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Browns release Frostee Rucker

Frostee Rucker AP

The switch to the 3-4 defense has claimed its first victim in Cleveland.

The Browns announced Tuesday that they have released defensive end Frostee Rucker after one year in Cleveland, a move that’s been rumored since Ray Horton was hired as the defensive coordinator. Rucker signed a five-year deal with the Browns last offseason, pocketing a $5 million signing bonus and $8 million in guaranteed money for his brief stay with the team. He was due a $2 million roster bonus later this week, so the Browns had no reason to see if there was some way to make it work with Rucker in the new scheme.

Rucker had four sacks, 48 tackles and a forced fumble in 16 starts for the Browns. He’s been a solid run defender for several years, which should help him land work with a team that plays a 4-3 front and needs an end.

The Browns get some money back under the cap by releasing Rucker now, although his signing bonus means that there will be a bit of dead money on the cap in Cleveland this year. He likely won’t be the only member of the team to get a pink slip as the new regime starts building things their way.

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Fans flood former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley with contributions

Talley Getty Images

On Thanksgiving, Tim Graham of the Buffalo News shared a troubling glimpse into the current struggles of former NFL linebacker Darryl Talley, a member of the Bills’ Ring of Honor and a key piece of the team that went to four straight Super Bowls.  While it appears the Bills organization may have turned its back on Talley, Bills fans definitely haven’t.

An effort launched Thursday to raise money for Talley, a College Football Hall of Famer who starred at West Virginia before playing for the Bills, already has generated more than $27,000.

On one hand, the NFL and its teams need to do more to take care of the men who struggle with medical and financial issues after giving so many years to the sport of football.  On the other hand, fans could be the best way to fill the void.

It’s not surprising that fans have genuine gratitude; any success a team enjoys flows from the efforts of its players.  While the NFL surely believes it’s doing enough to take care of the men who made pro football into a billion-dollar behemoth, someone needs to do more for Talley.  Now, someone is.

Kudos to those who have contributed.  For Bills fans, Mountaineer fans, and general fans of the sport who haven’t given but want to, just click the link.

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Jadeveon Clowney calls chances of playing this week “slim”

Houston Texans v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney’s rookie year has been severely compromised by the torn meniscus in his knee that he suffered in the first week of the regular season and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to his difficulties.

Clowney was able to play in last weekend’s loss to the Bengals, but hasn’t practiced this week because of swelling and doesn’t think things will clear up in time for him to face the Titans on Sunday. He said Thursday that his chances of playing for the fifth time this season are “slim.”

“My knee swelled up on me a little bit, and I’m trying to get it back to the way it was before,” Clowney said, via the Houston Chronicle. “It’s bothering me a lot right now. I’m in a lot of pain. It’s been bothering me off and on the whole season. It’s the kind of thing if I can go, I’ll go. If I can’t, I won’t. I told them [trainers, doctors and coaches] how I feel, and it’s up to them.”

Clowney has solicited the advice of Brian Cushing about dealing with knee problems and Cushing showed him some stretches that loosened the knee up enough for him to play last weekend. It seems more lasting health is going to take a while, however, and that’s probably going to make the first overall pick’s rookie season a glorified redshirt year.

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Baalke’s daughter chimes in on Greg Roman

Roman Getty Images

Tick.  Tick.  Tick.

The boom is coming; it’s just a matter of time.  And the countdown arguably accelerated after Thursday night’s loss, when the owner’s decision to take to Twitter was matched by the daughter of 49ers G.M. Trent Baalke.  Said Cassie Baalke, a college freshman, about the team’s offensive coordinator:  “Greg Roman can take a hike. The 49ers don’t want you no more.”

49ersnews.com has the screen shot of the deleted tweet.  She later added this message:  “Everyone’s entitled to an opinion..sorry mine doesn’t favor you or agree with yours.”

The real question is whether and to what extent that opinion was influenced by anything she’s heard from her father.  It’s also fair to ask whether this relatively meaningless spark will blow the lid off the relationship between Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh, who brought Roman to the 49ers from Stanford and who has plenty of influence over the currently uncoordinated offense that Roman coordinates.

For whatever reason (and probably for more than one reason), tension has existed for a while between Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh.  A recent profile of Harbaugh by Seth Wickersham of ESPN The Magazine mentioned the painfully awkward shared elevator ride at the Scouting Combine, where the two supposed partners in football behaved like total strangers.  And as one league source explained it to PFT in August, no interaction of any kind was witnessed between Harbaugh and Baalke during a multi-day preseason stay in Baltimore for a game and joint practices with the Ravens.

