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NFL morning after: Tom Brady is back

Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots Getty Images

Until Sunday, Tom Brady wasn’t just having a bad year. He was having by far the worst year of his NFL career.

Heading into Sunday’s games, the list of quarterbacks who had a higher passer rating than Brady this season included Chad Henne, Matt Schaub, Mike Glennon and Thad Lewis. Brady’s passer rating was a career-low 74.9. Brady’s completion rate was a career-low 55.7 percent. Brady’s average yards per pass was a career-low 5.9. Brady was throwing touchdowns a career-low rate, with only nine in his 307 attempts through eight games. There was talk that Brady’s hand was hurting, that he was getting old, that he couldn’t adjust to all the turnover in his receiving corps. In short, Brady stunk.

And now Brady is back.

In Sunday’s 55-31 win over the Steelers, Brady completed 23 of 33 passes for 432 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady led the Patriots to 33 first downs and 610 yards, and the 55 points were the most ever allowed by the Steelers, in the 81-year history of the franchise. It was as good a game as Brady has ever played, and it should pretty well silence any talk that there was anything wrong with Brady over the first half of the season that won’t be fixed over the second half of the season.

“It feels good,” Brady said after the game. “They don’t always go like that. That was a fun day. It was good execution. I think for the most part, that was our best day of execution. You don’t wake up in the morning and think they’re going to be like that. That was pretty sweet.”

That was pretty great. Brady was the player who impressed me most on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts:

If workplace harassment is common in the NFL, the NFL has a problem. The odd story of Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, who left the team as a result of apparent harassment from his teammates, has some people to say hazing goes on in every locker room, and it’s just a part of the culture of being a professional football player. To which I say, so what? If Martin didn’t like the way he was being treated, it was incumbent on others to stop treating him that way. And it was incumbent on the Dolphins to see to it that their employee wasn’t mistreated. The Dolphins showed they’re taking this seriously by suspending Richie Incognito for his treatment of Martin. Now it’s incumbent on the NFL to ensure that every player and every team knows that players mistreating their teammates will not be tolerated.

The NFL’s modified sudden-death overtime is great. It used to feel like such an anticlimax when an overtime game would be decided by the team that won the coin toss driving down to the 30-yard line and winning on a 48-yard field goal. The new sudden-death, which requires the team that wins the toss to score a touchdown to win on its first possession, is so much better. On Sunday Washington ran a great game-winning drive in overtime that included five plays after they were already in field goal range. A long, sustained drive is a lot more fun to watch than a short drive and a long field goal.

Yes, the Jets are improving. I was skeptical last week, when Jets owner Woody Johnson said his team was improving rapidly — days after the Jets had lost 49-9 to the Bengals. But I’ll have to eat some crow after the Jets beat the Saints on Sunday. Rex Ryan knows how to build a defense, and Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is doing a nice job of calling plays that take advantage of rookie quarterback Geno Smith’s strengths and mask some of his weaknesses as a passer. The Jets aren’t a great team, but they’re getting better.

Good call. My favorite play call of the day came in Carolina, where the Panthers went for it on fourth-and-1, lined up as if they were going to run power to the left, then had Cam Newton roll to the right and hit a wide-open Greg Olsen for a 14-yard touchdown. A great decision by head coach Ron Rivera to go for it, and a well-designed play by offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

Bad call. With the Bills leading the Chiefs 10-3 in the third quarter and facing third-and-1 at the 1-yard line, the obviously right thing to do was to play it safe, hand it off to Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller, and kick the field goal if you don’t score. Instead, the Bills let undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel, making his first NFL start, throw a pass. The result: Tuel throws it right into the hands of Chiefs defensive back Sean Smith, who picks off the pass and runs it back 100 yards. Instead of the Bills leading 17-3 or 13-3, they found themselves tied 10-10. It was a terrible decision by Tuel but an even worse decision by the Bills’ coaches to put the game in their third-string quarterback’s hands in that situation.

Ugly call. What on earth was that end-around the Saints ran on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter against the Jets? New Orleans coach Sean Payton has always been a creative offensive play caller, but sometimes he outsmarts himself. That was a prime example.

