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NFL morning after: A Sunday of football, the best TV show ever

Aaron Dobson AP

The late, great Hall of Famer Art Donovan was in an old ESPN commercial, back when ESPN first began airing NFL pre-game and post-game shows, in which he pointed out that if you watched both of ESPN’s Sunday NFL shows, plus both of the NFL games airing in your own local market, you’d spend more than eight hours on Sunday watching nothing but football. As the idea of that much football in one day sunk in, Donovan proclaimed, “I love it!”

Now, of course, there’s a lot more pre-game and post-game coverage than there was back then, plus there’s the Sunday night game, which didn’t exist back then. Now you can turn on the TV for the first pre-game show, on NFL Network, at 7 a.m. Eastern, and keep watching football through the Sunday night game on NBC, which often ends after midnight, then watch the various highlight shows that keep going well after midnight. Forget eight hours of football, you can spend 16 hours or more in front of TV watching nothing but football.

And I love it.

The NFL is America’s best and most popular television show, and there’s simply no such thing as too much of it. I think nothing of turning on pre-game shows at 7 in the morning on Sunday and leaving some football, either live games or NFL news and highlight shows, on my TV until I go to bed after midnight. During the offseason, I love a good TV binge — I can go back to Breaking Bad or The Wire or Seinfeld or Arrested Development over and over and over again — but I’ve had my fill of any of those great shows long before I’ve watched 16 hours in one day. There really is no such thing as too much football.

Think about how great the television programming was yesterday, for those of us who can watch all the games on the Sunday Ticket package. In an insane rush of fantastic finishes starting around 4 p.m. Eastern, we got four different thrilling endings within minutes of each other:

— The Jets beat the Patriots in overtime after New England fans found out the hard way that you’re not allowed to push your teammate into the line to try to block a field goal.

— Washington beat Chicago 45-41 in a crazy back-and-forth battle that featured six rushing touchdowns, three passing touchdowns, a special teams touchdown and a defensive touchdown.

— Cincinnati beat Detroit on a 54-yard field goal as time expired.

— The Bills kicked a go-ahead field goal with 31 seconds left, then hung on for dear life as the Dolphins maneuvered into position for a last-second Hail Mary that fell incomplete in the end zone.

That kind of drama beats anything you’ll ever get in scripted television, but that was just a few minutes of Sunday’s football binge. We also got:

Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis, in which the Colts legend turned Broncos quarterback suffered his first loss of the season in front of fans who cheered him loudly when he was introduced before the game, then cheered even louder when the Colts won.

— The Steelers beating the Ravens on a field goal on the last play of the game.

— Two of the most talented receivers you’ll ever see, Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green, putting up 155 yards apiece in Bengals-Lions.

— Monte Kiffin’s Dallas defense stepping up in a big way, completely shutting down Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia offense in a 17-3 win.

Philip Rivers continuing his ridiculously efficient season passing the football by completing 22 of 26 passes in a win over the Jaguars. Rivers has now completed 73.9 percent of his passes this season. (The all-time single-season record is 71.2 percent, set by Drew Brees two years ago.)

Case Keenum leading the reeling Texans to a surprisingly competitive performance against the undefeated Chiefs before ultimately falling to Kansas City, the league’s most pleasant surprise.

Watch all of that football, all day long, and you’re going to be exhausted and bleary-eyed by the end of the day. But it’s still not too much football. There’s no such thing as too much of sitting in front of your TV watching football.

Here are the rest of my thoughts on a great Sunday in the NFL:

The first three touchdowns of the day were scored by the defense, and Matt Schaub wasn’t even playing. Mr. Pick Six himself was out for the Texans’ late afternoon game, but the early afternoon games got started with not one, not two, but three quarterbacks giving up the ball to a defensive player who took it to the house. First we had Sam Bradford throw an interception that Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn returned for a touchdown. Then we had Ryan Tannehill throw an interception that Buffalo’s Nickell Robey returned for a touchdown. Then we had Mike Glennon fumble a ball that Atlanta’s Thomas Decoud returned for a touchdown. It was Geno Smith and Jeremy Kerley, of all people, who got on the board for the Jets’ offense and ended the league-wide run of defensive touchdowns. (And Smith would throw a pick-six of his own later in the first quarter.)