So could Cassie Baalke’s deleted tweet become the equivalent of Gavrilo Princip’s bullet?  While there’s a good chance Archduke Ferdinand already has been dead for months, it’s the kind of tangible event that could trigger the kind of snide back and forth between G.M. and coach that turns a crack into a compound fracture.

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Larry Fitzgerald: I’m “highly likely” to play on Sunday

Detroit Lions v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Cardinals played and lost without wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald last Sunday and they haven’t had him in practice yet this week, but the wideout isn’t ruling himself out for this week’s matchup with the Falcons.

Quite the opposite, actually. Fitzgerald worked out on the side while the rest of the team went through practice and said afterward that he was feeling optimistic about his chances of being on the field in Atlanta.

“I’m highly likely, but it’s not my call, though,” Fitzgerald said, via the Arizona Republic.

Fitzgerald said he was running fine and offered his weekly paycheck to race a member of the media to prove it. The offer was declined even after Fitzgerald pointed out the potential upside for his opponent, but we’ll have to wait to see if coach Bruce Arians and the medical staff are willing to take the bait.

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Friday morning one-liners

Houston Texans v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The Bills hope Marcus Thigpen is the answer to sparking their kick return game.

It didn’t get the attention of Odell Beckham’s catch, but Dolphins CB Brent Grimes had an athletic interception last week.

Patriots S Devin McCourty isn’t expecting too many takeaways this week.

S Jaiquawn Jarrett has been responsible for highs and lows this Jets season.

Ravens DE Chris Canty, the team’s union rep, is saddened by continued discord between the NFL and NFLPA.

Going on the road has paid off for the Bengals.

Browns LT Joe Thomas thinks this year’s team is better than the last Cleveland team to finish with a winning record.

Setting the stage for the final five weeks of the Steelers season.

Tom Savage will be the backup quarterback for the Texans this week.

Colts LB Shaun Phillips has no bad feelings about his time with the Titans.

DE Andre Branch is expected back for the Jaguars.

The Titans may be awfully shorthanded on the offensive line this weekend.

The Broncos haven’t won a road game this season when their opponent gets on the board first.

The Chiefs are holding a blood drive this week.

Spreading Thanksgiving cheer was part of the Raiders’ plan for the week.

The Chargers’ hurry-up offense showed improvement last weekend.

Cowboys WR Dwayne Harris took issue with a personal foul call against him.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin will face the team that gave him his first chance as an NFL head coach in his 300th game in the job.

It’s now a 6-0 record on Thanksgiving for the Eagles.

The Redskins won’t look outside the organization for immediate help at cornerback.

Another loss leads to more questions about the Bears.

The Lions secondary found its footing after a rough start to Thursday’s game.

It looks like Mike Neal and Jayrone Elliott will be at outside linebacker in place of Nick Perry for the Packers this weekend.

T Mike Harris is excited about his opportunity in the Vikings starting lineup.

The thoughts of Falcons G Jon Asamoah and CB Javier Arenas are with their former Chiefs teammate Eric Berry.

Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin isn’t worried about hitting a rookie wall.

Some suggestions for an improved mental approach for the Saints.

Buccaneers LB Mason Foster feels he’s back on form after a shoulder injury.

Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson is looking forward to tangling with Falcons WR Julio Jones.

Rams G Rodger Saffold is preparing to face a Raiders team it looked like he’d be joining this offseason.

Said 49ers WR Michael Crabtree, “Everybody’s a football player. We’ve been here. We’ve been the best team the past three years and we lost Super Bowls and lost big playoff games. We’ve been here before. We got to do better. That’s it. That’s it, man.”

What did we learn about the Seahawks during Thursday night’s win?

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Jim Harbaugh: We always evaluate offense, we’ll do it again

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

In the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the 49ers managed to score 33 points in games against a pair of NFC East bottom feeders but avoided generating much of an alarm because they were able to win both games.

They are now up to 36 points in their last three games and the alarms are sounding because they both lost and lost to the Seahawks on Thursday as a result of their low-functioning offensive unit. 49ers CEO Jed York said the team’s play was “not acceptable” and quarterback Colin Kaepernick agreed with that assessment while coach Jim Harbaugh said that the team needs to win all four of it’s remaining games to make the playoffs.

Harbaugh’s likely correct and he was asked if there needed to be a deeper evaluation of or major changes to the offense in the wake of things hitting rock bottom against the Seahawks in order for that to happen.

“We always do that. We’ll do that again. We’ll evaluate it. I don’t know what you refer to with major changes,” Harbaugh said, via the San Jose Mercury News.

