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Sunday night wrap-up: Cutler taking charge

Jay Cutler, Jason Worilds AP

The Bears went long stretches without doing much, but at the end of the night, they had the better quarterback on the field, and that made all the difference.

While Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggled to hang onto the ball, only to make the game interesting, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler kept the game boring for long stretches, but made plays when it mattered most.

Cutler’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett capped a nine-play drive late in the fourth quarter, helping the Bears secure a 40-23 win over the Steelers.

Cutler didn’t break into triple digits in passing yards for the longest time, but kept his team from making silly mistakes. He also scrambled for a first down on the game-clinching drive, and hit Brandon Marshall downfield as they converted third down after third down.

It wasn’t statistically pretty (159 yards passing isn’t going to do much for his fantasy teams), but it was smart, and collected, and other qualities that haven’t always been attributed to Cutler.

While we’re still three games into his relationship with head coach Marc Trestman, they’re 3-0, and having the quarterback doing smart things with the ball is a large part of the reason why.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. Any beef Steelers wideout Antonio Brown had with offensive coordinator Todd Haley is probably over, for good reason.

Brown had a monster night, finishing with nine catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns.

He also made one of the highlight plays of the season so far, an amazing one-handed touchdown grab which made you grateful for automatic replay reviews of scoring plays, because it allowed you to see it many more times.

He and Haley appear to have made up.

2. There have been many changes in Chicago, but they still play an opportunistic style of defense.

Major Wright’s interception return for a touchdown was one of five turnovers forced on the night, and two of them ended up in the end zone immediately.

Part of that can be attributed to the Steelers offense, which is moving out of ineptitude, albeit slowly. But Wright also forced a Felix Jones fumble, showing the kind of aggressive and instinctive play the Bears were known for under former coach Lovie Smith. Defensive end Julius Peppers returned a fumble for a score late, showing they can make plays from many angles.

If defensive tackle Henry Melton’s knee injury is serious, it throws a kink in their plans, but they still have many playmakers on that side of the ball, and cornerback Charles Tillman isn’t 100 percent because of a groin injury.

3. The Steelers entered the game with 102 combined starts among their offensive line.

And they’re still working out how to best deploy those kids.

They used Kelvin Beachum at both tackle spots during the first half, replacing both Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams at different points.

The season-ending injury to center Maurkice Pouncey is something beyond their control, but some of the other problems are well within their grasp.

Figuring out a combination of five would help, but it also points out that the Steelers haven’t hit on some recent picks at quite the rate they’re generally given credit for.

Gilbert and Adams are second-round picks, picked when you’re counting on players being solid starters, at least. Watching them struggle shines a little light on a personnel process that is traditionally good, but isn’t flawless.

4. Speaking of offensive lines, the Bears’ looks utterly professional.

That hasn’t always been the case, but after plugging a pair of rookies into the right side, the Bears are protecting Cutler and running the ball well after three games.

First-round guard Kyle Long and fifth-round tackle Jordan Mills have held up and then some, as part of a rebuilt group. Bringing in free agents Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson to go with holdover center Roberto Garza has given them an entirely new look up front, and it’s a good one.

5. It sure looked like Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer was guilty of a penalty for lowering his head and leading with the crown of his helmet in the first half.

But it’s entirely possible officials are still wrestling with how to call it, especially in the wake of last week’s Jackie Battle call (the Titans back was fined but not penalized on the field).

For a rule so heavily discussed this offseason, it’s hard to tell anyone understands it well enough to call it consistently.

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More undrafted players make it at running back than any other position

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24:   Rob Kelley #32 of the Washington Redskins carries the ball during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

The big season by Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott has led some to conclude that spending a high first-round draft pick on a running back is a good idea. But that’s not necessarily the right conclusion.

In fact, undrafted free agents make it at running back more than at any other position. According to data posted by Jaguars Senior V.P. Tony Khan, undrafted players get on the field at running back far more than at any other position.

About 24 percent of all snaps taken by running backs since 2006 have been taken by undrafted players. That’s far more than any other position; at no other position do undrafted players play more than 17 percent of snaps.

In the NFL this year, undrafted rookies like Rob Kelley in Washington and Jalen Richard in Oakland played very well, and veteran running backs who weren’t drafted including LeGarrette Blount in New England, Isaiah Crowell in Cleveland, Chris Ivory in Jacksonville and C.J. Anderson in Denver had plenty of production as well. Good running backs are still available after the draft ends.

The one position where good players are hard to find after the draft ends is quarterback: Only 10 percent of all snaps taken by quarterbacks since 2006 were taken by undrafted quarterbacks. This season the only undrafted quarterback who started a game for any reason other than an injury to the quarterback ahead of him on the depth chart was Case Keenum, who was benched by the Rams in the middle of the year.

