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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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Russell Okung not ruled out, Max Unger has chance to play against Cardinals

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Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said left tackle Russell Okung has yet to be ruled out for this week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

“He’s still in the mix,” Carroll said. “He’s going to have some stuff done tomorrow that will let us know where he sits and all that. He’s not out of the plan yet.”

Carroll said Monday that Okung would likely miss 1-2 weeks due to a bruised lung suffered against the San Francisco 49ers. Okung was replaced by Alvin Bailey for the remainder of the game after Okung was injured on the final play of the first half.

Center Max Unger did not practice on Wednesday as Carroll said Unger was struggling to recover from the workload he went through in practice last Friday.

“He had a tough recovery from last Friday’s practice so he’s gonna be not going today, so we’ll see how he is tomorrow,” Carroll said. “We’re taking it one day at a time now. It’s close enough where we have a chance [to get him back].”

Unger has missed the last four games for Seattle after suffered a sprained ankle and knee injuries against the Kansas City Chiefs. Lemuel Jeanpierre and Patrick Lewis have started in Unger’s absence the last several weeks.

With Seattle giving up seven sacks to the Cardinals the last time they placed four weeks ago, the Seahawks could use Okung and Unger healthy and in the lineup. The game will either give the Cardinals the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the playoffs or put the Seahawks in the driver’s seat to accomplish both feats heading into the final week of the regular season.

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Lions claim Josh Thomas off waivers from the Jets

New York Jets v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

Cornerback Josh Thomas was released by the New York Jets on Tuesday after having his playbook and passport stolen.

However, Thomas wasn’t out of work long as he was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Lions on Wednesday.

Thomas played in one game for the Jets and appeared in three games for the Seattle Seahawks earlier this season. He spent the previous three years with the Carolina Panthers. He recorded two tackles and two passes defended.

To make room on the roster, the Lions placed tackle LaAdrian Waddle on injured reserve. Waddle started 10 games for the Lions this season before suffering a knee injury last week against the Minnesota Vikings.

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Russell Wilson moves on from Bus Cook

Russell AP

As quarterback Russell Wilson closes in on the payday for which he becomes eligible the day after Week 17 ends, he’ll have a new agent to help him.

Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, Wilson has parted ways with Bus Cook, who has represented Wilson since he was drafted in 2012.  And as further proof of the carefully-manicured Russell Wilson image, the leak to Schefter came with an obvious request that the move be characterized as something other than what it really is.

“A source close to Wilson said Cook was not fired, but simply the quarterback was making a change,” Schefter wrote on Facebook.

Sure, Wilson was making a change.  He was making a change by firing Cook.

You can’t change an agent without firing the agent.  Unless Cook resigned or retired (and he didn’t), Wilson initiated the process of changing agents; Wilson fired Cook.

(Why would Schefter push something so obviously not true, you may ask?  Bookmark this page for when Schefter breaks the news that Wilson has signed a new mega-contract with a Seahawks.)

Wilson eventually will hire Mark Rodgers, a baseball-certified agent who currently has no active NFL clients, according to the NFLPA website.  Eventually, Rodgers will have a fairly big one — and his first order of business will be to negotiate a contract that cuts against the recent trend of paying young quarterbacks on a year-to-year basis.

But, hey, at least Rodgers won’t have to worry about getting fired if Wilson’s next contract is lacking.

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Bears may be protecting Cutler against injury

Cutler Getty Images

Question:  What team benches a quarterback who signed a contract that pays him $22.5 million in 2014 and another fully-guaranteed $15.5 million in 2015?

Answer:  A team that doesn’t want an injury to derail a plan to trade or cut the quarterback.

Yes, Cutler will get $2.8125 million to not play in the final two weeks of the season.  It’s an obvious effort to keep Cutler healthy, so that he can be dangled in the offseason to a team that would be willing to assume Cutler’s contract.

