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Gronk says he has progressed “big time”

Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady AP

During his Wednesday press conference, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked how tight end Rob Gronkowski looks this week.

“We haven’t practiced today. We’ve just been sitting in meetings; he looked great sitting in the meeting,” Belichick said.

When Gronkowski met with the media later in the day, his thoughts on how he looked in the meeting was not a topic for discussion. How he was feeling was a much bigger issue and Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reports that Gronkowski said he has progressed “big time” and that his condition has improved “significantly since last week.”

There won’t be any specific idea about Gronkowski’s chances of playing until later in the week when the Patriots submit their final injury report for the game against the Buccaneers. PFT reported Tuesday that Gronkowski was closer to doubtful than questionable for the week, which is slightly less optimistic than Ed Werder of ESPN’s report that Gronkowski’s chances of playing are at 50-50 right now.

The Patriots have obviously missed Gronkowski in the first two weeks, which is all the more reason to be sure he’s ready to play because any step backward would likely keep him out for a much bigger chunk of the season than anyone would like.

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Ryan sharp as Falcons take early lead

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 11:  Mohamed Sanu #12 of the Atlanta Falcons scores a two-point conversion against Chris Conte #23 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on September 11, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons got the ball first and scored first in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

They went 80 yards in 13 plays with Matt Ryan completing three third-down passes.

The Falcons scored on a third-down shovel pass to Mohamed Sanu after Ryan was flushed out of the pocket. The Falcons have now scored a touchdown on their first drive in eight straight games.

Ryan was 6-of-8 for 64 yards on the first drive. The Packers moved inside the Falcons’ 25-yard line on their first possession but stalled and Mason Crosby missed a 41-yard field goal. Crosby had made 23 consecutive field goals.

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Antonio Brown reportedly fined $10,000 by Steelers for locker room video

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, right, arrives to talk with reporters after their NFL football practice, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers face the New England Patriots in the AFC conference championship on Sunday. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) AP

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said last week that the team would discipline wide receiver Antonio Brown for sharing a video from the locker room on Facebook Live and that discipline reportedly includes a five-figure fine.

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reports that Tomlin told players at a team meeting that Brown was fined $10,000 for violating the team’s social media policy. The league’s policy prohibits the use of social media from 90 minutes before kickoff through the end of postgame media obligations, so Brown may face other penalties.

Per Glazer, Tomlin asked if anyone had a problem with that decision and then said it was time to move on to get ready for the Patriots. Brown apologized for posting the video and creating what he called a “total distraction” to his teammates leading up the game against New England.

NFL Media reported Sunday that Brown has a six-figure marketing deal with Facebook, which got a lot of publicity as a result of the video. Brown would only say “top secret” when asked about a deal with the company, but the net effect on his bank account will still be a positive one if he’s in business with the social network.

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Report: Chip Kelly could replace Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Chip Kelly of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during their NFL game against the New England Patriots at Levi's Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is slated for a second interview with the 49ers about their head coaching job this week and the expectation around the league is that he will wind up taking the job.

That would leave the Falcons in need of a new offensive coordinator and Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported on Sunday that the team has lined up three candidates to take the job, including the man Shanahan would be replacing with the 49ers. Glazer reports that Chip Kelly is one of the potential additions to Dan Quinn’s staff.

Glazer reported that Kelly would consider a coordinator position shortly after he was fired by the 49ers and he interviewed with the Jaguars earlier this month before Jacksonville decided to keep Nathaniel Hackett as the offensive coordinator on a permanent basis. He also reportedly met with Patriots coach Bill Belichick recently, although there’s been no word about whether there was a discussion about joining the staff.

Shanahan is eligible to speak to the 49ers this week whether the Falcons win or lose, but would only be moving on to the 49ers immediately if the Packers are moving on to the Super Bowl.

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Report: Matt Cavanaugh “in negotiations” for Redskins offensive coordinator

Washington Redskins conduct OTAs Getty Images

There’s a report about Kevin O’Connell coming aboard as the new quarterbacks coach in Washington, but it doesn’t look like Matt Cavanaugh, who was in that job during the 2016 season, will be leaving the team.

