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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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Trent Williams good to go vs. Eagles

Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Washington left tackle Trent Williams is ready to play today against Philadelphia.

Although he was listed as questionable with a shoulder injury, Williams is active and will start. That’s good news for starting quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Washington’s inactives are LB Keenan Robinson, LB Gabe Miller, DE Jason Hatcher, G Josh LeRibeus, WR Leonard Hankerson, RB Roy Helu and DB Kenny Okoro.

Philadelphia’s inactives are QB Nick Foles, S Jerome Couplin, LB Trent Cole, OL Julian Vandervelde, OL Dennis Kelly, WR Jeff Maehl and DE Taylor Hart.

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Decision to delay L.A. relocation came from teams, technically

LA Reuters

Potato, potahto.  Tomato, tomahto.  Los Angeles.  Los Angeleez.

Despite the words used, the NFL won’t be returning to L.A. in 2015.  Adam Schefter of ESPN reported on Saturday that Commissioner Roger Goodell informed the three contenders to relocate — the Rams, Raiders, and Chargers — that no team will move to Los Angeles next year.  A league source tells PFT that, technically, the teams decided not to try to move next year.

It’s probably a distinction without a difference.  However, Schefter’s report creates the impression that Goodell dictated the outcome to the teams.  Given the year the league office has had, that’s not the most favorable message to send.

Even if, as we’re told, the decision was made by the teams, it’s quite possible if not likely that the teams made the decision only after it was made clear to them that an attempt to move to L.A. would not succeed in 2015.

Then there’s the reality that going against the wishes of the powers-that-be in 2015 could make it harder to secure approval to move in 2016.

Either way, L.A. won’t be getting one or more NFL teams in 2015.  But the signals are getting stronger and stronger for an L.A. relocation come 2016.

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Peyton Manning officially questionable for Monday night

Denver Broncos practice at Dove Valley Getty Images

Everyone expects Peyton Manning to start on Monday night in Cincinnati, but officially that’s no sure thing.

The Broncos listed Manning as questionable on the official injury report for Monday’s game against the Bengals. Manning has been getting treatment for a thigh injury and has also battled an illness.

If Manning can’t go, Brock Osweiler would get the nod. Osweiler played briefly — and played poorly — when Manning went to the locker room during Sunday’s win over the Chargers.

Obviously, it would be very, very bad news for the Broncos if there really is a risk that Manning can’t play. But from all indications, there really isn’t any question. Manning may be listed as questionable, but he will play.

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Browns put Tashaun Gipson on IR

Tashaun Gipson AP

The Browns will be without one of their key defensive players for the rest of the season.

The club announced Saturday it had placed free safety Tashaun Gipson on injured reserve. Gipson, whose six interceptions are tied for the NFL lead, suffered an MCL sprain in the Browns’ November 23 win at Atlanta.

A third-year pro from Wyoming, the 24-year-old Gipson has 12 interceptions for Cleveland since 2012.

Jim Leonhard has stepped into the lineup in Gipson’s absence.

To replace Gipson on the roster, the Browns promoted linebacker Scott Solomon from the practice squad. The 26-year-old Solomon has appeared in 20 regular-season games in three NFL seasons, including six with Tampa Bay earlier this year.

The 7-7 Browns are the lowest-seeded club still in playoff contention in the AFC. They play at Carolina on Sunday.

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Saturday one-liners

Miller Getty Images

The production of Dolphins RB Lamar Miller drops dramatically after his 10th carry of a game, from 5.4 average yards to 2.5.

A week after shutting down Aaron Rodgers, the Bills hope to similarly harass Oakland QB Derek Carr.

The Patriots are preparing for Percy Harvin with some of the same keys they used when preparing to face Randall Cobb.

Jets S Rontez Miles had emergency surgery on Thursday after being kicked in the shin during practice.

Ravens WR Jacoby Jones says it won’t be emotional to return to Houston and play the team that once cut him.

Former Bengals RB Corey Dillon is impressed with Bengals rookie RB Jeremy Hill.

C Alex Mack may be the only player definitely returning to the Browns in 2015.

