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10 things to know about the franchise tag

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The franchise tag is old enough to vote, and nearly old enough to drink.  The tag made its annual return more than a week ago.  Unlike the Great Pumpkin, the tool for restricting a player’s ability to move from team to team will indeed make an appearance, in multiple NFL cities.

Eventually.  We think.  Perhaps starting as soon as today.

So here are 10 things to know about the tag.  You may have already known them.  You may have known and forgotten.  Or you may not have known at all.

Or perhaps that you didn’t want to know.

1.  The formula has changed.

Under prior labor deals, the non-exclusive franchise tag was determined by calculating the average of the five highest-paid players at each position from the prior year.  Under the 2011 CBA, the franchise tenders come from a more complex procedure.

Under Article 10, Section 2 of the CBA, the number is based on the five-year average cap percentage for the tag at each position.

So it’s no longer driven by what players at the same position made in the prior season, but by the average cap percentage consumed by the franchise tender over five years.  Then, that percentage will be applied to the 2013 salary cap to determine the franchise tender at each position.

Already confused?  We’ve got nine more.

2.  In some cases, the formula doesn’t matter.

A player getting the non-exclusive franchise tag is entitled to the greater of the formula clumsily explained above (and that was the fourth draft of it) or 120 percent of the player’s cap number from the prior year.

That’s why, for example, the franchise tender for Dolphins tackle Jake Long would be much higher than the franchise tender for an offensive lineman.  Long made enough in 2012 to result in a 20-percent raise, trumping the franchise tender.

This dynamic often applies to players who were taken high in the draft before the implementation of the rookie wage scale.  As rookie contracts expire under the new labor deal, franchise tenders for many of them will be lower.

3.  The transition tag has become meaningless.

Teams can use, in any given year, one franchise tag or one transition tag.  The transition tag gives a team the right to match an offer sheet, but no compensation if the team chooses not to match.

At one point, the transition player’s contract was not fully guaranteed once it was accepted by the player.  It now is.

The fact that the guaranteed pay on the one-year transition tender isn’t much less than the guaranteed pay for the one-year franchise tender, coupled with the lack of draft-pick compensation, has made the transition tag largely meaningless.

4.  Franchise tags can be withdrawn.

The amount of the franchise tender becomes fully guaranteed once the player signs it.  Since signing the franchise tender puts the player under contract, requiring him to show up to all mandatory offseason activities and training camp, some players choose to wait deep into the preseason before inking the offer.

The risk is that the franchise tag can be withdrawn, at any time, before it has been signed.

It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not unprecedented.  Especially in Philly.  In 2002, the Eagles pulled the franchise tag from linebacker Jeremiah Trotter in early April.  Three years later, the Eagles removed the franchise tag from defensive tackle Corey Simon in late August.

The move immediately converts the player to an unrestricted free agent.  But if it comes after the big money has been spent, the player will have a hard time getting the pay day he would have realized on the first day of free agency.

5.  Franchise tender is guaranteed, with one exception.

Once a player signs the franchise tag, the one-year salary becomes fully guaranteed.  But there’s a little-known exception.

Under Article 10, Section 2(c) of the CBA, the contract can be terminated if the player fails “to establish or maintain his excellent physical condition.”

Any effort to do so would result in a review of the situation by a neutral physician and, eventually and inevitably, arbitration.  Still, the franchise tender technically isn’t fully and completely guaranteed.

6.  No non-quarterback will be tagged more than twice.

Former Seahawks tackle Walter Jones once spent three straight years under the franchise tag, pocketing a total of $20 million and then signing a long-term deal that paid him $20 million more guaranteed, back when $20 million was a very big deal for NFL purposes.

Jones rolled the dice on bearing the injury risk for the three franchise years, and he won.  Most players prefer the certainty of a long-term deal.

That’s why the 2006 CBA changed the formula to pay a non-quarterback the quarterback franchise tender if he’s tagged a third time.

