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Duron Carter makes CFL debut

Carter AP

Duron Carter, the son of Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, tried to get a shot with multiple NFL teams, but it didn’t work out.

Instead, Duron went north of the border, landing on the Montreal Alouettes practice squad.  This week, he was bumped up to the official roster — and he made the first catch of his pro football career.

It was a 52-yarder in the second quarter of a wild game the Als won in the final seconds, 39-38, over the B.C. Lions.  The victory gave interim coach Jim Popp, who has interviewed for multiple NFL G.M. jobs in recent years, the first win during his most recent stint on the sidelines.

Carter made no other catches on the night, but his big play could get him more chances.  And if ESPN still had a preseason game to broadcast this weekend, Cris Carter’s colleague Chris Berman surely would have shown the highlight while speaking the kind of mangled French that would make any Parisian in the crowd run for his stash of Deux Deux Deuxs.

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Matt Ryan on Mike Smith: We’ve got to make him right

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Falcons coach Mike Smith said Monday that he felt he didn’t give his team the best chance to win based on the way he handled the clock during the team’s final offensive drive in a 26-24 loss to the Browns, echoing criticism from many corners that didn’t do anything to help Smith’s job security.

Quarterback Matt Ryan said Tuesday that he thought Falcons players were angry at themselves in the wake of the loss, but that their anger didn’t extend to Smith. He also said that the players’ job is to make Smith’s decisions the right ones on the field.

“There’s nobody that takes more responsibility than Mike,” Ryan said on 680 The Fan, via ESPN.com. “And that’s one of the reasons, as a player, you love him. He is the first to say, ‘Listen, I wish we would have done that one differently.’ So from a player’s perspective, we’ve got to make him right. We can’t worry about anything else other than we’ve got to convert that third down, we’ve got to get a first, we’ve got to be able to make them burn their timeouts and then kick it in the uprights and win that game. I feel for [Smith] because he’s ‘the man’ when it comes to that. He will stick his neck out there for us and take the brunt of the responsibility. But, from a player’s standpoint, we’ve got to make him right.”

Ryan’s loyalty to his coach is clear, but it’s less clear how much loyalty owner Arthur Blank will show Smith once the season comes to a close. Finding a way to finish atop the NFC South would help and Ryan correctly points out that the Falcons control their own destiny in that regard. So would Ryan finding a way to cut down on interceptions against the Cardinals, who visit Atlanta this week, after throwing nine of them in two games against Arizona the last two years.

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Aaron Rodgers swears he wasn’t squeezing Vikings with grape soda

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In these cynical and sarcastic times we live in, many folks saw Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers drinking a Grape Crush soda after beating the Vikings and thought there was a message.

As it turns out, he just really likes grape soda.

Rodgers cleared up the social media-generated flap during his weekly radio show with Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com, insisting he wasn’t trolling the Vikings.

He apparently eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drinks the same soda after every game, which makes seem like he’s a 9-year-old even if he’s not going for juvenile humor.

Seven years. To all the idiot trolls out there, seven years,” Rodgers said. “PBJ and Grape or Orange Crush. It’s been grape for the last five, the first couple years it was orange or grape. Seven years.”

While it’s hardly a controversial topic, he seemed offended at the perceived lack of respect for opponents.

“Anybody who knows, any of the local media or anybody who’s seen me after a game, I’m always carrying that around with me. That’s probably the only soda that I ever drink – right after the game, when you’ve got to get those nutrients back with you,” Rodgers said. “So that’s my post-game [snack] – PBJ and the Grape Crush. I do like it, contrary to anybody who thinks I was trolling anything. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s comical.

“I don’t do those kind of things.”

Now, if he beats the Patriots this week and walks to the podium with a Sam Adams, we will be able to call shenanigans on him.

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D.C. dysfunction looks to be continuing

Griffin AP

Jay Gruden has said he has “every intention” to start Robert Griffin III at quarterback this weekend, for what would have been one of the best games of the year.  In the year 2012.