Mike Jones of the Washington Post reports that the Redskins are “in negotiations” with Cavanaugh about a promotion to offensive coordinator. The job has been vacant since Sean McVay left to become the head coach of the Rams.

A bump up the ladder for Cavanaugh would make two internal promotions to coordinator for the Redskins as they’re moving Greg Manusky from outside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator.

Cavanaugh has spent the last two years as the quarterbacks coach in D.C. and has experience as an offensive coordinator with the Bears, Ravens and the University of Pittsburgh. He also had stints as the quarterbacks coach for the Bears and Jets before joining the Redskins.

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Packers wide receivers active, available

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 28: Jordy Nelson #87 and Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers celebrate after a touchdown by Adams in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers have their injured wide receivers active and available for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Atlanta.

Both team submitted their inactive lists 90 minutes before kickoff. Jordy Nelson, Geronimo Allison and Davante Adams will all play after being listed as questionable. Nelson missed last week’s game after breaking ribs in the wild-card round.

The Packers have six wide receivers active, giving them additional depth if Nelson, Allison or Adams are limited by their injuries or have to leave the game.

Packers safety Morgan Burnett, cornerback Quinten Rollins and running back Christine Michael had been listed as questionable but both will play. The Packers had previously ruled running back James Starks out due to a concussion.

Also inactive for the Packers are Joe Callahan, Max McCaffrey, Herb Waters, Joe Kerridge, Kyle Murphy and Christian Ringo.

The Falcons have no injury-related inactives. Their inactives are Nick Williams, Terron Ward, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Dashon Goldson, Josh Keyes, Wes Schweitzer and D.J. Tialavea.

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Colts used psychologist to improve Grigson, Pagano relationship

635875518856579454-09-pagano-colts Getty Images

On Saturday, Colts owner Jim Irsay insisted that there were no issues between coach Chuck Pagano and now-former G.M. Ryan Grigson. On Sunday, some evidence contradicting that assertion emerged.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Colts hired a psychologist to help improve the relationship between Pagano and Grigson. The effort focused on ways to improve communications between the two men.

That’s a nice way of saying they didn’t get along in the way that two men who have every reason to find a way to get along should. Whether a result of personality differences or philosophical impasse (Grigson wanted to build for the future and Pagano wanted to win now), two grown men with every reason to treat their jobs like a three-legged race ended up being less effective than a three-legged dog.

“There have been a lot of relationships throughout the years where the General Manager and head coach aren’t the best of friends, but professionally they move forward and excel,” Irsay said Saturday. “Both of these guys have great affection for each other, that may shock you guys, but I will let Chuck speak for himself or Ryan. There is a lot more affection than you guys even know.”

Affection or lack thereof isn’t the issue. The issue is shared accountability. Their failure to be on the same page shows that they each believed it would be possible to survive the firing of the other. Pagano ultimately won; the better approach for any football organization is that both will win or both will lose.

The cockeyed accountability apparently will continue once the new G.M. arrives with a mandate to make changes that could include getting rid of Pagano.

“The new General Manager will come in, evaluate our whole football program and we will see where we are at,” Irsay said. “Again, I hope Chuck can be our coach for many years to come. He is our coach this year. Going through this process and interviewing General Managers and having whoever the new General Manager is come in to work with me to evaluate where we are at will play a big role on that in the long-term.”

The new G.M. will want to hire his own coach. Which means that Pagano already is on notice that 2017 is an up-or-out season for him.

After that, the G.M. and the next coach need to realize that they’re in it together. It’s on Irsay to make sure they realize that failure for one means failure for both, and that the next time a major change is made both the coach and G.M. will be sent packing.

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Wade Phillips on Rams defense: We can fit whatever we need to fit in

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 09:  Wade Phillips defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos celebrates on the stage as the Super Bowl 50 Champion Denver Broncos are honored at a rally on the steps of the Denver City and County Building on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Rams made the hire of Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator official last Thursday, finalizing a move that extends Phillips’ NFL resume to 10 franchises.

As in those other stops, Phillips is being asked to put together a top-flight defense. As in many of those stops, that will call for tweaking of the Rams’ defensive scheme as Phillips puts his own stamp on the unit. That stamp is expected to include a shift from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 and Phillips doesn’t expect it to be a major stumbling block.