Pro Bowl voting begins way too early. The NFL allowed fans to start voting for Pro Bowl rosters on Sunday morning, when some teams had only played five games and some had only played six. Why on earth are we voting for Pro Bowlers now, when they’ve still got two-thirds of the season to play and the game is more than three months away? If the NFL wants to make the Pro Bowl more relevant, how about waiting until the end of the season to vote, so fans can actually vote for guys who had good years?

Jimmy Johnson said something about Jerry Jones masked as something about Jim Irsay. Asked on the FOX pregame show about Irsay’s comments tweaking Peyton Manning last week, Johnson said, “Just because a guy has money and owns an NFL team, doesn’t mean he’s smart.” Johnson was ostensibly talking about Irsay, but I think he was also taking a little shot at Jerry Jones, his old boss in Dallas with whom Johnson has had a famously prickly relationship.

Devin Hester, the greatest kick returner ever. Hester’s return touchdown was the 19th of his career, tying him with Deion Sanders for the most return touchdowns in NFL history. But most of Sanders’ return touchdowns came on defense. All of Hester’s were kick returns. There’s really no one who has been even close to the kind of consistent big-play threat returning kicks that Hester has been throughout his NFL career. Usually, once a return man establishes himself as one of the best in the league, opposing teams start kicking to him differently and limit his effectiveness. They punt high to force him to fair catch, or they punt out of bounds. On kickoffs, if they’re not sure the kicker can boot it out the back of the end zone, they tell him to kick it high and short to help the coverage team get into position to make the tackle. The amazing thing about Hester is that he’s still scoring touchdowns even after opposing teams have come to realize that they must kick away from him. As soon as a team’s attempted punt out of bounds ends up staying just barely inbounds — which is what happened with Washington on Sunday — Hester makes them pay for it.

The top picks in the next two drafts had big days on Saturday. It may be too early to talk about the top pick in next year’s NFL draft, and it’s definitely too early to talk about the top pick in the 2015 NFL draft. But I’ll do it anyway. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney spent as much time in Tennessee’s backfield as their own running backs on Saturday, looking like the kind of one-man wrecking crew who absolutely deserves to be considered the top pro prospect in college football right now, despite some talk that he was off to a slow start this season. And then there’s Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. A redshirt freshman, Winston won’t be eligible for the draft until 2015. But his performance on the road against No. 3 Clemson, in which he completed 22 of 34 passes for 444 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception, leaves little doubt that he’s good enough to play in the NFL. No, I don’t mean he will be good enough to play in the NFL. I mean he’s good enough right now, and the only thing holding him back is the NFL’s three-year eligibility rule. Winston is better right now than either of his two immediate predecessors at Florida State, EJ Manuel and Christian Ponder, ever were. And Manuel and Ponder were both first-round draft picks. Winston has all the tools to be a great NFL quarterback.

I hate it when coaches won’t be aggressive. Tennessee’s Mike Munchak punted on fourth-and-inches in the third quarter while the Titans were trailing 24-0. What was Munchak afraid of? Your team is losing and needs to do something. If you’re just going to give up on fourth-and-inches, you might as well give up on the game. If there’s anything that’s not fun about a day watching football, it’s watching a bunch of punts from coaches who don’t have the guts to go for it.

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Gruden advises patience with Manziel

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Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel partied (and lied) his way out of the starting job in Cleveland over the balance of the season, but former NFL coach Jon Gruden doesn’t believe it should mean the end of Manziel’s time with the Browns.

“If he wants to be a great quarterback and realize his potential, let this be the day he gets awakened,” Gruden told Mary Kay Cabot of on Saturday. Gruden will call Monday night’s Ravens-Browns game for ESPN.

Some would say that Manziel should have been awakened by now, after a disastrous end to his rookie season and a 10-week offseason stay in rehab. Gruden is hopeful that this time will be the time that Manziel realizes he needs to grow up.

“He’s a young kid,” Gruden said of Manziel, who is still 22. “He should still be at Texas A&M. Sometimes you have to remember that.”

Gruden specifically remembers another young quarterback with a penchant for partying. His number was retired by the Packers two nights ago.

