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Bucs will decide on Martin by Monday, leaning IR

Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Buccaneers running back Doug Martin said yesterday he was holding out hope for a return from his shoulder injury.

But the Bucs also know the clock’s ticking, and won’t wait much longer.

According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, the Bucs will make a decision on Martin’s future prior to Monday’s game against the Dolphins, and they’re leaning toward placing him on season-ending injured reserve.

Martin didn’t practice Thursday, and hasn’t since injuring his shoulder Oct. 20. He’ll eventually need surgery to repair the damage, though he was hoping to rehab it to the point he could play.

“You know I think it’s really just going to be a medical decision,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “At what point do you say Monday is out of the question? We’ll see. And if it is, I think it’s going to be all or nothing. It’s got to be a decision we’ve got to make. Everyone collectively has got to make a decision and we’ve got to go with it. When we make it, I’ll let you guys know and we’ll move forward with it.’’

At 0-8 and little to play for, getting him ready for next season, when there is hope, should be the priority.

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Oddsmakers make Patriots underdogs at Green Bay

Tom Brady AP

During their seven-game winning streak, the AFC-leading Patriots have won outright as underdogs on several occasions.

And they will get another chance to pull an upset next Sunday.

The Packers have been made 3- to 3.5-point favorites over visiting New England next Sunday at Lambeau Field, according to multiple websites monitoring lines at Nevada sports books.

The Packers (8-3) have been outstanding at home this season, winning all five games. They have also been wonderful favorites, posting a 6-1-1 mark against the point spread when laying points, according to “The Linemakers” of Sporting News. The Packers first non-cover of 2014 as favorites came Sunday vs. Minnesota, with the Vikings beating the 7.5-point point spread in a 24-21 Green Bay victory.

On the other hand, the Patriots (9-2) have been perfect as underdogs in 2014, knocking off Cincinnati (-2.5) and Denver (-3) in Foxborough and defeating Indianapolis (-3) on the road. Some Nevada sports books also made the Patriots one-point underdogs at Buffalo on October 12; New England would win that game, too, rolling to a 37-22 victory.

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Sunday Night wrap-up: Cowboys pound out another win up front

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Getty Images

The Cowboys might not have made the most exciting play of the night.

But they made enough of the ordinary ones enough times to get by.

Again powered by their offensive line, the Cowboys mauled their way to a 31-28 win over the Giants on Sunday Night Football.

The blockers paved the way for DeMarco Murray to run for 121 yards, the 10th time in 11 games he’s topped 100 yards.

That’s the backbeat of what Dallas has done this year, and the reason they’re 8-3 and stable-looking for a change.

While their image is built on style over substance in past years, they’ve built an offensive line with three first-round picks, and that lends itself to being slump-proof. By locking up left tackle Tyron Smith and using their first-rounder on guard Zack Martin instead of say, Johnny Manziel, the Cowboys have the pieces in place to break out of their perpetual 8-8 rut.

But beyond the rushing yards and physical tone they set, the impressive part was the way that group has protected quarterback Tony Romo. He looked far more comfortable than he did in London, when he was playing with the cracked bones in his back. He stood in the pocket forever late in the game, giving him plenty of time to survey his targets and find them.

That was the difference, as the Giants couldn’t get enough pressure to matter.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. It wasn’t just the catch, even though it might deserve to be known as “The Catch.”

But it’s no accident that once the Giants started figuring out how to harness rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., things started getting better.

His one-handed (actually three-fingered) catch will get all the run on all the highlight shows, and it should. But it’s just part of what Beckham has shown recently, that he could be a star in the making.

The Giants are starting to find multiple ways to get the ball in his hands, which they should, because he’s amazing. His stop-and-start ability makes him a mismatch for most corners, and they’re developing more ways to use it.

Beckham had eight catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, finishing with 10 for 146. He had 21 catches for 357 yards in his previous three November games, evidence that he’s getting the hang of this thing.

While hamstring injuries were a concern early, he came back from a back injury to finish the game, which answers another question.

2. The reaction from Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant after each of his touchdowns made it clear it was not just an ordinary game for him.

With new representative Jay Z walking the field pre-game, on the biggest stage in the league, it was a good opportunity to show the Cowboys exactly what they’re about to have to pay.

Jay Z spent some time on the field pre-game with owner Jerry Jones, and it’s probably safe to assume they weren’t discussing lyrics for a new album.

3. For all the attention given the Cowboys’ offensive line this year (and rightly so), the Giants are starting to see the dividends from one of their offseason moves.

Free agent pickup Geoff Schwartz got his first start of the year, adding some stability. He was one of their first and biggest moves of the offseason, though they envisioned him playing guard when they signed him to a four-year, $16.8 million contract at the start of free agency.

But he was at right tackle Sunday, replacing the injured Justin Pugh. They also replaced rookie Weston Richburg with Adam Snyder at left guard, and they looked more solid than they had previously. Before a toe injury that landed him on IR/designated for return, Schwartz was penciled into the lineup at left guard.

Schwartz is a physical blocker, who may be better suited inside. But he’s also experienced enough (26 starts with the Panthers and Chiefs) to slide outside comfortably, and the difference in the Giants Offense was evident.