Why was Brandon Weeden ever the Browns’ starting quarterback? The Browns have now started three quarterbacks this season: Weeden had the job at the beginning of the year, then relinquished it when he hurt his thumb, then got it back after his replacement Brian Hoyer suffered a season-ending knee injury, then lost it to Jason Campbell. We’ve now seen enough of all three quarterbacks to make it clear: Weeden is by far the worst of the bunch. Hoyer played very well early in the season, and now Campbell has played two straight strong games, including leading the Browns to a victory over the Ravens on Sunday. It’s hard to imagine what the Browns were thinking putting Weeden ahead of both Hoyer and Campbell on the depth chart, when he’s clearly not as good as either of them. The Browns have a good defense, and they play in the weak AFC North. They don’t need a great quarterback to win their division, just a competent quarterback. With Campbell, they have a chance to catch the Bengals in the AFC North. Unfortunately, the Browns may not be able to overcome the four games they lost with Weeden as their quarterback.

Chip Kelly is an offensive genius again. Nick Foles tied the NFL record with seven touchdown passes in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, and Kelly’s Philadelphia offense looked outstanding. It’s hard to understand how an offense that looked so awful in losses to the Cowboys and Giants could look so good in Oakland, but when Kelly’s offense is rolling, it’s a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Gronk is great, when he’s healthy. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is such a unique offensive weapon — you just don’t find guys that big and strong who also have soft hands and run great routes. Gronkowski had nine catches for 143 yards against the Steelers on Sunday and was a big part of Brady’s big day — and a constant matchup nightmare for Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, Gronkowski’s arm and back injuries have caused him to miss 11 of the Patriots’ last 14 games. As long as the Patriots have a healthy Gronk, they can expect to have Brady at his best.

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Joe Thomas says it’s a “sad end” for Johnny Manziel in Cleveland

Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas celebrates after a 24-6 win over the Detroit Lions in a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) AP

Johnny Manziel will no longer be a part of the Cleveland Browns organization. At this point it’s just a matter of time.

Even teammates understand the end is near for Manziel.

It’s a sad end to the story in Cleveland for Johnny,” Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “He’s a guy that personally I like. I believe he has a lot of talent. He’s got the talent to be an NFL quarterback, but it obviously hasn’t worked out so far.”

Manziel’s tenure with the Browns has been a near total disaster. Uneven play on the field and numerous incidents off of it have expedited his end in Cleveland. Manziel showed the occasional flash that would bring renewed promise over what he potentially could become. But it became clear he was incapable of getting out of his own way.

The official end is the only thing left between the Browns and Manziel.

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Seahawks sign CFL products Jeff Fuller and Cameron Marshall

Cameron Marshall AP

The Seattle Seahawks have looked to the Canadian Football League before in search of talent and are hoping to unearth some more success from north of the border.

The Seahawks signed former Calgary Stampeders receiver Jeff Fuller and former Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Cameron Marshall on Thursday.

Fuller is another stab at finding a receiver with size from the CFL. Seattle signed Chris Matthews in 2013 after two seasons with Winnipeg. At 6-foot-5, Matthews was a large receiver the Seahawks didn’t have at the time. Fuller is similarly large at 6-foot-4. Fuller caught 47 passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games for Calgary.

Meanwhile, with the retirement of Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks only had one running back under contract for 2016 in Thomas Rawls. Marshall rushed for 614 yards and five touchdowns in 18 games for Winnipeg last season.

Both Fuller and Marshall were undrafted out of Texas A&M and Arizona State, respectively. Both players spent time with the Miami Dolphins before heading to Canada to continue their careers.

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Friday’s PFT Live has Kevin Greene, Bradley Roby, more

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The first week of the early early shift ends Friday, with another three-hour edition of PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. And Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby will be dialing in extra early, halfway through the 6:00 a.m. ET hour.

Later in the program, new Hall of Fame linebacker Kevin Greene joins the program, along with Vic Lombardi of Altitude Sports in Denver.

All three hours can be heard on Sirius 213, XM 202, NBCSportsRadio.com, the NBC Sports Radio app, and on terrestrial affiliates throughout the country. The final hour of the show can be seen on NBCSN.

And here’s where I’d add some sort of a witty or snarky or glib remark, but I’ve been rolling out of bed at 4:30 a.m. ET to get ready for the show, and in my exhausted state I’m even more unfunny that usual. Tune in tomorrow to see just how unfunny I may be.

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Justin Tuck plans to sign one-day contract to retire with Giants

Justin Tuck AP

Defensive end Justin Tuck spent nine seasons lining up for the New York Giants. So it only seems fitting he’d retire in a Giants uniform.

