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NFL morning after: Jerry Rice or Calvin Johnson?

Calvin Johnson AP

Ask me who the best receiver in NFL history is, and my answer is Jerry Rice, and no active receiver is close. So please understand that I’m not suggesting that Calvin Johnson has had a better career than Jerry Rice.

But I want to ask a different question: Has anyone — even the immortal Jerry Rice– ever played the wide receiver position better than Calvin Johnson is playing it right now?

With all due respect to Rice, I believe the answer to that question is no. The level of play Megatron has achieved over the last few years exceeds that of any wide receiver in the history of the game, even including Jerry Rice at his best.

From the start of the 2011 season through yesterday’s insane 14-catch, 329-yard game against the Cowboys, Johnson has 4,466 receiving yards. Over the best 2.5-season stretch of Rice’s career (the second half of 1993 and all of 1994 and 1995), he had 4,102 receiving yards. Johnson had 1,964 receiving yards last year, breaking Rice’s NFL single-season record. Johnson now has topped 200 yards six times in his last 27 games, counting the playoffs. Rice topped 200 yards five times in 332 career games, counting the playoffs.

But I don’t want to go too far down the statistical comparisons because there are a lot of respects in which the stats don’t tell the story. Johnson’s numbers are inflated by the fact that he’s playing in a better passing era than Rice was, and also by the fact that the Lions are a worse team than Rice’s 49ers were, which means they’re throwing late in games a lot more than Rice’s 49ers were. The flip side of that is, Rice was catching passes from Hall of Famers (Joe Montana early in his career, Steve Young starting in 1991) and had excellent teammates like John Taylor, Ricky Watters and Brent Jones preventing the defense from putting everything into stopping him. Johnson is catching passes from Matthew Stafford, who’s a promising young quarterback but nowhere near the type of passer that Montana and Young were, and this year’s arrival of Reggie Bush marks the first time Johnson has ever had a top-flight talent playing with him on the Lions’ offense.

So aside from stats, what makes me say Johnson is playing better football now than Rice ever did? It mostly comes down to their physical differences. The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson makes plays that the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Rice did not. Rice was a genius for running perfect routes and getting open, but Johnson is so physically imposing that he makes plays even when he’s not open. The catches like Johnson’s 50-yard touchdown last week against the Bengals, when Stafford launched the ball deep into the end zone and Johnson went up and grabbed it despite being surrounded by three Bengals, are the plays that no one else at the wide receiver position has made.

And games like Johnson’s performance on Sunday are the games that no one else at the wide receiver position has had. How can Johnson, the guy every defensive coordinator in the NFL knows he has to stop, catch 87.5 percent of the passes thrown to him for 20.6 yards per attempt, as he did on Sunday? The answer is that he’s playing the wide receiver position right now better than anyone has ever played it.

Johnson was my favorite player in any of Sunday’s games. Here are some other thoughts:

Hard-luck player of the week: Reed Doughty. Doughty, a Washington safety, grew up in the Denver suburbs, and so he bought 40 tickets for friends and family to Sunday’s game against the Broncos. It should have been a great “local boy makes good” moment for him, except that he suffered a concussion last week and ended up not playing against the Broncos and not even making the trip to Denver. I hope his friends and family enjoyed the game anyway.

The Jaguars aren’t just bad, they’re historically bad. After Sunday’s 42-10 loss to the 49ers, the Jaguars are 0-8, and they’re getting blown out, week in and week out, like no team since the 1944 franchise that merged the Cardinals and Steelers because players were scarce during World War II. I thought before the season that the Jaguars were the worst team in the league, but they’re even worse than I thought they’d be. I figured they’d be your run-of-the-mill lousy 3-13 team. In reality, your run-of-the-mill lousy 3-13 team would be a double-digit favorite over these Jaguars.

Best block of the day belonged to Larry Warford. A rookie guard for the Lions, Warford got out in front of running back Joique Bell on a screen pass and planted Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee into the turf. It was a textbook example of the right way for an offensive lineman to play a screen pass.

It’s amazing that the Patriots keep winning. There comes a point when no team can withstand the loss of too many good players, and the Patriots seem like they should have reached that point. They lost Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez before the season. They’ve lost Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork to season-ending injuries. Aqib Talib was out Sunday. Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola have missed most of the year. You just can’t lose that many good players. And yet New England is 6-2 after Sunday’s win over the Dolphins. Bill Belichick is a coaching genius.