Steelers players are lobbying for LB Lawrence Timmons to make it to the Pro Bowl.

The Texans will get a good look on Sunday at a running back they maybe shouldn’t have let get away.

Maligned in May, the Colts’ quintet of draft picks has done well.

If you’re among the many who passed on Thursday night’s game, here’s what the win revealed about the Jaguars.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt summarizes his first season with the team in three words:  “It’s not fun.”

Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders has a simple approach when returning punts — get at least 10 yards, making it like a first down on offense.

Former Chiefs Pro Bowl OL John Alt is helping LT Eric Fisher.

The Raiders may be shorthanded at cornerback with Buffalo coming to town.

So what does the Chargers’ defense need to do to win some games?  Defensive coordinator John Pagano makes it as simple as possible:  “Play better.”

Cowboys WR Dez Bryant could be the key to beating Indianapolis.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin wants WR Odell Beckham to be like LeBron James.

A reduction in touches for RB LeSean McCoy is fueling speculation that he won’t be back with the Eagles in 2015.

How bad is Washington’s offensive line?  Really bad.

The decision to start Bears QB Jimmy Clausen is creating no buzz in Halas Hall.

Joique Bell quietly has become the No. 1 running back for the Lions.

Here’s a great look at how the Packers are trying to slow down great receivers at a time when the rules are helping them.

Vikings FB Jerome Felton knows he likely won’t be back next year.

Falcons DT Ra’Shede Hageman realizes that he’ll need to earn the trust of the coaching staff in order to get more playing time.

Panthers DT Star Lotulelei is struggling in his second season.

With free agency looming, Saints RB Mark Ingram has picked a good year to be on pace for his first 1,000-yard season.

The win the renewal of the Bay of Pigs rivalry, the Buccaneers will need to be able to run the ball effectively.

The Cardinals joined the NFL in 1920; Sunday night’s game is the biggest regular-season contest in franchise history.

Rams S E.J. Gaines, a sixth-round draft pick in May, has had a strong rookie season.

Saturday’s game could be the next to last in San Francisco for 49ers RB Frank Gore.

A big test is coming Sunday night for Seahawks rookie OT Justin Britt.

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Joe Thomas downplays charges of discharging manure

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

A day after he was accused of environmental violations including discharging manure into a wetland, Browns tackle Joe Thomas said it was no BS.

Actually, it was a much smaller variety of S.

“I know it sounds horrific when you see the list of violations, but in the end it’s rabbit turds here,” Thomas told Steven Verburg of the Wisconsin State Journal.

Thomas was cited by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for some irregularities on a farm he owns there. Among the violations are damming a navigable waterway, dredging a spring-fed pond, tearing down a barn without a permit and most spectacularly, the previously mentioned discharge of manure.

He could face $10,000 a day fines, but Thomas said he’s meeting with DNR officials to make sure he’s in compliance.

“When you read that list, you’d think I was the worst person in the world, like I put a two-lane bridge over the Mississippi River,” Thomas said. “In reality, it’s all kind of interrelated and very small.

“I don’t want to say anything to you that would make their side look bad,”

The property is described as a few hundred feet from the Blue River, which is apparently a Class II trout stream. While dropping a load of brown trout into that waterway would obviously disturb the ecosystem, Thomas said his intentions for the property were pure.

“My whole idea was to make it a fish and wildlife paradise like it used to be,” he said. “I don’t want to get into the specifics of every little violation. The bottom line is I hired a couple contractors to help with the cleanup project and it was just not knowing that you needed permits for certain things that resulted in the violations.”

Unless one of those contractors turns out to be Najeh Davenport, it sounds like Thomas is doing everything he can to make sure this doesn’t turn into a big stink.

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Report: Executives suggest Bears could have to attach a draft pick to move Cutler

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Getty Images

If the Bears want to move quarterback Jay Cutler in the offseason, would they have to swap draft picks with the acquiring club to get the deal done?

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, “several NFL executives” have indicated the Bears might have to trade draft selections to close any Cutler deal, given the guaranteed money on Cutler’s contract.

