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Report: “Abusive environment” for Jonathan Martin in Miami

Jonathan Martin AP

More and more details are emerging regarding the circumstances surrounding tackle Jonathan Martin’s departure from the Dolphins.  And the situation demonstrates how mean and unrelenting an NFL locker room can be.

According to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, Martin’s exit came after “persistent bullying and teasing” from some of his teammates.

Per Marvez, Martin has taken a personal leave of absence to spend time with his family.

The situation came to a head this week, but Martin previously had “tried dealing with a slew of indignities that crossed into personal and family insults.”  Marvez writes that the Dolphins knew that “cruel actions” of some teammates “went well beyond the customary hazing.”

The NFLPA reportedly is monitoring the situation, and the union has inquired about the treatment of Martin.

While inappropriate and unacceptable, it’s hardly uncommon.  Last year, Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul threw cornerback Prince Amukamara into a cold tub, apparently because of the perception among veterans that Amukamara was soft.

Incidents like this make it hard to believe that the NFL locker room is ready to accept an openly gay teammate.

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Joe Flacco has first half to forget

Joe Flacco AP

After a nightmarish first half from their quarterback, the Ravens are in a halftime hole in Houston.

The Texans, behind three Randy Bullock field goals and a TD pass from Arian Foster, hold a 16-0 edge after two quarters.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has struggled mightily, completing just 3-of-18 passes for 27 yards with two second-quarter interceptions, with one coming on a deflection. Overall, Baltimore gained just 31 yards on 28 yards.

The Texans’ second pick, which came courtesy of cornerback Kareem Jackson, set up Foster’s five-yard scoring pass to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, which give Houston the 16-0 lead with 1:53 left in the half.

Texans backup quarterback Case Keenum has been serviceable, completing 13-of-27 passes for 140 yards with one pick.

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Jets lead Patriots 10-7 at halftime

Tom Brady AP

The Jets have nothing left to do with the playoff race other than play spoiler and they’ve done a pretty good job of it through 30 minutes at MetLife Stadium.

They’ve sacked Tom Brady four times and held the Patriots to an anemic 60 yards in what could be Rex Ryan’s home swan song as the team’s head coach. The offense got off to a slow start in the first quarter, but Geno Smith got hot in the second quarter and moved the team to a pair of scores that put them up 10-7 as the teams went to their locker rooms at halftime.

Sheldon Richardson had two of the sacks for the Jets, including one just before halftime that ended any Patriot thoughts of scoring, to do his best to back up his assertion that he belongs among the best defensive linemen in the league. The Patriots have heavily favored the pass, dropping back to throw 19 times against five rushes, and it hasn’t worked out as their offensive line has been overwhelmed by the Jets pass rush all afternoon.

They’ll get a chance to make some adjustments during the break and they’ll need to if they want to end Week 16 as the top seed in the AFC playoffs.

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Falcons go up 13-7 on Saints just before halftime

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

Once upon a time, opponents worried about going to the Superdome.

That hasn’t been the case this year, and the Falcons are the latest to make themselves at home there.

Matt Ryan hit Eric Weems for a short touchdown just before halftime to give the visitors a 13-7 lead at the break.

The Falcons have played an alarming amount of defense, limiting the Saints to 78 yards and sacking Drew Brees three times along with picking him off once.

There have also been several fights over the course of the game, as both sides are desperate to hang onto playoff chances.

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Steelers hold on fourth down to hold onto halftime lead

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Chiefs have moved the ball well against the Steelers on Sunday, but only until they get anywhere close to the Pittsburgh end zone.

Once the Chiefs make it onto the Pittsburgh side of the field, things have played out much better for the Steelers. They held the Chiefs to field goals on their first two drives of the game and then held firm on fourth down on the final drive of the half to hold onto a 10-6 lead at Heinz Field.

Officials initially ruled that Chiefs running back De’Anthony Thomas got a first down on the previous play, but the booth called for a review that found Thomas short. Jamaal Charles was stuffed on fourth down and the Steelers remained in front. There wasn’t much time left in the half and the Chiefs may have had to settle for a field goal even after converting, which opens the door for criticism of coach Andy Reid given the team’s established red zone issues.

The Chiefs never punted in the first half, gained 181 yards and held the ball for more than 17 minutes, but they weren’t able to make any plays in the red zone outside of a successful fake field goal pass to Travis Kelce for a first down. It’s not a new problem for a team that hasn’t thrown a touchdown to a wide receiver all year and it’s not something that Reid has even admitted is a problem, but it’s a big reason why the Chiefs could find themselves losing this Sunday.

