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NFL confirms: Read-option QBs can be hit like runners

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (L) scrambles under pressure from Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel (C) and Sean Weatherspoon during the second quarter in the NFL NFC Championship football game in Atlanta Reuters

Players on the Packers have been talking about hitting 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh is not happy about that. But the NFL has some bad news for Harbaugh: Taking hits comes with the territory of being a read-option quarterback.

In an officiating video distributed to the media, NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino says that read-option quarterbacks can be hit like runners, even if they don’t have the ball. If a quarterback who handed off or pitched the ball is still carrying out a fake in a running posture, he can be tackled the same way he would be if he still had the ball.

“He is still treated as a runner until he is clearly out of the play,” Blandino said. “The quarterback makes the pitch, he’s still a runner — he can be hit like a runner until he’s clearly out of the play.”

Blandino noted that if the offense is running a play designed to keep the defense guessing about who’s getting the ball, it’s only fair for the defense to be allowed to tackle both players who might have the ball.

“The quarterback and the running back, they’re both treated as runners. We don’t know who has the football, we don’t know who’s going to take it, so both players are treated as runners,” Blandino said.

For all the talk of the league office protecting defenseless quarterbacks, Blandino made clear that quarterbacks are only considered defenseless in certain situations, and running the read option is not one of those situations.

“The basic concept is, the quarterback position is not defenseless throughout the down. It’s the posture he presents that will dictate his protections,” Blandino said.

Still, that doesn’t mean defenders get unlimited free shots on quarterbacks on all read-option plays. If it’s obvious that the quarterback doesn’t have the ball anymore, he can’t get hit: The rules say that if a defender drills a quarterback after he has handed off or pitched the ball and isn’t taking a running posture anymore, it’s unnecessary roughness.

“If the quarterback is out of the pocket, he’s clearly out of the play, he cannot be unnecessarily contacted,” Blandino said.

The officials will have a tough job determining where the line is drawn between playing tough, physical defense on read-option quarterbacks, and unnecessarily contacting a quarterback who doesn’t have the ball anymore. It’s probably safe to say that the Packers and the 49ers won’t agree about where that line should be drawn on Sunday.

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Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert out with concussion

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 30:  Justin Gilbert #21 of the Cleveland Browns returns a kickoff during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Justin Gilbert’s return to the lineup for the Cleveland Browns was cut short on Monday night.

Gilbert was ruled out after sustaining a concussion on a kickoff return in the third quarter. Gilbert took the Justin Tucker kick six yards deep in the end zone and returned it to the Browns 34-yard line before being tackled by Tucker along the sideline.

Gilbert’s helmet bounced off the turf and he was taken to the locker room for evaluation before being officially ruled out.

Gilbert started the game with Joe Haden out and Pierre Desir coming off a rough outing. Gilbert had been inactive for the Browns last game two weeks ago.

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Karlos Dansby pick-six of Matt Schaub gives Browns lead

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 30:  Matt Schaub #8 of the Baltimore Ravens looks to pass during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Matt Schaub lost his starting job in Houston due to a stunning propensity to throw interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

That trait seems to have followed Schaub to Baltimore.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby intercepted Schaub’s pass for Kamar Aiken and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown to give the Cleveland Browns a 20-17 lead over the Ravens on Monday night.

Dansby undercut the throw for Aiken and stayed inbounds up the sideline for the score to give Cleveland its first lead of the night.

Schaub is making his first start in place of Joe Flacco, who was lost for the season due to a torn ACL.

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Ravens, Browns trading scores

McCown AP

The Ravens have been in charge, but their lead over the Browns is only 17-10 in the second quarter.

After the Browns had a 14-play drive that ended in a field goal to cut their deficit to 10-3, the Ravens easily went right back down the field with a deep pass from Matt Schaub to Chris Givens and a touchdown pass from Schaub to rookie running back Buck Allen.

The Browns answered with another long drive capped by a Josh McCown touchdown pass to Marlon Moore to make it 17-10. McCown is 11-of-12 for 123 yards on the two drives that have resulted in points.

