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Culliver will receive sensitivity training after Super Bowl

San Francisco 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver stretches before their NFL's Super Bowl XLVII football practice at the Saints facility in New Orleans Reuters

If the 49ers win the Super Bowl, 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver possibly will go to Disneyland.  Win or lose, he’ll be going back to school, too.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Culliver will receive sensitivity training in the wake of his grossly insensitive comments from media day regarding the possibility of having a gay teammate.  Eventually, Culliver will do volunteer work with the Trevor Project, a group that provides crisis and suicide intervention for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths.

“He’s so passionate about youth and people being comfortable with who they are and accepted by all,” a P.R. representative for Culliver told the Associated Press.  “He’s excited to learn.  The plan is with the Trevor Project, and their concerns are that he is genuine about his words. . . .

“It’s just an opportunity for him to learn about his comments and educate himself about the LGBT community, and grow,” the spokesman added.  “It’s the first step in learning about his words.”

Actually, the first step came when Culliver faced a throng of media members who grilled him about the comments the day after they came to light.  And plenty of steps will be needed before anyone believes he truly means what he’s saying, now that the things he said got him in hot water.

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NFL says Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for praying after touchdown

Husain Abdullah AP

Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah followed in the footsteps of many other players on Monday night when he celebrated his interception return for a touchdown by going to his knees in prayer.

Unlike those other players, Abdullah was penalized for going to the ground under the league’s rules for unsportsmanlike conduct. The only difference between Abdullah and the other players was that Abdullah is Muslim and his prayer therefore looked a bit different than what we’ve seen from others, although that didn’t make it any odder since the NFL doesn’t have rules governing which deity their players are permitted to offer thanks to after a touchdown.

Abdullah said he thought the penalty might have been for sliding to his knees rather than dropping, but NFL spokesman Michael Signora didn’t split any hairs on Tuesday when announcing that the official erred in throwing the flag.

“Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct following his fourth quarter touchdown,” Signora wrote in an email to PFT. “Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) states ‘players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.’  However, the officiating mechanic in this situation is not to flag a player who goes to the ground as part of religious expression, and as a result, there should have been no penalty on the play.”

Whatever the reason for the official’s misunderstanding of Abdullah’s intent, it is good to see the league act quickly to make it clear that the official and not Abdullah was in error.

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Jets sign Chris Owusu

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Jets made some moves to shake up their receiving corps on Monday.

Fourth-round pick Jalen Saunders was dumped from the roster so the team could sign former Bills third-rounder T.J. Graham and the team announced a bit later in the day that they have also signed former Buccaneers wideout Chris Owusu.

Owusu was released by the Bucs last week when they signed Louis Murphy, ending a tenure with the team that stretched back to the 2012 season. Owusu played 17 games for the Bucs over that span, catching 16 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown.

There’s no question that the Jets need any help they can find for their passing game, but it’s hard to feel like Graham and Owusu are going to move the needle all that much. They should get chances to prove otherwise, however, as David Nelson hurt his ankle against the Lions and is expected to miss some time.

Cornerback LeQuan Lewis was released to make room for Owusu. According to the Jets, that’s the 31st transaction that Lewis has been involved in during his NFL career.

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Mark Davis fires the guy who really wasn’t to blame

Dennis Getty Images

The worst-kept, stutter-stepped secret in the NFL came to fruition last night, with Raiders owner Mark Davis reacting to an ugly London loss by dumping his third-year head coach, Dennis Allen.

But how much of the team’s horrific performances over the past two-plus seasons can be pinned on Allen?  Was it Allen who threw away $6.5 million guaranteed on Matt Flynn?  Was it Allen who wasted another $8 million on Matt Schaub?

Was it Allen who presided over the gradual deterioration of the roster and, in many respects, the entire franchise over the last decade?

If Allen deserves to go, so does G.M. Reggie McKenzie.  And if they bear blame for the current mess, so does the late Al Davis, who stubbornly refused to step aside from running the football operation in the latter years of his life.  While the elder Davis earned with decades of excellence the privilege to continue in the captain’s chair for as long as he wanted, the younger Davis needs to realize that the problems run far deeper than a head coach who made the best batch of chicken salad he possibly could, given a list of ingredients that includes wasted draft picks and overpriced free agents whom no one else wanted.

