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Report: League considers adding more Thursday games

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Anquan Boldin and those who agree with him aren’t going to be happy.

According to Matthew Futterman and Shalini Ramachandran of the Wall Street Journal, the NFL is considering adding more Thursday night games to its current slate of 13 televised by NFL Network.

Per the report, the league could stage some Thursday night doubleheaders, with games being televised on networks other than the league-owned broadcast operation.

The NFL reportedly is disappointed that the present approach, which expanded last year to cover most Thursdays, hasn’t generated more interest.  In addition to additional Thursday night games, some of the games currently televised by NFL Network could be sold to other networks.

While the first Thursday night of the season is an obvious spot for a second game, it would be hard to sell more short-week games once the season has begun.  From the 13 Thursday night games on NFL Network to the three Thanksgiving games on CBS, FOX, and NBC, each of the 32 teams plays one game on a Thursday after playing on a Sunday.  For competitive reasons, it could be unfair to compel some teams to play a second short-week game.

Also, the NFLPA would have to agree to more Thursday night games.  With player health and safety now receiving so much attention, it could be hard to sell the players on additional Thursday night games.

The better approach could be to sell all of the Thursday night games to the highest bidder.  That would reduce the revenues of NFL Network by dropping advertising dollars and subscriber fees, but it could generate hundreds of millions of dollars via a tug of war between other cable networks.

That’s a drum the NFLPA should be banging.  If the players are going to be playing one game per year with three days’ rest, the league needs to maximize the money that comes from it.  By keeping the games on NFL Network, the league probably isn’t.

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Brady snubs Garoppolo after touchdown drive

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Tom is getting upset.

The man who said he’ll retire when he sucks but who didn’t retire immediately after Monday night’s suck-filled loss to the Chiefs wasn’t ready to embrace the man who replaced Brady following a pick-six that pushed the score of last night’s game to 41-7.

Via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Brady passed out plenty of high fives and other congratulations to offensive players following the seven-play, 81-yard scoring drive engineered by rookie Jimmy Garoppolo.  But Brady steered clear of Garoppolo.

It’s probably nothing personal against Garoppolo, even though he managed to immediately do something with the same offense that Brady has had a hard time doing anything with all year long.  A broader sense of frustration likely lingers for Brady given the decision to not use the second-round pick that landed Garoppolo on, say, an offensive lineman or a tight end.

Still, Brady isn’t playing well.  He has a career-low 79.4 passer rating and a career-low yards-per-attempt of 5.8.  While the situation can be blamed on any of the other 10 offensive players, franchise quarterbacks usually find a way to play well despite flaws in those around them.  Brady isn’t.

“Everything should be on the table now with Brady and the Patriots,” Volin writes, “if Belichick truly wants to do what’s best for the team, as he constantly stresses.”

For Belichick, the real question becomes whether Brady gets special treatment given those 10, 11, and 13-year-old Super Bowl rings, or whether the head coach will rip the name off the back of the jersey and make a cold, dispassionate assessment of whether the current starter at the quarterback position should continue to be the starter, for the balance of 2014 and beyond.

Or maybe Belichick is just biding his time for another Mo Lewis moment.

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FCC is expected to dump blackout rule today

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The good news is that the NFL will have a welcome diversion from its various off-field problems.  The bad news is that the diversion will come from another off-field problem.

At 10:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the FCC will vote on scuttling the blackout rule, which prevents games from being televised in the home team’s market if the non-premium tickets aren’t fully sold within 72 hours of kickoff.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Representative Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) will conduct a conference call in advance of the vote.  Blumental, Higgins, and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation in 2013 that would strip the NFL of its broadcast antitrust exemption unless the blackout rule is dumped.

On Monday, the Sports Fan Coalition announced a press release touting the looming action by the FCC, passing along a rumor that the agency’s five commissioners will vote unanimously to overturn the blackout rule.

