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NFL morning after: Tom Brady is back

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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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Rooney on Raiders’ situation: “Something is going to have to give”

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Long-time rivals on the field, the Raiders and Steelers could be allies when it comes to the current stadium situation in Oakland.

Appearing on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Steelers owner Art Rooney II addressed the challenges currently faced by Raiders owner Mark Davis, who plays in a dilapidated venue with periodic sewage problems and a baseball infield for half of football season.

“The Raiders have a stadium situation that’s difficult,” Rooney said.  “Something is going to have to give.”

Rooney, who serves as Chairman of the NFL’s Stadium Committee, took a direct role in the Minnesota stadium situation in 2012, helping to persuade the local politicians that action was needed.  Neither Rooney nor any other league officials have taken a public role in persuading the powers-that-be in Oakland to solve the stadium situation.

The Raiders have a one-year lease, which in theory allows them to leave Oakland after the current season.  Davis is currently flirting with San Antonio.

Davis would still need to persuade 23 other owners to approve of a move.  It’s unclear whether Davis could ever conjure the votes.

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Josh Gordon’s hearing with the NFL will continue Monday

Josh Gordon AP

Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon’s hearing with the NFL is going to overtime.

A league source tells PFT that Gordon’s hearing in New York went from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and will continue Monday.

Gordon’s potential year-long suspension for his latest violation of the substance abuse policy hangs in the balance, and going into the process, there was a “slight chance” of a settlement  which might mean something shorter than a one-year ban from the league.

The difference between the A and B samples in Gordon’s test for marijuana created a chance for the Chewbacca defense to prevail, and the fact today’s hearing went so long only furthers that perception.

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Hall of Fame adds contributors category

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame has decided to create a separate category for contributors to the game of football, who will now be nominated using a separate process from the way players and coaches are chosen for enshrinement in Canton.

In the past, contributors were elected in the same way that players and coaches were. But some voters and fans didn’t think that made much sense: After all, when the Hall of Fame Selection Committee is having its annual meeting on the day before the Super Bowl, how are they supposed to make a judgment between a player and a person like NFL Films founder Ed Sabol, a Hall of Famer whose contributions to the game aren’t easily enumerated through stats and Pro Bowl appearances.

Now contributors will be voted upon separately, using a process similar to the process for nominating senior candidates — a “contributors committee” will nominate a finalist, and although that finalist will be voted upon by the regular Hall of Fame Selection Committee, that vote will be separate from the vote on players and coaches. So a contributor (who could be an owner, commissioner or anyone else who has contributed to the sport off the field) will not be competing with a player for a spot in the Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame believes there’s currently a backlog contributor candidates, so in 2015, 2017 and 2019 it will allow up to two contributors to be enshrined. In other years only one contributor can be enshrined per year.

Basically, this is good news for the Hall of Fame hopes of contributors who have been voted down recently. That includes former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., former Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell and former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Don’t be surprised if two of those three are putting on gold blazers in Canton a year from now.

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Steelers sign RB Jawan Jamison

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The Steelers have made a change to their RB corps, signing Jawan Jamison and waving Alvester Alexander, the club announced Friday.

A 2013 seventh-round pick of Washington, the 23-year-old Jamison spent most of last season on the Redskins’ practice squad, then was promoted to the roster for the final three games. Washington waived Jamison in March.

A Rutgers product, Jamison (5-7, 203) rushed for 1,075 yards and four TDs in 2012 for the Scarlet Knights. He’ll compete to be the Steelers’ fourth back. Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer will take three of the depth chart spots at tailback for Pittsburgh.

The 23-year-old Alexander is a first-year pro from Wyoming. He spent last season on the Steelers’ practice squad.

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Jim Harbaugh confident in Marcus Lattimore

Marcus Lattimore AP

Although 49ers running back Marcus Lattimore is still unable to practice, 21 months after a horrific injury at South Carolina, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh says he’s confident Lattimore will contribute to the team.

Marcus is going to be a part of this team, in some form or fashion,” Harbaugh said, via CSNBayArea.com. “I know what he’s got inside of him and I know what he’s capable of doing on the football field. We all do.”

Unfortunately, there’s still no word on when Lattimore will be part of the 49ers, in any role other than an observer at practice.

“We’ll continue to do what’s best for him and ultimately that’ll be what’s best for the program,” Harbaugh said.

Lattimore has worked very hard to rehabilitate from an injury so severe that doctors feared at first he may never walk without assistance again, let alone play football again. Here’s hoping that Harbaugh’s confidence is well placed, and that Lattimore eventually gets on the field with the 49ers.

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Cowboys add a defensive end

Jason Garrett AP

The Cowboys came into camp with deficiencies on the defensive line and things have only gotten worse since they arrived in Oxnard.