So if your team needs a running back and doesn’t draft one, don’t despair. But if your team needs a quarterback, that’s the highest priority in the draft.

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Will 49ers be in play for Kirk Cousins?

LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 01: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins passes the ball against the New York Giants in the third quarter at FedExField on January 1, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

With the 49ers planning to hire Kyle Shanahan to coach the team and currently having a quarterback depth chart that consists of Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder, the next question becomes whether the 49ers will make a play for Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins.

In 2012, Washington made Kirk Cousins a fourth-round draft pick. Then-coach Mike Shanahan has repeatedly raved about Cousins, and Kyle Shanahan ran the offense in Washington for the first two years of Cousins’ career.

Cousins, who was subject to the franchise tag in 2016, would be entitled to $23.94 million in 2017 if Washington tags him again. Washington could, in theory, apply the exclusive version of the tag (which would potentially drive that number much higher) in order to block the 49ers or anyone else from trying to pilfer Cousins.

However, the non-exclusive tag would give Washington a pair of first-round picks as compensation for Cousins, and San Francisco holds the second overall selection in round one. Washington arguably would be thrilled to flip Cousins for the No. 2 pick in 2017 plus wherever the 49ers land in the first round next year.

Washington also could tag Cousins and trade him for less than two first-round picks.

The situation quickly becomes a high-stakes game of chess, checkers, and chicken for Washington, the 49ers, and Cousins. To preserve the ability to trade Cousins, Washington will have to be prepared to commit $23.94 million in cash and cap space to him. If Cousins promptly signs the tender (like he did in 2016) and they can’t trade Cousins, Washington will be stuck, with Cousins getting $23.94 million for one year, being entitled to $34.47 million under the tag in 2018, and wanting a long-term deal based on those figures.

The situation makes it imperative for the 49ers and Washington to quickly flesh out a non-binding plan for making a deal happen when the new league year opens in March, if the 49ers want Cousins, if Cousins wants the 49ers, and if the 49ers are willing to give both Washington and Cousins what they want in order to get it done. The fact that Washington G.M. Scot McCloughan previously served in that same role with the 49ers could expedite things, if Shanahan’s plan for fixing the 49ers offense consists of bringing to the Bay Area that quarterback with whom Shanahan worked in 2012 and 2013.

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Tom Cable thanks 49ers for consideration in head coaching search

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Offensive line coach Tom Cable of the Seattle Seahawks during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Cardinals defeated the Seahawks 23-20 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Word on Tuesday evening is that the 49ers are planning a second interview with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan with the intention of making him their next head coach.

If that doesn’t work out, it looks like they’ll be back at square one in their search. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said that he’s no longer pursuing the job and now Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable, the only other candidate they’ve interviewed that hasn’t landed a job elsewhere, has announced he’ll be staying in Seattle.

Cable’s agent Doug Hendrickson made the announcement on Twitter shortly after word about the 49ers’ plans regarding Shanahan broke and said Cable thanked the team for considering him in their search. That only serves to strengthen the reports about Shanahan being the choice for the team that once employed his father as their offensive coordinator.

Cable will have his hands full trying to get the Seahawks offensive line up to speed after a rough season that ended with the unit playing poorly against the Falcons in the divisional round. Coach Pete Carroll indicated Monday that the team does not plan to spend a lot in free agency to upgrade the unit and that they believe their young group can get better next season.

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Packers sign Bene Benwikere to practice squad

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 02:   Bene' Benwikere #25 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 2, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cornerback Bene Benwikere opened the season as a starter for the Panthers and it looks like he’ll end it as a member of the Packers.

The Packers announced that they signed Benwikere to their practice squad on Tuesday. Benwikere spent some time with the Dolphins after getting released by the Panthers, but did not see action in any games for Miami.

Benwikere was a fifth-round pick in 2014 and started 10 regular season games in his first two years with the club. He also made two postseason starts as a rookie, but missed the playoffs last year with a broken leg. That made him one of the more experienced members of the cornerback group in Carolina when the season got underway, although that didn’t help him last more than four games with the team in 2016.

The Packers could conceivably use Benwikere before their season is over. This week might not be the best time for that as Benwikere’s last game with the Panthers before being released saw Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throw for 503 yards and wide receiver Julio Jones catch 12 passes for 300 yards.

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Report: 49ers will offer head coaching job to Kyle Shanahan

FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2016, file photo, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) speaks with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan before the start of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, in Atlanta. Might be hard to believe, but it wasn't all that long ago that the shotgun formation was something of a curiosity in the NFL, used less than once every five plays in 2006.(AP Photo/John Bazemore) AP

The 49ers will offer Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan their head coaching job as soon as they’re allowed to, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports.

The Falcons host the Packers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. Shanahan interviewed with the 49ers earlier this month in the window such interviews with coaches from playoff teams are allowed.