According to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, Tuck said during an appearance on the Giants’ team website that he intends to sign a one-day contract to retire with the Giants.

“One question we didn’t get asked that I’ve seen a lot of Giants fans tweet me is ‘Am I going to do a one-day contract with the Giants?’” Tuck said. “The answer to that is ‘Yes.’ We can’t do it yet because the league (year) doesn’t open until the second week of March. So for all the Giants fans out there asking me ‘Am I going to retire a Giant?’ Absolutely I am.”

Tuck announced his plans to retire earlier this month. While he spent the last two seasons of his career with the Oakland Raiders, the majority of Tuck’s success came in the Big Apple.

Tuck posted 60.5 sacks in nine seasons with the Giants. He posted at least 10 sacks in a season four times during his tenure in New York.

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McNair wants to end Super Bowl hosting curse

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No team hosting a Super Bowl in its own stadium has ever played in the game. Some think there’s actually a curse associated with hosting the game.

Regardless, with the torch now passed from San Francisco to Houston, Texans owner Bob McNair wants his team to be the first to qualify for a home game in the Super Bowl.

“It’s never happened that the host city, host team, played in the Super Bowl, so we’d like to break that record,” McNair said Thursday, at the unveiling of a Super Bowl countdown clock. “That would be wonderful and anything is possible.”

McNair likely had to grit his teeth a bit when praising coaches he had run out of Houston for winning a Super Bowl with the Broncos.

“We’re delighted to see the guys up in Denver succeed and you saw that they did it with their defense,” McNair said. “That’s what we’ve been working towards and we have a chance, so hopefully we’ll have that opportunity.”

But while defense clearly wins championships, an offense is at some point necessary to get there. The Texans have struggled at quarterback, and in a division with three potential franchise quarterbacks on the rosters of Houston’s primary rivals, it’s going to get harder, not easier, to win the division.

Two teams have come close to a Super Bowl home game. In Super Bowl XIV, the Rams played the Steelers in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. In Super Bowl XIX, the 49ers faced the Dolphins at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto.

Amazingly, no team hosting the Super Bowl in its home stadium has even made it to the conference championship round.

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Hasselbeck is “strongly leaning” toward playing again

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A quarterback who’ll turn 40 next month apparently is leaning toward retiring. A quarterback who’ll turn 41 later this year is leaning toward not retiring.

Colts quarterback Matthew Hasselbeck, who started eight games in 2015, could be back again in 2016.

“I haven’t really I guess made up my mind completely on it,” Hasselbeck told Brock & Salk of ESPN 710 in Seattle. “You’ve kind of got to count the cost of what it would mean, what you’re saying ‘yes’ to and what you’re saying ‘no’ to. My kids are getting older. But all in all I would say I’m strongly leaning toward playing again, and we’ll see.”

By thinking about playing past his 41st birthday, Hasselbeck may be creating the impression that he plans to play as long as possible. But he said that’s not the case.

“I’m not trying to play as long as I can,” Hasselbeck said. “I decided [that] I’m gonna play for five surgeries. That was like my mindset. Like five years or five surgeries. And I’ve only had one surgery in my entire life. I think it was a bad way to set a goal. I’m not sure.”

It’s not sure that the Colts want Hasselbeck, even if he chooses to play. Hasselbeck is due to become a free agent in March. Still, without enough competent quarterbacks to go around, someone will want him, if the Colts don’t.

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Offseason rules in full force

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 04:  A general view of the Kansas City Chiefs practice facility outside Arrowhead Stadium as the NFL lockout looms while negotiations are extended on March 4, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Now that all 32 teams have completed the 2015 season, it makes sense to review the things that can and can’t be done until the offseason programs open in April.

The rules appear in Article 21, Section 2 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Before the launch of the offseason program, players can’t participate in Club-supervised workouts, practices, group, or individual meetings with coaches, group or individual film study with coaches, or group or individual playbook study with coaches. This provision is the origin of periodic comments from coaches regarding their inability to communicate with players in the offseason.

Still, there’s no prohibition on phone calls or discussions that don’t amount to meetings, film study, or playbook study. If, for example, 49ers coach Chip Kelly simply wants to get to know quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Kelly can call Kaepernick and talk to him. But with Kelly taking the ridiculously extreme position that he can’t even talk about Kaepernick publicly, it seems that Kelly either doesn’t understand the rules or is being deliberately obtuse, possibly to enhance trade potential for Kaepernick by not taking a clear position on whether the 49ers want him during the window when interested teams might call.