What happened to Chip Kelly, offensive genius? I know the Eagles have had injuries to both first-string quarterback Michael Vick and second-string quarterback Nick Foles, but shouldn’t an offensive innovator like Kelly be able to manufacture some points anyway? Here’s how every single Eagles offensive drive has ended in the last two weeks: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, punt, punt, field goal, interception, interception, interception, interception, interception, punt, punt, punt, fumble, downs, punt, punt, punt, downs, interception. Yes, in the last two weeks the Eagles have had 15 punts, five interceptions (on five consecutive drives), one lost fumble, one missed field goal and one made field goal. And the one made field goal came on a drive that started in field goal range. If you were flipping back and forth between the Lions and the Eagles on Sunday, you got to see Megatron playing the receiver position at its best, and the Eagles playing offense at its worst.

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Report: Ray Rice appeal will argue NFL made decision based on edited video

Ray Rice AP

The NFL has not said who will hear Ravens running back Ray Rice’s appeal of his indefinite suspension, but we may have some idea about what Rice will be arguing when the time comes.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that one of the central arguments that Rice will make is that the NFL handed down additional punishment based on an edited video of what happened in the elevator rather than on the complete tape of what happened in Atlantic City that night. PFT has confirmed that this is a major part of Rice’s strategy and the Associated Press has previously reported about the existence of a longer video from the elevator.

On the video, first shown by TMZ, Rice is seen hitting Janay Palmer Rice with a left hand that sends her headfirst into an elevator railing before falling unconscious to the floor. Per Schefter, sources have told him that the TMZ video was “a cleaned-up, whittled down and condensed version” of what actually happened. No further details about what Rice contends went down on the night in question have been revealed.

Schefter adds that Robert Mueller is expected to have access to the full video as part of his investigation into the handling of the Rice case.

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Browns TE Jordan Cameron returns to lineup Sunday

Jordan Cameron AP

After a week out of action because of a shoulder injury, Browns tight end Jordan Cameron will suit up for the club on Sunday vs. Baltimore, the team said on its Twitter feed this morning.

Cameron made the Pro Bowl for Cleveland a season ago, hauling in 80 passes for 917 yards and seven TDs. He had a 47-yard reception in the 2014 season opener at Pittsburgh before departing with his injury.

While Cameron is back for 1-1 Cleveland, the Browns are again without tailback Ben Tate, who is officially inactive with a knee injury. Tate was ruled out earlier in the week. Terrance West will get the start at tailback for Cleveland.

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Robert Woods, Keenan Allen will play in Bills-Chargers clash

Keenan Allen AP

The Bills and Chargers each came into Sunday’s matchup with a key wide receiver listed on the injury report and both teams announced good news regarding them on Sunday morning.

Robert Woods is good to go for the Bills after missing practice one day and being limited the other two because of an ankle injury. Woods has five catches for 83 yards in the first two weeks of the season and should join Sammy Watkins at the forefront of the team’s passing attack against San Diego.

Keenan Allen landed on the injury report as the week progressed because of a groin injury and was limited in practice on Thursday and Friday, but he’ll be active as well. He’ll be joined by linebacker Jerry Attaochu and safety Jahleel Addae, both of whom were also listed as questionable on Friday’s final injury report of the week.

Allen and others in the passing attack may be called on more often this Sunday as the Chargers will be playing without running back Ryan Mathews, who was ruled out during the week because of a knee injury.

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Bernard Pierce inactive for Sunday’s game at Cleveland

Bernard Pierce AP

One of the Ravens’ primary tailbacks has been ruled out of Sunday’s game at Cleveland.

Running back Bernard Pierce (thigh) is among Baltimore’s inactives for today’s matchup vs. the Browns, the team announced.

With Pierce out, Justin Forsett could see the majority of the work on Sunday, with rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro the second option in the backfield.

Pierce leads the Ravens in carries (28) and is second in rushing yards (113) through two games.

Safety Terrence Brooks, inside linebacker Arthur Brown, wide receiver Michael Campanaro, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, offensive tackle Jah Reid and offensive guard/center John Urschel are also inactive for Baltimore (1-1) on Sunday.

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DeSean Jackson will play today, or at least try

DeSean Jackson AP

It was going to be hard to keep DeSean Jackson out of his first game against the Eagles.

Whether he’s able to contribute fully or not, he’s going to get a chance.

Jackson is active for Washington today, meaning he’ll have an opportunity to make plays against his former team.

But as Florio mentioned this morning, it might not be a great idea, as his shoulder injury will obviously limit him.

It also makes you wonder if he’d have been playing against any other opponent.

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Maurice Jones-Drew inactive for Week Three

Maurice Jones-Drew, Sharrif Floyd AP

Raiders tailback Maurice Jones-Drew (hand) is inactive for Sunday’s game at New England, the club said this morning.

This marks the second consecutive game Jones-Drew has missed with the injury. Darren McFadden is in line for the bulk of the carries against the Patriots.