It’s a bit late in the game to be making major changes to the offense for this season and there aren’t a lot of people feeling confident that Harbaugh will be the guy overseeing those changes when they are made come the offseason.

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Marc Trestman: “It starts with me, I’m looking inside”

trestman AP

Bears coach Marc Trestman said after Thursday’s loss to the Lions that the blame belongs with him.

“It starts with me. I’m looking inside and accepting accountability for this loss, obviously. We just couldn’t get it done today and didn’t have enough ammunition,” Trestman said.

The Bears have been a major disappointment this season, leading to talk in Chicago that Trestman should be fired. That seems unlikely, given that Trestman is in just his second season and showed promise in his first, but Trestman knows that the results this season have not been good enough.

“It was extremely disappointing,” Trestman said of the loss to the Lions. “We just didn’t play well. That’s the bottom line. We didn’t play well enough offensively, we didn’t play well enough defensively to win this game.”

Now the Bears have to regroup for a three-game homestand against the Cowboys, Saints and Lions. The Bears are out of realistic playoff contention, but if they win a game or two in this homestand, they can be playoff spoilers. And Trestman can save his job.

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Jerry Jones: Cowboys got “whipped” up front

DeMarco Murray, Connor Barwin AP

Eagles defensive tackle Bennie Logan caught some attention for saying that he didn’t see why people thought the Cowboys’ offensive line was so great, but the attempt to make him eat his words failed rather spectacularly on Thursday.

The Eagles routed the Cowboys 33-10 and one of the biggest reasons they were able to do that was because of the way they controlled the proceedings up front on both sides of the ball. The Eagles ran for 256 yards on offense and held DeMarco Murray under 100 rushing yards for just the second time this year while also sacking Tony Romo four times. That made it very easy for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to diagnose what went wrong.

“Their defensive front was outstanding and really frustrated us and Romo,” Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News. “I recognize both their fronts whipped our fronts.”

Center Travis Frederick called it a “minor setback” for the Cowboys line, who will get back on the field against the Bears next weekend. With the Eagles hosting the Seahawks, the next game could find both teams with the same record once again and the Cowboys will need to be much better at the point of attack if they want a shot at winning the division.

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Mark Sanchez felt plenty thankful on Thursday

Mark Sanchez AP

Until Thursday, putting Mark Sanchez and Thanksgiving together conjured up images of Sanchez running headlong into Brandon Moore’s rear end against the Patriots in 2012.

Sanchez provided a much better Thanksgiving memory on Thursday in Dallas by leading the Eagles to a 33-10 win that left them in control of the NFC East heading into the final four weeks of the regular season. Sanchez threw for 217 yards and a touchdown, ran for another score and won for the third time in four starts to turn the buttfumble from defining moment to something to joke about.

“Sucked,” Sanchez said, via CSNPhilly.com. “I ran into some guy’s butt and dropped the ball on the turf and they scored. That’s like my favorite holiday, so that’s not cool. It’s really a bummer. The game plan was try not to do that, and we accomplished that.”

Sanchez also took a cue from the calendar and expressed gratitude for the way things have worked out for him over the years.

“It’s just been an incredible journey,” Sanchez said. “The whole thing. Playing in this league. Wearing the Jets logo, wearing the Eagles logo, this is an absolute dream come true. Best of times, worst of times, a lot of people would love to be in this position, no matter what. I’m very thankful. I’m very blessed.”

Sanchez only threw five passes after halftime as the Eagles were able to make their lead stand up behind the run game and defense. Continued success in those areas makes it easier for Sanchez to succeed, so the Eagles will need to keep things rolling when the Seahawks visit in Week 14 after allowing six points in their last 120 minutes of football.

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Richard Sherman on Kaepernick: I was the open man

Richard Sherman AP

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was holding court after Thursday night’s meeting with the 49ers, just as he was the last time the two teams met.

That was in the NFC Championship Game, of course, and Sherman saw his profile grow with the way he crowed about his play to force an interception on a pass to Michael Crabtree on the 49ers’ final attempt to score. Things weren’t that dramatic this time as the Seahawks took control early on their way to a 19-3 win, but Sherman still had the chance to crow after the game.

Earlier this week, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he wouldn’t shy away from throwing in Sherman’s direction and that he’d throw to whoever was open. Sherman had two interceptions during the game, leading to questions about both his growing history with the NFC West rivals.

“What history? I know no history,” Sherman said, via ESPN.com. “There was an opponent [Kaepernick] who said he would throw it to the open man. He didn’t care who was out there [in coverage]. I was the open man.”

Sherman and company will face the 49ers again in Seattle in Week 15 and he said the two sides know each other so well that it comes down to “will against will.” The Seahawks’ will won out on Thursday, dealing the 49ers’ playoff chances a big blow while putting another feather in Sherman’s cap in showdowns with the Niners.