The NFL has opposed the effort via the goofy “Protect Free Football on TV” movement, which suggests that lifting of the blackout rule will result in the complete removal of NFL football from over-the-air broadcast TV.  We’ve asked the NFL on multiple occasions to connect the dots that begin with the NFL being required to televise games that aren’t sold out via free TV in the local market and that end with the NFL abandoning free TV altogether, but we’ve received no explanation or further insight.

That’s because it’s a hollow threat.  Apart from the inevitable attack on the broadcast antitrust exemption that would result if games leave free TV, the NFL needs free TV; nothing else would allow the NFL to generate massive live TV audiences.  Last week, the NFL renewed a deal with Sky Sports that ensures an enhanced presence of the game on free TV in England, since the NFL realizes that free TV means that more people will watch the games — and in turn that more people will become fans of the sport.

The scuttling of the blackout rule won’t cause the NFL to lose fans.  But it will cause the NFL to lose the ability to sell those last several thousand tickets by scaring the locals into thinking they won’t be able to see the game unless they pay for the privilege to be there in person.  Or maybe the more accurate answer is that it will force the NFL to be a little more creative when it comes to pricing tickets and/or coming up with reasons to get fans to choose to come to the games.

Either way, we’ve yet to see a good reason to keep the rule in place.  Especially in cities where public money was used to build the stadium.

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Ron Rivera: We want to unleash Cam Newton, but have to do it the right way

Terrell Suggs, Cam Newton AP

The Panthers have been routed by the Steelers and Ravens the last two weeks and they’ve had Cam Newton run four times for 14 yards over the course of those two games.

That’s not the Newton that ran for 28 touchdowns over the last three seasons and it’s a major part of the Panthers offense that has been completely missing this season. The reason isn’t some big secret. Newton had ankle surgery in the spring and a rib injury to start the regular season, causing some wraps to be thrown on his game but the team’s facing questions about when those wraps are going to come off.

Coach Ron Rivera said that the team wants to “unleash” Newton and move him from being one percent of the rushing offense closer to his customary 30 percent, but that they need to make sure the time is right before cutting loose.

“It’s very hard,” Rivera said, via ESPN.com. “You can see it. You just know he wants to cut loose and do certain things. You can feel it, and a lot of times you see him start to do it, but it’s coming. We’ve got to do this the right way.”

There’s plenty wrong with Carolina’s offense right now, including an offensive line that has helped Newton get sacked nine times in three games. If he’s going to be taking those hits in the pocket, he might as well take a few outside of it as he tries to provide the spark that’s been missing in Carolina.

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Tick bite sent Rams center Scott Wells to ICU

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Football players ending up in the hospital with knee injuries or broken bones are almost commonplace.

But there was nothing normal about Rams center Scott Wells‘ experience this summer.

A tick bite led to a bacterial infection which landed Wells in the intensive care unit. Called ehrlichia, it’s similar to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and can be fatal.

He thought he was suffering from the flu during June practices, but quickly realized it had gone beyond that when his urine was dark brown.

“Wednesday night I was put in ICU,” Wells said, via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “From the way (doctors) explained it to me, it attacks your bone marrow and starts to shut down your immune system so you can’t fight it off. Then your organs start to shut down trying to fight it off.

“So it went from what seemed to be just a cold virus, flu-like symptoms, to really sick really fast.”

Wells said his body temperature reached 104.5  degrees, and he lost 20 pounds during the four days he was in the hospital.

“It took some time to gain the weight back,” Wells said. “I was in great shape when I got sick, and the doctor said that’s what helped me get through it. But I’m healthy now. I’m fine now. There’s no residual long-term effects from it. Everything is normal.”

He’s back in the lineup and normal now, but will never look at a bug bite or flu symptoms the same way again.

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Jon Gruden may be the Raiders’ target as their next head coach

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The Raiders have fired head coach Dennis Allen, and there’s one man Raiders owner Mark Davis would love to hire next: Jon Gruden.

Gruden coached the Raiders from from 1998 to 2001 and then beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl after Davis’s father, the late Raiders owner Al Davis, traded him to the Buccaneers. Gruden has long been viewed as the first choice for Mark Davis as the person who could come back and turn the franchise around.