“Four out of the last six teams I’ve gone to were running a 4-3, and we went to a 3-4 and went to the playoffs every year, and they hadn’t been to the playoffs the year before,” Phillips said, via “I think we can fit whatever we need to fit in. And if we couldn’t, we would change. But that’s the way we’ve done it. We’ve got our defense where we can utilize any kind of personnel in any way. It’s just what the players can do best. Same with coverages, and same with the linebackers, and same with the D-line. You try to get the best players on the field and don’t make many mistakes. That’s what we’re going to do. That’s what we plan on doing.”

Phillips’ arrival may force some players, like defensive end Robert Quinn, to change positions but Phillips says players “who can rush are going to rush” by way of explaining that things aren’t going to be radically different under his command.

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Washington promotes Greg Manusky to defensive coordinator

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - CIRCA 2010: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Greg Manusky of the San Francisco 49ers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)

Washington head coach Jay Gruden didn’t go far to find his new defensive coordinator.

Greg Manusky has been promoted to the top assistant job, NFL Network reports.

Manusky spent last season as the outside linebackers coach in Washington. Prior to that he was a defensive coordinator for nine years, with the Colts for four seasons, the Chargers for one season and the 49ers for four seasons.

The 50-year-old Manusky had a 12-year playing career in Washington, Minnesota and Kansas City.

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Gillette Stadium briefly cleared of people after fire alarm

FOXBORO, MA - JULY 10:  The United States stands for their national anthem before the 2015 CONCACAF  Gold Cup match between United States and Haiti at Gillette Stadium on July 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Sunday morning has seen #alternativefacts become a trending topic on Twitter and #alternativefirealarms are trending in New England.

A man was arrested on Sunday for allegedly pulling a fire alarm in the Steelers’ hotel early on Sunday morning, leading the fire department to respond and the hotel to be evacuated while they made sure there was no actual emergency. It wasn’t long before there was another evacuation in the area.

Media members at Gillette Stadium well ahead of Sunday evening’s kickoff reported that the building was cleared of people after an alarm went off around 10 a.m. ET. It didn’t take long before the all clear was given for people to return with no apparent signs of trouble at the site of the AFC Championship Game.

Hopefully this brings an end to the fire alarm stories, false or not, and that football is the only thing generating headlines in New England the rest of the day.

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Source: Facebook encouraged Antonio Brown to do locker-room live broadcast

unknown Getty Images

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown’s ill-advised decision to broadcast live from the post-game locker room in Kansas City can no longer be chalked up to an exercise of unbridled enthusiasm.

Per a league source, Facebook actually encouraged Brown to engage in a Facebook Live session from the locker room after the game.

A Facebook spokesperson declined comment on the situation. One other source, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted that there has been contact between Facebook and Brown but insisted that Brown was not directed to broadcast live from the locker room.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the reality that one or more Facebook representatives may have thrown out ideas for ways to generate more interest and bigger audiences for Brown’s Facebook Live broadcasts. Coupled with the report from NFL Media that Brown has a six-figure deal with Facebook, it would hardly be a surprise to learn that Facebook has tried to steer Brown toward strategies for using Facebook Live that would have maximum impact.

It provides another layer to Brown’s blatant violation of the league’s social-media policy, and it pulls a corporate behemoth into the middle of the potential violation of the league’s broadcast deals by infringing on the exclusive rights of the networks to broadcast locker-room video and audio.

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Colts have begun reaching out to G.M. candidates

jim-irsay Getty Images

Maybe Colts owner Jim Irsay doesn’t already know what his next move will be.

Per a league source, the Colts have commenced the process of reaching out to candidates currently employed by other NFL teams in the immediate aftermath of the firing of G.M. Ryan Grigson. It was previously believed that Irsay was not considering persons already working in the league as potential replacements for Grigson before cutting him loose, based on the absence of any effort to explore the interest of some of the no-brainer G.M. candidates working in lesser capacities elsewhere.

There are two ways to interpret this. First, Irsay knows who he will hire and is doing everything he can to create the impression that he doesn’t. Second, Irsay was unable to get the person(s) he wanted (Peyton Manning and whoever else Irsay may have pursued) and decided in lieu of sticking with Grigson to rip the Band-Aid away and fish for an upgrade.