Players nevertheless are allowed to work out in the team facility, with strength and conditioning coaches prevented from supervising workouts but permitted into supervise the weight room to prevent injury and correct misuse of the equipment. And plenty of players prefer to stay in shape that way, given the fact that it’s both familiar and free.

Regardless of the rules, football coaches who want to talk to their players will surely find a way to do it. In the five years since the new rules were promulgated, no coach ever has been accused to talking to players more than he should. Players who are truly committed to winning will do whatever they have to do, exercising discretion while also planning for an opportunity to compete more effectively in the coming season.

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Colts announce two more staff moves

Chuck Pagano, Mark Hittner AP

Colts Coach Chuck Pagano is keeping two assistants from last season on in new roles for 2016.

Veteran coach Jim Hostler will be the tight ends coach, and Tim Berbenich will stay as offensive assistant/assistant quarterbacks coach after being a defensive assistant in 2015.

Hostler had been the team’s wide receivers coach. In 16 NFL seasons he’s also been an assistant with the Bills, Ravens, 49ers, Jets, Saints and Chiefs.

The team’s release on Hostler and Berbenich said the 2015 staff has been finalized. The Colts cleaned out their defensive staff, hired and shuffled some offensive coaches and lost assistant special teams coach Brant Boyer to the Jets. Former Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin came on as assistant head coach and will work with the offensive line.

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Raiders announce one-year lease to remain in Oakland

Mark Davis Getty Images

For at least one more year, the Raiders will remain in Oakland.

The Raiders announced today that they have agreed to a one-year lease extension to play at O.co Coliseum for the 2016 season. The agreement includes an additional two years of team options, giving the Raiders the choice to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018 as well.

Raiders owner Mark Davis called the deal a “win-win situation” and said he’s optimistic that a deal can get worked out that will keep the Raiders in Oakland. The Raiders have hired real estate executive Larry MacNeil, who helped the 49ers with their move into Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, to help the Raiders negotiate a deal for a new stadium in Oakland.

“It gives us an opportunity to work on a permanent facility here in Oakland,” Davis said. “It gives us some certainty for this season as well as flexibility for the next two seasons. . . . My heart is here in Oakland.”

As they attempt to encourage more Bay Area fans to support them in Oakland, the Raiders have also announced that they will not raise season ticket prices.

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Super Bowl fans spent $151.92 each on food, drink, stuff

food-and-beer-at-the-super-bowl-are-even-more-expensive-than-we-imagined Getty Images

Going to the Super Bowl is a rare and special thing. So rare and special that the people who show up for the game happily accept the fact that everything is really expensive, forking over whatever the price may be for grossly overpriced food, beverages, and merchandise.

Via SportsBusiness Journal and ESPN.com, that mindset allowed for $6.2 million to be spent on food and beverages, an average of $87.57 per person. According to SBJ, another $4.6 million was spent on merchandise, pushing the total per person expenditure to $151.92.

That’s $151.92 for each of the 71,088 who attended. Which resulted in another $10.8 million flowing through the cash register.

When it comes to food and drink only, the record high came at MetLife Stadium two years ago, when fans spent an average of $94.60.

Meanwhile, I spent $59.64 on eight medium-sized pizzas from a national chain that needs no free advertising, feeding nine people and providing four days and counting of lunch and/or dinner for me since then. Which would explain why I’ve been spending so much time in the bathroom.

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No offset language in Brees guaranteed salary

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The Saints definitely will be keeping quarterback Drew Brees for 2016.

Wednesday’s non-news news that $10.85 million of his $19.75 million base salary had become fully guaranteed omitted a piece of new news that means Brees will not be going anywhere. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Brees deal has no offset language for 2016.

This means that, if the Saints were to cut Brees, he’d still get the full $10.85 million without reduction for any money earned elsewhere, meaning that the Saints would carry $20.85 million on the books for Brees in 2016, no matter what.

If the deal had offset language, the Saints could have moved on from Brees if the two sides failed to work out a new deal for 2016 and beyond, since someone else surely would have paid Brees that much for the coming season — and the Saints would have gotten a dollar-for-dollar credit for the guaranteed pay.

