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Justin Blackmon suspended four games for substances of abuse violation

Justin Blackmon AP

Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon finished strong in 2012, catching 25 passes and scoring two touchdowns in the final four games of the season.

It looks like we’re going to have to wait a while to find out if he picks up where he left off. Adam Schefter of ESPN was the first to report that Blackmon has been suspended for four games by the league for violating league policy and the NFL later announced that it was specifically a violation of the Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.

Blackmon led the Jaguars with 64 catches last season and that closing flourish raised hopes that the fifth overall pick of the 2012 Draft was going to continue developing into a top-flight receiver. Blackmon will still be able to practice with the Jags and play in preseason games, so this won’t totally halt that progress but there’s no denying that it’s a wrench in the plans for a player with two drunk driving arrests before he signed his rookie deal with the Jags.

The Jaguars play the Chiefs, Raiders, Seahawks and Colts in the first four games of the 2013 season.

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Steve Smith TD catch would make Odell Beckham proud

stevesmith AP

A night after Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made the touchdown catch by which all other great catches will be judged, Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr. has made a catch that would make Beckham proud.

In the first quarter in New Orleans, Smith — despite having Saints cornerback Brian Dixon draped all over him — hauled in a pass in the end zone that appeared to be overthrown and managed to get his butt down in bounds before his upper body tumbled out of bounds. Smith controlled the ball as he went to the ground and caught it so cleanly that it didn’t even require a delay for a replay review.

The touchdown came at the end of a 99-yard drive by the Ravens that began after their defense turned in a great goal-line stand that left the Saints with no points after having first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. This has been a good start by the Ravens, on both sides of the ball.

The Ravens lead 7-0 midway through the first quarter.

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Joe Morgan gets the Saints off to a fast start, but Ravens make a stand

anthonylevine AP

Injuries and off-field issues have nearly derailed Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan’s football career. But no one disputes that when Morgan is on the field, the guy can make plays.

Morgan didn’t waste any time showing that on Monday night against the Ravens, taking a handoff on an end-around and racing 67 yards to set up the Saints at first-and-goal on the 1-yard line. Unfortunately for the Saints, the Ravens’ defense made a great goal-line stand, stopping New Orleans on four straight plays and taking over on downs.

Morgan, who recently returned from a two-week suspension, has shown a lot of promise since he signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2011. Although he spent his whole rookie season on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury in the preseason, he emerged as a big-play threat in 2012, catching just 10 passes but totaling a whopping 379 yards on those 10 catches. Morgan missed the entire 2013 season after suffering a torn ACL in training camp, but now he’s finally back at full speed.

The Saints would love to see Morgan make more big plays tonight. And the Ravens would love to see their defense continue to make stops when it counts.

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Mario Williams dominates, Michael Vick struggles in first half

kyleorton AP

Bills defensive end Mario Williams has been the best player at Ford Field this Monday night, and his primary victim has been Jets quarterback Michael Vick.

Williams has sacked Vick twice, for a loss of 15 yards, while Vick hasn’t accomplished much passing: Vick is 6-for-15 for 42 yards. Vick and Eric Decker had a golden opportunity to bring the Jets closer when Decker got wide open deep just six seconds before halftime, but they just missed connecting on what would have been a 69-yard touchdown.

Bills quarterback Kyle Orton, meanwhile, has completed 17 of 22 passes for 152 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Orton hit Scott Chandler in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown late in the second quarter after hitting Robert Woods in the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown early in the first quarter. That touchdown catch by Woods was outstanding, and he had an even better one-handed catch along the sideline. Woods’s highlight reel would look spectacular on any other day, although coming a day after Odell Beckham’s Catch of the Century, Woods’s catches may be overlooked.

The crowd in Detroit, where the Bills were forced to play this “home” game because of the snowstorm in Buffalo, has been generally quiet, although that may be as much a reflection of the quality of the game as the fact that it’s being played at a neutral site. Neither team has played particularly well.

But the Bills are playing better than the Jets, and they’re a half away from a hard-fought home win on the road.

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Bills strike first at “home” in Detroit

billsfans AP

The strange scene of an NFL game on a neutral field with a quiet crowd is unfolding in Detroit tonight. But while the Bills don’t have a home-field advantage thanks to the snowstorm that forced them from Buffalo, they did get off to a good start.

Buffalo’s defense held the Jets to a three-and-out after the opening kickoff, and when Buffalo’s offense took over, the Bills marched down the field deep into Jets territory. Buffalo’s nine-play, 44-yard opening drive ended with a sensational touchdown catch by wide receiver Robert Woods on a throw from Kyle Orton.

The Bills lead 7-0 and are showing no signs of their rough week in Buffalo affecting their preparation. Now the Jets need to answer.

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Fred Jackson active for Bills vs. Jets

Fred Jackson, Kyle Orton AP

After missing two of the Bills’ last three games, running back Fred Jackson is ready to go tonight.

Jackson, who was listed as questionable with a groin injury, is active for tonight’s Jets-Bills game at Ford Field in Detroit.

The Bills’ inactives are FB Frank Summers, TE MarQuies Gray, LB Randell Johnson, NT Bryan Johnson, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, WR Marquise Goodwin and DE Jarius Wynn.

