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League quietly shifts focus of helmet-to-helmet hits

Cumberland AP

As the NFL continues to pay close attention to illegal hits on defenseless receivers, the league quietly has shifted its focus regarding borderline calls.

Per a league source, the NFL no longer tells officials to err on the side of protecting players when assessing whether a defenseless receiver has been struck in the head or neck area, or on any part of his body with the defender’s helmet.

During Sunday’s game between the Buccaneers and the Jets, the officials flagged Tampa safety Dashon Goldson for hitting New York tight end Jeff Cumberland in a way that violates the rules.  It appeared that Goldson put his shoulder into the Cumberland’s chest.  As the league sees it, we’re told, Goldson still made contact with his helmet in the head/neck area of the defenseless receiver.

If the officials had thrown the flag without prohibited conduct occurring, they would have nevertheless received a downgrade.  Erring on the side of safety no longer applies — possibly because the goal is to avoid erring of any kind.  Instead, the league’s new focus will be aggressively enforcing the rule.

While it doesn’t mean that mistakes won’t be made by officials who are trying to get the call right in real time, it means that the officials no longer have a safety net that would encourage them to whip it out, when in doubt.

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49ers grab lead just before halftime

Colin Kaepernick AP

Jay Gruden hasn’t had to avail himself of Colt McCoy just yet.

The Redskins came into Sunday’s game with the 49ers on the heels of another drama-filled week mostly centered on quarterback Robert Griffin III that culminated with a Sunday report that Gruden is prepared to pull Griffin in favor of McCoy during the matchup in Santa Clara. The offense got off to a slow start, but Griffin looked better on the fourth possession of the day and drove the team for a touchdown.

It wasn’t enough to give the Redskins the lead, however. Colin Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree for 25 yards on fourth down with 11 seconds left in the half to set up a Phil Dawson field goal that gave the 49ers a 10-7 lead at the break. Crabtree did a great job of going up for the ball and then getting his feet down inbounds on a play that would have offered Washington a Hail Mary chance if it had gone incomplete.

Kaepernick was 10-of-14 for 155 yards overall in the first half, which saw Washington do a good job of stopping the 49ers on the ground. Griffin is 5-of-8 for 54 yards and Alfred Morris has run for 57 yards and a touchdown.

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Suh, Blount exchanged words after Patriots beat Lions

suh AP

Two NFL players with reputations for being hotheads got into it in New England today.

As players walked off the field following the Patriots’ win over the Lions, New England running back LeGarrette Blount and Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh were seen yelling at each other. Several players were between them, and it didn’t appear that it was close to getting physical, but both men were heated.

Blount first came to national attention in a post-game altercation in college at Oregon, when he punched a Boise State player and was suspended from the team by then-Ducks coach Chip Kelly. Suh has a well-worn reputation for on-field altercations.

Whatever happened after the game, Blount got the better end of things during the game: He ran 12 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns.

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Seahawks lead Cardinals 9-3 in a defensive war

Drew Stanton AP

The Cardinals have a three-game lead on the NFC West, but this game against the Seahawks is being decided three points at a time.

The Seahawks are up 9-3 at the break, as neither team can get into the end zone, and both sides are hitting hard.

The two teams have combined for just 232 yards at halftime, which is more of a function of strong defense than bad offense.

The Cardinals have sacked Russell Wilson five times and blocked a field goal. The Seahawks have dropped Drew Stanton twice and picked him off.

And with Marshawn Lynch in and out of the game with a sore back, and the Cardinals depleted, it might continue that way.

With Larry Fitzgerald out with a knee injury, the Cards were down a dependable red zone weapon. The absence was obvious when Jaron Brown dropped a touchdown pass just before halftime.

That’s the kind of mistake which could haunt them, as it’s unclear if either team will be able to do much with the ball.

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Janoris Jenkins’ interception return TD gives Rams the lead

St. Louis Rams v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

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

Flag Getty Images

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

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwy1odvjmti3ymy1y2q1otywywi5ztuzmjg5ztrhy2vh AP

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

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

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

bradylions AP

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

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

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

Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

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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