So go ahead, Mark, and pursue Jon Gruden.  Hell, try to hire Tom Flores or John Madden.  Maybe Art Shell would come back for a third tour of duty.  Without major changes to the football operations and a dramatic infusion of talent, it won’t matter.

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Jake Locker expected to practice on Wednesday

Jake Locker AP

The Titans kept quarterback Jake Locker on the bench in Week Four because of a right wrist injury, which left Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger to do the quarterbacking in a lopsided loss to the Colts.

It doesn’t look like the absence will be an extended one. On Monday, coach Ken Whisenhunt said that he expects Locker will practice on Wednesday and that the quarterback was “very close” to playing against Indianapolis.

“My only concern was if he got hit … during the game that it would bother him and then he’d lose his effectiveness,” Whisenhunt said, via the Tennessean. “We just wanted to make sure he’s past that hurdle. He didn’t throw today. I think he’ll continue with treatment. He was very close Sunday … I would anticipate he’ll practice Wednesday.”

Whisenhunt added that he hoped the time off might get Locker back to his form from the season opener. Locker played well in the Titans’ only win of the season, but followed it up with a pair of poor performances before he was injured.

With home games against the Browns and Jaguars on tap, the Titans have a chance to even up their record in the next two weeks. That won’t happen if they keep getting subpar play from the quarterback position and Locker probably won’t get too many more shots at providing it if things don’t click soon.

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Marc Trestman tiptoes around Brandon Marshall

Marshall AP

That ugly interception thrown on Sunday by Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was the fault of receiver Brandon Marshall.  Unless it wasn’t.

After Sunday’s 21-point home loss to the Packers, Chicago coach Marc Trestman pinned the blame on Brandon for running the wrong route, a hook-and-go instead of an 18-yard button hook.  On Monday, Trestman changed his tune.

You can’t put it on any one person,” Trestman said, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Trestman said that Marshall and Cutler have the ability to change routes before the snap with hand signals.  On the play in question, Cutler and Marshall had what Trestman called a “communication error.”

While Cutler claims that the error would have happened even if Marshall’s bum ankle had allowed him to practice last week, it’s hard not to think that Marshall’s absence from practice on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday played a role in the failure of the quarterback and receiver to communicate properly on Sunday.

The reduced practice time or the ankle injury, or both, are affecting Marshall’s production.  Per Finley, Marshall has been targeted only 12 times in the last two games, catching only three passes for 25 yards.

At some point, Marshall should perhaps take a week off from practice — and from a game.  The scheduled Sunday off doesn’t come until November 2.

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Mike McCoy not happy with state of Chargers run game

Donald Brown AP

Injuries have left the Chargers without Danny Woodhead for the rest of the season and Ryan Mathews for several weeks, but their absences haven’t stopped the Chargers from winning games.

They have helped keep the Chargers from having a decent run game, however. Donald Brown has carried the ball 41 times for 81 yards over the last two weeks and coach Mike McCoy says the team can’t keep relying on quarterback Philip Rivers alone to move the ball.

“The big thing is the running game. It’s nowhere where it needs to be,” McCoy said, via the Associated Press. “There’s no excuses about it. We’re not running it well enough. We’re not blocking well enough. Whatever we’re running isn’t working. We’ve got to figure out as coaches and players how to get it done. You want to have balance in any game. You want to win time of possession. And that helps with a running game. You want to gain 4 yards a carry, grind it out, and when you throw it the way we’re throwing the football right now, we’re going to minimize the number of possessions a team gets. We’re moving the ball. We just need to do it more efficiently.”

In addition to the injuries at running back, the Chargers have lost center Nick Hardwick for the season and that hasn’t helped matters. This may not be the best week for a turnaround as the Jets’ stout run defense will be on the other side of the field. So will their considerably less stout pass defense, though, and that may allow the Chargers to win a fourth straight game even without a big contribution from the ground game.

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Packers assuming Teddy Bridgewater will be on the field

Teddy Bridgewater, Dwight Lowery AP

The Packers have a short turnaround to prepare for the Vikings on Thursday night.

So they’re not going to waste much time game-planning as if Christian Ponder might play.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he’s working with the assumption that rookie Teddy Bridgewater will be back, after leaving with a sprained ankle last week.