Here’s the problem with the delayed search. Multiple potential candidates, like Packers executives Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst, already have flirted with leaving and gotten new deals to stay put. If Irsay had simply pulled the rip cord three weeks ago, he would have had a shot at some of the candidates who already have considered leaving their current places of employment and decided to stay.

While some could change their minds, the Irsay factor will also be a consideration. Some won’t want to deal with a meddling owner who has created his own share of distractions over the years, from his Twitter account and elsewhere. Ultimately, the question becomes whether the lure of building a team around Andrew Luck overcomes other considerations.

Unless, of course, Irsay already knows who he’ll hire and this process of kicking tires on other candidates is aimed at creating the impression that Irsay engaged in a thorough and rational and analytic and deliberate process even if he made a knee-jerk, gut-level decision before announcing his decision to fire Grigson.

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Irsay’s slow, deliberate decision ultimately was made by gut feeling

Indianapolis Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay announces that he has relieved general manager Ryan Grigson of his duties with the team during a press conference at the NFL team's facility in Indianapolis, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) AP

In announcing and explaining the belated decision to fire G.M. Ryan Grigson, Colts owner Jim Irsay spent plenty of time trying to create the impression that the delay had nothing to do with lining up Grigson’s replacement and everything to do with engaging in a thorough and rational and analytic and deliberate process regarding whether to fire him.

A thorough and rational and analytic and deliberate process that boiled down to a raw, basic gut feeling.

“It was a gut, intuitive instinct from looking at where we were and where we are as a franchise,” Irsay told reporters, via the transcript provided by the team. “I think that we needed to make a change. Intuitively you get the feeling when the timing is right, where a change will help. Whereas continuity is something that I really want and long to have as much as we can have it, but in this case I really felt that the time was right to make a change, that we needed some new direction in the vision of our football program. That is from talking to a lot of people and giving it a lot of thought.”

So why did it take 20 days to develop the gut feeling needed to make a change, especially when Irsay had all season to ponder whether another 8-8 season and/or a non-banner-hanging third-place finish in the AFC South should have consequences? Every other team that made a major change based on 2016 did it during or immediately after (as in, the same day) the season ended.

“There is no question in my mind that this was the right move for the franchise,” Irsay said. “There is also no question in my mind that we went through an extremely thorough process before we reached that decision so I feel a lot of comfort in knowing that.”

That process obviously included trying to line up a replacement before letting Grigson go. Irsay tried hard to downplay that, disputing that he talked to Jon Gruden about coaching the team and denying that Peyton Manning may be running the franchise.

Irsay possibly is motivated by a desire to create the impression that he spent the last 20 days focusing only on the up-or-down decision on whether to fire Grigson and nothing more, and that Irsay will now turn his attention for the first time to finding Grigson’s successor. Common sense, fueled by the unrebutted-at-the-time reports that Gruden and Manning were courted, suggests that Irsay made this move only after coming to the conclusion that he can and will do better than Grigson.

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Sunday morning one-liners

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 08:  Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers defends against  Jake Matthews #70 of the Atlanta Falcons in the third quarter at Lambeau Field on December 8, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

A list of quarterbacks with connections to Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.

Some free agent options for the Dolphins’ defensive front.

Patriots WR Danny Amendola is ready to play any role the team asks of him.

Will the Jets draft an offensive tackle?

Ravens RB Kenneth Dixon learned a few things during his rookie season.

What will the offseason bring for Bengals QB A.J. McCarron?

The Browns will get a close look at many draft prospects at the Senior Bowl.

The Steelers pass rush will be crucial to their chances of winning on Sunday.

Early mock drafts are all over the map for the Texans.

Some reaction to the Colts firing General Manager Ryan Grigson.

CB Aaron Colvin could be a candidate for a contract extension.

Said Titans RB Derrick Henry of DeMarco Murray, “I got better during practice, and it showed during the games, by just watching him.”

Broncos QB Paxton Lynch is looking forward to getting his chance in a new offense.

A position-by-position report card for the Chiefs.

Raiders G.M. Reggie McKenzie reflected on free agent signings that worked out well.