Jones-Drew joined the Raiders this offseason after eight seasons with Jacksonville. He started at tailback in the Raiders’ season-opening loss vs. the Jets, gaining just 11 yards on nine carries and catching two passes for 12 yards.

The Raiders’ other inactives are guard Tony Bergstrom, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, offensive tackle Matt McCants, linebacker Sio Moore, linebacker Nick Roach and quarterback Matt Schaub.

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Terry Bradshaw off after death of son-in-law Rob Bironas

bironas AP

FOX broadcaster Terry Bradshaw will not appear on television today following the death of his son-in-law, former Titans kicker Rob Bironas, in a car accident last night.

“Terry will not be on today’s edition of FOX NFL Sunday. He flew home to take care of his family,” a FOX spokesman told PFT in a statement.

This has been a tough year for Bradshaw’s family. Terry also missed FOX’s broadcast of the Super Bowl after the death of his father.

The 36-year-old Bironas was in a single-car accident late Saturday night near his home in Nashville. Police said he lost control of his SUV, hit several trees and was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital. There was no evidence of alcohol at the scene.

Bironas spent nine years as the Titans’ kicker. He owns the NFL record for most field goals in a game, kicking eight (including the last-second game-winner) in a game against the Texans in 2007.

Rachel Bradshaw, the Hall of Fame Steelers quarterback’s daughter, married Bironas in June.

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Arian Foster inactive for Texans today

Arian Foster AP

The longshot didn’t come through for the Texans, which means they’ll be without one of their horses today against the Giants.

As expected, Texans running back Arian Foster is inactive this week because of a hamstring issue.

Foster has been back to old form this season, gaining 241 yards in a pair of games for the undefeated Texans.

Now, they’re going to have to rely on Alfred Blue against Big Blue.

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Report: Shane Vereen likely to play Sunday

Shane Vereen AP

The Patriots’ top pass catching back is reportedly set to play Sunday vs. Oakland.

Tailback Shane Vereen, who was questionable with a shoulder injury, is “expected” to suit up against the Raiders, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported this morning.

The 25-year-old Vereen has rushed 13 times for 76 yards and a touchdown and has caught five passes for 35 yards this season for New England, which is heavily favored against 0-2 Oakland.

Vereen and Stevan Ridley are the Patriots’ top two tailbacks, with Ridley the top option when the Patriots want to grind it out on offense. But Vereen’s versatility is a real asset to New England’s multifaceted attack.

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New domestic violence policy ignored biggest challenge in implementing it

Goodell Getty Images

When rolling out the new domestic violence policy in late August, Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that, as to the Ray Rice investigation, the NFL didn’t get it right.  But in preparing the new domestic violence policy, the NFL got it wrong, again.

The new domestic violence policy wasn’t a policy; it was a formula for penalties to be imposed on players who have committed domestic violence or sexual assault.  For a first offense, the player will be suspended a baseline amount of six games, with the number possibly going up or down based on the surrounding circumstances.  For a second offense, the player will be banished for life, with the opportunity to reapply after one year.

But the new domestic violence policy said nothing about how an offense would be defined.  In the aftermath of the announcement of the new policy, ESPN reported that an offense would be determined once the legal process had ended.  The league disputed that, telling PFT by email, “Each case will be addressed individually on its merits.”

In crafting the new formula for punishment in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault, the league apparently gave no consideration to the handling players in the murky waters between arrest and trial.  The problem became evident days after the policy was unveiled, with 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald being arrested for domestic violence and the team jumping behind the shield of “due process.”  Then came the Ray Rice video, and everything changed in an instant.

With McDonald and Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy and Jonathan Dwyer, the league has seemingly groped in the dark for a light switch, reaching and flailing and hoping for the best.  The outcome has shown the league at anything but its best, woefully unprepared for the challenges of implementing its new domestic violence policy and totally oblivious to the notion that, in the wake of the Rice case, waiting until a player’s legal case has ended no longer will be good enough.

“When there is evidence of misconduct by anyone in the NFL, we need to carefully consider when to act and on what evidence,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said during his Friday press conference.  “Everyone deserves a fair process.  You know I feel passionately about working in the NFL in any capacity is a privilege.”

That’s a consideration that should have been considered long ago.  Meanwhile, there’s still no clear set of rules for dealing with players accused of domestic violence or sexual assault, which invites more situations in which some players get to play and others don’t get to play — and fans are left to wonder whether the make-it-up-as-they-go approach is creating competitive advantages and disadvantages.

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Jordan Cameron expected to be in lineup for Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The Browns won last week without tight end Jordan Cameron in the lineup, but it looks like they’ll have him back as they try to make it two in a row against the Ravens.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the team expects Cameron to play after being listed as questionable because of the shoulder issue that’s bothered him since the preseason. Cameron was able to play in the season opening loss to the Steelers and caught two passes for 47 yards before leaving the game because of the injury.