The idea of “sweetening the pot” to close a Cutler trade is something PFT’s Mike Florio suggested after the quarterback’s benching. Were this indeed required to make a deal, it would speak to Chicago’s lack of leverage.

In the scenario suggested by Schefter, an acquiring team would get Cutler and a higher pick, with the Bears getting a lower pick and salary-cap relief in return. As Schefter notes, any trade can’t be an out-and-out giveaway; the Bears would have to receive something in return, per NFL rules.

How Bears ownership proceeds with coach Mark Trestman and G.M. Phil Emery at season’s end figures to be a primary factor in any future decisions on Cutler. A new coach/G.M. combination might not have any ties to Cutler and could be able to cut the cord without anguish.

The more interesting question is whether Emery would be willing to make such a move. The decision to sign Cutler to a lucrative deal last January looks dubious, with Cutler’s play not coming close to expectations. Moving Cutler and a draft pick is the stuff of management nightmares, especially with the Bears in desperate need of youthful reinforcements throughout the defense. The club’s spending in the most recent free agent period produced mixed results, with defensive end Willie Young proving a bargain but defensive ends Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston not producing as much as hoped, though illness slowed Allen and a knee injury ended Houston’s season early.

In short, the Bears aren’t in a position to be giving away draft picks. And have we mentioned the franchise again might be looking for a quarterback? Oh yes, that.

If Bears fans are walking around looking like they’ve bitten down on all the world’s lemons, they cannot be blamed. Soon, the snow will come, the salt trucks will come out, the sky will be gray and the taxes will still be high. But the Cubs look like they’ve figured it out, and the Bulls are flank-steak tough. Look, Chicagoans are used to QB uncertainty.

Doesn’t mean they have to like it, though. And they really won’t like it if that draft pick goes out the door with Cutler.

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49ers could be looking for young offensive specialist to succeed Harbaugh

McDaniels Getty Images

With all the talk about Jim Harbaugh’s future, hardly any time has been spent on the question of who will replace him in San Francisco.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that the team is expected to look for a young offensive specialist to take over the team.  Mort specifically mentioned Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

The last time the job was open, the 49ers tried the opposite approach.  As Bill Parcells discloses in his new book, the 49ers tried to hire the then-69-year-old defensive specialist to coach the team in 2011.

From 2009 to 2010, McDaniels coached the Broncos to an 11-17 record.  In a stint perhaps best known for the selection of Tim Tebow with a first-round pick, a 5-17 slide after a 6-0 start greased the skids for McDaniels’ termination with four games left in his second season.

But McDaniels has recovered nicely.  Despite coach Bill Belichick’s background as a defensive guru, it’s Belichick and not McDaniels who has gotten the credit for a masterful run of offensive game plans (with the exception of the loss at Lambeau) since the team fell to 2-2 after a Monday night blowout in Kansas City.

It has been believed that 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has the early inside track to the job, in large part because Tomsula was pegged to take over for Harbaugh if he’d been traded to the Browns in February.  With the offensive side of the ball needing a kick in the pants, maybe the change of plans makes sense.

The 49ers also will be looking for someone who can get along well with G.M. Trent Baalke, who somehow has escaped scrutiny for the team’s collapse in 2014.  If, as it appears, Baalke will be back, a far bigger factor than X’s and O’s will be whether the new coach can work and play well with his boss.

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Arians: Seahawks have a wishbone running game and a great QB

Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Seahawks lead the league in rushing but aren’t just a rushing team, which makes them a pain for opposing defenses.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians compared preparing for the Seahawks to preparing to face an old-school Oklahoma or Nebraska wishbone running offense. Except those teams couldn’t beat opponents through the air the way the Seahawks can.

“Trying to get ready for them is basically like trying to get ready for a wishbone team back in college — with a great quarterback,” Arians said.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson isn’t mostly (or even primarily) a running quarterback, and yet he’s been by far the most effective running quarterback in the NFL this year. Wilson has 106 carries for 754 yards and five touchdowns this season, leading all quarterbacks in all three categories and putting him more than 300 yards ahead of any other quarterback in the league. Wilson also has six runs of more than 20 yards, best among all quarterbacks, and is the only quarterback in the league with more than one run longer than 40 yards. Wilson is on pace to finish this season with more than 3,300 passing yards and more than 800 rushing yards, a passing/running combination that only Randall Cunningham (who passed for 3,466 yards and ran for 942 yards in 1990) has accomplished before.