So as it now stands, Brees has maximum leverage. He can either proceed with a $19.75 million base salary and a $30 million cap number, or he can sign an extension that reduces the cap number in exchange for cash and other considerations beyond the current season.

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Nate Allen back with Raiders

Nate Allen, Nick Foles AP

Earlier this week, the Raiders parted ways with safety Nate Allen shortly before his $4.9 million salary for the year would have become guaranteed.

The move didn’t cost the Raiders any dead money under the cap and freed up space to use on other acquisitions. Or re-acquisitions in the case of Allen.

The Raiders announced Thursday that they have brought Allen back to the roster. They didn’t announce the terms, but it’s a good bet that it is for less than the guaranteed salary he was set this season to make before getting bounced and not as long as the four-year, $23 million deal they signed him to before last season.

Allen only played in five games for the Raiders last season because of a knee injury and had 14 tackles and an interception while making three starts. Allen spent his first five seasons with the Eagles.

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Announcement of new Raiders lease expected at 6:00 p.m. ET

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 12:  A general view during the Oakland Raiders game against the San Diego Chargers at O.co Coliseum on October 12, 2014 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders didn’t have a lease to play in Oakland or anywhere else for 2016. They apparently have one now.

It’s believed the Raiders and the Joint Powers Authority will announce at a press conference to be held at 6:00 p.m. ET that the Raiders have reached a deal to remain at the O.Co Coliseum for 2016.

The Raiders had no other options for the coming season. The broader question is whether the Raiders and the powers-that-be within the Joint Powers Authority will strike a deal to build a new stadium, or whether the Raiders will move elsewhere. Last week, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf explained that her goal was to first get a lease in place with the Raiders and then to come up with a long-term stadium solution.

Potential options for the Raiders, if not in Oakland, include Los Angeles, San Antonio, San Diego (if the Chargers leave for L.A.), and Las Vegas. The possibility of the Raiders playing in Sacramento or sharing a stadium with the San Francisco Giants (not the 49ers, the Giants) also has been floated.

The most obvious solution — sharing a venue with the 49ers — continues to be at the bottom of the list.

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Jahri Evans refused pay cut, plans to play this year

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Before they cut him last week, the Saints offered to let veteran guard Jahri Evans hang around, as long as he took less money.

Agent Jerrold Colton told WIP Radio that the Saints offered Evans a reduced salary, after doing the same thing a year ago.

“The Saints came to us for the second year in a row about doing a little contract adjustment and pay cut this year,” Colton said, via Evan Woodberry of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “We weren’t going to do it again.

“He’s healthy and hungry and looking forward to the next chapter of his career.”

The Saints saved $3.1 million by cutting the 10-year veteran, and had to do it when they did because $2 million of his salary would have become guaranteed this week.

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Bob McNair: No reason Texans wouldn’t be able to draft a quarterback

MEMPHIS, TN - OCTOBER 17:  Paxton Lynch #12 of the Memphis Tigers throws a pass during a game against the Ole Miss Rebels at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Memphis, Tennessee.  The Tigers defeated the Rebels 37-24.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

Last month, Texans owner Bob McNair said that the team was working on ways to improve at quarterback this offseason and the topic was on his mind again on Thursday.

McNair was at an event for the Houston Super Bowl committee to discuss the road to Super Bowl LI next year and the discussion turned at one point to what the Texans would have to do to play the game in their home stadium. McNair pointed out that the Broncos “did it with defense” and said that he thought his team needed a reliable quarterback who “won’t take anything away from us” in order to have a shot at following in Denver’s footsteps.

That quarterback could come to town via the draft. McNair sounded like he expects to see the team use a draft pick on a signal caller later this year.

“There are a number of quarterbacks out there, college quarterbacks coming out and I think we have a good chance at getting one of them,” McNair said, via the Houston Chronicle. “There are four or five of them who look like they have enough talent and size and athletic ability. I don’t know any reason why we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

While drafting a quarterback won’t guarantee the Texans reliable play or the improvement they’d need to make it to the Super Bowl, it’s hard to argue with Houston going that route if there’s a player they think can be a starter in Bill O’Brien’s offense. Brian Hoyer isn’t going to be a long-term answer at the position and Tom Savage, a fourth-round pick in 2014, hasn’t played enough for the Texans to know what they have with him.

That leaves them without the solution they need at quarterback and, as McNair mentioned, no reason not to extend their search into this year’s draft class.

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