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Roy Miller, Bucs break off contract talks

Buccaneers Giants Football AP

It looks like defensive tackle Roy Miller will be hitting the open market.

Stephen Holder of the Tampa Bay Times reports that contract talks between Miller and the Buccaneers found the teams sufficiently far apart that they have decided to table further conversations. That means Miller will become a free agent on March 12 and his agent’s thoughts on that don’t make it seem like Miller considers a return to the Bucs to be in the cards.

“Roy is excited to see what’s out there for him in free agency,” said his agent, Mike McCartney. “He has a lot to offer after an excellent season, helping a team that was last against the run (in 2011) go to No. 1 against the run last season.”

Gerald McCoy gave Miller’s ability to occupy blockers and space in the middle of the defensive line a lot of credit for helping him make the Pro Bowl, but Miller’s a two-down player and there’s going to be a limit to how much a team will spend on such a player.

If Miller does wind up leaving town, it will leave the Bucs with a need for another tackle to replace him on the nose. Gary Gibson is a career backup and one imagines the Bucs aren’t looking to lose too much from that top-ranked run defense.

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49ers running wild over Chargers

kaep AP

Every year in the NFL, there’s a late-season game in which a team with nothing to play for beats a team with everything to play for. Today it’s happening twice in one day.

Washington has already beaten Philadelphia, and now San Francisco is dominating San Diego.

The 49ers, who are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, are running all over the Chargers, who are still fighting for a wild-card berth. Just five minutes into the second quarter, the 49ers took a 21-0 lead when Antoine Bethea picked off a Philip Rivers pass and ran it back 49 yards for a touchdown.

Prior to that the 49ers had scored two touchdowns on offense, one on a pass from Colin Kaepernick to Bruce Ellington and one on a 52-yard Frank Gore run. San Francisco is cruising.

The Chargers will either pull off one of the biggest comebacks of the season, or they’ll lose a huge game to a team that’s already out of the playoff race.

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Chargers suffer yet another injury at center

Chris Watt AP

No team has been more devastated by injuries at one position this season than the Chargers at center.

Chris Watt, who got the start tonight against the 49ers, was San Diego’s fourth different starting center this year. And in the first quarter, he suffered an apparent left ankle injury and limped off the field. He was later carted to the locker room and replaced by Trevor Robinson.

Chargers centers Nick Hardwick, Rich Ohrnberger and Doug Legursky are all on injured reserve.

The injury to Watt isn’t the only problem for the Chargers tonight: A bigger problem is that their defense can’t stop the 49ers’ running game. San Francisco had 126 rushing yards in the first 12 minutes of the game and took an early 7-0 lead.

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NFC playoff picture: Lions clinch thanks to Eagles’ loss

Miami Dolphins v Detroit Lions Getty Images

The big winners in Washington on Saturday were the Lions, who clinched a playoff berth with the Eagles’ loss.

And the big losers were, of course, the Eagles: They’re not eliminated from playoff contention yet, but they’re precariously close and now have to have a whole lot of games go their way.

Here’s how the NFC playoff picture looks after the Eagles’ surprise loss.

THE BIG SIX

1. Arizona Cardinals (11-3). NFC West leader. Has clinched playoff spot. Would clinch NFC West and No. 1 overall seed with victory Sunday vs. Seattle.

2. Detroit Lions (10-4). NFC North leader. Would clinch NFC North with a win and a Packers loss.

3. Dallas Cowboys (10-4). NFC East leader. Would clinch NFC East with a win vs. Indianapolis on Sunday.

4. New Orleans Saints (6-8). NFC South leader. Would clinch NFC South with a win vs. Atlanta and a Panthers loss.

5. Seattle Seahawks (10-4). Wild card No. 1. Would clinch a playoff berth with a win vs. Arizona on Sunday.

6. Green Bay Packers (10-4). Wild card No. 2. Would clinch a playoff berth with a win vs. Tampa Bay on Sunday.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6). Can still win the NFC East but only if they beat the Giants next week while the Cowboys lose both Sunday against Indianapolis and next week against Washington.

OTHER NFC SOUTH CONTENDERS

Carolina Panthers (5-8-1). Will win the NFC South if they win out and the Saints lose once.

Atlanta Falcons (5-9). Will win the NFC South if they win out.

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Eagles choke in Washington

zachertz AP

Philadelphia had everything to play for. Washington had nothing to play for. Everyone figured the Eagles would win easily.

It didn’t work out that way.

Instead, the Eagles went into Washington badly needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and instead choked the game away, losing 27-24 on a Kai Forbath field goal with five seconds left. Mark Sanchez was good for much of the game, but his one interception was what set up Washington’s game-winner.