“We traded for a guy when I first got to Green Bay that Atlanta said was a little bit of a hell raiser and it turned out OK for us,” Gruden said of Brett Favre. “You know what I mean?”

Ultimately, Favre could be the best guy to get through to Manziel. Like Manziel, Favre spent time in rehab early in his career. Favre overcame an addiction to painkillers, which forced him to find a way to play for years without pharmaceutical intervention.

If Gruden really wants to help Manziel, Gruden should connect Manziel and Favre. And Manziel would be wise to listen to anything Favre has to say.

“He’s a polarizing guy,” said Gruden regarding Manziel. “You love him. You don’t like him. Everybody has their own feeling, but deep down, I know there’s a good person in there, a lot of talent, and somebody is going to tap into it. I believe that.”

Listening to what Gruden has to say, it’s hard not to wonder whether Browns owner Jimmy Haslam will try to hire Gruden to do what he did with Manziel earlier this year on a full-time basis, as the head coach of the team.

“We went straight at it,” Gruden said regarding his time spent working with Manziel. “We were right out in the open. One day I think we played golf. We talked about some deep and philosophical things. It was very unusual for me, but I care about him. I care about his family. I want to see him realize his potential.”

To realize that potential, Manziel has to overcome his demons once and for all, mature into a guy who obsesses over the details of being an NFL quarterback, and find a way to gain — and to retain — the trust of an NFL team. If he does the first two, the last one will follow.

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Pats promote Asante Cleveland, Darius Fleming

Asante Cleveland, Bene' Benwikere AP

With receiver Aaron Dobson on injured reserve and receiver Danny Amendola out for Sunday night at Denver (and with receiver Julian Edelman still dealing with a broken bone in his foot), the Patriots have added another potential pass catcher — but not a receiver.

Tight end Asante Cleveland (pictured) has been promoted from the practice squad. Arriving in August via trade with the 49ers, Cleveland was cut on September 5 but signed to the practice squad on September 7.

Fleming, a fifth-round pick of the 49ers in 2012, spent two years on injured reserve before joining the Patriots in 2014 and spending most of the year on the practice squad. He was cut on September 5 and signed to the practice squad on September 7.

The Pats also released cornerback Dewey McDonald, who had been claimed off waivers from the Colts last month. He has been on and off the roster since then, bouncing back and forth between the practice squad.

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Harrison Smith, Trae Waynes out for Vikings on Sunday

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The Vikings will be shorthanded in their effort to keep Julio Jones under control on Sunday.

Safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Trae Waynes have been downgraded to out by the Vikings. Both had been listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report. Smith has a knee injury, and Waynes has an ankle problem.

Ben Goessling of reports that Antone Exum will make his first start in place of Smith, getting the nod over Robert Blanton.

The good news for the Vikings is that defensive end Everson Griffen, who also had been listed as questionable, has not been scratched. Griffen has both a hip and shoulder issue.

The 7-3 Vikings and the 6-4 Falcons get together in the Georgia Dome on Sunday, in a key game for NFC playoff positioning. Minnesota currently leads the NFC North by a half game over the Packers, and the Falcons are holding one of the two wild-card spots.

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Giants can take an overwhelming lead in the NFC East on Sunday

Tom Coughlin AP

We don’t often say this about a 5-5 team, but if the Giants can win on Sunday, they’ve all but locked up their division.

Two of the Giants’ NFC East division rivals had disasters on Thanksgiving, and it’s now hard to imagine either the Eagles or the Cowboys making a run at the division title. That leaves Sunday’s opponent, Washington, as the only team left to challenge the Giants.

At the moment, the Giants are a game ahead of 4-6 Washington, and the Giants already beat Washington once this season. A win for the Giants would result in a two-game lead, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker, with just five games to play. The Giants would have to totally collapse to lose the division at that point.

So it’s easy to see why Washington coach Jay Gruden is calling tomorrow a one-game season. He knows that if his team loses, the NFC East race is effectively over.

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Dolphins add Rishard Matthews to injury report

Rishard Matthews, Corey Graham AP

As the Dolphins prepare to face the Jets in New Jersey, receiver Rishard Matthews is dealing with a situation that could keep him from playing in the game.

