on to Cincinnati” to “focused on San Francisco” to “I’m just trying to be a good teammate.”

Lynch was fined $100,000 for failing to meet with reporters last Sunday.  He later called two reporters, giving far more meaningful responses than his stream of “yeah, yeah, yeahs” from Sunday.

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Lions won’t discipline Raiola

raiola AP

The NFL might discipline Detroit center Dominic Raiola, but the Lions won’t.

Raiola, who admitted after Sunday’s loss to the Patriots that he took a cheap shot at Zach Moore’s knees as payback for what he perceived as the Patriots running up the score, is under review for potential discipline from the league office. But Lions coach Jim Caldwell said today that the team will not discipline Raiola.

“He and I talked,” Caldwell said today. “We addressed the issue. He knows how we like to do things here. That’s the end of the story.”

The way they’ve played the last couple of weeks, the Lions look like a team in need of a wake-up call, and the Lions cutting Raiola would be a strong statement to the rest of the team about how they like to do things. But that’s not going to happen. The Lions may say they don’t condone Raiola’s actions, but they’re going to leave it to the league to do something about it.

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After gutsy call, Jim Harbaugh praises Frank Gore’s fourth-down run

frankgore AP

Jim Harbaugh made one of the best calls of the day on Sunday when he decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 34-yard line while trailing 13-10 with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter. If the 49ers had failed to convert, Washington would have taken over deep in San Francisco territory at a time when a Washington touchdown would have put the game out of reach.

But the 49ers converted, as running back Frank Gore made the first defender miss behind the line of scrimmage and then lunged forward for a three-yard gain. Following that conversion, the 49ers marched down the field and scored their game-winning touchdown. Harbaugh deserved plenty of credit for the decision, but afterward gave Gore the credit.

I thought it was a great run by Frank,” Harbaugh said.

The 49ers went 2-for-2 on fourth downs on Sunday, with the other fourth-down conversion setting up a field goal just before halftime. So in a close win, 10 of the 49ers’ 17 points were attributable to Harbaugh’s aggressive decisions on fourth down. Other coaches should take note.

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Bears survive “worst half of football” thanks to defense

Matt Forte AP

The Bears coaching staff might not have all the answers this year, but they can successfully diagnose a problem.

That led to a frank halftime speech, after they fell behind 10-0 to the Buccaneers yesterday.

“Basically at halftime coach was telling us that basically we just played the worst half of football and we’re only down 10 to nothing,” Forte said, via Jeff Dickerson of “Our defense definitely kept us in the game with that. We can’t come out and lay an egg in the first half and expect to come from behind all the time. Luckily it was only 10 points. Our defense did a great job in the second half causing turnovers that we could convert into touchdowns down in the red zone. Our defense did a great job doing that and helped us win the game.”

They were able to survive thanks to the defense (14 of their 21 points came off Bucs turnovers), but it helped that the offense did a little something, after gaining 68 yards in the first half.

“It was all on us,” Forte said. “Penalties … backing us up first-and-15 and not executing little nuances of the plays. If all 11 aren’t on the same page, sometimes the play can work but most times it won’t work. Halftime we came in and Kyle [Long] wrote on the board, ‘Execute and no excuses.’ Don’t make excuses of why we didn’t do this or why we didn’t do that, just go out there and execute the plays and drive the ball down the field.”

Ah, so it’s that simple. It also helps to be playing the 2-9 Buccaneers, I suppose.

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PFT Live: Eagles talk with Geoff Mosher, Ravens talk with Clifton Brown

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwu2nmyxn2q0zmnmnzdhntk0njbjmjrhn2i1ztcznjnl AP

The Eagles outlasted the Titans on Sunday for a 43-24 win that guaranteed them at least a share of first place in the NFC East when the day came to an end.

That share is all they own after the Cowboys were able to come back to beat the Giants on Sunday night, leaving both teams with 8-3 records after 11 games. Only one of them can win their ninth game this week, though, as the two sides will square off in Dallas on Thanksgiving.

Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly will join Mike Florio on Monday’s edition of PFT Live to take a look back at what the Eagles did on Sunday as well as look ahead to how they’ll fare on Thursday after a quick turnaround.

There are still two games yet to play in Week 12 and we’ll take a look ahead to one of them with Clifton Brown of CSN Baltimore. He’ll talk to Florio about what the Ravens have to do to get a win in the Superdome and keep pace with their competition in the AFC North.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Jarvis Jones returning to practice this week

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Steelers are returning from their bye week on Monday and they’ll have one more body on the practice field than they had last week.

Bob Labriola of the team’s website reports that Jones will return to practice on Monday, opening up a three-week window for him to practice before the team would have to decide whether to activate him from injured reserve. It doesn’t have to take that long, however, and Jones is eligible to play as soon as this Sunday if the team deems him ready.

Jones needed to have wrist surgery after getting injured in a win over the Panthers in Week Three, one of several key injuries that have provided obstacles on defense for the Steelers this season. His loss helped lead the Steelers to coax James Harrison out of retirement, a decision that has brought them 18 tackles and four sacks in Jones’s absence.