Second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence broke his foot, defensive tackle Terrell McClain has a sprained ankle and defensive end Ben Bass is dealing with a hamstring injury. On top of that, Anthony Spencer and Amobi Okoye are on procedural lists that bar them from practicing.

If nothing else, the Cowboys need some healthy bodies to get through practice and they added one on Friday. Agent Brett Tessler announced that his client Ken Boatright has signed a two-year deal with the team.

Boatright, a defensive end, spent a portion of camp with the Seahawks after signing as an undrafted free agent last year and some more time on Seattle’s offseason roster this year before being cut loose. He’s never played in a regular season game.

Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com reports that the team could also sign defensive end Adewale Ojomo, who was released by the Titans following a solicitation arrest. Boatright, Ojomo and Cory Henry all worked out for the Cowboys on Friday.

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Jerry Rice Jr. suffers torn labrum

Jerry Rice Jr. AP

Redskins wide receiver Jerry Rice Jr. will need shoulder surgery after sustaining a torn labrum, head coach Jay Gruden said Friday, according to the club’s Twitter feed.

According to Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com, Gruden seemed to indicate the club hoped Rice would end up on injured reserve, though no call yet has been made on how Washington will proceed.

If Rice Jr. has a season-ending injury, Washington has several options. The club can directly place him on injured reserve, or he could revert to injured reserve if he club waives him and he goes unclaimed. The team could also elect to waive him off the roster with a financial settlement.

The son of the Hall of Fame wide receiver, Jerry Rice Jr. signed with Washington in June as a undrafted free agent. He also had tryouts with San Francisco and Baltimore. Rice Jr. played college football at UCLA and UNLV.

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Brandon Lloyd joins Michael Crabtree on sideline

Brandon Lloyd AP

When it rains at wide receiver for the 49ers, it pours.

Michael Crabtree will miss the next week or two of practice with an injury that the 49ers have not disclosed, although Josina Anderson of ESPN reports that it is a sore hamstring that the team wants to rest so Crabtree doesn’t do further damage that keeps him out of the lineup for an extended period.

Crabtree will have some company in the trainer’s room. Coach Jim Harbaugh said that Brandon Lloyd will also be out for a week or two, although, as with Crabtree, the coach didn’t specify what kind of injury Lloyd suffered in practice this week.

Lloyd didn’t play at all last season, so he could probably use all the work the 49ers threw his way to earn a roster spot with the team or catch the eye of another club looking for help at receiver before the start of the season. Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Jonathan Baldwin, Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton and Kassim Osgood round out the receiver group in San Francisco.

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Packers fear Jared Abbrederis tore his ACL

Jared Abbrederis AP

It looks like Packers wide receiver Jared Abbrederis is going to spend his rookie season on injured reserve.

Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the Packers believe Abbrederis tore his ACL during practice on Thursday. Abbrederis was headed for more tests on Friday and coach Mike McCarthy wouldn’t confirm anything about the severity of the injury when he met the media.

“I haven’t had time to sit down with the medical staff,” McCarthy said. “Right now, he has a knee. He completed practice yesterday.”

Abbrederis was a fifth-round pick after catching 202 passes during his Wisconsin career and was competing for punt return duties in addition to an offensive role. Now it looks like he’ll have to wait and try his luck again next year.

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Cary Williams doesn’t want to practice with “Cheater” Patriots

Cary Williams AP

Eagles cornerback Cary Williams got himself thrown out of a joint practice with the Patriots last year for fighting.

He didn’t wait until the teams got together later this month to throw his next haymaker.

They are cheaters,” Williams said of the Patriots, via Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com. “They are.”

That was an obvious reference to the Spygate scandal, which saw the Patriots fined $250,000 they lost a 2008 first-round pick for illegally videotaping opponents’ signals. Coach Bill Belichick was also fined an additional $500,000.

But it wasn’t a drive-by for Williams, who kept piling on the team he grew to hate when he was with the Ravens. He said he didn’t like practicing against anyone, but especially New England.

“I’m trying not to go into details about it or disrespect that organization because I give that organization nothing but, . . .you still got to go out there and play the game,” Williams said. “All the credit. I give them all the credit in the world. But one fact still remains, they haven’t won a Super Bowl since they got caught.

“You got caught. I know you’re gonna be looking at the film when we go out there. That’s just that. I don’t want to show them my card. That’s just me, not them. Not them. Every team is gonna look at it anyway. We’re gonna look at what they do too.”

Williams has just guaranteed those practices will be watched a little more closely by everyone.

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Talib not worried about emphasis on fouls against receivers

Talib AP

The last time the NFL made defensive holding and illegal contact with receivers a point of emphasis in 2004, the number of flags thrown for both fouls increased from 79 to 191.

Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib doesn’t believe this year’s emphasis on those fouls will result in a similar uptick.

“They always talk about it but once it’s September and the real games start, it will probably be regular,” Talib told reporters on Friday.  “It’ll probably go through preseason and die out.  It doesn’t matter, it is what it is.  We’re just going to come out here and play football.”

It probably won’t die out, especially if teams like the Seahawks commit those fouls under the impression that the officials won’t throw a stream of flags for fear of bogging down the game.  The officials are under orders to throw the flags, and they apparently will.

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Jim Haslett not thrilled by referee’s suggestion that defense needs to be coached differently

Jim Haslett AP

Veteran referee Ed Hochuli said this week that there will be a closer emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact penalties this season, something that he predicted would lead to a lot of flags in the early part of the season.

Officials are visiting camps around the league to provide some instruction about how the rules will be applied. Referee Terry McAuley has been at Redskins camp this week and told a reporter that coaches are going to have to change the way they teach their players to play in pass coverage if they want to avoid flags, which he threw several of during the team’s practices. That suggestion didn’t sit well with Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

“You know what I would tell the official? I would tell him that he needs to worry about officiating and we’ll coach the team,” Haslett said, via CSNWashington.com. “He needs to worry about calling interference because he called about four or five yesterday where there was nothing. So tell him to worry about his job, we’ll worry about our job.”

While one can certainly understand Haslett’s distaste for someone telling him how to do his job, especially when the rules regarding holding and illegal contact are already on the books. We also imagine this won’t be the last complaint from a defensive coach about the officials throwing flags for what might be borderline calls so that they are in line with the league’s edict on emphasizing those calls.

Given the recent trends in football, those complaints will likely fall on deaf ears while passing offenses continue to put up bigger and bigger numbers.

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Kelvin Benjamin returning to practice tomorrow

Kelvin Benjamin AP

The Panthers dodged a bullet this week when rookie wideout Kelvin Benjamin’s MRI turned up no structural damage to his knee.

They’ll get back to having a full arsenal soon.

According to Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer, Benjamin is scheduled to return to practice tomorrow.

The Panthers don’t have much to discuss at the position other than their first-round pick, as they filled out the roster with veterans and young projects.

Benjamin has also developed a quick friendship with quarterback Cam Newton. Considering there was always a little frost between Newton and Steve Smith, that’s important for the Panthers moving forward.

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Jim Harbaugh says it’s “refreshing” to table contract talk

Jim Harbaugh AP

The 49ers have tabled their contracts talks with coach Jim Harbaugh, and the owner has said they’re not apparently far apart on money.

But as to the cessation of talks, Harbaugh turned it into a positive, saying he didn’t want a new contract with two years left on his contract.

Isn’t it refreshing?” Harbaugh said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “It has to be refreshing for you, refreshing for everybody in the building, refreshing for our fan base that the concentration will be on the 2014 season and our goals as a football team and achieving those goals. That’s the 49er way that I subscribe to.

“As I stated on the record these past months, this past week, all focus is on the 2014 season and achieving our goals. Now, the organization and I are in lockstep and all energy, all focus is on achieving those goals.”

Well, except for holdout guard Alex Boone, and tight end Vernon Davis, who threatened a holdout before showing up.

Of course, Joe Staley had four years left on his contract when he got a contract extension, so apparently there are some loopholes in “the 49er way.”

“That’s another thing that I’m on the record for,” Harbaugh said “And expressed that last summer when I was presented with a new contract, just my feeling, my principle, just a value, as the leader of the team, if I’m running in for a contract extension every couple years, it has a tendency to send everybody else running for the water cooler.”

Until his status is clarified, however, people are going to continue to sidle up to the cooler for a refreshing drink of “When do I get mine?”

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San Antonio official believes Raiders have given city “a serious look”

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After meeting with Raiders owner Mark Davis last month, the president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce believes Davis will give the city some real consideration if the team decides to move.

In an interview Friday with SiriusXM NFL Radio, Chamber executive Richard Perez told hosts Alex Marvez and Ross Tucker that Davis “has indeed given us a serious look, and we’re going to see where this takes us.”

Perez also shed some light on Davis’ message to city officials.

“I will you tell that I felt very, very comfortable and confident that his word was true,” Perez said. “And he said, ‘Look, you know, I’m not telling you that I’m coming today, but I will tell you that I’m looking, and you all are definitely someone that we’re looking very closely at.’”

Referring to the city’s previous failed attempts to appeal to professional teams, Perez said: “The carrot’s been dangled in front of us before. We’ve jumped, and we haven’t been successful. But if you don’t take a chance, you never will succeed.”

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