The Steelers have pulled off a couple of long drives of their own, twice scoring at the tail end of 11-play, 80-yard voyages down the field. Ben Roethlisberger is 10-of-15 for 131 yards, but the Chiefs have done a good job against Le’Veon Bell outside of his one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

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Johnny Manziel leaves game with hamstring, questionable

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Browns might start looking at quarterback options sooner than anticipated.

Rookie Johnny Manziel had to leave the game after taking a hard shot just before halftime, and Brian Hoyer replaced him.

He was driven into the ground by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety Colin Jones as he ran for the sideline. Trainers took him to the locker room, as he draped a towel over his head.

They announced his injury as a hamstring, and he’s questionable to return.

Manziel has had a largely ineffective first half, though the playoff-hopeful Panthers have something to do with that. He’s still 3-of-8 for 32 yards passing, with two rushes for 3 yards.

Brian Hoyer didn’t exactly light it up in relief, as the Browns still trail 10-3.

UPDATE 2:44 p.m. ET: Hoyer took the field in the second half.

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Packers starting to assert themselves vs. Tampa Bay

Eddie Lacy, Mason Foster AP

Heavy favorites over the Buccaneers, the Packers have generally looked as much in the early stages of Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay.

Tailback Eddie Lacy’s 47-yard TD run put the Packers on the board first, and they have added to their edge since, taking a 10-0 second-quarter lead over the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay’s offense has struggled mightily, gaining a grand total of zero yards on 15 plays. Meanwhile, the Packers have the passing and ground games going. After something of a slow start, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has settled in, completing 13-of-17 passes for 121 yards. According to the Fox telecast, Rodgers is dealing with a cold.

Lacy, for his part, has added 84 yards on 10 carries for 10-4 Green Bay, which is tied for the NFC North lead.

Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown has a tough go of it thus far, completing just 1-of-8 passes for five yards.

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Nick Mangold carted off, Jets tie game

Nick Mangold AP

Jets center Nick Mangold has had a lot of good battles with Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork over the years, but Sunday’s looks like it will be an abbreviated one.

Mangold was carted off the field in the second quarter at MetLife Stadium after suffering a left leg injury during a Bilal Powell run. Mangold remained down on the field for several minutes surrounded by members of both teams and Wilfork shared a few words with his longtime rival before Mangold was taken to the back.

The Jets announced Mangold, who sported an NYPD hat during pregame a day after two New York police officers were murdered in their patrol car, has an ankle injury and called him questionable to return.

The Jets were driving when Mangold went down and continued their march after the injury. Geno Smith hit Jeff Cumberland for a 25-yard pass over a frozen Patrick Chung to tie the score at 7 with six minutes to go in the first half.

The Patriots broke a scoreless tie with a touchdown catch by Rob Gronkowski earlier in the second quarter. Danny Amendola helped set it up with a big punt return as he fills in for Julian Edelman on both offense and special teams this Sunday.

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Panthers and Browns locked in a real thriller

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Johnny Manziel hasn’t been a disaster today.

But he hasn’t been much of anything, really.

The Browns and Panthers are locked in a 3-3 pillow fight, as neither Heisman-winning quarterback has gotten much going.

Manziel hit Andrew Hawkins for a 28-yard pass earlier, but has otherwise struggled, but has 4 yards on his other seven pass attempts.

The Panthers have dominated time of possession, but don’t have much to show for it.

As they have all year, they can put together long drives occasionally, but stall in the red zone.

Despite outgaining the Browns 119-40 in the first quarter, they’re sitting on a field goal.

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Chiefs pull off fake field goal, but wind up settling for field goal anyway

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Chiefs are now more than a quarter into their 15th game of the 2014 season and the search for their first touchdown pass to a wide receiver continues.

They came close in the second quarter at Pittsburgh. Dwayne Bowe had a pass from Alex Smith in his hands, but Steelers corner Antwon Blake knocked it away for an incompletion. Smith would scramble out of bounds for a loss on third down and the Chiefs settled for a Cairo Santos field goal to give them a 6-3 lead.

Santos had been on the field a few plays earlier, but the Chiefs pulled a bit of trickery to set up Bowe’s near-miss in the end zone. Holder Dustin Colquitt threw a pass to tight end Travis Kelce to convert on 4th-and-5 from the Steelers’ 12-yard line for a first down that the Chiefs weren’t able to turn into six points.

The Steelers got off to a fast start with a 44-yard pass to Martavis Bryant, but their opening drive also stalled close to the end zone. The Chiefs have driven well twice for field goals since then and have a leg up with halftime approaching.