Adding insult to injury for the Eagles, the best player on the field for Washington was DeSean Jackson, the wide receiver whom Eagles coach Chip Kelly released this offseason. Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was excellent catching short passes, with 15 receptions for 115 yards. But the Eagles could have used a receiver who can stretch the field — that’s what they had last year with Jackson, and that’s what they lacked today.

The loss doesn’t completely eliminate the Eagles from playoff contention, but it does mean their playoff hopes are slim. Eagles fans are now desperately hoping the Cowboys lose tomorrow against the Colts.

Washington won’t be going to the playoffs, but it will go into the offseason with a tough decision about the quarterback position. Robert Griffin III helped the team win today, but he was far from spectacular as a passer, completing just 16 of 23 passes for 220 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. (In fact, the best thing he did was draw repeated roughing the passer penalties against the Eagles.) Has Griffin done enough to get the starting job next year? Has Jay Gruden done enough to keep the coaching job next year?

Those questions remain to be answered. But today, Washington fans can celebrate. They just earned a hard-fought win, and likely knocked the rival Eagles out of the playoffs in the process.

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Vick praises Jameis Winston as the “future of the NFL”

Winston Getty Images

A vague sense has emerged in recent weeks that a draft-stock gap exists between 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston.  There indeed may be a gap by the time the 2015 draft begins, and it may be Winston who’s the better player.

Jets quarterback Mike Vick, the first overall pick in the draft nearly 14 years ago, recently heaped praise on Winston.

“He may make some poor decisions, but he gets on that football field and he plays his ass off,” Vick said, via Darryl Slater of NJ.com.  “Yeah, he can mature.  He’ll mature.  I see him maturing as time goes on.  Like, this year hasn’t been as bad of a year as the first year was for Jameis.  I think the kid will continue to improve.  I think he’s the future of the NFL.”

This year hasn’t been perfect, though.  The offseason featured the crab-leg caper.  Then, Winston was suspended for a game after yelling an obscene phrase on campus.  He nevertheless dressed for the game and entered the field in full uniform before being sent back inside.  More recently, Winston placed his hands on and physically moved an official who was delaying the snap.

As a result, Winston will attract plenty of attention, wherever he goes.  And that could make it difficult for him to thrive with a team like the Jets.

“I think it’s hard,” Vick said.  “I think his support cast just has to be around him.  You can’t put him in a room with a group of young guys. . . .  The more veterans around, the more he’ll pick up on things and he’ll mature quickly.  That’s the trend I’ve been around since I’ve been in the league.”

For Winston, the trend at the college level has been to win, each and every week.  He’s 29-0.  A win over Mariota and Oregon will move him to 30-0 and commence talk that, despite Mariota’s accomplishments, perhaps Winston is the better NFL prospect.

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Questionable roughing the passer calls help Washington take the lead

rg3 AP

Two roughing the passer penalties have helped Washington take a surprising lead in the third quarter today.

A 12-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by Darrel Young was helped along when the Eagles were twice flagged for hits on Robert Griffin III.

Both of the calls were questionable. Neither was particularly late, neither was a direct shot to Griffin’s head and neither drove Griffin into the ground at the end of the hit. Plenty of worse hits go uncalled every week.

But these two were called, and they went against the Eagles, who now trail 17-14.

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Eagles fans show up in big numbers at FedEx Field

Sanchez Getty Images

In a development that’s not really surprising given that one team has something to play for and the other team is hoping to simply get this thing over with already, plenty of Eagles fans have shown up at FedEx Field for Saturday’s game against Washington.

Via JP Finlay of CSNWashington.com, receiver DeSean Jackson was booed when his image appeared on video screens to wish fans happy holidays.

Still, Eagles fans may not actually be outnumbering Washington fans.  That’s the assessment made by Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post.  Steinberg points out that there may indeed be more Eagles fans than home-team fans in the stadium’s standing room-only area.

For now, Eagles fans should be happy.  Through two quarters, Philly leads 14-10.

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LeSean McCoy touchdown gives Eagles an early lead

sanchez AP

In a must-win game in Washington, the Eagles came out looking sloppy but quickly turned things around.

On Philadelphia’s first drive, Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez was sacked by Ryan Kerrigan, forcing a fumble that Kerrigan recovered. Washington’s offense then managed to pick up 40 yards on a 12-play drive before settling for a Kai Forbath 25-yard field goal.

But on Philadelphia’s second drive, things went more according to plan. The Eagles marched down the field covering 79 yards on 10 plays, culminating in a LeSean McCoy touchdown run that gave the Eagles a 7-3 lead.

This is a big game for Philadelphia and a game in which Washington has nothing to play for. We’ll see if Washington will keep fighting hard anyway.

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Trent Williams good to go vs. Eagles

Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Washington left tackle Trent Williams is ready to play today against Philadelphia.