The fans inside First Energy Stadium serenaded the Browns with boos following Allen’s touchdown, but the Browns’ answer brought cheers.

The Ravens scored first on an 82-yard punt return by Kaelin Clay.

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Clay’s return gives Ravens early lead

John Harbaugh AP

The Browns and Ravens traded punts to start Monday’s game, and Ravens rookie Kaelin Clay took the one he caught 82 yards for a touchdown.

So, the Ravens lead, 7-0, in a game that probably won’t feature many explosive offensive plays. The Ravens got a 49-yard field goal from Justin Tucker later in the quarter to make it 10-0.

Clay was a sixth-round pick of the Buccaneers last spring out of Utah. He spent time on the Buccaneers and Lions practice squads before landing with the Ravens on Nov. 17

All of the Ravens’ still-healthy receivers are playing for jobs over the next six weeks, and Clay made a pretty strong impression with his return.

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Browns say CB Gilbert starting tonight

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The Browns are listing second-year cornerback Justin Gilbert as a starter for Monday night’s game vs. the Ravens.

A first-round pick in 2014, Gilbert has been in coach Mike Pettine’s doghouse at various times in two seasons and has played little defense this season. With Joe Haden out and Pierre Desir having struggled in the Browns’ last game, the Browns made Desir inactive Monday and are listing Gilbert as a starter opposite Tramon Williams.

Gilbert was a healthy scratch for the Browns’ last game on Nov. 15.

The Browns are also starting John Hughes at defensive end in place of Randy Starks and rookie Cam Erving at guard in place of the injured Joel Bitonio.

Both teams are making quarterback changes. The Browns benched Johnny Manziel, though he’s active, and will start Josh McCown. Matt Schaub starts for the Ravens due to Joe Flacco’s torn ACL.

For the Ravens, defensive end Brent Urban is active and will make his NFL debut. A fourth-round pick in 2014, Urban spent last season on injured-reserve and last summer tore a bicep during training camp. He was activated earlier this month.

As expected, the Ravens are without offensive line starters Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele. James Hurst is slated to start at tackle for Monroe and John Urschel should start at guard in place of Osemele.

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Cardinals lose Chris Johnson to fractured tibia

Chris Johnson, NaVorro Bowman AP

The impressive comeback season for Cardinals running back Chris Johnson has hit a bump in the road.

Johnson has suffered a fractured tibia, according to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports. It’s not clear how much time Johnson will miss, but it’s likely a significant period of time.

That’s a big blow to the Cardinals: Johnson is fourth in the NFL with 814 rushing yards this season and has been a big part of the 9-2 Cardinals’ offense.

With Johnson out, David Johnson and Andre Ellington will split carries in Arizona’s backfield. Ellington, however, is dealing with a toe injury, and his prognosis is uncertain. So the depth in the Cardinals’ backfield may have just gone from a strength to a weakness.

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Patriots cut Chris Harper after costly muffed punt

Chris Harper, Cody Latimer AP

A muffed punt that turned the tide of the Patriots’ loss on Sunday night has cost Chris Harper his job.

Tom Curran of reports that Harper was cut today.

The Patriots appeared to be in total control of the game early in the fourth quarter on Sunday night: They had a 21-7 lead and had just forced the Broncos to punt. But Harper muffed the punt, the Broncos recovered, and four plays later they scored a touchdown. Denver went on to win the game in overtime.

An undrafted rookie receiver from Cal, Harper had played only sparingly this season. Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t particularly tolerant of fumbling even among good players, and among marginal players, a fumble is an easy way to lose your job in New England. Harper found that out the hard way today.

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Kubiak “real concerned” about the number of hits Osweiler has been taking

Brock Osweiler AP

Now that an injury to Peyton Manning has opened the door for quarterback Brock Osweiler, the Broncos don’t want the door to be slammed shut repeatedly on Osweiler’s leg.

Osweiler has taken plenty of hits in two games, and coach Gary Kubiak is concerned about it. How concerned?