The Cardinals will have a tough time stopping Wilson. Even worse, they’re stuck with third-stringer Ryan Lindley as their own quarterback against the Seahawks’ ferocious defense. If Arians can find a way to win this one, they could cancel the coach of the year vote and hand him the award on Sunday.

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2016 becomes the target for an L.A. move

keep-calm-im-not-moving

When the Chargers announced earlier this week that they won’t be moving out of San Diego in 2015, the message was clear:  If the Chargers are willing to announce now that they won’t try to move to L.A. in 2015, no one will be moving to L.A. in 2015.

Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, Commissioner Roger Goodell made it known this week internally that no teams will be moving to Los Angeles in 2015.  It remains possible, if not likely, that someone will move to L.A. in 2016.

Sure, someone can still apply for relocation in early 2015. But good luck getting 24 owners to approve the move.

The Chargers, as we’ve previously explained, are better positioned than the Rams and Raiders to satisfy the terms of the NFL’s relocation policy, since the Chargers have been trying for 14 years to get a new stadium in San Diego.  The extra year also potentially helps the Rams and Raiders build a stronger case that they’ve tried diligently to resolve a bad stadium situation in their current location before trying to move to a new city.

It’s believed that up to two teams eventually will move to Los Angeles.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the powers-that-be in San Diego, Oakland, and/or St. Louis take full advantage of what could be their last opportunity to find a solution more viable than hoping that their team becomes the odd man out in a game of L.A. musical chairs.

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NFL Weather Watch — Week 16

2011 NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Those waiting for one of those patented late-season “weather games” will likely have to wait another week.

The expected conditions for Week 16’s outdoor games are relatively favorable for the penultimate weekend of the year, per forecast data from WeatherUnderground.com. No game has more than a 30 percent chance of precipitation (Packers-Buccaneers in Tampa).

The strongest winds are expected in Lions-Bears, but Chicago brought in Jay Cutler for games just like this, so worry not about the home team’s ability to deal with a little wind!

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of conditions expected in all 10 outdoor games. Unless otherwise noted, kickoff time is 1 p.m. Eastern:

SATURDAY

Philadelphia at Washington (4:30 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 36 degrees.

Wind: Eight mph out of the west-northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Eight percent.

San Diego at San Francisco (8:25 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 59 degrees.

Wind: One mph out of the west-northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Ten percent.

SUNDAY

Cleveland at Carolina (1 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 47 degrees.

Wind: Three mph out of the east.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Twenty-six percent.

Detroit at Chicago

Temperature: 37 degrees.

Wind: Twelve mph out of the south.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Eight percent.

Minnesota at Miami

Temperature: 79 degrees.

Wind: Nine mph out of the southeast.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Six percent.

New England at N.Y. Jets

Temperature: 41 degrees.

Wind: Five mph out of the north-northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Fourteen percent.

Kansas City at Pittsburgh

Temperature: 35 degrees.

Wind: Two mph out of the southwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Five percent.

Green Bay at Tampa Bay

Temperature: 74 degrees.

Wind: Six mph out of the south.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Thirty percent.

Buffalo at Oakland (4:25 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 62 degrees.

Wind: Three mph out of the west-northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Eleven percent.

MONDAY

Denver at Cincinnati (8:30 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 44 degrees.

Wind: Six mph out of the south-southeast.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Twenty-two percent.

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Julio Jones’ availability hinges on pre-game workout, again

Julio Getty Images

Last week, the Falcons waited until Sunday morning to decide whether receiver Julio Jones would play despite a hip injury.  This week, it’ll be the same routine.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Jones’ availability for Sunday’s showdown with the Saints will hinge on the Sunday morning pre-game workout.