It’s Washington and Indy.  Griffin and Luck.  The top two picks in the 2012 draft.  Now, Griffin could be having a hard time keeping one of the top two spots on his team’s depth chart.

Diana Russini of NBC 4 in Washington reported earlier today that the quarterbacks will meet at the team’s facility on Tuesday “to find out who is starting.”  And that hardly represents a clear indication Griffin remains entrenched as the starter.

In an organization seemingly bereft of strong leadership, the man who served for years as one of the true leaders in the locker room has addressed the situation in blunt, candid terms.

“It’s not an environment that’s really conducive to winning for a sustained period of time, from top to bottom,” former linebacker London Fletcher said Monday on 106.7 The Fan in D.C.  “You have to have a plan in place and say, ‘You know what?  This is what we’re gonna do, this is a winning formula,’ and then stick to the formula.  From my seven years, prior to [when] I got there, even now — and I count myself as being a part of it because I didn’t help get it as good as I wanted it to be once I left — you have to have a plan, that, ‘You know what?  This is going to be a winning plan, let’s stick to this plan, let’s stick to the script,’ so to speak, and do it the right way.  And that hasn’t been done before I got there, while I was there, since I’ve left, and I don’t know if they know what they’re doing, in terms of saying, ‘Hey, this is what we’re gonna do to be a winning franchise for the next decade.’ I like Jay Gruden as a head coach.  I think from a play-calling standpoint, I like some of the things he’s done. Maybe he can be that guy, but there needs to be some more changes that take place.”

It’s a strong indictment of the entire organization, from a guy who was in the middle of it for seven years.  And Fletcher has the perspective that comes from being with winning teams; he won a Super Bowl with the Rams.

Whatever Washington is doing, it’s clear that, currently, the plan is there is no plan.  The next five weeks could be more about figuring out who’ll be there to put a plan (or to not put a plan) in place in 2015 and less about laying the foundation for sustained success.

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Broncos cut kicker Brandon McManus, sign Connor Barth

Connor+Barth+Carolina+Panthers+v+Tampa+Bay+amA1CE9Y95Gl Getty Images

The Broncos have made a change at kicker.

Brandon McManus, who was acquired in a trade before the season, has been released. Connor Barth, a free agent who spent the last four years in Tampa Bay, has signed.

The Broncos had high enough hopes for McManus this season that they cut Matt Prater, a Pro Bowler last year, to hand McManus the job. But McManus has struggled and made Broncos fans miss Prater, who has since returned from a drug suspension and signed with the Lions.

McManus missed a 33-yard field goal attempt on Sunday against the Dolphins. That turned out to be his last chance in Denver.

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Michael Bush signs with Cardinals

Michael Bush AP

The Cardinals have added a veteran running back to their roster for the final five weeks of the season.

The team announced on Tuesday afternoon that they have signed former Raiders and Bears tailback Michael Bush. They released Kerwynn Williams to open up a spot on the roster.

Bush has not played for anyone since the Bears released him in March after two years with the team. He ran for 608 yards and eight touchdowns on 177 carries during his time in Chicago. His best season came in 2011 with the Raiders, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, when he ran for 977 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Cardinals haven’t found a reliable No. 2 back behind Andre Ellington this season and Ellington’s production has sharply declined over the last few weeks. He’s run 47 times for 89 yards in the last three weeks to go with 14 receptions, which makes the interest in a productive backup an easy one to understand. Bush’s work the last two years wasn’t overly impressive, but it wasn’t any worse than what Arizona’s gotten this season.

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Bengals place Andre Smith on IR, sign Jamon Meredith

Atlanta Falcons v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

The Bengals expected to the worst on right tackle Andre Smith, and it was confirmed today.

The team announced Smith was going on season-ending injured reserve with a triceps injury. He’ll be replaced on the 53-man roster by free agent Jamon Meredith.

They also announced that linebacker Terrell Manning had been signed off their practice squad by the Giants.

Meredith was last with the Packers, and has also spent time with Colts, Buccaneers, Steelers, Giants, Lions and Bills.