The cap hit for trading Cutler would be fairly small, given that his 2014 pay started as a fully-guaranteed base salary.  In March, $5 million was converted to a signing bonus, clearing $4 million in cap space that assisted with the signing of defensive end Jared Allen.  That $4 million would hit the 2015 cap if Cutler is traded, but it would clear $11.5 million in total cap space for the next season.  And it would get the Bears off the hook for $15.5 million that they owe Cutler whether he’s on the team or not.

So while the decision to bench Cutler is a message to the player and the fans that poor performances won’t be tolerated, it’s actually a message to every other team in the league.  Cutler is available.

Who would possibly trade for Cutler?  That’ll be the subject of another post.

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Michigan reportedly makes run at Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh Getty Images

When it first became obvious Brady Hoke wouldn’t be back next year as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, a report suggested that the folks at Ann Arbor were more interested in John Harbaugh (who didn’t go to Michigan) than Jim (who did).

Now, Michigan apparently has a keen interest in the soon-to-be-former 49ers coach.

Per multiple reports, Michigan has offered Harbaugh the job.  The package leaked to the media would pay Harbaugh $8 million per year over six years.

That’s far more than Harbaugh currently makes in San Francisco, and far more than the 49ers had offered in failed negotiations on a new deal.  The impasse arose, as one source with knowledge of the talks previously told PFT, because Harbaugh wanted to be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach without, you know, winning a Super Bowl.

If the offer from Michigan, where it’s easy to finance a large coaching salary since the players get jack squat and free snacks, is real, he’d be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach without winning a Super Bowl and without ever competing for one for as long as he’s at Michigan.

The leak and its origin suggest that Harbaugh’s agent hopes to use the offer as leverage in talks with interested NFL teams.  If Michigan will pay $8 million per year, how much will the Raiders, Dolphins, or other interested team fork over?  With the talent gap among teams as narrow as ever, a great coach can be the difference between mediocrity and a championship; great coaches at the NFL are worth far more than they currently get.

The possibility that Harbaugh will leave for Michigan also pressures Jed York and company to be very reasonable in any trade talks regarding Harbaugh.  If he chooses to go back to college, the 49ers get nothing.

Then again, the 49ers may prefer that outcome, since they wouldn’t have to worry about Harbaugh finishing with another franchise that which he started in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, some have suggested that Harbaugh wouldn’t use his alma mater as leverage for a better NFL job.  Why shouldn’t he?  Harbaugh played football there at a high level.  In return he got jack squat, without the free snacks.

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Bears bench Jay Cutler, start Jimmy Clausen

Jimmy Clausen, Micheal Spurlock AP

The Bears’ collapse has reached epic proportions, as Jay Cutler has lost his job as Chicago’s starting quarterback.

Cutler has been benched and Jimmy Clausen will start on Sunday against the Lions, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

For Cutler to get benched after playing just 14 games into the enormous contract he signed this offseason demonstrates just how big the mess in Chicago is. That contract may cost both Bears G.M. Phil Emery and Bears coach Marc Trestman their jobs.

And Cutler’s play has already cost him his job. Whether Cutler has any future in Chicago or anywhere else in the NFL remains to be seen, and the Bears owe Cutler a guaranteed salary of $15.5 million next season whether he’s on their team or not.

But at the present, Cutler is out, and Clausen is the Bears’ starting quarterback.

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Hot stove alert: Free agency begins March 10

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Dislike your favorite team’s roster? Take heart: By St. Patrick’s Day, it could be much, much different.

The 2015 NFL league year will begin Tuesday, March 10, the NFL disclosed Wednesday as it released the opening portion of its annual calendar.

With the new league year comes the start of unrestricted free agency, one of the primary ways for clubs to procure talent. Even then, at the outset, the market will be somewhat thinned; teams must declare their transition and franchise free agents by Monday, March 2. The fight for the remaining free agents will begin in earnest on Saturday, March 7, with teams allowed to begin negotiating with agents.