Although he was listed as questionable with a shoulder injury, Williams is active and will start. That’s good news for starting quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Washington’s inactives are LB Keenan Robinson, LB Gabe Miller, DE Jason Hatcher, G Josh LeRibeus, WR Leonard Hankerson, RB Roy Helu and DB Kenny Okoro.

Philadelphia’s inactives are QB Nick Foles, S Jerome Couplin, LB Trent Cole, OL Julian Vandervelde, OL Dennis Kelly, WR Jeff Maehl and DE Taylor Hart.

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Decision to delay L.A. relocation came from teams, technically

LA Reuters

Potato, potahto.  Tomato, tomahto.  Los Angeles.  Los Angeleez.

Despite the words used, the NFL won’t be returning to L.A. in 2015.  Adam Schefter of ESPN reported on Saturday that Commissioner Roger Goodell informed the three contenders to relocate — the Rams, Raiders, and Chargers — that no team will move to Los Angeles next year.  A league source tells PFT that, technically, the teams decided not to try to move next year.

It’s probably a distinction without a difference.  However, Schefter’s report creates the impression that Goodell dictated the outcome to the teams.  Given the year the league office has had, that’s not the most favorable message to send.

Even if, as we’re told, the decision was made by the teams, it’s quite possible if not likely that the teams made the decision only after it was made clear to them that an attempt to move to L.A. would not succeed in 2015.

Then there’s the reality that going against the wishes of the powers-that-be in 2015 could make it harder to secure approval to move in 2016.

Either way, L.A. won’t be getting one or more NFL teams in 2015.  But the signals are getting stronger and stronger for an L.A. relocation come 2016.

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Peyton Manning officially questionable for Monday night

Denver Broncos practice at Dove Valley Getty Images

Everyone expects Peyton Manning to start on Monday night in Cincinnati, but officially that’s no sure thing.

The Broncos listed Manning as questionable on the official injury report for Monday’s game against the Bengals. Manning has been getting treatment for a thigh injury and has also battled an illness.

If Manning can’t go, Brock Osweiler would get the nod. Osweiler played briefly — and played poorly — when Manning went to the locker room during Sunday’s win over the Chargers.

Obviously, it would be very, very bad news for the Broncos if there really is a risk that Manning can’t play. But from all indications, there really isn’t any question. Manning may be listed as questionable, but he will play.

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Browns put Tashaun Gipson on IR

Tashaun Gipson AP

The Browns will be without one of their key defensive players for the rest of the season.

The club announced Saturday it had placed free safety Tashaun Gipson on injured reserve. Gipson, whose six interceptions are tied for the NFL lead, suffered an MCL sprain in the Browns’ November 23 win at Atlanta.

A third-year pro from Wyoming, the 24-year-old Gipson has 12 interceptions for Cleveland since 2012.

Jim Leonhard has stepped into the lineup in Gipson’s absence.

To replace Gipson on the roster, the Browns promoted linebacker Scott Solomon from the practice squad. The 26-year-old Solomon has appeared in 20 regular-season games in three NFL seasons, including six with Tampa Bay earlier this year.

The 7-7 Browns are the lowest-seeded club still in playoff contention in the AFC. They play at Carolina on Sunday.

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Saturday one-liners

Miller Getty Images

The production of Dolphins RB Lamar Miller drops dramatically after his 10th carry of a game, from 5.4 average yards to 2.5.

A week after shutting down Aaron Rodgers, the Bills hope to similarly harass Oakland QB Derek Carr.

The Patriots are preparing for Percy Harvin with some of the same keys they used when preparing to face Randall Cobb.

Jets S Rontez Miles had emergency surgery on Thursday after being kicked in the shin during practice.

Ravens WR Jacoby Jones says it won’t be emotional to return to Houston and play the team that once cut him.

Former Bengals RB Corey Dillon is impressed with Bengals rookie RB Jeremy Hill.

C Alex Mack may be the only player definitely returning to the Browns in 2015.

Steelers players are lobbying for LB Lawrence Timmons to make it to the Pro Bowl.

The Texans will get a good look on Sunday at a running back they maybe shouldn’t have let get away.

Maligned in May, the Colts’ quintet of draft picks has done well.

If you’re among the many who passed on Thursday night’s game, here’s what the win revealed about the Jaguars.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt summarizes his first season with the team in three words:  “It’s not fun.”

Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders has a simple approach when returning punts — get at least 10 yards, making it like a first down on offense.

Former Chiefs Pro Bowl OL John Alt is helping LT Eric Fisher.

The Raiders may be shorthanded at cornerback with Buffalo coming to town.

So what does the Chargers’ defense need to do to win some games?  Defensive coordinator John Pagano makes it as simple as possible:  “Play better.”

Cowboys WR Dez Bryant could be the key to beating Indianapolis.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin wants WR Odell Beckham to be like LeBron James.

A reduction in touches for RB LeSean McCoy is fueling speculation that he won’t be back with the Eagles in 2015.