“Real concerned,” Kubiak told reporters on Monday. “I think Brock has been sacked I want to say 11 times in his 10 quarters — maybe 10 times — so that’s way too many. Some of those are his that we’ve got to get corrected. A couple of those are protection issues, but [the Patriots] came after us, especially in the second half they came after us, blitzed us a little bit more and he’ll learn from that. Yes, protecting him and doing a better job—that’s important right now. It really is.”

It is because the physics are simple. The more hits a quarterback takes, the more likely he is to break. Or to sprain. Or to rupture. Or to lacerate.

Beyond the hits Osweiler is taking, Kubiak seems to have no concerns about the guy who has now started two career games.

“I think the No. 1 thing that’s impressed me is I think he understands exactly what he needs to do for the team to be successful,” Kubiak said. “What I mean by that — sometimes guys will get put in situations and they’ll try to do too much. I think he understands he’s on a good football team. If he’ll just do his job, handle the ball well, handle the team well, then our football team will have a chance to be successful. I’m really impressed with how he’s approached that. He’s very comfortable in his preparation, his work and obviously he’s confident in his abilities. I really think just understanding the situation he’s in and handling it might by the No. 1 thing.”

And so he continues to be the No. 1 quarterback indefinitely. Which definitely means he’ll be playing as long as he keeps doing those things.

And as long as nothing breaks, sprains, ruptures, or lacerates.

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Pagano: “Ridiculous” to think Luck won’t start once he’s healthy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 29: Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts gets his team fired up before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts moved to 4-0 in games started by Matt Hasselbeck by beating the Buccaneers 25-12 on Sunday and Hasselbeck turned in another good performance to help lead the team to the victory.

Hasselbeck completed 26-of-42 passes for a season-high 315 yards and two touchdowns in a performance that was as good as the best that the team’s seen from Andrew Luck when Luck has been healthy this season. That performance and the team’s record in Hasselbeck’s starts may have some wondering whether the Colts will continue to roll with him when Luck has been cleared to return from kidney and abdominal injuries.

Coach Chuck Pagano shot down that notion on Monday. Pagano said, via Andrew Siciliano of NFL Media, that it is “ridiculous” to think that the team would leave Luck on the bench once he’s deemed healthy enough to play. There’s no word on when that might be beyond Luck saying he “definitely” expects to be back before the season is over.

Coming into this season, it would have seemed just as ridiculous to even entertain the thought but this year has not played out the way anyone was expecting in Indianapolis. Still, Luck is the player the Colts have built their franchise around and he’ll continue to be the centerpiece as long as he’s fit enough for action.

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Report: Manziel will be active for MNF

Johnny Manziel AP

Johnny Manziel pulled off the rare feat of getting named starter then demoted during the Browns’ bye week. With that demotion came a statement from Browns coach Mike Pettine that said Manziel would be the third quarterback for the Browns’ next game, which is Monday night vs. the Ravens.

Monday afternoon, Mary Kay Cabot of reported that Manziel will be active for the game. That’s interesting because Pettine specifically stated that Josh McCown would start and that Austin Davis would be the No. 2 quarterback, and Manziel being active leaves open the possibility that he could still be in the plans for the Ravens game.

The Browns generally make just two quarterbacks among their active 46 players.

Maybe the Browns went through their list of available players and gameplan and decided they had a spot for a third quarterback. Or, maybe, the punishment for Manziel’s latest social media appearance and being less than truthful about it was simply not starting and he’ll be available if needed or even in a special situation. It’s always something with Manziel, so stay tuned.

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Mike Mularkey says NFL admitted blown call against the Titans

Jack Del Rio, Mike Mularkey AP

In a season full of blown calls affecting high-profile games, there hasn’t been much public outrage about the blown call at the end of Sunday’s Raiders-Titans game, perhaps because that was a low-profile game.

But there was a blown call: According to Titans coach Mike Mularkey, the NFL has admitted that the defensive holding penalty against Titans cornerback B.W. Webb that kept alive the Raiders’ final drive was a poorly officiated play.