Quarterbacks are protected, too.  In the third year of the franchise tag, they get at least a 44-percent raise over their cap number in the prior year.

7.  Arguably, no player can be tagged more than three times.

Last year’s grievance filed by Saints quarterback Drew Brees established that, if a player is tagged once by two different teams, it counts as being tagged twice.  Which would have entitled him to a 44-percent raise in 2013, if he had played under the franchise tag last year for the Saints.  (He was tagged in 2005 by the Chargers.)

Based on the language of the CBA, there’s an argument to be made that no player may ever be tagged more than three times during the course of his career.

Of course, tagging a player a fourth time would entail paying out a second 44-percent raise one year after paying out an initial 44-percent raise.  Which would make it highly unlikely that any team would ever want to use the tag more than three times.

8.  It’s cheap to tag kickers and punters.

There’s a belief among some fans that the use of the franchise tag meant that the player was a “franchise player.”  And so, when a team uses the tag on a punter or a kicker, fans are confused and/or amused.

But the formula for calculating franchise tenders has made it cheaper to use the tag than to sign the player to a market-value deal.

At $2.9 million for 2013, more kickers and punters could find themselves being regarded as “franchise players.”

9.  Long-term deals can be negotiated, through July 15.

Previously, the window for a team signing its franchise player to a long-term deal closed not long after the free-agency period started and then opened again on July 15.  Now, the window remains open until July 15.

After July 15, the franchise player can sign only a one-year deal with his current team.  It can be for more than the franchise tender, and it can include other terms, like playing-time or performance triggers that would prevent the tag from being used again.

But the duration can be no more than one year.

10.  One offer sheet may be signed, through July 15.

For a player carrying the non-exclusive tag, he can negotiate with any other team.  Ultimately, one offer sheet can be signed.

Once it’s signed, the situation simplifies considerably.  The player’s current team will match the offer and keep him, or the player’s team will not match the offer and collect a pair of first-round picks from the new team.

The two first-round picks given as compensation must be the team’s original picks — not any picks obtained via trade or otherwise.

And there’s a loophole which, eventually, a desperate coach or G.M. may use.  The period for signing franchise players to offer sheets lingers beyond the current year’s draft.  Thus, for example, a team that wants to sign quarterback Joe Flacco (if the Ravens use the non-exclusive tag) could, in theory, wait until after the draft, sign Flacco to a front-loaded offer sheet that the Ravens can’t match, and then surrender not the 2013 and 2014 first-round picks, but the first-round picks for 2014 and 2015.

There’s nothing in the labor deal that prevents this from happening until July 15, after which date the player can sign only a one-year deal with his current team.

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Janoris Jenkins’ interception return TD gives Rams the lead

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With a golden opportunity to take a second-quarter lead vs. the Rams, the Chargers saw themselves fall behind in no more than 15 seconds time.

With the game tied at three, Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins stepped in front of Chargers wideout Keenan Allen and intercepted a Philip Rivers pass near the goal line. From there, Jenkins was on his way to a 99-yard touchdown, giving visiting St. Louis a 10-3 lead with less than 12 minutes left in the first half.

After upsetting Denver last week, the Rams are seeking their second straight win, and they are off to a solid start, thanks in part to Jenkins.

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E.J. Biggers departs with a concussion

Jordan Matthews, E.J. Biggers AP

The Redskins knew there was a good chance they’d be shorthanded on the offensive line this week, but they weren’t expecting to be down two cornerbacks before the end of the first half.

That’s just where they find themselves, however. E.J. Biggers has been knocked out of their game against the 49ers with a concussion, which means he’ll join David Amerson on the bench for the rest of the afternoon. Amerson was declared inactive before the game for reasons that are unclear since he was not on the injury report during the week.

The defense has held up well enough to force two punts and a Carlos Hyde fumble, but they gave up a touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin on the Niners’ opening drive and trail 7-0 with under 12 minutes to play in the half.