Losing Smith is a tough blow for the first-place Bengals, who appeared to have shaken out of an earlier slump and were running the ball effectively again.

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Dolphins bring back cornerback R.J. Stanford

Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Dolphins are short-handed in the secondary at the moment, so they brought back a familiar face.

According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins have signed cornerback R.J. Stanford.

He was with the Dolphins in 2012 and 2013, and has also spent time with the Panthers and Bengals.

The Dolphins are short there, with Cortland Finnegan struggling with an ankle injury and Jamar Taylor expected to miss some time with a shoulder injury.

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Bills make it official: They’ll play in Buffalo on Sunday

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Before they played the Jets in Detroit on Monday night, Bills president Russ Brandon said there were “no red flags” standing in the way of the team returning to Ralph Wilson Stadium for their Week 13 game against the Browns.

On Tuesday, Brandon made it official.

“We will play the Browns at Ralph Wilson Stadium,” Brandon said, via WGR550.com. “There’s been an enormous amount of progress over the last few days. While we had a difficult hand from Mother Nature last week, Mother Nature certainly assisted this week and with the heat wave that we somewhat had here in Buffalo, and the great efforts by [vice president of operations and guest experience] Andy Major and his staff over the last few days.”

There is some damage to the stadium, but Major said none of it is structural and that fans would not be restricted from any of the normally accessible areas of the stadium. There will be a bit less parking because of the need to pile up snow removed from the stadium and seating bowl, but it seems like it will otherwise be business as usual in Buffalo this weekend.

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Kaepernick thinks Harbaugh will be back in 2015

Harbaugh Getty Images

It’s become almost a given that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh won’t be back next year.  Many believe anything short of a Super Bowl win means he’ll be gone.  Several weeks ago, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported that Harbaugh won’t be back, regardless of the outcome to the season.

That perception/reality has yet to permeate the locker room.  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose press conferences have become an exercise in saying as little as possible, was asked on Tuesday whether for a gut feeling on whether his only NFL coach will return for a fifth season.

“I think he’ll be back,” Kaepernick told reporters.

So why does Kaepernick believe that about Harbaugh?

“His resume,” Kaepernick said.

Actually, Harbaugh’s history suggests he doesn’t stay in one place for very long.  Three years at San Diego University.  Four at Stanford.  Now, four with the 49ers.

This, based on Harbaugh’s track record, should be his last season on the job.  Both he and the organization have done a nice job of putting that issue behind the question of whether the team can get back to the Super Bowl and win it, but the reality is that, as soon as the last second of the last game ticks off the clock, the clock will start ticking on what many believe will be an inevitable divorce.

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Report: Michael Vick the choice to start if he’s healthy

Michael Vick AP

After the Jets were crushed by the Bills in Detroit on Monday night, Rex Ryan said he didn’t know whether Michael Vick or Geno Smith would be the team’s starting quarterback against the Dolphins in Week 13.

A pair of reports from Jets beat writers point to Vick being the choice. Both Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News and Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com report that Vick will be Ryan’s choice if his calf is OK after injuring it on Monday. Vick did not think the injury was serious after the game.

Mehta adds the caveat that Vick will be the choice if he’s healthy and if Ryan is the one making the call about the starting quarterback. That suggests that General Manager John Idzik and/or others in the organization might want to see Smith play out the string in hopes of seeing something that Smith didn’t show in 24 consecutive starts over the last two seasons.

That might be an unlikely outcome, but so is meaningful improvement from the offense with either player at quarterback.

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Buccaneers add two tight ends

Josh Hull, D.J. Williams AP

The Buccaneers are heading toward Week 13 with injury concerns about three of their tight ends, so they decided to add some insurance in the event any or all of them are unable to play against the Bengals.

Tampa announced that they have signed D.J. Williams and promoted Cameron Brate from their practice squad to fill out the depth chart at tight end. Fullback Jorvorskie Lane was placed on injured reserve with a broken leg and kick returner Marcus Thigpen was released.