Schefter’s report said the 49ers are “willing to wait” for Shanahan. Theirs is the only head coaching job that remains unfilled, and when Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels removed his name from consideration Monday the job Shanahan became the presumptive favorite

By rule, the 49ers can meet with Shanahan next week even if the Falcons win Sunday and advance to the Super Bowl. Both Albert Breer of and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the 49ers will have Shanahan meet with potential General Manager candidates at that time. The 49ers fired both G.M. Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly at the end of the 2016 season.

Shanahan is in his second year as offensive coordinator with the Falcons. He previously held the same role in Washington, Houston, and Cleveland.

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Jimmy Graham, K.J. Wright join Pro Bowl roster

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks greets K.J. Wright #50 of the Seattle Seahawks prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field on November 15, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks won’t be playing this weekend. Two more of them will be playing the following weekend. Unless they finagle a way out of it.

The Seahawks have announced that tight end Jimmy Graham and linebacker K.J. Wright have been added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster.

Graham replaces Washington tight end Jordan Reed, and Wright replaces Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.

It’s the sixth straight year the Seahawks have at least five Pro Bowlers; Graham and Wright join defensive end Cliff Avril, defensive end Michael Bennett, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and cornerback Richard Sherman.

“It feels really good,” Wright said Tuesday, via the team’s official website. “I got the news from Coach Carroll, he called and broke the news to me. It felt great, man. I called my family, they were all excited. This is something I was hoping would happen this year and I’m glad that it happened.”

Plenty of players hope to avoid the Pro Bowl. For Wright, who had never previously made it to the all-star game, the honor is a welcome one — even if it means risking injury in a meaningless game.

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Bills hire Rob Boras as tight ends coach

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 13: St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Rob Boras talks with Jared Cook #89 prior to a game against the Detroit Lions at the Edward Jones Dome on December 13, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills on Tuesday announced the hiring of Rob Boras as their new tight ends coach.

Boras spent the last two seasons as the Rams’ offensive coordinator. He’s been coaching in the NFL since 2004 and has previously coached with the Bears and Jaguars.

New Bills coach Sean McDermott has thus far only made official the hires of Boras and defensive line coach Mike Waufle, who also comes to Buffalo from the Rams.

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Falcons place Adrian Clayborn on IR

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The Falcons have officially placed defensive end Adrian Clayborn on their injured-reserve list.

Clayborn suffered a torn bicep in last Saturday’s divisional playoff win over the Seahawks. He had five sacks in 2016 and was a key player on the Falcons’ improved defensive front.

A first-round pick of the Buccaneers in 2011, Clayborn, 28, has eight sacks and has started 12 games in two seasons with the Falcons.

To address the roster with Clayborn out, the Falcons promoted defensive tackle Joe Vellano from the practice squad and signed defensive tackle Jimmy Staten to the practice squad. Vellano has nine games of NFL experience from a previous stint with the Patriots.

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Report: Trent Kirchner pulls out of 49ers G.M. search

SUN VALLEY, ID - JULY 6: Jed York, chief executive officer for the San Francisco 49ers football team, attends the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 6, 2016 in Sun Valley, Idaho. Every July, some of the world's most wealthy and powerful businesspeople from the media, finance, technology and political spheres converge at the Sun Valley Resort for the exclusive weeklong conference. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The 49ers interviewed a pair of Seahawks executives on Monday as part of their search for a new General Manager, but one of them has reportedly taken himself out of the running on Tuesday.

Mike Garafolo of NFL Media reports that Trent Kirchner has removed his name from consideration for the position. Kirchner is co-director of player personnel in Seattle with Chris Fitterer, who also interviewed with the 49ers on Monday and presumably remains in the running for the job.

In addition to the two Seahawks execs, the 49ers have interviewed a pair of Packers personnel men — Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst — and they have also spoken to ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, Cardinals vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough, Vikings assistant general manager George Paton and Colts executive Jimmy Raye.

The 49ers are also looking for a head coach and that search appears to be down to Kyle Shanahan and Tom Cable after Josh McDaniels announced he’s no longer considering a move to Santa Clara.

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Sean McVay: No question Kirk Cousins can keep improving

LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 01: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins looks on after the New York Giants defeated the Washington Redskins 19-10 at FedExField on January 1, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Sean McVay is the youngest head coach in the NFL after being hired by the Rams and Kirk Cousins had a hand in getting McVay to that spot.

Cousins’ play as the starter over the last two seasons has created a big question for the Redskins to answer about his future with the organization, but it didn’t hurt McVay to be associated with the development of a quarterback who went from backup to the franchise tag in 2015 before turning in another good season in 2016.

During an interview with ESPN 980 in Washington, McVay called Cousins someone you can “absolutely win a championship with” and said he thinks that Cousins will continue to move up the ladder of NFL quarterbacks in the years to come.