But it remains to be seen whether Gruden is interested in the job. Publicly, Gruden has always insisted that he loves working as a commentator and has a contract that ties him to ESPN for years to come. But few people believe Gruden would turn down the right opportunity to return to coaching.

The question, then, is whether he views Oakland as the right opportunity. Given the current state of the franchise, which hasn’t made the playoffs since Gruden beat them in the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, Gruden may have no interest. But if Davis were to offer Gruden significantly more money than ESPN is paying him, and offer Gruden the authority to oversee the personnel department and pick his own players, it could pique Gruden’s interest. Don’t be surprised if Davis makes a run at Gruden.

And if Gruden says no, Jim Harbaugh’s name is being floated. This could get fun.

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Arrowhead Stadium takes back its noise record

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The Seahawks and Chiefs are no longer division rivals, but they do keep going back and forth at each other.

Via Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star, the Chiefs took back the record for loudest outdoor stadium during last night’s thrashing of the Patriots.

A representative from Guinness confirmed that Arrowhead Stadium reached 142.2 decibels, surpassing the previous record of 137.6 set at Seattle last season.

The Seahawks broke the previous record of 137.5 set by the Chiefs against the Raiders.

We have the feeling these two are going to be yelling at each for years to come.

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Bill Belichick scoffs at questions about quarterback change

Tom Brady AP

The Patriots have a lot of problems at the moment.

But they do not, as you might suspect, have a quarterback controversy.

After his team took a 41-14 thrashing from the Chiefs, coach Bill Belichick answered a lot of questions.

But he didn’t have to answer the one about whether the quarterback position would be evaluated this week, after he pulled Tom Brady and let rookie Jimmy Garoppolo finish up.

According to Phil Perry of CSNNE.com, Belichick “was dismissive, chuckling briefly, at the question.”

That’s a reasonable response considering it’s Tom F. Brady, but the Patriots offense was a mess all night.

And Garoppolo was sharp, going 6-for-7 for 70 yards and a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski. It was nice outing, even if it started down 41-7.

Meanwhile, Brady turned it over three times, and passed for 159 yards.

Asked whether playing the rookie was “performance-related to Tom or skill-related,” Belichick said: “We played everybody tonight.”

“I think our team competed,” he said. “I thought we competed there at the end. That’s what they should do.”

It was just hard to tell for most of the night.

“We need to do everything better offensively,” Belichick said. “We had like five first downs in the first half or something like that? We did a lot of things wrong. And we turned the ball over in the second half. Pretty much we need to do everything better.”

But don’t doubt they’re going to do it with Brady, lest you be scoffed at.

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Report: Tony Sparano won’t be Raiders interim coach

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In the wake of the firing of head coach Dennis Allen Monday night, one of the most logical choices for an interim replacement was assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tony Sparano.

Sparano served four years as head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2008-2011 and has the most recent head coaching experience of any member of the Raiders coaching staff.

But according to Fallon Smith of CSNBayArea.com, Sparano will not be the interim head coach of the Raiders.

Only two other coaches currently on staff would seem to be viable options – offensive coordinator Greg Olson and senior offensive assistant Al Saunders.

Saunders served as head coach of the San Diego Chargers from 1986-1988 and had the title of assistant head coach while coaching in Kansas City, St. Louis and Washington.

Olson was the assistant head coach in Jacksonville in 2012 and has been an offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions (2004-2005), St. Louis Rams (2006-2007), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2008-2011).

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Allen’s firing 23rd permanent in-season coaching change since 2000

Atlanta Falcons v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The firing of Raiders coach Dennis Allen marks the 23rd time an NFL club has changed coaches in-season for reasons of resignation or termination since 2000.

Of the 22 interim coaches in this span, eight went on to earn the club’s full-time head-coaching job the next season. This includes the Raiders’ Tom Cable, who took over for Lane Kiffin in 2008, then went on to coach Oakland through 2010.

Overall, interim head coaches replacing a departed predecessor are a combined 48-81 since 2000 (.372). That’s an improvement over the combined record of the coaches who preceded them. Including Allen’s 0-4 mark with Oakland this season, coaches fired or leaving on their own accord during the season are 65-162 before their severance (.286).