Given the way the Washington offense is playing, those seven points might be enough. They’ve allowed two sacks with left tackle Trent Williams inactive because of ankle and knee injuries and have picked up just 31 yards in their first three possessions.

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Bears win second straight, beat Buccaneers 21-13

Christian Jones AP

Led a playmaking defense, the Bears rallied for a 21-13 victory over the visiting Buccaneers and former Chicago head coach Lovie Smith on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

In securing their second straight win, the Bears (5-6) forced four turnovers, including three in the third quarter, two of which led to Matt Forte TD runs as Chicago turned a 10-0 halftime deficit into a 21-10 third-quarter lead.

The Buccaneers (2-9) would draw within eight points with about five minutes left on a Patrick Murray 39-yard field goal, and their defense would force a three-and-out on Chicago’s next possession. But the Bears’ defense came up big one more time, stopping the Bucs’ Josh McCown on a 4th-and-1 QB sneak with about two minutes left.

McCown, the Bears’ top backup a season ago, completed 25-of-48 passes for 341 yards, including a 19-yard TD to rookie Mike Evans. However, McCown committed two turnovers in the third quarter, including a lost fumble when sacked by Bears defensive end David Bass. That set up Forte’s first TD run, a 13-yarder giving Chicago the lead for good at 14-10. Then, on the Bucs’ next series, a deflected pass was picked by Bears safety Ryan Mundy, which helped lead to a one-yard Forte scoring run.

Later, Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson would fumble deep in Chicago’s territory, ending a promising scoring chance.

Forte racked up 89 yards on 23 carries for Chicago, which was held to a paltry 204 yards on 56 plays. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler threw for just 130 yards on 17-of-27 passing, with his two-yard TD toss to Alshon Jeffery first getting Chicago on the board to start the third quarter.

Then, Chicago’s defense would take over. Even more impressively, the Bears’ skilled defensive play came with outside linebacker Lance Briggs (groin) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee) out with injuries.

The Bears’ next game is in just four days at rival Detroit on Thanksgiving. The Buccaneers will host the Bengals on Sunday.

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Browns’ illegal formation wouldn’t have triggered runoff

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With 16 seconds on the clock, no time outs remaining, and the ball at the Atlanta 30, the Browns opted to throw caution to the windless Georgia Dome and try to get the ball closer than what would have been a field goal of Norwoodian distance.

The gamble worked.  Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw a 10-yard pass to receiver Miles Austin in the middle of the field.  Hoyer and the Browns rushed to the line, and Hoyer took the snap and spiked it with six seconds left.

On the next play, Billy Cundiff converted easily from 37 yards instead of 47.

But it appears that the Browns had lined up in an illegal formation.  With the “X” and “Y” receivers to the left side of the formation both on the line of scrimmage.  While it’s permissible for more than seven guys to be on the line of scrimmage, the outside receivers can’t “cover up” other eligible receivers.

Per a league source, it’s a close call that could have drawn a flag.  However, it’s not the type of violation that would have resulted in a 10-second runoff.  Instead, it would have resulted in a five-yard penalty.

That would have made the field goal a little tougher.  But if an NFL kicker can’t make a 42-yard field goal in a dome, he shouldn’t be an NFL kicker.

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Marshawn Lynch’s back tightens up, Seahawks lead 9-0

Marshawn Lynch AP

The Seahawks have moved the ball well, but they haven’t made it pay off so well.

With running back Marshawn Lynch in and out of the lineup, the Seahawks have had to settle for a pair of short field goals and a 52-yarder as they lead the Cardinals 9-0 in the second quarter.

Lynch’s problematic back has flared up and he was getting worked on by trainers on the sidelines, with Robert Turbin subbing in for him.

He returned to the game later in the second, splitting wide as a receiver on a series, so it appears he’s going to be good to go.

We’ll keep you posted as to whether he makes it in for halftime this week.

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Eagles cruise past Titans to move to 8-3

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When people talk about trap games, games like the Eagles’ date with the Titans on Sunday come to mind.