I would think he’s going to play,” McCarthy said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “My family taped the game for me, so when I got home last night I watched the TV copy. I thought he played well, and watched the game on the coaches’ copy this morning and was told he feels pretty good. The tests were negative. We’ll plan for Bridgewater.”

All the tests on the Vikings quarterback were negative, but he was held out of practice Monday.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

DeAndre Hopkins, Corey Graham, Da'Norris Searcy AP

Bills RB Fred Jackson said he stands behind coach Doug Marrone’s decision to bench QB EJ Manuel.

The Dolphins are still looking for consistency.

Said Patriots DT Vince Wilfork of Monday’s loss to the Chiefs, “We took one on the chin. They beat us like we stole something.”

Jets FB Tommy Bohanon broke his clavicle on Sunday.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco was sharp on third down against the Panthers.

Said Bengals QB Andy Dalton of RB Rex Burkhead, “He can get tough yardage, but he also has some wiggle to him and can make guys miss. It will be fun to see him out there and see what he can do to help us.”

The upcoming schedule should present the Browns with chances to win some games.

LB James Harrison played 29 snaps in his return to the Steelers defense.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien wasn’t thrilled with WR DeAndre Hopkins’s touchdown celebration.

Colts S Sergio Brown will have to step up with LaRon Landry suspended.

WR Ace Sanders is ready to return to the Jaguars after his suspension.

Local television ratings for the Titans are moving in the wrong direction.

The Chiefs took care of their half of a big two days in Kansas City sports.

Bill Williamson of thinks former Raiders coach Dennis Allen has better days ahead of him in the NFL.

Five lessons the Chargers learned in their game against Jacksonville.

How will the Cowboys set up their secondary with CB Morris Claiborne out for the season?

The Giants think extra rest will make life easier for them against the Falcons.

Sunday wasn’t a great day for Eagles CB Cary Williams.

Redskins LB Brian Orakpo hasn’t lived up to the franchise tag in the season’s first month.

Dialing back blitzes didn’t help the Bears defense against Green Bay.

The Lions have found some confidence in their kicking game.

The Packers aren’t happy with their run defense.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer likes Jerick McKinnon as a change of pace back for the time being.

The Falcons run defense failed at all three levels on Sunday.

CB Josh Norman will be in the Panthers starting lineup this week.

Is it time to panic about the Saints?

Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy had a sack and a deflected pass while playing with a cast on his broken left hand.

Cardinals defenders have Broncos QB Peyton Manning on their minds this week.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders if Rams coach Jeff Fisher has come to his senses regarding QB Austin Davis.

Delay of game penalties remain a problem for the 49ers.

Seahawks CB Tharold Simon is a couple of weeks away from returning.

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John Harbaugh: I’m interested in Brady Hoke being the coach of Michigan

Brady Hoke AP

A report over the weekend that the University of Michigan was interested in Ravens coach John Harbaugh as a potential replacement for Brady Hoke was answered by another report that Harbaugh wasn’t interested in the job.

Harbaugh delivered the same message at Monday’s press conference. Harbaugh said he’s “interested” in Hoke, who worked on the same staff as Harbaugh at Western Michigan when Jack Harbaugh was the head coach, remaining the coach in Ann Arbor.

“I don’t really know why [the rumors have started],” Harbaugh said, via the team. “Brady Hoke is a guy that we all believe in. The Harbaughs believe in Brady Hoke. He’s a great coach. He has done it everywhere he’s ever been. He believes in Michigan. I believe in what they’re doing there, and they’re going to get it turned around. The team should be galvanized right now, and I would expect them to come out like a bunch of wounded lions and go to work, because they love Brady and they love those coaches, and they just have to go.”

It’s interesting that Harbaugh should use the phrase “wounded lions” since Hoke’s handling of injured quarterback Shane Morris is fueling the fire started by the team’s failures on the field. Hoke lashed out at people questioning his integrity for sending a clearly injured Morris back into the game twice after he took a blow to the head by saying that he would never send a player on the field if there was a possibility of head trauma. That answer rang hollow once school released a statement in the middle of the night admitting that Morris suffered a concussion and wasn’t checked out before returning to the game, however, and it looks less likely with every passing day that Hoke will survive the season.

The replacement may not be a member of the Harbaugh family and John seems like an unlikely choice given his contract and success in Baltimore, but the chatter isn’t likely to go away as long as Michigan is looking for someone to restore some luster to their tarnished program.