The Dolphins have announced that Matthews has an illness. He has been added to the injury report as questionable for the game.

Matthews has started all 10 games this year, despite an offseason effort to bring in a bunch of new receivers who could have supplanted him. So far, the 2012 seventh-round pick has 43 catches for 662 yards and four touchdowns.

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Bears change long snappers

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The Bears have made a change at the most interchangeable position in football.

Long snapper Thomas Gafford is out, and long snapper Patrick Scales is in.

Gafford had served in that role for all 11 games this season, after spending six years in that role with the Chiefs. He signed a one-year deal with an $870,000 base salary and an $80,000 signing bonus. He can take the balance of his pay for 2015 with the Bears as termination pay.

Scales, who entered the NFL with the Ravens in 2011, has played for the Dolphins, Jets, and Buccaneers, too.

Gafford will be subject to waivers. If/when (when) he clears waivers, Gafford will be available to be signed out of nowhere when a team decides to make a change at the most interchangeable position in football.

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Erving says critics “can’t touch my fingernails”

Cameron Erving AP

In his first career start nearly two weeks ago at Pittsburgh, Browns rookie first-rounder Cameron Erving got thrown into the feet of running back Isaiah Crowell by Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. It made Erving the butt of many online jokes, and Erving fired back at the critics on Friday.

“The play where I got bull-rushed. What about it? It’s football. . . . Man, listen, half the people that make those Vines and those judgments can’t touch my fingernails, they can’t do what I can do,” Erving said, via Scott Petrak of the Elyria (Ohio) Chronicle-Telegram. “And I make money doing what I love to do, so I don’t care. Those opinions are irrelevant to me.”

Of course, he won’t be making money doing what he loves to do for long if he keeps getting manhandled by opposing defenders.

“You don’t want it to happen to you,” Erving said. “But if you never got hit, you never played football.”

In all, Erving gave up a sack and a tackle for a loss in his debut as a starter. He also was called for holding, negating a touchdown run. But the coaching staff was happy with his effort, and with his willingness to fight back after getting pushed around.

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McCarthy calls out officials for OPI call

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Packers coach Mike McCarthy has plenty of reasons to be upset after Thursday night’s loss to the Bears. He’s specifically upset about a penalty that turned a potential touchdown drive in the first half into a field goal.

Receiver James Jones, who otherwise did nothing for the entire game, was called for offensive interference for picking Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller on a throw inside the five to receiver Randall Cobb. After the game, McCarthy disputed the call.

“The one play on Randall’s [catch]  is just a flat poor call,” McCarthy said, via Weston Hodkiewicz of “He missed the call. You can shake that any way you want. They’re looking for it.”

They’re also looking for coaches who call out officials, which could get McCarthy fined. And fine or no fine, McCarthy’s complaint misses the mark. While not a full-blown pick, Jones jammed his left forearm into the chest of Fuller, in an apparent effort to shove Fuller into Bears cornerback Bryce Callahan, who was covering Cobb. The move also kept Fuller from peeling away from Jones and getting to Cobb.

“We had some tough breaks from the officials, but that’s all part of the game  the officials, the weather, you can’t control that,” McCarthy added.

Whether McCarthy gets a toughly-worded letter from the league office along with an invitation to make an involuntary contribution to the league’s charitable causes remains to be seen.

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Saturday one-liners

Brandon LaFell AP

WR Brandon LaFell is ready to “step up” for the Patriots (which is always better than stepping off).

With Dolphins DE Cam Wake out for the year, Olivier Vernon has stepped up.

With CB Darrelle Revis out for the Jets, one-time undrafted free agent Marcus Williams probably will start at right corner.

Bills CB Nickell Robey periodically lobbies for a chance to play offense.

Ravens LB Ray Lewis is the latest ESPN employee to make The List of all New England fans (which overlooks the fact that he already was on it).

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis says CB Darqueze Dennard (shoulder) will be ready to go next season.

The Browns will don their orange pants in prime time.

Steelers WR Markus Wheaton is content to wait his turn.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien has a simple nickname for New Orleans WR Brandin Cooks:  “V.G. maybe,” O’Brien said, “Very good.”