Then, at 4 p.m. Eastern on the 10th, the market will open, and deals will quickly be announced.

By March 17 — three months from today — things will have cooled down. Some deals will remain undone, but the big ones will be in the books. A nation of football fans will wear more green than usual and ponder which of the pre-draft chatter is legit and which is junk.

About the 2015 NFL Draft: it kicks off Thursday, April 30 in Chicago. By the time it wraps up on Saturday, May 2, we will have a very good idea of where these teams stand.

At least we’ll think we know. The good news? Rookie minicamps begin the next week. Already you will be tired of the offseason, and the sight of 7-on-7 drills will take your mind off the fact you’re wearing more pastels than usual this spring.

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Manziel says Browns were “a little off” on Sunday

Manziel AP

It’s getting fairly late in the calender for the “Understatements of the Year,” but Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has offered up an impressive entry for belated consideration.

“I think we were just a little off on Sunday,” Manziel told reporters on Wednesday regarding the zero-point, 107-yard output at home against the Bengals on Sunday.

Manziel then offered up a little Lion King-style philosophizing.

“Last week is last week, and last week is in the past,” Manziel said.  “It’s not about anything having to do with last week.  That’s in the past.  Now, it’s just how do we come out and have a good game this week and how do we come out and be efficient. It all starts with today and starts with getting our game plan in and going out and running it well on our first day of practice.  I felt like we had a good day today. It’s a start for us this week, and now we continue to build on that and work off that throughout the week.”

Manziel also said he thought they had a good week last week, so his assessment of whether it’s going well has proven to be a bad barometer of whether the Browns can avoid being a bad team with the rookie under center on Sunday against the Panthers.  And Manziel knows he needs to do something the next two week to show he’s the answer for 2015 and beyond.

“Play better,” Manziel said.  “Plain and simple.  This position here is about results, and it’s about getting the job done.  You’ve got to do that to be on the field in this league.  For me, that was a first start, and that’s something I’ll remember forever.  Unfortunately, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth, but at the same time, I’ve had bad games in college.  I’ve had bad games in the past, and it’s part of football.  You can’t go out and play perfect every week.  That’s a proven fact.”

It’s a proven fact that Manziel was the opposite of perfect against the Bengals.  He’ll need to be better than that soon or that homeless dude who advocated Manziel being picked to the owner will be giving Jimmy Haslam far different advice in 2015.

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Mike Pettine on Bernie Kosar’s comments: They were a little dramatic

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar ripped the organization this week for having a culture that is “a complete recipe for disaster” when it comes to developing the team’s first long-term answer at quarterback since Kosar was turfed by Bill Belichick more than 20 years ago.

Tim Couch, one of the fallen would-be saviors, agreed with Kosar, which all but guaranteed that questions about their comments would pop up during coach Mike Pettine’s meetings with the media this week. Pettine faced some on Wednesday and defended the organization’s commitment to building a winner the right way.

“I think that’s a little dramatic. I know I talked about this before when sometimes guys will make comments that are a little bit over the top,” Pettine said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I have a lot of respect for Bernie. He was one of my favorite guys growing up, heck of a quarterback. He’s entitled to his opinion, but being here on the inside of it and seeing what we’re building … We’re in the society of instant gratification. Everybody wants it to happen now, and as much as we want that to happen, it is a process. When you build a house you’ve got to build it from the foundation. You’ve got to build the right way and make sure it’s rock solid. We’re in the middle of that. I get people are going to have their opinions and say what they say, but a lot more of that happens when you’ve lost three in a row. I didn’t hear a lot of that when we had just gotten our seventh win.”

Clearly there’s been something wrong on the organizational level in Cleveland for the team to fail as regularly as they’ve failed since re-entering the league in 1999 and anything that goes badly at this point gets chalked up as being the same old story told in a slightly different way. That’s not fair to Pettine, Johnny Manziel or anyone else who just got to town, relatively speaking, but it’s going to be a reality of life in Cleveland until the Browns are consistent winners.