A church outside San Diego took a shot at the Chargers.

Their season is over, but Cowboys QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott are still hanging together.

An argument against the Giants using their top pick on a running back.

What did the Eagles learn about coach Doug Pederson this season?

The ups and downs for the Redskins running backs and tight ends in 2016.

Lovie Smith looks back at the Bears team he coached to an NFC title.

Breaking down the 2016 Lions draft class.

The Packers pass protection has plenty of admirers.

Said Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell, “It’s not what I need to do, it’s gaining the trust and the opportunities from the coaches. Every year you just need to keep getting better. Everybody is going to get better in the offseason.”

Falcons T Jake Matthews may be blocking his cousin Clay at times in Sunday’s game.

Ric Flair’s wavering football allegiances irk Panthers DE Charles Johnson.

A preview of what to expect from the Saints this offseason.

Lessons the Buccaneers can learn from the teams playing on Sunday.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians remains hopeful that WR Larry Fitzgerald will play in 2017.

Former Rams players helped out as coaches at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

49ers fans will likely be paying close attention to how Kyle Shanahan and the Falcons fare on Sunday.

Sizing up the Seahawks receiving corps.

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Brice Butler rule could be eliminated or modified

INDIANAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 30: The referee Tony Corrente #99 makes a call during the game betweeen the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts during the NFL game on September 30, 2007 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

The rule that wiped out a 22-yard gain and turned it into a 15-yard loss for the Cowboys on Sunday eventually could be erased from the rule book.

A vestige of the ’50s, the rule that allows the referee to flag the offense for unsportsmanlike conduct if a player not in the game approaches the huddle and then leaves without participating in a play could soon be expunged.

As one source with thorough knowledge of the rule book and its application told PFT on Saturday, current game mechanics aimed at giving the defense a fair chance to match any changes the offense may be making in an effort to confuse the opponent make the threat of a 15-yard penalty irrelevant. Put simply, the so-called (at least by me) Brice Butler rule has become outdated.

For now, it exists. And it’s no coincidence that referee Tony Corrente is the man who called the foul on Sunday in Dallas. Corrente called the foul the last time the rule was invoked during a Washington-Dallas game in 2014. He’s regarded as the lone stickler on this issue among the NFL’s referees.

At a minimum, the rule book could be (and should be) cleaned up to eliminate conflict between the actual rule regarding offensive players who quickly enter and exit (Rule 5, Section 2, Article 5) and a provision that lists the penalties for various types of illegal substitutions (Rule 5, Section 2, Article 8) and that inaccurately summarizes the text of the rule to prohibit a player from “mov[ing] onto the field inside the field numerals and leaves without participating in one play.”

Even if the rule isn’t changed or modified, the NFL may consider making it a dead-ball foul. Since the violation locks in before the snap, there’s no reason to wait until after the play to call it and to enforce it. That would lessen the potential impact of the call; last Sunday, the Cowboys wouldn’t have lost 22 yards before losing 15.

Then there’s the practical impact of clinging to this archaic rule. If Corrente had never thrown the flag, it never would have been an issue. The Packers wouldn’t have complained that they didn’t get a fair chance to match the offensive personnel and/or that the 22-yard gain should have been wiped out due to a technicality. If they had, many would have accused the Packers of complaining about a goofy technicality.

Instead, the issue has become a distraction to what was an excellent and memorable playoff game — even though (as PFT has learned) the Cowboys never complained about it.

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Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan expected to play for Patriots

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 12:  Malcolm Mitchell #19 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on December 12, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Patriots had a few injury concerns among their pass catchers this week, but it doesn’t look like they are going to result in any absences from the lineup on Sunday.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that wide receivers Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell are both expected to play against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. Hogan had to leave last Saturday’s victory over the Texans after injuring his thigh in the third quarter, but expressed confidence all week about being well enough to play.

Mitchell has missed the last two games with a knee injury, but was able to participate in practice all week. Wide receiver Danny Amendola was also listed as questionable after returning from an ankle injury last week and having all three up along with Julian Edelman may not leave room for Michael Floyd as well.

Tight end Martellus Bennett is also expected to play after drawing the questionable designation, which should give Tom Brady a full complement of targets against Pittsburgh.

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