Get to know Colts QB Matthew Hasselbeck in a way he’s never really been known.

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has come a long way since his first career start last season, against the same team he’ll face on Sunday.

Titans LB Brian Orakpo knows that, when his sack-happy defense faces Oakland’s sack-stingy offensive line, “Something has to give.”

Broncos CB Omar Bolden has launched what he calls the Positive Living Award.

Chiefs Hall of Famer Will Shields will receive his Ring of Excellence on Sunday.

Raiders WR Rod Streater, fifth on the depth chart and inactive most of the year, won’t be playing absent injuries at the position.

Chargers coach Mike McCoy’s inability to handle the local media could hasten his exit from the franchise.

Cowboys LB Sean Lee has a simple message for his teammates: “If you’re not motivated to find a way to win, you need to get off the team.”

WR Hakeem Nicks could be active for his first game back with the Giants.

The Eagles are bad because the players aren’t good.

Washington CB Chris Culliver’s bad week included being fined for unsportmanslike conduct due to a throat-slash gesture.

“The sky’s the limit for us, based on where we’ve come from Day One,” Bears LB Willie Young say. “[Beating the Packers] just reassures us that we can win big games. We can beat a playoff contender and a winning team.”

The Packers’ defense did a good job on Thursday night, which only makes the performance of the offense more glaring.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is thankful for RB Adrian Peterson; “I told him today how much I appreciated him,” Zimmer said. “Just everything he does for us. His leadership, the way he comes out to practice the way he prepares. Really, everything.”

The last time the Falcons played Minnesota, TE Levine Toilolo finished the game at right tackle.

Panthers G Trai Turner will spend his team’s mini-bye in the enemy territory of New Orleans; “I enjoy the support. I encourage the hate, also,” Turner said.

TE Cameron Brate, a Harvard graduate, is making the Buccaneers look even smarter than him for having him around.

Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson and his wife had their first child on Thursday.

Rams WR Kenny Britt and WR Tavon Austin wore Stedman Bailey’s No. 12 at practice on Friday.

40-year-old 49ers K Phil Dawson says he has at least one year left in his leg.

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger says he love Seattle; he may not feel that way after facing the Seahawks there for the first time in his career on Sunday.

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Amendola to miss Sunday’s game

Danny Amendola AP

Another week, another key offensive weapon is out for the Patriots.

Tom Curran of CSN New England, confirming a report from Steve Burton of WBZ, says that receiver Danny Amendola won’t play on Sunday night in Denver.

If, as expected, Amendola doesn’t travel to Colorado, the Patriots will be (or at least should be) issuing an updated injury report downgrading Amendola from questionable to out.

Amendola injured his knee on Monday night against the Bills. He had become the primary replacement for Julian Edelman, who had broken a bone in his foot the prior Sunday against the Giants. A week before that, the Patriots lost running back Dion Lewis for the year with a torn ACL.

The Patriots also recently put receiver Aaron Dobson on injured reserve, leaving them very thin at the position. Which means that maybe coach Bill Belichick, who once had an affinity for moving receivers to defensive back, may have to see whether any of his defensive backs can catch passes.

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Sanders, Osweiler working on chemistry

Emmanuel Sanders AP

With Peyton Manning out for at least two more games, Brock Osweiler will serve as the Broncos quarterback for at least the next two games. Which means that it will be important for Osweiler and his receivers to have good chemistry on the field.

One of those receivers has checked the box.

“The chemistry is good,” Emmanuel Sanders told reporters on Friday, in comments distributed by the team. “Peyton hasn’t been going on Wednesdays, so I’ve had an opportunity to go with Brock and it’s definitely paid off. Today we connected on a couple of deep balls that we were working on. I texted him last night about what I’m seeing and what he’s seeing, so it’s going to pay off.”

A bad ankle kept Sanders out of Sunday’s game at Chicago, so Sunday night will be his first chance at catching passes from Osweiler during a game. Which could help the Broncos become the first team this year to hand the Patriots a loss.

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Bucannon gets big fine for hit on defenseless receiver

Kyle Juszczyk, Tyrann Mathieu, Deone Bucannon AP

Deone Bucannon of the Cardinals has been fined $23,152 for a hit on a defenseless receiver in last week’s win over the Bengals.