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Texans take early lead vs. slow-starting Ravens

Case Keenum

Case Keenum’s return to Houston has gone well-enough thus far.

Keenum, whom the Texans re-signed just this week because of injuries at quarterback, has helped Houston take a 6-0 second-quarter lead over visiting Baltimore on Sunday.

Though Keenum has been picked once, he has generally done the job, completing 8-of-13 passes for 120 yards.

By contrast, the Ravens’ offense has sputtered, gaining just 22 yards on its first 11 plays.

The Ravens (9-5) currently hold one of the two wild-card spots in the AFC, while Houston (7-7) is on the fringes of playoff contention.

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Report: Browns to “explore all options” at quarterback

Manziel Getty Images

That homeless guy apparently has given Jimmy Haslam some new advice.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns intend to “explore all options” at quarterback this season.

Those options include a possible trade up to get Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a player with whom G.M. Ray Farmer reportedly is smitten.

The Browns will enter the draft with a pair of first-round picks that could be packaged in an effort to get Mariota, if the Browns decide to make a move up.  It would mean making a move out with current starter Johnny Manziel, whose wage-scaled contract would allow the Browns to keep both guys around, if they wanted to.

The willingness of the Browns to explore their options shows that they’re far from sold on Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft.  If they decide they were wrong about Manziel, it makes much more sense to admit the mistake and move on than to try to justify it by sticking with a guy who can’t get it done.

Besides, if Haslam won’t be firing his coach or G.M. after the season, he needs to fire someone, and the homeless guy who suggested that Manziel be drafted already is unemployed.

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Jets and Patriots defenses shine in first quarter

New England Patriots v New York Jets Getty Images

Jets coach Rex Ryan said this week that he’s not dead yet in reference to the presumed end of his tenure with the team and the same is true of his defense’s pass rush.

They sacked Tom Brady three times in the first half of Sunday’s home game against the Patriots, helping to force three Patriots punts on three possessions in the first quarter. The Patriots had just 20 total yards through the first 15 minutes as the Jets have done their best to spoil New England’s hopes of running out to a big lead on their way to potentially clinching home field through the AFC playoffs.

The Jets Offense hasn’t done any better however. Just as the pass rush has turned in a familiar performance, so has the offense. They’ve managed just 40 yards of their own and the game is scoreless with one quarter in the books.

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Jimmy Clausen unimpressive early in Chicago

clausencutler AP

Early on in Chicago, Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen is looking about the way you’d expect a backup to look against a good defense like Detroit’s.

The Bears have gone three-and-out on each of their first two offensive drives. Coach Marc Trestman is playing it very safe on the play-calling, not asking Clausen to do anything fancy and not accomplishing much. The Bears even ran the ball on third-and-9 on their first possession, suggesting that they don’t have a lot of faith in Clausen’s ability to make plays.

The good news is that Clausen doesn’t have any turnovers, and the Bears’ defense forced the Lions to punt on their first drive. Perhaps the Bears can at least keep this close with Clausen at the helm.

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Saints grab quick lead on Falcons in NFC South slugfest

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Saints didn’t need long to grab the lead.

Twenty seconds in, they’re already up 7-0 on the Falcons, in a game crucial to their playoff hopes.

A 99-yard kickoff return by Jalen Saunders set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram, putting them up in a hurry on Atlanta.

Saunders, replacing an injured Travaris Cadet, joined the Saints on waivers earlier this year after the Jets cut the fourth-round pick.

The Falcons answered with a field goal, though the way the NFC South has gone this year, you fully expect futility to the finish.

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Menelik Watson donates game check to four-year-old fan

Watson AP

From our buddy Jay Glazer of FOX Sports comes a great story for the holidays.

Glazer arranged through his Touchdown Dreams program for Ava Urrea, a four-year-old fan with hypoplastic left heart syndrome to visit the Raiders this week.  The team pulled out all the stops for Ava, who was born with half a heart and has had 14 surgeries.  (It’s the same condition that TJ Olsen, the son of Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, has been dealing with since birth.)

Ava received a signed helmet, signed footballs, and making her the captain for the day.  Then came the unexpected twist.  Raiders offensive lineman Menelik Watson donated his game check for the week to Ava’s family.

According to NFLPA records, Watson’s base salary for 2014 is $622,948.  That makes his weekly gross salary $36,944.

With federal and California taxes consuming roughly half of that amount, the net check would have been in the range of $18,000.

It’s a great gesture by Watson, coming at the end of a season that has been focused all too often on all the bad things a small handful of NFL players do.

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