That’s one more sack than Jones has managed in his first 17 NFL games, something that the Steelers would surely like to see their 2013 first-round pick improve on as they try to make the playoffs.

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Bill Belichick twists the knife on Dominic Raiola for cut block

Bill Belichick AP

The NFL is going to review Lions center Dominic Raiola’s late-game dive at Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore, primarily because he bragged about doing it late in the game.

But it’s hard to imagine any punishment from the league that will sting as much as the words from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, when asked about the play this morning.

“Sure there was a lot of frustration there with Raiola,” Belichick said, via Tom Curran of “He’s never beaten us. Tough day for him.”

We’re going to give that sick burn a minute to cool off, … whew.

Raiola is 0-4 all-time against the Patriots, a part of losses in 2002, 2006, 2010 and yesterday.

And don’t think Belichick wasn’t delighted to point that out.

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Browns fearing bad news about Tashaun Gipson’s knee injury

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Browns played without defensive end Phil Taylor and linebacker Karlos Dansby on Sunday and their defense took another hit during the 26-24 victory over the Falcons when safety Tashaun Gipson was carted off with a knee injury.

Gipson and cornerback Joe Haden collided while trying to break up a pass and the cart was brought out after Gipson briefly returned to his feet to find that he couldn’t put any weight on his right leg. It looked bad and Tom Reed of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the team is bracing for bad news when they get the results of a Monday MRI.

It would be a big loss for the defense as the Browns try to navigate the final five weeks well enough to make it to the playoffs. Gipson has six interceptions in the first 11 games of the season.

“Gipson is one of the best safeties, one of the top three in the NFL for sure,” Haden said. “Losing him, you can’t replace him, but in the NFL nobody is going to feel bad for you.”

Jim Leonhard and Jordan Poyer are both options to replace Gipson in the lineup if the bad feelings the Browns have about Gipson’s knee turn into bad news this week.

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NFC playoffs could see a 5-11 team in and a 12-4 team out

Corey Peters AP

Here’s how bad the NFC South is, and how good the NFC wild card race is: There are scenarios in which a 5-11 team is in the playoffs as NFC South champion, and a 12-4 team is left out of the playoffs entirely.

We noted last week that it’s entirely possible that a five-win team could win the NFC South. That scenario only became more plausible on Sunday, when both NFC South teams in action lost.

And with four of the NFC’s worst teams concentrated in one division, that means there are more good teams in the other divisions than there are playoff spots available. There are seven NFC teams — the Cardinals, Packers, Eagles, Cowboys, Seahawks, Lions and 49ers — that could still win 12 games, and there are plausible scenarios in which six of those seven actually reach the 12-win mark. (All seven can’t do it because the Seahawks and 49ers, who still play each other twice, can’t both get to 12 wins.) Only five of those seven teams with hopes of getting to 12 wins can make the playoffs because at least one of the six NFC playoff spots has to go to the NFC South champion.

Using ESPN’s NFL Playoff Machine, I found a scenario that saw the Packers finishing at 12-4, losing the NFC North tiebreaker to the 12-4 Lions, and then losing the NFC wild card tiebreaker to the 12-4 Cowboys and 49ers.

Green Bay fans would be livid if that happened, although that scenario is a long shot. However, there are plausible scenarios that have an 11-5 team missing the playoffs while a 5-11 team wins the NFC South.

There’s been increasing talk in recent years about adding a seventh playoff team in each conference, and that seems to be something NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants. Goodell and the owners, of course, are motivated primarily by the extra revenue that extra playoff games could bring. But there’s nothing that could get the fans to support expanding the playoffs more than a seemingly deserving team being shut out. That’s likely to happen this year.

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Aaron Rodgers had to make a 39.4-yard throw for a 1-yard TD


When you look at it on a stat sheet, a 1-yard touchdown pass from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to tight end Richard Rodgers might not look like much.

But then again, you might have been folding paper footballs that day in geometry class when they covered the Pythagorean theorem.

Via Rob Demovsky of, the heave from one side of the field to the back of the end zone of the other traveled 39.4 yards in the air. (And Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin showed his work, and can prove it. #nerds)

Of course, the real losers were the Vikings, who didn’t have a defender within 15 yards of the Packers tight end who caught it.

On a first-and-goal from the Vikings 1, Aaron Rodgers rolled right, to the other sideline. All the Vikings chased him, ignorning the fact Richard Rogers was drifiting alone to the left corner of the end zone.

“You usually don’t have to throw the ball 20 or 30 yards for a 1-yard touchdown,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I’m sure you guys will measure that out and correct me. But Richard ran a great route on the back side. It’s a delay route. Aaron delayed more than he probably needed to, but it was obviously a great throw.”

Richard said he was open “forever,” so he started waving his arms like on the playground.

“I was just open, no one was really covering me,” he said. “So I was just standing back there waving.”

Aaron had to put a little more muscle on the ball than he anticipated from that down and distance, but the results were geometrically amazing.