“I don’t think there’s any question in my mind,” McVay said. “Look at his body of work the last two years. These guys are great players and they have a long resume. They’ve accumulated that experience and gone through things good and bad. Anytime you look at someone who is successful at anything, one thing they’ve had to do is overcome some adversity. It’s an inevitable part of this game, but it’s something when you look at Kirk over the course of his career and through his life, he continually responded to challenges in a way that makes you believe in him.”

McVay added that he hopes Jared Goff can progress on the same kind of trajectory in the coming years. Goff’s presence in Los Angeles should keep anyone from connecting dots between the coach’s praise and Cousins’ impending free agency, which promises to be a major storyline in Washington while McVay is trying to have the same kind of success with another quarterback.

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Derek Carr helps find missing child

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 24:  Quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts near the end of the second quarter on December 24, 2016 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Raiders won 33-25.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The social-media platform known as Twitter can be used for plenty of good things, and for plenty of not-so-good things.

Here’s one very good thing for which it recently was used: A retweet from Raiders quarterback Derek Carr of a message aimed at finding a missing boy resulted in a reply with information that helped police find him, via

It’s a reminder of the potency of the device. Carr, with more than 247,000 followers, clicked a button and performed a significant service for his fellow man.

Meanwhile . . . . Never mind.

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San Diego CBS affiliate expects to carry Chargers games

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  San Diego Chargers fans cheer on their team against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on November 27, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Chargers have left San Diego, but they’ll still have a presence there.

Via the San Diego Union-Tribune, the local CBS affiliate plans to carry “a lot of Chargers games” in 2017.

The station’s general manager told Tom Krasovic of the Union-Tribune that CBS corporate executives make the decision on which games will be televised in which market, and that the “local station doesn’t have any say.”

“I think the Chargers televised games will be the highest-rated games in the market,” Alberto Mier y Tieran told Krasovic. “So I would prefer we carry as many Chargers games as possible.”’

Much was made regarding the news that TV ratings were down in L.A. after the return of the Rams. But the reality of the league’s broadcast rules is that, without a team in a given market, the networks can assign more compelling games to the local affiliate that otherwise would have its hands tied. The Rams weren’t good, but FOX had its hands tied following more than 20 years of flexibility.

If the Chargers struggle, CBS will be able to give San Diego games involving better teams and higher stakes. And, in turn, better ratings.

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Sean Lee replaces Luke Kuechly in the Pro Bowl

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 15:  Richard Rodgers #82 of the Green Bay Packers scores a touchdown past Sean Lee #50 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Luke Kuechly was medically cleared to play late in the season, after missing four games with a concussion.

And since he didn’t play the last two because the Panthers were out of the playoff hunt, he’s not going to play in any other meaningless exhibitions.

Via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee will replace Kuechly in the Pro Bowl.

There’s a reasonable case to be made that Lee should have been there anyway, especially with Kuechly missing six games.

But Lee had a phenomenal season in his own right, for a defense which overachieved throughout the year.

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Carlos Dunlap replaces Jadeveon Clowney in Pro Bowl

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 29:  Carlos Dunlap #96 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after making a defensive stop during the third quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium on September 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Texans are out of the playoffs, and their star defensive end is out of the postseason all-star game.

The Bengals have announced that defensive end Carlos Dunlap will replace Jadeveon Clowney in the Pro Bowl, which will be played later this month in Orlando. Clowney won’t play due to injury.

Dunlap joins defensive tackle Geno Atkins and receiver A.J. Green as Bengals who have qualified for the Pro Bowl. However, Green won’t play due to a hamstring injury.

For Dunlap, it’s his second straight Pro Bowl, and the second of his career. He had eight sacks in 2016.

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Alex Smith, Dustin Colquitt add to number of Chiefs in Pro Bowl

KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15:  Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks on against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chiefs safety Eric Berry pulled out of the Pro Bowl this week, but the Chiefs are still gaining in the number of players from their roster who will take part in the game.

The team announced on Tuesday that quarterback Alex Smith and punter Dustin Colquitt have been added to the roster. They join tight end Travis Kelce, cornerback Marcus Peters and rookie returner Tyreek Hill as representatives from Kansas City in the game.

It is the second time that Smith has been part of a Pro Bowl roster and he will be replacing Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who fractured his fibula late in the season as the Raiders and Chiefs were vying for the AFC West title. The Chiefs took it with a win in Week 17 while the Raiders lost, but Smith’s season came to an end in an 18-16 loss to the Steelers last Sunday night.

With Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger both on the roster, there will be at least one other replacement quarterback going to the game.

Colquitt is also going to the Pro Bowl for the second time. He’s going in place of Colts punter Pat McAfee, who announced over the weekend that he will be having knee surgery.

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