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NFC playoff picture: Cowboys under pressure at the quarter pole

Tony Romo AP

With the Thanksgiving Day games in the books, the NFC playoff picture has gotten a shakeup.

First, let’s take a look at the winners:

— With their rout of Dallas, the Eagles (9-3) moved one game ahead of the Cowboys in the NFC East. For the moment, the Eagles are the No. 2 seed in the NFC, though they would lose their spot if Green Bay beats New England on Sunday.

— The Lions (8-4) have slid into the final wild-card spot after dispatching of Chicago.

— The Seahawks (8-4) moved up from No. 6 to No. 5 in the NFC after knocking off San Francisco. Why does this matter? The No. 5 seed is very likely to draw the NFC South winner in Round One.

Now, on to the losers:

— The Cowboys (8-4) fell from the No. 5 to the No. 7 seed on account of a good-but-not-great NFC record (5-4). This knocked them out of a three-way tiebreaker with Detroit and Seattle (see below).

— The 49ers (7-5) are now a game behind Seattle, Detroit and Dallas in the wild-card standings. With the defeat to the Seahawks, the Niners are now 1-3 in division play, with Seattle and Arizona having chances to sweep the season series in December.

— The Bears (5-7) are just about out of wild-card contention, though December home games against Dallas, New Orleans and Detroit will all have general NFC playoff ramifications.

Finally, let’s close with a few words on the Cowboys, who are suddenly quite vulnerable. Three of their final four games are on the road, with their lone home contest vs. AFC South-leading Indianapolis.

Dallas desperately needs to regain its footing with a win at Chicago next Thursday night. But can the Cowboys get it done? They are just 3-3 since upsetting Seattle in October, and they were outgained 464-267 by Philadelphia in the 33-10 loss on Thursday. The Bears’ offense isn’t exactly thriving at the moment, but it does have the skill-position talent to challenge Dallas.

Here’s a look at how the NFC’s playoff teams and primary playoff contenders would be seeded after Thursday’s games. The NFL’s tie-breaking rules and standings are referenced.

THE BIG SIX

1. Arizona Cardinals (9-2, .818). NFC West leader. Earn first-round bye, home-field advantage.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-3, .750). NFC East leader. Earn first-round bye.

3. Green Bay Packers (8-3, .727). NFC North leader. Host Lions in wild-card round.

4. Atlanta Falcons (4-7, .364). NFC South leader. NFC South’s top-seeded team on basis of head-to-head win vs. New Orleans. Host Seahawks in wild-card round.

5. Seattle Seahawks (8-4, .667). Wild card No. 1. Seeded ahead of Detroit on basis of better record in common games.

6. Detroit Lions (8-4, .667). Wild card No. 2. Seeded ahead of Dallas on basis of better conference record (6-2 vs. 5-4).

JUST MISSING

7. Dallas Cowboys (8-4, .667.).

8. San Francisco 49ers (7-5, .583).

THE REST OF THE NFC SOUTH

10. New Orleans Saints (4-7, .364).

13. Carolina Panthers (3-7-1, .318).

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-9, .182).

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49ers have a decision to make about Harbaugh

Harbaugh Getty Images

As 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wraps up the fourth season of a five-year deal, it’s becoming more and more clear that he won’t be back in 2015.  The goal for the current campaign was to set aside the looming divorce and to focus on getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it.

Now that the season has begun the process of slipping away with a home loss to a Seahawks team the 49ers will visit in 16 days, the 49ers soon will have to implement their plan for resolving their relationship with Harbaugh.

If the many (and largely unrefuted) reports of persistent dysfunction between Harbaugh and the front office are true, and if it’s now clear that the season has begun the process of disintegrating, the 49ers must decide whether to keep Harbaugh through the next four weeks and try to trade the final year of his contract — or to part ways now, elevate Jim Tomsula to head coach, and hope that the switch will spur the 49ers to run the table and earn a berth in the postseason.  The notion of firing Harbaugh with games left seems beyond ludicrous on the surface, but only those inside the organization know the full extent of the four-year tug-of-war that has created a strong sense in league circles that the front office looks forward to the day he exits the building for good.

The frustrations that have lingered while the team has thrived could quickly rush to the surface, now that the season is starting to go off the rails.  Even though the 49ers remain two games above .500, 7-5 isn’t good enough with the Eagles at 9-3, the Packers at 8-3, the Cowboys at 8-4, the Lions at 8-4, the Cardinals at 9-2, and the Seahawks at 8-4.