A two-win team coming to town a few days before a Thanksgiving trip to play the Cowboys, who are tied with the Eagles for the lead in the NFC East, certainly has the potential to be overlooked. The Eagles weren’t looking ahead, though.

Things stayed close into the third quarter, but a pair of fumbles by the Titans and bushels of pressure from the Eagles Defense helped them pull away for a 43-24 win that felt like it was headed Philly’s way from the opening kickoff. That’s when Josh Huff went 107 yards for a touchdown and the Eagles never really looked back.

There were a pair of bad Mark Sanchez interceptions, but Titans running back Bishop Sankey fumbled on the next play to hand the ball right back and Sanchez had plenty of good throws over the course of the day on his way to a line of 30-of-43 and 307 yards. LeSean McCoy chipped in with 130 yards and the Eagles might have reached 50 if their red zone work was a bit sharper. That will have to change, as will the turnovers and the habit of giving up big passing plays, once the caliber of competition rises again.

The Eagles sacked Zach Mettenberger five times, but the Titans got back into the game in the second quarter on the back of two long gains on passes to Justin Hunter and Delanie Walker. The Titans had no running game to speak of, however, and the pass rush was clearly too much for the Titans line to handle all afternoon.

Even with the flaws in mind, it was a big step in the right direction after last week’s debacle against the Packers. Beating the Cowboys and grabbing control of the division next week would be an even bigger one.

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Colts get back on track, beat Jaguars

T.Y. Hilton AP

One good quarter was all the Colts needed to put away the Jaguars.

Shaking off a sloppy first half, Indianapolis cantered to a 23-3 victory vs. visiting Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon.

The vast gulf in the capability of the two offenses was the difference in the game. The Colts’ attack wasn’t overly impressive, but it racked up nearly 400 yards, with quarterback Andrew Luck completing 21-of-32 passes for 253 yards, with a 73-yard TD pass to T.Y. Hilton giving Indianapolis a commanding 20-3 third quarter lead. Indianapolis also racked up 175 yards on 36 carries, with Boom Herron racking up 65 yards on 12 carries and Trent Richardson adding 42 yards and a TD on 13 carries.

The Jaguars, on the other hand, were held to 194 yards on 53 plays. Quarterback Blake Bortles was just 15-of-27 passing for 146 yards, and he was sacked four times behind an offensive line that struggled with the Colts’ pass rush.

The Colts had their problems with the Jaguars’ pressure, too. Luck was sacked five times, losing a pair of first-half fumbles. But as the second half began, the Colts’ offense figured out the Jaguars, and Indianapolis’ 17-point burst over the first 16 minutes of the final two quarters was far too much for Jacksonville (1-10) to answer.

The Colts moved to 7-4 with the win. They host Washington next Sunday. The Jaguars — who are very much now in the race for the No. 1 pick — host the Giants.

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Brian Hoyer makes a mess, but cleans it up in time for Browns to win

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Brian Hoyer appeared to open the door to calls for a quarterback change in the fourth quarter on Sunday, but he wound up slamming it shut before the final seconds could tick off the clock.

Hoyer threw a pair of terrible interceptions in the final quarter, costing his team a chance for at least three points and setting the Falcons up with a chance to take the lead in the final minutes. The Falcons did take the lead on a 53-yard Matt Bryant field goal after the second interception, but some curious clock management by Mike Smith left Hoyer 44 seconds to come back down the field.

Hoyer did just that. He completed passes to Miles Austin, Gordon, Gary Barnidge and Austin again to move the Browns into position for a 37-yard field goal. Billy Cundiff hit the kick and the Browns got a 26-24 win that they needed to stay in the thick of the race for playoff spots in the AFC.

The Falcons elected to throw the ball deep on third-and-2 with 55 seconds left to play in the game, which meant the clock stopped when the ball fell incomplete. If they were willing to kick a 53-yarder, it might have benefitted them to run the ball and at least force the Browns to use a timeout to stop the clock. The Falcons also called a timeout before that deep pass to make a pair of decisions that wound up enhancing the Browns’ chance to make comeback. The loss leaves them at 4-7 and they’ll fall behind the Saints in the NFC South if New Orleans can beat Baltimore this week. This being the 2014 NFC South, that’s hardly a sure thing and Atlanta may have only bruised their chances.