How bad is Washington’s offensive line?  Really bad.

The decision to start Bears QB Jimmy Clausen is creating no buzz in Halas Hall.

Joique Bell quietly has become the No. 1 running back for the Lions.

Here’s a great look at how the Packers are trying to slow down great receivers at a time when the rules are helping them.

Vikings FB Jerome Felton knows he likely won’t be back next year.

Falcons DT Ra’Shede Hageman realizes that he’ll need to earn the trust of the coaching staff in order to get more playing time.

Panthers DT Star Lotulelei is struggling in his second season.

With free agency looming, Saints RB Mark Ingram has picked a good year to be on pace for his first 1,000-yard season.

The win the renewal of the Bay of Pigs rivalry, the Buccaneers will need to be able to run the ball effectively.

The Cardinals joined the NFL in 1920; Sunday night’s game is the biggest regular-season contest in franchise history.

Rams S E.J. Gaines, a sixth-round draft pick in May, has had a strong rookie season.

Saturday’s game could be the next to last in San Francisco for 49ers RB Frank Gore.

A big test is coming Sunday night for Seahawks rookie OT Justin Britt.

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Joe Thomas downplays charges of discharging manure

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

A day after he was accused of environmental violations including discharging manure into a wetland, Browns tackle Joe Thomas said it was no BS.

Actually, it was a much smaller variety of S.

“I know it sounds horrific when you see the list of violations, but in the end it’s rabbit turds here,” Thomas told Steven Verburg of the Wisconsin State Journal.

Thomas was cited by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for some irregularities on a farm he owns there. Among the violations are damming a navigable waterway, dredging a spring-fed pond, tearing down a barn without a permit and most spectacularly, the previously mentioned discharge of manure.

He could face $10,000 a day fines, but Thomas said he’s meeting with DNR officials to make sure he’s in compliance.

“When you read that list, you’d think I was the worst person in the world, like I put a two-lane bridge over the Mississippi River,” Thomas said. “In reality, it’s all kind of interrelated and very small.

“I don’t want to say anything to you that would make their side look bad,”

The property is described as a few hundred feet from the Blue River, which is apparently a Class II trout stream. While dropping a load of brown trout into that waterway would obviously disturb the ecosystem, Thomas said his intentions for the property were pure.

“My whole idea was to make it a fish and wildlife paradise like it used to be,” he said. “I don’t want to get into the specifics of every little violation. The bottom line is I hired a couple contractors to help with the cleanup project and it was just not knowing that you needed permits for certain things that resulted in the violations.”

Unless one of those contractors turns out to be Najeh Davenport, it sounds like Thomas is doing everything he can to make sure this doesn’t turn into a big stink.

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Report: Executives suggest Bears could have to attach a draft pick to move Cutler

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Getty Images

If the Bears want to move quarterback Jay Cutler in the offseason, would they have to swap draft picks with the acquiring club to get the deal done?

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, “several NFL executives” have indicated the Bears might have to trade draft selections to close any Cutler deal, given the guaranteed money on Cutler’s contract.

The idea of “sweetening the pot” to close a Cutler trade is something PFT’s Mike Florio suggested after the quarterback’s benching. Were this indeed required to make a deal, it would speak to Chicago’s lack of leverage.

In the scenario suggested by Schefter, an acquiring team would get Cutler and a higher pick, with the Bears getting a lower pick and salary-cap relief in return. As Schefter notes, any trade can’t be an out-and-out giveaway; the Bears would have to receive something in return, per NFL rules.

How Bears ownership proceeds with coach Mark Trestman and G.M. Phil Emery at season’s end figures to be a primary factor in any future decisions on Cutler. A new coach/G.M. combination might not have any ties to Cutler and could be able to cut the cord without anguish.

The more interesting question is whether Emery would be willing to make such a move. The decision to sign Cutler to a lucrative deal last January looks dubious, with Cutler’s play not coming close to expectations. Moving Cutler and a draft pick is the stuff of management nightmares, especially with the Bears in desperate need of youthful reinforcements throughout the defense. The club’s spending in the most recent free agent period produced mixed results, with defensive end Willie Young proving a bargain but defensive ends Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston not producing as much as hoped, though illness slowed Allen and a knee injury ended Houston’s season early.

In short, the Bears aren’t in a position to be giving away draft picks. And have we mentioned the franchise again might be looking for a quarterback? Oh yes, that.

If Bears fans are walking around looking like they’ve bitten down on all the world’s lemons, they cannot be blamed. Soon, the snow will come, the salt trucks will come out, the sky will be gray and the taxes will still be high. But the Cubs look like they’ve figured it out, and the Bulls are flank-steak tough. Look, Chicagoans are used to QB uncertainty.

Doesn’t mean they have to like it, though. And they really won’t like it if that draft pick goes out the door with Cutler.

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