Including that 49ers, that’s seven total teams vying for five playoff berths that will go to the NFC teams not assigned to the South division.  Currently, the 49ers sit seventh of seven.

While it would be shocking for the 49ers to make a change, it’s impossible to rule out anything in the aftermath of the kind of outcome that proves to the 49ers and everyone else that this isn’t the team it had been in 2011, 2012, and 2013.  If Tomsula is going to be considered for the head-coaching job in 2015 (and multiple league insiders believe he’ll have the inside track to succeed Harbaugh), why not give him a chance to get his feet wet now?

The only reason to stay the course would be to obtain draft picks from the Raiders or whoever else would be interested in making a run at Harbaugh.  Only those inside the organization know whether it’s gotten so bad that they’d prefer to let Harbaugh walk away now than to tread through troubled waters for the next month.

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York says performance “wasn’t acceptable”

Harbaugh Getty Images

If you thought the Thanksgiving night performance from the 49ers in their new stadium wasn’t good, you’re not alone.  The boss didn’t like it either.

This performance wasn’t acceptable,” 49ers CEO Jed York said on Twitter.  “I apologize for that.”

The statement comes at a time when, as noted earlier in the evening, the organization has been conspicuously quiet about the rampant reports suggesting that coach Jim Harbaugh’s time with the franchise will end after the current season concludes.  With the exception of a tweet from York aimed at early October reports that players have grown weary of Harbaugh’s ways, the team has said nothing about the lingering controversy.

York’s latest tweet speaks volumes.  With the team now at 7-5 and facing a trip to Seattle on December 14, the 49ers most likely won’t be going to the postseason.

Running the table could salvage things, but how can the 49ers win the final four games when they barely mustered three points at home in the biggest game of the year?

So, yes, the season is likely over.  And Harbaugh’s tenure is likely over.  Look for the latter angle to gather plenty of steam over the next 10 days, as the 49ers prepare to drive north to Oakland for a game against the Raiders, which could be Harbaugh’s employer by the time January ends.

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Seahawks overpower 49ers, roll to 19-3 victory

Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril AP

In a performance befitting defending Super Bowl champions, the Seahawks rolled to a decisive 19-3 victory over the 49ers on Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

With the win, the Seahawks move to 8-4, placing them as the top wild-card in the NFC. The 49ers, meanwhile, tumbled to 7-5.

The Seahawks dominated the proceedings, leading from the end of the first quarter onward and never getting any real serious challenge for the 49ers, whose offense faltered in spectacular fashion. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed just 16-of-29 passes for 121 yards, and he was picked twice by cornerback Richard Sherman, ever a Niners nemesis. Seattle also blunted San Francisco’s ground game, allowing just 64 yards on 18 carries.

By contrast, the Seahawks were able to attack with the pass and the run. Quarterback Russell Wilson (15-of-22, 236 yards, one TD) had major success keeping plays alive with his feet. On several occasions, his persistence led to dump-offs to wide-open targets leading to big gains, most notably on a 63-yard second-quarter reception by tight end Tony Moeaki. On the play, Wilson spun away from a blitz and scrambled away from his pursuers.

Tailback Marshawn Lynch (20 carries, 104 yards) set the tone in the ground game for Seattle, with his long rush of 33 yards setting up one of the four field goals from Steven Hauschka.

The game’s lone touchdown came in the opening period, with Wilson hitting uncovered tailback Robert Turbin in the flat for a 13-yard touchdown. The drive was set up by Sherman’s first pick of Kaepernick on a throw wide of receiver Brandon Lloyd.

As it turns out, that was all Seattle needed. From there, the Seahawks added to their lead little by little against a rival rendered fangless in its biggest of the game of the season.

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49ers running out of time vs. Seattle

Marshawn Lynch, Aldon Smith AP

The 49ers are on the ropes.

A fourth field goal by the Seahawks’ Steven Hauschka gave Seattle a 19-3 lead with about 10 minutes left in regulation on Thursday night. Given the struggles of the 49ers’ offense, a 16-point deficit seems mountainous. San Francisco mustered just 115 yards on 38 plays through three quarters — an average of three yards per play.

The Seahawks began the third quarter with a field goal, though it could have been even worse for San Francisco, as an offensive pass interference penalty nullified a touchdown by wideout Paul Richardson. Seahawks tailback Marshawn Lynch made the drive’s key play, breaking a 33-yard rush.

The 49ers then got a field goal of their own, but it took 12 plays and nearly seven minutes to do so, not to mention two key penalties on Seattle, including a holding call on cornerback Richard Sherman.

Now, the 49ers need touchdowns — and fast.

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