The Browns rallied back in that game without Cameron before winning last week, but there’s little doubt that the team’s offense is better off if they can have a healthy Cameron in the mix. How healthy he’ll be after being limited in practice during the week remains to be seen, however.

Baltimore may not get such a positive outcome after listing running back Bernard Pierce as questionable with a calf injury. Multiple reports on Sunday morning indicate that Pierce will miss the game, an eventuality that the Ravens prepared themselves for by calling Fitzgerald Toussaint up from the practice squad this weekend.

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Matt Schaub not with Raiders on Sunday

Matt Schaub AP

If the Raiders need to turn to a quarterback other than Derek Carr on Sunday, it won’t be Matt Schaub.

The team announced that Schaub will not be in New England for the game with the Patriots. Ed Werder of ESPN reports that Schaub returned home to be with his wife after she had an emergency caesarean section to deliver the couple’s baby.

The birth was premature, but both mother and child are said to be doing well. Everyone at PFT hopes things remain that way and offer our congratulations to the Schaub family on their new arrival.

Matt McGloin will back up Carr on Sunday. The Raiders travel to London for a Week Four date with the Dolphins and it’s unclear at the moment whether Schaub will be joining them for that trip.

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Whether he plays or not, shoulder injury will limit DeSean

DeSean AP

When Washington receiver DeSean Jackson landed hard on his shoulder last Sunday and then walked to the locker room with his arm drooped and dangling, it appeared likely he’d miss his Week Three return to Philadelphia.

Officially dubbed day-to-day, it appeared that Washington coach Jay Gruden was trying to put a banana in Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s tailpipe.

But Jackson practiced Friday on a limited basis, and he’s officially questionable for today’s game.  If (and it could be a big if) he plays, what can we expect from him?

“A moderate AC joint sprain (separated shoulder) is a frustrating injury for a WR,” former NFL athletic trainer Mike Ryan, a contributor to Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, told PFT via email.  “Strength and range of motion of the shoulder are typically not a major factor.  For the next three weeks, his biggest challenge will be reaching across his body and landing on the outside of his sore left shoulder.”

If Jackson plays today, don’t be surprised if Jackson wears something bigger than the Halloween costume version he usually employs.

The bigger surprise could be Jackson playing at all.

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Bruce Irvin fined $8,268 for late shove of Philip Rivers

Bruce Irvin AP

Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin drew a $8,268 fine for a late hit of Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers in Week Two, the NFL has confirmed to PFT.

Irvin was penalized for shoving Rivers after the Chargers’ quarterback had run out of bounds short of the first down marker on a third down play in the third quarter. As Rivers took his second step off the field, Irvin gave him a two-handed shove. Rivers fell to the ground, and the result was a personal foul on Irvin and a first down for San Diego, which would capitalize with a touchdown in its 30-21 upset of Seattle.

The 26-year-old Irvin has a combined four tackles in two games for Seattle, which hosts Denver in a Super Bowl XLVIII rematch on Sunday.

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Ravens’ strategy should be simple, clear

Cass Getty Images

The Ravens believe the lengthy ESPN report that dropped less than two hours after Roger Goodell’s press conference contains plenty of mistakes.  Some minor ones have been pointed out privately; at least one (a suggestion that center A.Q. Shipley watched the Week One game with Ray Rice even though Shipley was playing center for the Colts) apparently has been quietly scrubbed from the story.

But the story has two primary contentions:  (1) director of security Darren Sanders had the contents of the second elevator video described to him by an Atlantic City police officer only hours after Rice Rice knocked out Janay Palmer; and (2) team president Dick Cass (pictured) had been told by Rice’s lawyer that the video was “f–king horrible,” that Rice “knocked her the f–k out,” and that Cass urged Rice to enter a pre-trial intervention program, in part to keep the video from ever becoming public.

While the Ravens have deferred listing the alleged inaccuracies in the report until after Sunday’s game at Cleveland, it should be easy to address the key contentions in the story, if the Ravens contend that those contentions are in dispute.  Sanders needs to say that the allegations relating to him aren’t true.  And Cass needs to say that the allegations relating to him aren’t true.

That’s precisely what Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis did in April 2012.  After ESPN’s Outside the Lines claimed that Loomis had tapped into the in-game conversations of opposing coaches, Loomis went on the record and flatly denied it.

Nothing ever came of any of it, and by all appearances the Outside the Lines report landed outside the lines, literally.  While it’s open to debate and discussion regarding whether the apparently erroneous report about the Saints undermines the new report about the Ravens, the point for now is that, when Loomis faced allegations that he deemed to be untrue, he said so.  Loudly.

The longer the Ravens wait to do that, the harder it will be to get anyone to believe it.

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