Here’s the list of interim coaches since 2000. Coaches who were eventually awarded the full-time job are bolded. Coaching records are from NFL and Pro Football Reference records:

2000 (4)
Cincinnati Bengals: Dick LeBeau. Record: 4-9.
Arizona Cardinals: Dave McGinnis. Record: 1-8.
Detroit Lions: Gary Moeller. Record: 4-3.
Washington Redskins: Terry Robiskie. Record: 1-2.

2001 (1)
Minnesota Vikings: Mike Tice. Record: 0-1.                                               

2003 (1)
Atlanta Falcons: Wade Phillips. Record: 2-1.

2004 (2)
Cleveland Browns: Terry Robiskie. Record: 1-4
Miami Dolphins: Jim Bates. Record: 3-4.

2005 (1)
Detroit Lions: Dick Jauron. Record: 1-4.

2007 (1)
Atlanta Falcons: Emmitt Thomas. Record: 1-2.

2008 (3)
Oakland Raiders: Tom Cable. Record: 4-8.
San Francisco 49ers: Mike Singletary. Record: 5-4.
St. Louis Rams: Jim Haslett. Record: 2-10.

2009 (1)
Buffalo Bills: Perry Fewell. Record: 3-4.

2010 (4)
Denver Broncos: Eric Studesville. Record: 1-3.
Minnesota Vikings: Leslie Frazier. Record: 3-3.
San Francisco 49ers: Jim Tomsula. Record: 1-0.
Dallas Cowboys: Jason Garrett. Record: 5-3.

2011 (3)
Jacksonville Jaguars: Mel Tucker. Record: 2-3.
Miami Dolphins: Todd Bowles. Record: 2-1.
Kansas City Chiefs: Romeo Crennel. Record: 2-1.

2013 (1)
Houston Texans: Wade Phillips. Record: 0-3.

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Report: Dennis Allen fired by Raiders

Dennis Allen AP

Dennis Allen’s time as head coach of the Oakland Raiders appeared to be running short after the Raiders fell to 0-4 with a 38-14 loss in London against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Now that hourglass has run out of sand.

According to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, the Raiders have informed Allen he has been terminated as head coach of the Raiders.

Terry Collins of the Associated Press initially reported Sunday evening that Allen had been fired before deleting the report and issuing an apology. Whether the wheels were already in motion then or if it took until Monday evening for a decision to be made is unclear.

Allen won just eight games in just over two seasons as head coach of the Raiders. It would seem likely that Tony Sparano would take over as head coach on an interim basis.

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Jamaal Charles, Alex Smith lead Chiefs to 41-14 rout of Patriots

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The Kansas City Chiefs steamrolled to a 41-14 victory over the New England Patriots on Monday night.

The Patriots defense could do nothing to slow the Chiefs offense and Tom Brady posted one of the worst starts of his stellar career.

Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis led the Chiefs to 207 rushing yards and Alex Smith passed for 248 yards and three touchdowns as the Chiefs (2-2) posted a dominant showing against New England.

After missing last week due to an ankle sprain, Charles return to the lineup was a boost for the Kansas City offense. Charles scored a rushing touchdown and two receiving touchdowns for the Chiefs.

Smith tossed two scores to Charles and a third to Travis Kelce in posting a 144.4 passer rating on the night.

Meanwhile, the Patriots (2-2) looked disjointed all night. New England’s offense line couldn’t open holes in the running game and Brady was hurried frequently by a strong Kansas City pass rush.

Brady completed 14 of 23 passes for 159 yards with one touchdown with two interceptions – one returned 39 yards for a touchdown by Husain Abdullah. He also fumbled possession to Kansas City following a sack by Tamba Hali. Brady posted a passer rating of just 59.9 Monday night. It was just the 18th time in 195 regular season starts that Brady was held to a passer rating under 60.

The 27 point defeat was the second largest of Brady’s career, behind only a 31-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 7, 2003.

Brady was lifted following his second interception for rookie Jimmy Garappolo.