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Muslim Husain Abdullah flagged for praying in the end zone

New England Patriots v Kanas City Chiefs Getty Images

When Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah picked off Tom Brady and returned it for a touchdown, he said a quick prayer.

But unlike Tim Tebow doing the same thing when he got to the end zone, Abdullah was flagged.

The Muslim safety said he made a promise to himself that he’d show his respect if he ever scored.

“If I get a pick, I’m going to prostrate before God in the end zone,” Abdullah said, via Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star.

Since he was running as he crossed the goal line, he slid through the end zone before bowing to his knees in prayer. He was promptly flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, a 15-yard penalty.

Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) of the NFL rulebook prohibits “Prolonged or excessive celebrations or demonstrations by an individual player. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground. A celebration or demonstration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate or demonstrate after a warning from an official.”

Christian players have routinely gone unpenalized while kneeling in prayer, though there is no specific exception in the rulebook.

Abdullah said he thought he was flagged for the sliding portion rather than the prayer, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid wasn’t sure that should be the case.

“When you go to Mecca, you should be able to slide wherever you want,” Reid said. “We’ve got two priests in here. They’d probably vouch for me.”

Given the tolerance the league has shown for other religious celebrations, there should be no difference, and there should be an apology on the way.

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Brady snubs Garoppolo after touchdown drive

Brady Getty Images

Tom is getting upset.

The man who said he’ll retire when he sucks but who didn’t retire immediately after Monday night’s suck-filled loss to the Chiefs wasn’t ready to embrace the man who replaced Brady following a pick-six that pushed the score of last night’s game to 41-7.

Via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Brady passed out plenty of high fives and other congratulations to offensive players following the seven-play, 81-yard scoring drive engineered by rookie Jimmy Garoppolo.  But Brady steered clear of Garoppolo.

It’s probably nothing personal against Garoppolo, even though he managed to immediately do something with the same offense that Brady has had a hard time doing anything with all year long.  A broader sense of frustration likely lingers for Brady given the decision to not use the second-round pick that landed Garoppolo on, say, an offensive lineman or a tight end.

Still, Brady isn’t playing well.  He has a career-low 79.4 passer rating and a career-low yards-per-attempt of 5.8.  While the situation can be blamed on any of the other 10 offensive players, franchise quarterbacks usually find a way to play well despite flaws in those around them.  Brady isn’t.

“Everything should be on the table now with Brady and the Patriots,” Volin writes, “if [coach Bill] Belichick truly wants to do what’s best for the team, as he constantly stresses.”

For Belichick, the real question becomes whether Brady gets special treatment given those 10, 11, and 13-year-old Super Bowl rings, or whether the head coach will rip the name off the back of the jersey and make a cold, dispassionate assessment of whether the current starter at the quarterback position should continue to be the starter, for the balance of 2014 and beyond.

Or maybe Belichick is just biding his time for another Mo Lewis moment.

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FCC is expected to dump blackout rule today


The good news is that the NFL will have a welcome diversion from its various off-field problems.  The bad news is that the diversion will come from another off-field problem.

At 10:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the FCC will vote on scuttling the blackout rule, which prevents games from being televised in the home team’s market if the non-premium tickets aren’t fully sold within 72 hours of kickoff.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Representative Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) will conduct a conference call in advance of the vote.  Blumental, Higgins, and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation in 2013 that would strip the NFL of its broadcast antitrust exemption unless the blackout rule is dumped.

On Monday, the Sports Fan Coalition announced a press release touting the looming action by the FCC, passing along a rumor that the agency’s five commissioners will vote unanimously to overturn the blackout rule.

The NFL has opposed the effort via the goofy “Protect Free Football on TV” movement, which suggests that lifting of the blackout rule will result in the complete removal of NFL football from over-the-air broadcast TV.  We’ve asked the NFL on multiple occasions to connect the dots that begin with the NFL being required to televise games that aren’t sold out via free TV in the local market and that end with the NFL abandoning free TV altogether, but we’ve received no explanation or further insight.

That’s because it’s a hollow threat.  Apart from the inevitable attack on the broadcast antitrust exemption that would result if games leave free TV, the NFL needs free TV; nothing else would allow the NFL to generate massive live TV audiences.  Last week, the NFL renewed a deal with Sky Sports that ensures an enhanced presence of the game on free TV in England, since the NFL realizes that free TV means that more people will watch the games — and in turn that more people will become fans of the sport.