On the play in question, the Raiders were facing fourth-and-8 with 1:57 remaining, and a Derek Carr pass fell incomplete. If not for the penalty, the Titans would have taken over with a 21-17 lead and would’ve just had to kneel down three times to run out the clock and win the game. Instead, the penalty gave the Raiders a first down, and Oakland scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later.

After the game, Webb called it a “terrible call,” and Mularkey said, “I do not agree with it.” Apparently the league office doesn’t agree with it either.

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Report: Dont’a Hightower suffered sprained MCL

Dont'a Hightower, Ryan Fitzpatrick AP

Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s knee injury commanded the lion’s share of the attention coming out of Sunday night’s Patriots loss, but he wasn’t the only key member of the team to leave the contest with an injury.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower also departed early with a knee injury. Like Gronkowski, Hightower appears to have avoided a severe injury but may join the tight end on the sideline in the near future.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that Hightower suffered a sprained MCL. There’s no timetable given for how long he might be out, although such injuries typically keep a player out for at least a little while.

Before Hightower went out on Sunday night, Denver had 43 yards on 15 carries. Ronnie Hillman scored on a 19-yard run a couple of plays after he left the game and the Broncos would go on to put up 136 yards on 17 carries overall with Hightower out of the game. The Patriots were missing Jamie Collins at linebacker as well and it’s probably not a coincidence that the Broncos were able to run so well with those two missing from the lineup.

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Broncos will be without T.J. Ward, Sylvester Williams this week

T.J. Ward AP

They might not be Rob Gronkowski-level players, but the Broncos also left last night with some injuries that will take some key contributors out.

According to Mike Klis of KUSA, the Broncos will be without strong safety T.J. Ward and defensive tackle Sylvester Williamsfor a while” after they suffered high ankle sprains on the same play last night.

The two of them even shared a cart ride from the sidelines to the locker room, after being helped off following a first-quarter run.

“Got rolled with Sly on the same play, in the same area on the same tackle,” Ward said.

Missing two key pieces will force the Broncos to adjust, but they have put together a deep defense, and have been able to withstand the absence of pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware.

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Peyton Manning won’t be back “anytime soon”

Peyton Manning AP

After Sunday night’s unlikely win over the previously 10-0 Patriots, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak didn’t say that Peyton Manning will return to the lineup only when he’s “100 percent,” or words to that effect. Kubiak probably didn’t need to.

According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Manning won’t be playing “anytime soon.”

Last week, the Broncos announced that Manning would miss at least two games due to the foot injury that has caused him to miss the last two. He’s still in a walking cast, and he is expected to wear it until at least Friday of this week.

Even after shedding the cast, Manning will still need to further rehab a partially-torn plantar fascia tendon. It’s a painful condition, and there’s no indication that rest and rehab will get Manning to the point where he can perform without limitation.

Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler is performing at a high level, making it easier to perform without Manning and harder to justify not rolling with Osweiler’s hot hand. While Manning remains determined to play again in 2015, he’s smart enough and sufficiently self-aware to understand what’s currently happening. And he apparently has no problem with it — even if at this point he’s trying to get healthy enough to play only in the event that Osweiler eventually isn’t.

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Minor knee strain for Rob Gronkowski

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 23:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots reacts after missing a catch during the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on November 23, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

The early word was that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski avoided a serious injury when he hurt his knee in Denver on Sunday night and further tests have done nothing to change that outlook.

PFT has learned, via a league source, that the Patriots star suffered a minor knee strain. The time frame for his return is expected to be a week or two.

While playing without Gronkowski for any amount of time is a negative for the Patriots offense, this qualifies as good news given how dire the injury appeared to be when Gronkowski first went down on Sunday night. The reactions of Gronkowski and other members of the Patriots gave the impression that it might be a long time before Gronkowski would be back on the field, so a couple of weeks is far easier to swallow for a team that has their sights set on the Super Bowl.

Scott Chandler could see a larger role while Gronkowski heals up and the Patriots will hope to get wide receiver Danny Amendola back in time to face the Eagles in Week 13 as well.

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