Hoyer also threw an interception in the first half and had a rough day overall, but still finished 23-of-40 for 322 yards thanks to his work on the final drive. Gordon had eight catches for 120 yards, but he and Hoyer seemed to be on different pages for much of the day as they worked in a game situation for the first time. There were a bunch of plays left on the field that would make for a much richer Browns Offense if they can find a way to click with some more time together.

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Patriots pummel the Lions, stay atop the AFC

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New England remains the class of the AFC, and Detroit will need to turn things around to make the playoffs in the NFC.

That’s the takeaway after the Patriots dominated the Lions today, winning 34-9 in a game that saw Tom Brady look great and Matthew Stafford look lousy.

Brady completed 38 of 53 passes for 349 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. The Patriots’ game plan was to beat the Lions through the air, and it worked. Newly acquired running back LeGarrette Blount led the Patriots’ rushing game and scored two touchdowns, but New England primarily put this game on Brady. (Last week’s star of the Patriots’ running game, Jonas Gray, was benched after showing up late to practice this week.)

Stafford struggled throughout and finished 18 for 46 for 264 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. His 39 percent completion rate was the worst completion percentage in any game of his NFL career. The Patriots’ defense didn’t even play particularly well, but the Lions couldn’t capitalize on several New England coverage breakdowns. Three different Stafford passes into the end zone went through his receivers’ hands, and on multiple other occasions, Stafford had open receivers and missed them.

Now the Patriots enter the home stretch of their schedule knowing that if they can win four of their remaining five games, they earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Lions fall a game behind the Packers in the NFC North, and they now know that they’ve lost any room for error. With the Bears coming to town on Thanksgiving, the Lions have to start playing better or watch the playoffs slip from their grasp.

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Bengals hang on for a too-close win over the Texans

Jeremy Hill, Andy Dalton AP

For most of the day, Andy Dalton looked like his normal day-game self.

Then prime-time Dalton kicked in, and the Bengals had to hang on to beat the Texans 22-13.

Dalton was his efficient best early in the game, but the Bengals couldn’t pull away. A 60-yard interception return for a touchdown by Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph opened the door for the Texans to have a chance late.

It was Dalton’s first road turnover of the season, and came at a time when he fell out of his first-half rhythm (when he hit 16 of his first 18 passing).

Ryan Mallett wasn’t able to rally them adequately, and the Texans fell to 5-6, which might end any reasonable hopes they had of the postseason. Mallett was 21-of-45 passing for 189 yards, as they clearly missed the ballast Arian Foster provides their offense.

The Bengals, meanwhile, improved to 7-3-1, keeping pace in the AFC North. Jeremy Hill ran for 87 yards and a touchdown, as they were able to keep the Texans at arm’s length.

They appear to have lost right tackle Andre Smith to what has been reported a a torn triceps, which will hamper them moving forward. But they were able to keep the Texans from creating too much disruption up front.

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Packers aren’t sharp, but improve to 8-3 by beating Vikings

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The Packers didn’t have their normal offensive firepower.

But they had Eddie Lacy, and that was enough.

The Packers held on for a 24-21 win over the Vikings, thanks to an offense boosted by the physical running of Lacy.

Lacy had 25 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown, and looked particularly strong during the fourth quarter. He was able to keeps clocks and chains moving, and had a nice spin move through contact to punctuate a 10-yard shovel pass touchdown.

That allowed them to survive a day when quarterback Aaron Rodgers failed to pile up the kind of huge numbers he’s had in recent weeks. Rodgers was still 19-of-29 for 209 yards and two scores.

And on a day with the Lions losing to the Patriots, that allowed the Packers to move to 8-3 with a one-game lead in the NFC North.