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Tom Brady: We’re so far from the Super Bowl

Detroit Lions Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

The Patriots won for the seventh straight week on Sunday and they won by at least 22 points for the fourth week in a row, a run that has led some, including our own MDS, to start talking about a sixth Super Bowl trip for coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

With the Packers playing better than anyone in the NFC right now, that’s given the Patriots’ upcoming trip to Lambeau Field the look of a possible Super Bowl preview. Brady won’t be selling that line of thought this week, however.

“We are so far from [the Super Bowl],” Brady said on WEEI, via “We have so many games [left]. If we are lucky enough to make it there, no one ever cares who we play. But that’s so far down the road. We think about the one game we have ahead of us, which is a good opponent. We have nine wins. We’ve done a good job getting ourselves to this position. This is when the weather turns, the mental toughness, the discipline, how much we’ve improved really comes into play.”

There are plenty of similarities between the Patriots and Packers this season. They are scoring the most points in the league, have the biggest positive point differentials in the league and both teams had plenty of people concerned after shaky performances early in the season. Brady never went down the spelling bee route that Aaron Rodgers took, but patience proved to be just as wise a course of action in both cases.

None of that means that they’re destined to meet in the Super Bowl because there’s way too much football left to play when we haven’t reached Thanksgiving, but that’s not likely to stop the hype from building ahead of Sunday’s kickoff.

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Cowboys know they have to get right back to work

Tony Romo AP

The Cowboys ought to enjoy last night’s win.

But there isn’t really time to.

The relief or excitement of beating the Giants 31-28 last night also brings the realization they have to turn things around quickly to prepare for Thursday’s game with the Eagles.

“When we land in Dallas, [this] game no longer matters,” wide receiver Dez Bryant said, via Todd Archer of

The Cowboys got home in the wee hours and will practice this afternoon, but coaches got a head start on game-planning for the Eagles during their post-London bye week, which is why owner Jerry Jones wasn’t griping about the turnaround from playing a Sunday night road game to a short-week special.

“That’s three hours, that’s really nothing,” Jones said of the travel difference. “We’ll get rest on the plane and go in there, but we’ve got three more hours to prepare than Philadelphia, I guess. Did Philadelphia get a bye last week? OK, we got one, so we got the edge. . . .

“And we’re playing at home, so when you look at the edges, which edge would you rather have?” Would you rather have Philadelphia’s having to travel or us when we had a bye week?”

Either way, this week’s game is crucial. Even though the two teams are tied at 8-3, the Eagles have a better division record which will benefit them in case of a tie. But with two games between them in the next three weeks, they have a chance for that to not matter.

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Jadeveon Clowney still being affected by knee injury

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Getty Images

We’re 11 games into the 2014 season and Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney still hasn’t made the kind of impact that many were expecting based on his collegiate exploits.

Clowney had three tackles in Sunday’s loss, one for a loss, to the Bengals and he also was guilty of a neutral zone infraction that helped the Bengals get into position for a field goal. It was just his fourth game of the season as Clowney missed a big chunk of time after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus suffered in Week One and Clowney said after the game that he was still being affected by the injury.

“Somewhat,” Clowney said, via the Houston Chronicle. “Some things are holding me back still but I’m just out here trying to do what I can do and have fun. You never know if you’re going to have an injury or not coming into the league. So when that happened to me, it was a setback. I’m just trying to do everything I need to do to get back to where I need to be to help the team out.”

With a 5-6 record at this point in the year, the Texans are pretty much left to hope that Clowney can stay healthy and start making progress that will help him make more of the impact they imagined in his second NFL season.

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NFL will look at Raiola’s late-game knee dive

Raiola Getty Images

No rule prohibits an offensive lineman from firing out into the knees of a defensive lineman.  But after Lions center Dominic Raiola did it to Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore on the final play of Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium, Raiola admitted to doing it intentionally, deliberately, and maliciously.

Angered by a decision by the Patriots to score a garbage-time touchdown, Raiola decided to retaliate against the Patriots on a play in which the Lions, down 34-9, lined up in non-victory victory formation.  The result became the bizarro version of Greg Schiano’s approach to the kneel-down play, with a member of the offense opting to be overly aggressive at a time when the rest of the offense opts to be docile.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL will review the play.  Whether any action is taken in response to it is anyone’s guess.  But the rule book provides the league office with ammunition to take action against Raiola.

Rule 12, Section 2, Article 6(g) prohibits a player from “unnecessarily running, diving into, cutting, or throwing the body against or on a player who . . . should not have reasonably anticipated such contact by an opponent, before or after the ball is dead.”  In this specific case, with the Lions lined up to take a knee and end the game, Moore shouldn’t have reasonably anticipated Raiola diving at Moore’s knees.  Coupled with Raiola’s admission of intent and malice, and given the NFL’s enhanced sensitivity to player safety, Raiola could be hearing from the league office soon.

He’s due to make his 200th career start on Thursday against the Bears.  A suspension is unlikely, since the action happened during the play.  But a stiff fine should surprise no one, given the circumstances, Raiola’s actions, and most importantly his post-game words.

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