The scuttling of the blackout rule won’t cause the NFL to lose fans.  But it will cause the NFL to lose the ability to sell those last several thousand tickets by scaring the locals into thinking they won’t be able to see the game unless they pay for the privilege to be there in person.  Or maybe the more accurate answer is that it will force the NFL to be a little more creative when it comes to pricing tickets and/or coming up with reasons to get fans to choose to come to the games.

Either way, we’ve yet to see a good reason to keep the rule in place.  Especially in cities where public money was used to build the stadium.

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Ron Rivera: We want to unleash Cam Newton, but have to do it the right way

Terrell Suggs, Cam Newton AP

The Panthers have been routed by the Steelers and Ravens the last two weeks and they’ve had Cam Newton run four times for 14 yards over the course of those two games.

That’s not the Newton that ran for 28 touchdowns over the last three seasons and it’s a major part of the Panthers offense that has been completely missing this season. The reason isn’t some big secret. Newton had ankle surgery in the spring and a rib injury to start the regular season, causing some wraps to be thrown on his game but the team’s facing questions about when those wraps are going to come off.

Coach Ron Rivera said that the team wants to “unleash” Newton and move him from being one percent of the rushing offense closer to his customary 30 percent, but that they need to make sure the time is right before cutting loose.

“It’s very hard,” Rivera said, via “You can see it. You just know he wants to cut loose and do certain things. You can feel it, and a lot of times you see him start to do it, but it’s coming. We’ve got to do this the right way.”

There’s plenty wrong with Carolina’s offense right now, including an offensive line that has helped Newton get sacked nine times in three games. If he’s going to be taking those hits in the pocket, he might as well take a few outside of it as he tries to provide the spark that’s been missing in Carolina.

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Tick bite sent Rams center Scott Wells to ICU

St. Louis Rams v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Football players ending up in the hospital with knee injuries or broken bones are almost commonplace.

But there was nothing normal about Rams center Scott Wells‘ experience this summer.

A tick bite led to a bacterial infection which landed Wells in the intensive care unit. Called ehrlichia, it’s similar to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and can be fatal.

He thought he was suffering from the flu during June practices, but quickly realized it had gone beyond that when his urine was dark brown.

“Wednesday night I was put in ICU,” Wells said, via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “From the way (doctors) explained it to me, it attacks your bone marrow and starts to shut down your immune system so you can’t fight it off. Then your organs start to shut down trying to fight it off.

“So it went from what seemed to be just a cold virus, flu-like symptoms, to really sick really fast.”

Wells said his body temperature reached 104.5  degrees, and he lost 20 pounds during the four days he was in the hospital.

“It took some time to gain the weight back,” Wells said. “I was in great shape when I got sick, and the doctor said that’s what helped me get through it. But I’m healthy now. I’m fine now. There’s no residual long-term effects from it. Everything is normal.”

He’s back in the lineup and normal now, but will never look at a bug bite or flu symptoms the same way again.

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Jon Gruden may be the Raiders’ target as their next head coach

New Orleans Saints v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The Raiders have fired head coach Dennis Allen, and there’s one man Raiders owner Mark Davis would love to hire next: Jon Gruden.

Gruden coached the Raiders from from 1998 to 2001 and then beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl after Davis’s father, the late Raiders owner Al Davis, traded him to the Buccaneers. Gruden has long been viewed as the first choice for Mark Davis as the person who could come back and turn the franchise around.

But it remains to be seen whether Gruden is interested in the job. Publicly, Gruden has always insisted that he loves working as a commentator and has a contract that ties him to ESPN for years to come. But few people believe Gruden would turn down the right opportunity to return to coaching.

The question, then, is whether he views Oakland as the right opportunity. Given the current state of the franchise, which hasn’t made the playoffs since Gruden beat them in the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, Gruden may have no interest. But if Davis were to offer Gruden significantly more money than ESPN is paying him, and offer Gruden the authority to oversee the personnel department and pick his own players, it could pique Gruden’s interest. Don’t be surprised if Davis makes a run at Gruden.

And if Gruden says no, Jim Harbaugh’s name is being floated. This could get fun.

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