They looked like a team with one eye on next week’s game against the Patriots, as this one was closer than it should have been longer than it should have been.

The Vikings were competitive but sloppy, playing well enough on defense. But with Teddy Bridgewater missing too many opportunities, it was hard to say they were ever really a threat. Bridgewater was 21-of-37 for 210 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. He cut it to within a field goal late by cobbling together a nice drive, but missed too often too early for it to matter.

The Vikings fell to 4-7 with the loss.

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Colts swatting away the Jaguars

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After a slow start, the Colts have run away from the Jaguars.

Leading just 6-3 as the third quarter began, Indianapolis has scored 17 unanswered points to take a 23-3 fourth-quarter lead at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts tallied a pair of third-quarter TDs, with Andrew Luck’s 73-yard TD pass to T.Y. Hilton building the Indianapolis edge to 20-3. Trent Richardson has also added a one-yard scoring run for Indianapolis, which has dominated the second half.

The Jaguars’ offense has had a day to forget, struggling to get much going at all, especially in the passing game. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles has been sacked four times.

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Bears awaken in third quarter, take lead

Matt Forte, Dashon Goldson, Danny Lansanah AP

With their playoff hopes flickering as they trailed 10-0, the Bears started the third quarter of Sunday’s game vs. Tampa Bay on a tear.

Their offense, which struggled through the first half, got it together, with quarterback Jay Cutler connecting with wideout Alshon Jeffery on a two-yard TD pass to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 10-7.

Then, the Bears’ defense made a pair of takeaways. First, defensive end David Bass forced Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown to fumble, and linebacker Christian Jones made the recovery. One play later, tailback Matt Forte darted in from 13 yards, giving Chicago a 14-10 edge.

And on the Bucs’ next series, their offensive woes deepened, with Bears safety Ryan Mundy picking off a deflected pass. Four plays later, Forte was back in the endzone, scoring a one-yard TD to extend Chicago’s lead to 21-10.

For the Buccaneers, it has been a wicked and surprising turn of fortune after playing very well in the first half. But the third quarter belonged to Chicago.

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Tashaun Gipson carted off after collision with Joe Haden

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The Browns are clinging to a lead in the fourth quarter against the Falcons and they’ll need to protect it for the final 9:31 without safety Tashaun Gipson.

Gipson and cornerback Joe Haden collided with each other while trying to make a play on a pass to Julio Jones and Gipson needed medical assistance while Haden made his way to his feet without delay. Gipson tried to get up with the help of trainers, but couldn’t put any weight on his right leg and the cart was summoned to take him from the field. He’s been ruled out with a knee injury for the rest of the game.

The play also saw Haden flagged for holding, which gave the Falcons a first down inside the red zone. Steven Jackson ran into the end zone from a yard out a few plays later and the Browns lead was cut to 23-21.

The Browns Defense stood up well in the third quarter, allowing Atlanta to gain just 30 yards while they went from being down 14-13 to holding a 23-14 lead. Running back Isaiah Crowell provided the touchdown with a nifty 26-yard scamper through the Falcon defense.

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Brian Schwenke fumbles after a catch, Eagles extend lead

Brian Schwenke AP

Titans center Brian Schwenke handles the ball on every offensive play, but he doesn’t usually get it back after snapping it to the quarterback.

On Sunday, though, Schwenke found himself with the ball in his hands a second time after a pass was deflected by an Eagles defender. Schwenke made the decision to run with the ball and gained some yardage, but his lack of experience as a ballcarrier showed when Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks knocked the ball loose.

The Eagles recovered and Mark Sanchez hit James Casey with a pretty throw in the end zone to extend Philly’s lead to 34-17 early in the third quarter. Sanchez is now 21-of-29 for 224 yards and LeSean McCoy is up to 114 rushing yards during a good day for the Eagles Offense.

It’s been a pretty good one for the defense as well, although a couple of breakdowns in the second quarter have kept this game closer on the scoreboard than it has looked on the field for most of the day.

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