The Jets’ inactives are QB Matt Simms, WR Walter Powell, RB Bilal Powell, CB Josh Thomas, LB IK Enemkpali, OL Dakota Dozier and OL Wesley Johnson.

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Eric Berry headed to non-football illness list due to mass in chest

Seattle Seahawks v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

Mondays are always full of injury news, but most of them aren’t as serious as what Chiefs safety Eric Berry may be facing.

The Chiefs are putting Berry on the non-football illness list, which ends his season. There may be bigger issues for Berry to deal with in the immediate future, however.

Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder announced, via Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star, that Berry reported discomfort in his chest after the team’s game last week and doctors found a mass in the right side of his chest. Burkholder said that the “leading consideration” for what Berry has is lymphoma and that he’s heading to Atlanta for further evaluation.

“Right now, he needs to be a beast. He’ll attack this,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.

Berry released a statement via the team.

“I am truly thankful for all of the support from family, friends, coaches, teammates and the entire Chiefs kingdom. At first I was in shock with the diagnosis on Saturday and did not even want to miss a game, but I understand that right now I have to concentrate on a new opponent. I have great confidence in the doctors and the plan they are going to put in place for me to win this fight. I believe that I am in God’s hands and I have great peace in that. I know my coaches and teammates will hold things down here the rest of the season and until I am back running out of the tunnel at Arrowhead. I am so thankful and appreciative of being a part of this franchise and playing in front of the best fans in the NFL. I will be back!”

We’re hopeful that further evaluation finds Berry cancer-free and share Reid’s hope that he attacks it with all his might in the event that things go the other way.

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Hugh Thornton dealing with a sprained MCL

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

There was good news and bad news about the health of the offensive line in Colts coach Chuck Pagano’s Monday meeting with the media.

The bad news is that right guard Hugh Thornton sprained his MCL during Sunday’s victory over the Jaguars and Pagano described him, via Kevin Bowen of the team’s website, as week-to-week. That makes it all but certain that Thornton will miss at least this week’s game, although Pagano didn’t specify who would replace him in the lineup.

The good news is that the Colts expect to have right tackle Gosder Cherilus back in the lineup after he missed the Jaguars game with a shoulder injury. That will avoid being forced to start backups at both spots on the right side of the line, although whoever is in the lineup needs to do a better job than the Colts managed to do in the first half against Jacksonville.

Pagano also said that tight end Dwayne Allen is “trending in the right direction” after missing Sunday with an ankle injury, but that he didn’t know if he’d be able to practice on Wednesday.

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Browns “never considered” going to Manziel

Picks AP

It may take only three licks to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, but it apparently takes more than three picks to get Brian Hoyer benched.

On Monday, a day after the Browns stuck with Hoyer for the game-winning drive after his third interception nearly lost the game for Cleveland, coach Mike Pettine told reporters that the team “never considered” sitting Hoyer for rookie Johnny Manziel, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

After a sluggish loss to the Jaguars several weeks ago, Pettine admitted that a brief conversation occurred regarding the possibility of benching Hoyer for Manziel.  It didn’t happen then, and it sounds like it won’t be happening any time soon.

“I think the guys realize that we certainly wouldn’t be where we are without Brian,” Pettine said Monday.

Where the Browns are is at 7-4 through 11 games, their best record this late in the season since 2007, when 10-6 eventually wasn’t good enough to get a seat at the postseason table with Derek Anderson playing quarterback and then-rookie Brady Quinn on the bench.

The Browns easily could have been 6-5 after Sunday, thanks to Hoyer’s mistakes.  As Pettine told Peter King of TheMMQB.com after Sunday’s win, “This is a game [Hoyer] kept both teams in.”

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Bennie Logan: I don’t know what’s so great about Cowboys offensive line

Zack Martin, Doug Free, Andre Hal AP

The Eagles and Cowboys will meet for the first time this season on Thanksgiving, which means that the Eagles Defense will get their first in-person look at Dallas’s much-praised offensive line.

They’ve taken a look at them on film, however, and one member of the Eagles defense hasn’t been impressed by what he’s seen. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan had some praise for DeMarco Murray, but he isn’t buying that this year’s group is any better than the one he faced as a rookie last season.

“Yeah, they’re OK. I don’t really know what’s great about them,” Logan said, via CSNPhilly.com. “The running back’s having a good year running, but I don’t see anything spectacular about them. Same offensive line we faced last year and they have one new guy. We faced them [before]. They’re OK linemen.”

Sunday night’s game-winning drive against the Giants the latest illustration of how well the Cowboys linemen are playing. Tony Romo had time to do his taxes before delivering passes that moved Dallas quickly down the field. Were that an aberration, you couldn’t read much into it but the fact that the Cowboys have done it all year suggests they’re better than OK.

Logan and the rest of the Eagles will get their chance to prove otherwise on Thursday.

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Still no practice this week for NaVorro Bowman

St Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have until Dec. 9 to see if linebacker NaVorro Bowman can return this season.

And they’re willing to wait another week to see if he can.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Bowman won’t practice this week.