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Marc Trestman: It’s evident I haven’t gotten best from Jay Cutler

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears Getty Images

For the second straight week, Bears coach Marc Trestman is getting questions about benching quarterback Jay Cutler in favor of Jimmy Clausen.

Trestman resisted any temptation to make a change last week and he’s doing the same this week, although he stuck with Cutler while admitting something that’s been apparent to everyone who has watched the Bears on offense this season. Trestman said that he thinks “it’s been evident” that he’s failed to get the best out of Cutler during the 2014 season.

“I haven’t been able [to get the best from Cutler] and we haven’t been able to do the things that we want to get done,” Trestman said, via ESPNChicago.com. “We’re working towards that. But the answer to that is obvious. I’m trying to give you the most truthful answer and that is, we’ve seen moments of it, but it’s not where we need to go. It’s not where we need to be. But it’s not all about Jay. It’s about our entire offense, working together to get it done.”

The question lingering over the Bears right now is whether Trestman will get more time to work with Cutler and the entire offense or if they’ll fire him after a second season as coach that has gone wrong in a wide variety of ways. The failure to get more out of the offense is as damning as anything for Trestman because his offensive acumen is what got him the job in the first place, although it remains hard to believe that Trestman or anyone else is going to find a way to turn Cutler into a radically different quarterback than the one he’s been over the first nine years of his career.

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Painkiller lawsuit dismissed

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When a group of former players sued the NFL for the improper distribution of painkillers by team doctors, the effort got a lot more traction in the media than the concussion lawsuits received in their early stages.  Viewed as the next wave of liability for a league plagued with safety concerns, it was presumed by many that the NFL was on the ropes, from a legal perspective.

While the concussion lawsuit ended up generating significant liability for the NFL, the painkiller lawsuit apparently will create none.

U.S. Judge William Alsup has dismissed the lawsuit, explaining that it is preempted by the Collective Bargaining Agreements governing the relationship between the NFL and its players.

“In ruling against the novel claims asserted herein, this order does not minimize the underlying societal issue,” Judge Alsup wrote in a 22-page order, a copy of which PFT has obtained. “In such a rough-and-tumble sport as professional football, player injuries loom as a serious and inevitable evil. Proper care of these injuries is likewise a paramount need. The main point of this order is that the league has addressed these serious concerns in a serious way — by imposing duties on the clubs via collective bargaining and placing a long line of health-and-safety duties on the team owners themselves. These benefits may not have been perfect but they have been uniform across all clubs and not left to the vagaries of state common law. They are backed up by the enforcement power of the union itself and the players’ right to enforce these benefits. Given the regime in place after decades of collective bargaining over the scope of these duties, it would be impossible to fashion and to apply new and supplemental state common law duties on the league without taking into accountvthe adequacy and scope of the CBA duties already set in place.”

In other words, if individual teams and/or individual team doctors have been prescribing medication improperly, the players should pursue claims directly against the teams, through the arbitration procedures available under the labor deal.

The ruling doesn’t account for the period when there was no CBA, following the 1987 strike and until 1993.  Still, even without the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it seems that it would have been difficult if not impossible for former players to prove that the NFL has responsibility for the actions of its teams.

“The essence of plaintiffs’ claim for relief is that the individual clubs mistreated their players and the league was negligent in failing to intervene and stop their alleged mistreatment,” Judge Alsup wrote.  “Plaintiffs anchor this claim for relief in supposed common law duties of each of the various states whose law would apply and vaguely suggest that all such states would impose the same uniform duty on the league to oversee the clubs.

“One problem is this: no decision in any state (including California) has ever held that a professional sports league owed such a duty to intervene and stop mistreatment by the league’s independent clubs.”