Williams was a fifth-round pick of the Packers in 2011 and caught nine passes in two seasons there before splitting last season with the Jaguars and Patriots. Brate spent the preseason with Tampa after finishing his collegiate career at Harvard and has been on the practice squad all year. Brandon Myers, Luke Stocker and Austin Seferian-Jenkins all missed time with injuries last Sunday.

Thigpen’s departure means that there’s another change coming on special teams for the Buccaneers, who have also used Solomon Patton and Trindon Holliday as their returner this season.

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Week 12 power rankings

Brady AP

1. New England Patriots (No. 2; 9-2):  Gronk like cheese.

2. Green Bay Packers (No. 3; 8-3):  Lambeau Field will never host a Super Bowl, but this weekend it could be hosting a Super Bowl preview.

3. Arizona Cardinals (last week No. 1; 9-2):  There’s a little space on the bandwagon.  It won’t last long.

4. Dallas Cowboys (No. 4; 8-3):  If Jerry Jones gets the bigger piece of the wishbone, we know what he’ll be asking for.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 5; 8-3):  With Cowboys, Seahawks, Cowboys on the immediate horizon, we’ll know plenty about this team soon.

6. Denver Broncos (No. 6; 8-3):  The scoreboard operator was almost the least of the team’s concerns on Sunday.

7. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 11; 7-3-1):  But for that tie against Carolina, the Bengals would be caught in a four-way tie atop the AFC North.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 9; 7-4):  Tied for second sounds a lot better than tied for last.

9. Indianapolis Colts (No. 10; 7-4):  Luck vs. Griffin I finally arrives, with a lot less sizzle than expected in 2012.

10. Seattle Seahawks (No. 13; 7-4):  Like the last time the Seahawks met the 49ers, this one could be an elimination game.

11. Baltimore Ravens (No. 12; 7-4):  Justin Forsett keeps piling up yards — and votes for comeback player of the year.

12. Detroit Lions (No. 7; 7-4):  Four days before eating turkey, Dominic Raiola acted like a turd.

13. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 8; 7-4):  A franchise that has fought through plenty of adversity in recent years has another challenge in Eric Berry’s illness.

14. San Francisco 49ers (No. 14; 7-4):  Colin Kaepernick is great with a capital “G”, he really did get screwed with a capital “S” on his latest contract.

15. Cleveland Browns (No. 18; 7-4):  If Johnny Manziel ever throws a touchdown pass, it would be wise for his teammates to not ask for a hug.

16. Miami Dolphins (No. 15; 6-5):  If Joe Philbin keeps losing games he could have won, he’ll be losing a job he could’ve kept.

17. San Diego Chargers (No. 16; 7-4):  The win over the Rams felt — and looked — like a loss.

18. Buffalo Bills (No. 19; 6-5):  If the Lions don’t make it to the playoff’s maybe Detroit’s other team will.

19. Houston Texans (No. 17; 5-6):  “Ryan Fitzpatrick can save our season,” said no one ever.

20.  Chicago Bears (No. 21; 5-6):  Barely beating bad teams isn’t the way to convince anyone the Bears aren’t bad news.

21. New Orleans Saints (No. 20; 4-7):  Rob Ryan won’t be back, and it has nothing to do with someone finally deciding to make him a head coach.

22. Minnesota Vikings (No. 22; 4-7):  If they lost to the Packers by only three without Adrian Peterson, how would the Vikings have performed with him?

23. St. Louis Rams (No. 23; 4-7):  They’d be a playoff team if they only played playoff teams.

24. Atlanta Falcons (No. 24; 4-7):  Mike Smith should try to call a time out just before his postseason meeting with the owner.

25. New York Giants (No. 25; 3-8):  “We’re still the best team in New York!”

26.  Carolina Panthers (No. 26; 3-7-1):  “Can we get more bye weeks?”

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 27; 2-9):  “We’re still only two games out of first place!”