Garoppolo led one touchdown drive that culminated with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. Garoppolo finished 6 of 7 for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Brandon LaFell was one of the few strong performers for the Patriots. He finished with six catches for 119 yards and a 44-yard touchdown reception.

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Rex Ryan “confident” Dee Milliner will play in Week Five

Dee Milliner AP

For the time being, the Jets are hanging around the fringes of the AFC East race.

And it appears they will be getting one of their top cornerbacks back for Sunday’s game at San Diego.

Second-year pro Dee Milliner, who has missed 3-of-4 games this season because of injury, is expected to play in Week Five, coach Rex Ryan said Monday.

“Milliner, we will just see how he is. I know there will be a pre-practice evaluation on him on Wednesday. But I am confident he will be ready to play this week,” Ryan said, according to an interview transcript from the club.

A first-round pick in 2013, Milliner notched 56 tackles, defended 17 passes and intercepted three passes as a rookie. Even more was expected of him this season, especially after the club parted ways with Antonio Cromartie and didn’t add any marquee cornerback help in free agency or the draft.

And there would be no better time than now for Milliner to return to action while building on his rookie campaign. The Jets, who are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, have the tall order of matching up with the Chargers’ versatile and potent passing game next Sunday.

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AEG seeks six-month extension of Farmers Field agreement

Handout of architectural firm Gensler's artist rendering showing the proposed Farmers Field stadium and event center Reuters

As the NFL privately claims that a return to Los Angeles is coming sooner than later, one of the companies hoping to build an L.A. stadium hopes to expand a soon-to-be-expiring window for doing so.

AEG has announced that it is seeking a six-month extension to an agreement with the City of Los Angeles regarding the construction of the venue that already is known as Farmers Field.  The current deal expires on October 18.

“We have resumed discussions with the NFL and, while much remains to be done before a deal could come together, we remain committed to this project,” AEG president and CEO Dan Beckerman said.  “In light of the positive tone of recent conversations, we feel it would be productive to continue this dialogue while at the same time further exploring alternative plans with the City.”

AEG hopes to build a downtown stadium, at the L.A. LIVE complex.  Rams owner Stan Kroenke has acquired acreage at Hollywood Park, another potential location for an NFL stadium.

The Raiders, Rams, and Chargers are among the teams that could relocate to Los Angeles.  It’s possible that L.A. eventually will have two teams, like it last did 20 years ago, right before the Raiders and Rams left town.

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Bridgewater doesn’t practice on Monday

Bridgewater Getty Images

Despite positive news via X-rays and MRIs, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s sprained ankle kept him from practicing on Monday, three days before the Vikings face the Packers on Thursday Night Football.

Many teams playing on a short week don’t practice on Monday, submitting instead an estimation of who would and wouldn’t have practiced.  For the Vikings, the report includes no such disclaimer, which means that practiced without their starting quarterback.

Which explains the decision to add Chandler Harnish to the practice squad along with McLeod Bethel-Thompson, which gave the Vikings three quarterbacks on Monday.

Also missing practice on Monday were linebacker Chad Greenway (hand, rib), cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (illness), and tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin).  Running back Jerick McKinnon (ankle) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) participated on a limited basis.

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Chiefs survive Andy Reid’s clock management before halftime

andyreid AP

In all his years as a head coach, Andy Reid still hasn’t quite figured out clock management.

That was on display at the end of the first half tonight in Kansas City, where the Chiefs narrowly avoided paying dearly for a clock management blunder against the Patriots. As the Chiefs drove deep into Patriots territory with time running out, they wasted several seconds before finally calling their final timeout with eight seconds left. Then, instead of throwing deep into the end zone, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith threw a pass short of the goal line, and Dwayne Bowe was tackled inbounds. The clock would have run out on the play if not for a penalty on the Patriots on the play.

Fortunately for the Chiefs, that New England penalty stopped the clock with one second left, and the Chiefs were able to kick a field goal as time expired.

The Chiefs took a 17-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. With any luck, this game won’t be close enough for Reid’s boneheaded clock management to cost Kansas City in the second half.

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