Judge Alsup gave the players until December 30 to file a motion for permission to amend the complaint that states a viable legal cause of action. The players also have appeal rights. So while the case isn’t over, it’s the players who are now on the ropes, from a legal perspective.

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Andre Johnson practices as Texans weigh quarterback options

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans Getty Images

The good news for the Texans passing game is that wide receiver Andre Johnson returned to practice on Wednesday after missing last week while recovering from a concussion.

With the Ravens shuffling another new cornerback into their injury-depleted corps this week, having Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins available would seem to give the Texans a sound route of attack come Sunday. That brings us to the bad news.

The Texans are without their top three quarterbacks, leaving them to decide between Thad Lewis and the recently reacquired Case Keenum for starting quarterback duties against Baltimore. On Wednesday, Texans coach Bill O’Brien said he’s closing in on a decision that he doesn’t plan to share with anyone outside the team.

“The team has a pretty good idea which way we are going,” O’Brien said, via the Houston Chronicle.

Whoever does get tabbed will be running an offense that’s pared down to what “the position can handle,” according to quarterbacks coach George Godsey. We’re guessing that’s not an onslaught of passes deep downfield, but we’ll have to wait until Sunday to find that out as well.

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Philip Rivers held out of practice, expected to play

Philip Rivers AP

Philip Rivers‘ tough-guy credentials are well-established. Playing with a torn ACL earns you that much.

But even Philip Rivers needs a day off.

According to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego, Rivers was held out of practice Wednesday with chest and back injuries.

Rivers has started 128 consecutive games since winning the starting job in 2006, and has played through plenty of aches and pains.

They still hope he’s going to be able to play Saturday night against the 49ers.

“I feel good,” Rivers said Tuesday. ‘I’ll be ready to roll on Saturday evening.”

Head coach Mike McCoy took it a step further today, telling reporters “I expect him to play.”

He wasn’t the only one missing, as the Chargers were without wide receiver Keenan Allen (collarbone), running back Ryan Mathews (ankle), tight end Ladarius Green (ankle) and defensive end Corey Liuget (ankle).

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Dexter McCluster out Thursday, likely out Week 17 as well

New York Jets v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

The Titans signed Dexter McCluster as a free agent to add to their offense and special teams, but his first year in Tennessee looks like it will come to a premature end.

McCluster has been ruled out for Thursday night’s game against the Jaguars because of a knee injury and Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that it sounds like he’ll be out for the season finale against the Colts as well. If that’s the case, McCluster will miss out on the chance to end a disappointing year on a high note.

McCluster ran 40 times for 131 yards and caught 26 passes for 197 yards while failing to make the same kind of impact on punt returns that he had while returning two kicks for touchdowns for the Chiefs in 2013. McCluster signed a three-year deal worth a total of $9 million with $4.5 million guaranteed and he’s set to count $3.35 million against the cap next year.

Left tackle Taylor Lewan (ankle) and quarterback Zach Mettenberger (shoulder) are both doubtful for Tennessee, which means we’re going to see Charlie Whitehurst start for the fourth time this season. Tight end Delanie Walker (knee) and wide receiver Kendall Wright (hand) are both questionable for the clash between 2-12 teams.

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49ers cut Ray McDonald amid rape investigation

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers have released defensive lineman Ray McDonald, hours after news broke that police searched his home in connection with an investigation into a sexual assault.

General Manager Trent Baalke said the 49ers made the decision to terminate McDonald’s contract because of a pattern of behavior that the team finds unacceptable.

That represents a sharp contrast from the 49ers’ approach to McDonald early this season. When McDonald was arrested and investigated in a domestic violence case, the 49ers steadfastly stood by him, even as they faced harsh criticism from those who said he had no business on the field at a time when Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson were all banished from the league. In that case, authorities ultimately decided not to charge McDonald.

There’s no word yet on whether McDonald will be charged in the new sexual assault case, but it’s clear that the 49ers have decided that McDonald is someone they no longer want representing their franchise.

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