Bucannon hit A.J. Green on a pass over the middle was not flagged.

Bucannon is questionable for this week’s game vs. the 49ers due to concussion-like symptoms that didn’t show up until a day or two after the game, so it’s unknown if he suffered a concussion on the hit that brought the fine.

A first-round pick in 2014, Bucannon is listed as a safety and wears No. 20 but generally plays linebacker for the Cardinals.

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Doug Martin doesn’t like talking about his contract year

Doug Martin AP

Buccaneers running back Doug Martin didn’t like his old nickname. He also doesn’t like inquiries about his current circumstances.

Martin, in final year of his rookie deal after the team opted not to pick up his fifth-year option for 2016, despises talking about his contract.

“You know, people say, ‘Oh, it’s a contract year, that’s why he’s playing like this,'” Martin told the team’s official website, via “I hate that. I hate contract questions. I’m healthy. Last year, I had the injury bug, it was either a knee, ankle, hamstring. This year, I made sure that I stayed healthy, doing a lot of preventive things, stretches, eating right.”

Last year wasn’t his only bad season, however. Before generating 494 rushing yards through 11 games in 2014, Martin had 456 yards in six games in 2013. As a rookie, Martin finished with 1,454 rushing yards.

There’s an obvious connection between having a big year and being on the brink of getting paid. This season, Martin has 941 yards rushing in 10 games, which puts him on pace for more than 1,500.

Martin’s distaste for questions linking his performance to his contract posture may arise from the presumption that: (1) he’s only having a good year because he’s on the brink of getting paid; and (2) after he gets paid, he won’t play well. Unofficially known as (because I just thought of the name) the DeMarco Murray Disorder, it’s a real phenomenon about which the Buccaneers and other teams could be concerned.

Murray isn’t the first running back to regress after getting his payday; he’s just the most recent. For Martin, the real question is whether his current team believes he’ll continue to get it done even after getting a new contract. If they don’t make a competitive offer to Martin (or apply the franchise tag), the warning to everyone else will be implied.

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Panthers worked out three cornerbacks in all

Seantavius Jones, Bradley Fletcher AP

Cortland Finnegan wasn’t the only cornerback who worked out for the Panthers on Friday. Per multiple reports, which PFT has confirmed, the Panthers also gave tryouts to Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain.

Fletcher spent two games with the Patriots this season, after two years with the Eagles and four before that with the Rams. He has eight career interceptions and four forced fumbles.

McClain broke in with the Panthers in 2010, appearing in 16 games with two starts. He spent 2011 with the Jaguars and then 2012 through 2014 with the Falcons. Like Fletcher, McClain spent time with the Patriots this year; he was cut five days before the regular-season opener.

The Panthers signed none of the three players. Carolina currently has only four cornerbacks on the roster: Josh Norman, Charles Tillman, Teddy Williams, and Bene’ Benwikere. Tillman has missed the last two games — and is expected to miss a few more — with a knee injury.

The Panthers have five other defensive backs on the roster (all safeties) and three on the practice squad: Marcus Ball, Ras-I Dowling, and Lou Young.

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Titans give Chance Warmack $50 for losing a pound on Thanksgiving

Warmack Getty Images

An NFL offensive lineman can put away a lot of food at the Thanksgiving table, but Titans guard Chance Warmack chose not to. And he’s got a $50 bonus to show for it.

Warmack got the bonus for weighing in at 326 pounds on Friday morning, after he had weighed 327 pounds on Thursday morning. Titans coach Mike Mularkey asked players not to go crazy at the Thanksgiving table, and Warmack followed instructions.

John Glennon of the Tennessean reports that Warmack disrobed for the weigh-in in front of the team, not wanting the weight of his clothing to throw off the results.

Of course, Warmack is in the third year of a four-year, $12.2 million guaranteed contract with the Titans, so a $50 bonus doesn’t mean a whole lot to him. But he did get publicly lauded by Mularkey.

Warmack also admitted that he has some Thanksgiving leftovers at home. He may weigh more than 327 before the weekend is over.

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