Bowman, who blew out his knee last year during the NFC Championship Game, was eligible to return to practice last week. But the 49ers have decided to wait before activating him from the physically unable to perform list.

He’s had an MRI which was declared “fine,” and spent last weekend visiting Dr. James Andrews.

As long as they have something to play for, they’re going to continue to wait, and could even put him on the 53-man roster and deactivate him each week until he’s ready.

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Jay Gruden: “Every intent” to start RGIII this week

Washington Redskins v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

It was another Monday of questions for Washington coach Jay Gruden about quarterback Robert Griffin III, including whether Griffin would be in the starting lineup against the Colts this week.

Gruden said that he had “every intent” of putting Griffin in the lineup, but added that “there’s a chance” to re-evaluate things at several positions after the Redskins lost 17-13 to the 49ers in Santa Clara on Sunday. Griffin was 11-of-19 for 106 yards and battered behind an offensive line missing left tackle Trent Williams, who Gruden hopes will be back this week, in the game, leaving Gruden to sum it up as not “a good day” for the passing offense.

Gruden also said that they had to look all over the offense for ways to improve, a process that should start with the offensive line but has to include Griffin. And it should probably include Griffin continuing to start.

There’s no playoff spot coming, which means eyes should be on the future and making a decision about Griffin’s future with the team has to be a priority. He’s played just four full games since Gruden became the head coach and everyone in Washington needs to know if they’re looking for another quarterback this offseason. Unless they’ve already made that call, there’s reason to see what Griffin does the last five games before making it.

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Report: Broncos will work out kickers this week

Miami Dolphins v Denver Broncos Getty Images

The Broncos came back late in Sunday’s game with the Dolphins and escaped with a 39-36 win, but there were still plenty of things to dislike about the team’s performance.

One item on the list is kicker Brandon McManus’s continued struggles. McManus pushed a 33-yard field goal attempt into the right upright with the Broncos trailing 21-17 in the third quarter. It’s the fourth missed field goal of the year for McManus, who they acquired in a trade with the Giants before the start of the season and decided to keep when they released Matt Prater at the end of Prater’s four-game suspension at the start of the year.

Another change may be on the horizon. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Broncos are planning to work out kickers this week as they evaluate what to do at the position moving into the final weeks of the regular season.

Former Cardinal Jay Feely and longtime Bill Rian Lindell are two veterans who have worked out with teams this year without landing a job, although it’s not known who might be on Denver’s list.

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Ray Farmer on Manziel: The time of the incident is concerning

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel and his entourage were reportedly involved in an altercation after a 33-year-old man asking Manziel for a hug outside an elevator at a Cleveland apartment and hotel complex at 2:36 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Chris Gonos, the man whose request apparently touched off the melee, spoke to CleveScene.com and confirmed much of the website’s original account of what went down. He also added that he thought someone in his group caught Manziel with a punch to the face after Manziel “sucker punched” his brother.

Browns General Manager Ray Farmer has also released a statement about the incident, which did not result in any arrests.

“We are aware of the incident and are in the process of gathering additional information in order to gain a complete understanding of what occurred. Nonetheless, the time of the incident is concerning to us. We continually stress to all of our players the importance of sound decision making in an effort to avoid putting themselves in these types of situations. We have addressed this appropriately with the player and will have no further comment at this time.”

The inclusion of a note about the time of the incident suggests the Browns weren’t thrilled to learn that one of their players was out of the house in the wee small hours of Saturday morning regardless of the circumstances that forced the police to intervene.

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Dominic Raiola won’t be suspended, but will face possible fine

Dominic Raiola AP

Dominic Raiola’s diving at the knee of an opponent on a meaningless play was unsportsmanlike, dangerous and stupid in that he bragged about it afterward.

But it’s not going to get him suspended.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Raiola won’t be suspended by the NFL, but will face a possible fine.

It could (and should) be a sizable one, since he also threw a punch at the back of Patriots lineman Zach Moore’s head earlier in the game.

Of course, he also has to deal with the everlasting shame of being owned by Bill Belichick, which has to be worse than any financial penalty the league can impart.

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Raiola threw a punch to the head, too

Dominic Raiola AP

The misconduct of Lions center Dominic Raiola wasn’t limited to a dive at the knees of New England defensive lineman Zach Moore.  Earlier in the game, Raiola also delivered a blow to the back of Moore’s head.

While it’s unclear whether the league office will discipline Raiola for diving at Moore’s knees on a play that entailed Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford taking a knee, the punch to Moore’s head is more likely to result in a fine.

Last year, the league office initially missed a similar move by Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.  Because the video of the blow to the head of former Cardinals tackle Eric Winston didn’t emerge until after the next game was played by Detroit, the incident did not result in a suspension for Suh, whose history possibly would have provoked another temporary banishment.  In the end, Suh wasn’t even fined — possibly to avoid questions as to why he wasn’t suspended and then questions as to why the blow to the head wasn’t seen soon enough to suspend Suh for the team’s next game.

For Raiola, the combination of the blow to the head and the dive at the knees could potentially trigger a one-game suspension.  At a minimum, it should result in a major fine.

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