28. New York Jets (No. 28; 2-9):  Maybe they should have tried to be a zillion ways plus one better.

29. Tennessee Titans (No. 29; 2-9):  Forget the Titans.  Wait, everyone already has.

30. Washington (No. 30; 3-8):  Jay Gruden has “every intent” to get into broadcasting.

31. Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 1-10):  Sio Moore apparently thinks the Raiders were relegated to the CFL.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 1-10):  As they prepare to welcome Tom Coughlin back to Jacksonville, some fans may be wondering whether it makes sense to lure him back for a longer visit.

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Jay Gruden really has faith in RG3, unless he doesn’t

The Washington Redskins play the Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

Jay Gruden’s a football coach. But when he’s been talking about the future of quarterback Robert Griffin III lately, he’s parsing words as carefully as a lawyer, making sure to leave himself plenty of wiggle room.

From saying he had “every intent” to keep RG3 on his as starter, the Washington coach has continued to leave a trail of bread crumbs that seem to be pointing out the door.

During an interview with Chick Hernandez of CSN Washington, Gruden was asked how much time he can allow Griffin to get comfortable.

“Well, we want to beat Indianapolis,” Gruden said, via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post. “We want to win every game. And I have to put the people in there who [are] gonna help us win those games. And we’re gonna seriously go down and look at this film, look at last week’s film, look at Minnesota’s film, look at Houston’s film, and try to put a plan together that will help him succeed. Or we’ll have to find out if somebody else is there that can help us beat Indianapolis instead.”

Oh.

Sort of like, I guess I’ll play him, if I have to, unless something better comes up?

Gruden continued to talk about the many facets of offensive problems, working hard to make it not about one player. But it just doesn’t sound very convincing.

Asked if he planned on making a change, Gruden replied: “At this time, right now, Robert’s my guy, right now.”

Oh.

The fact of the matter is, Griffin’s not playing particularly well right now, but Washington’s stuck with him. And until they can have an offseason to get him right or get him gone, these last five weeks are an exercise in treading water until they can find an answer Gruden’s more comfortable with.

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NFC East teams tried to hire ex-Oregon defensive coordinator in effort to slow down Chip Kelly

California v Oregon Getty Images

Nick Aliotti retired as the University of Oregon’s defensive coordinator after the team completed its 2013 season and has remained retired despite some interest from NFL teams in bringing him on board as a consultant.

Their interest isn’t based on the 30-plus years that Aliotti has spent on the sideline, however. It has to do with the fact that he worked for Eagles coach Chip Kelly before Kelly jumped to the Eagles and the desire for Eagles opponents to do whatever they can to slow down Kelly’s offense. According to Aliotti, the teams that play the Eagles twice every year have all made inquiries.

“I have been asked by everybody in the NFC East …” Aliotti said, via the Oregonian. “The Giants asked me to come back when Chip got the first job. I didn’t feel right doing that. Some teams have called when they’re getting ready to play the Eagles and they call and have certain questions on the thing. Unless I know the guy and he’s a good friend, I don’t get involved with that.”

The Eagles ranked 4th in the league in points scored and 2nd in yards last year and they are currently 3rd in points and 4th in yards this year, so you can understand why teams would be looking for any edge they can find when tasked with stopping the Philly offense. As long as Aliotti decides to stay retired, they’ll have to look elsewhere.

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Lions promote Rodney Austin from practice squad

Detroit Lions Training Camp Getty Images

Lions guard Rodney Austin has something extra to be thankful for on Thursday.

The Lions announced Tuesday that Austin has been promoted from the practice squad to the active roster ahead of the Thanksgiving Day game against the Bears. The Lions released tight end Kellen Davis to make room for Austin.

Austin’s arrival comes at a moment when the Lions have a pair of starting offensive linemen dealing with injuries. Right guard Larry Warford has missed the last two games with a knee injury and isn’t expected back this week. Left tackle Riley Reiff hurt his knee on the first play of the loss to the Patriots and has missed the first two days of practice this week.

Rookie Travis Swanson has been filling in for Warford and Cornelius Lucas took over for Reiff last Sunday, leaving the Lions in need of the depth that Austin will provide.

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