Obviously, he wants to play.  (Rarely if ever does an NFL player pull a Lee Corso with a key game coming up.)  And the team desperately need Jones.

In his last two games played, Jones generated 448 receiving yards, with a whopping 259 yards coming in a Monday night loss to the Packers.  Between the performances with Jones and the team’s struggles without him, the fourth-year wideout from Alabama is laying the foundation for a major payday at some point during the 2015 offseason.

Coupled with the presence of quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons’ head coaching job becomes perhaps the most attractive of any that woud be available in the upcoming hiring cycle.  Whether the job actually is available depends in part on beating the Saints, with or without Jones on the field.

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Dalton struggles on the big stage

Dalton Getty Images

Andy Dalton has something in common with Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe.  Both have trouble performing when other people are watching.

In prime-time and playoff games, Dalton has a career record of 2-9.  He’ll get a chance to change that on Monday night against the Broncos and, possibly, next Sunday night against the Steelers.  (The Week 17 Sunday night game will be determined after Week 16; there’s a chance the league will choose Bengals at Steelers.)

In those 11 games played at night and/or in the postseason, Dalton has eight touchdown passes, 14 interceptions, and five lost fumbles.

In fairness to Dalton, the problems extend beyond one player.

“I don’t know why we haven’t played as good on defense in those games, but we need to,” coach Marvin Lewis said this week, via ESPN.com.  “I don’t know why we haven’t played as good on offense, or why we’ve given up on a play on special teams in those games, but we need to do better.”

Defensive end Wallace Gilberry has a theory:  “I guess we’re afraid of the dark.”

On Monday night, they’ll get a chance to prove that they aren’t.  Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe’s bladder could be depending on it.

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Chargers say Philip Rivers’s injuries won’t affect him today

Philip Rivers AP

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers will be playing through back and rib injuries today against the 49ers, but the team doesn’t expect that to be a problem.

Chargers coach Mike McCoy said Rivers looked good in the Chargers’ last practice of the week and will be good to go at San Francisco.

Philip had an outstanding day,” McCoy said, via U-T San Diego. “A ball did not hit the ground in all the throws he made today. Philip was Philip, so he’ll be ready to roll.”

Rivers, who has started 142 straight games, said he wouldn’t miss a week of practice either.

“I hate missing at all during the week, and to not practice at all, I can’t even imagine doing that,” Rivers said. “So yeah, it was good. It went well.”

With the Chargers clinging to slim playoff hopes, they need to win today. Which means they need Rivers to look as good against the 49ers as he did in practice this week.

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Harbaugh reportedly “torn” between NFL, Michigan

Harbaugh Getty Images

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t talking about the possibility that he’ll coach Michigan or any other football team.  Someone close to him is talking a blue streak now, Jack.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Harbaugh’s “family and friends have been encouraging him to take the Michigan HC job, but he is torn because his heart is in the NFL, per sources close to the situation.”

The report doesn’t specify the full universe family members who are urging Harbaugh to abandon California for Ann Arbor.  It’s widely believed, and it’s been consistently reported, that Harbaugh’s wife doesn’t want to leave the Bay Area.

The tension arises from the fact that Harbaugh wants to wait and see which NFL opportunities emerge and Michigan needs to know sooner than later whether to move on to Plan B.  However, Schefter points out that Harbaugh’s agent “has a good sense of realistic NFL options already.”

In part, this seems to be about getting Harbaugh’s realistic NFL options and Harbaugh’s current employer to develop a discreet understanding as to how the dominoes will fall after the regular season ends, with the team that will eventually trade for Harbaugh:  (1) firing its current head coach; (2) complying with the Rooney Rule; (3) striking a deal with the 49ers for permission to negotiate with Harbaugh; and (4) working out a contract with him.  Those dominoes all need to be properly arranged now, so that Harbaugh will know whether to wait for the inevitable NFL scenario to play itself out.

Leverage remains a key factor in this dance.  Schefter’s report seems to be a deliberate leak aimed at fleshing out Harbaugh’s NFL options now, so that Harbaugh will know what’s behind Door No. 1 before he tells Michigan thanks but no thanks for the second time in four years.

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