4. The Cowboys Defense, much maligned for their lack of talent last year, have bounced back admirably.

After allowing three touchdowns in three drives early, they were able to slow the Giants on the next five, either forcing punts or turnovers.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli doesn’t have a wealth of talent to work with, but there’s a little bit of an edge about this bunch that is noticeable.

5. In addition to Beckham, the Giants seem to have found a keeper in rookie running back Andre Williams.

The fourth-rounder got the benefit of a hazy review in the first half, but scored later, and appears to have given them at least a steady complement to veteran Rashad Jennings.

That’s a boost for Giants General Manager Jerry Reese, who has come under scrutiny for the team’s slide in recent years.

They’re still well off where they had hoped, but they appear to have offensive contributors locked up on cheap rookie deals, which gives them a good foundation.

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Broncos open as slight favorites at Kansas City

Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

As was the case when the clubs met in September, the Broncos are favored over the Chiefs next Sunday night.

However, the Broncos aren’t favored by much.

Several Las Vegas sports books have installed 8-3 Denver as a 1- to 1.5-point favorite at Kansas City. If the line holds, it will be the 10th time in 11 regular-season games the Broncos have been favored.

Still, the line suggests the gap between Denver and Kansas City (7-4) has narrowed over the course of the season. When the Broncos hosted the Chiefs in Week Two, Kansas City was a 13-point underdog off a disappointing season-opening loss to Tennessee.

The Broncos would prevail 24-17, but the Chiefs did beat the point spread, and they have won 7-of-9 since falling to 0-2. That said, they come off a loss at previously winless Oakland, while Denver grinded out a 39-36 win vs. Miami.

For the record, the Chiefs are 8-3 against the point spread this season, per “The Linemakers” of Sporting News. The Broncos, however, are 5-6 vs. the number after failing to cover the seven-point spread vs. the Dolphins.

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Odell Beckham questionable to return with back injury

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Getty Images

After making the catch of the season, Odell Beckham might not be back to see the end of the game.

The Giants wide receiver went to the locker room with trainers, who were checking him for a back injury.

He went down awkwardly after a normal catch, and appeared to take a elbow to the head from Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick.

It was a relatively innocuous looking fall, especially with his acrobatics earlier in the night, and it seems to have taken the air out of the home crowd at MetLife Stadium.

He returned later in the fourth quarter, however, giving them a bit of a boost.

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Cowboys come back to take lead on Giants in third quarter

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Getty Images

Early on, it looked like the Giants might run away with this, but the Cowboys seem intent on making this a close finish on Sunday Night Football.

After cutting the lead to 21-17 on Cole Beasley’s 45-yard touchdown, the Cowboys stopped the Giants’ chance to answer when safety Barry Church picked off Eli Manning.

Church was sitting in center field when Manning sailed a pass over Preston Parker, swinging the momentum of this one in a hurry.

When Tony Romo hit a wide-open Dez Bryant for a 31-yard touchdown, it gave the Cowboys a 24-21 lead going into the fourth.

For all the lopsided games we’ve had on Sunday nights, this one is shaping up as a memorable one, for many reasons.

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New “pay as we play” postseason invoice procedure debuts

Tickets Getty Images

After the NFL narrowly avoided three blackouts during the four-game wild-card weekend, the league decided to adopt a new approach to postseason ticket purchases.  In March, the owners voted to prohibit teams from charging for playoff tickets until they actually qualify for a home playoff game.

But that doesn’t keep teams from lining up buyers, via the distribution of playoff ticket invoices that must be submitted well before qualification for the postseason.  Under the new “pay as we play” policy, the customer’s credit card won’t be charged until the team in question earns a home playoff game.

According to the league, all teams still mathematically in contention for the postseason must send invoices to their season-ticket holders by December 1.  The Packers already have, with a deadline for submitting the invoices by December 3.

Last year, the Packers inexplicably faced a potential blackout because thousands of season-ticket holders opted not to pay for tickets to games that, based on how the team was playing while quarterback Aaron Rodgers was out with a broken collarbone, it appeared would never be played.

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Odell Beckham and the Giants lead Cowboys 21-10 at halftime

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Getty Images

Other stuff happened, yeah.

But did you see Odell Beckham?

The Giants put on a show on offense along with their rookie receiver’s Matrix-style touchdown catch, and they lead the Cowboys 21-10 at halftime of Sunday Night Football.

Their offense looked as crisp as it has at any point this year, with Eli Manning passing efficiently, and rookie running back Andre Williams doing his part as well with a touchdown (perhaps benefiting from a dubious replay review).

Manning is 14-of-16 for 191 yards and two touchdowns, which somehow doesn’t equal a perfect passer rating (his 156.0 just off the immaculate 158.3).

But the thing we’ll all be talking about is the Beckham catch. We should, it was incredible.

And with the Giants getting the ball to start the second half, he has a chance to add to the legend.

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Cowboys score, while everybody is still watching highlights


The Giants have had some pretty good catches, including David Tyree winning a Super Bowl by snagging one with his helmet.

I’m not sure anyone has ever had one quite like Odell Beckham.

The Giants’ rookie’s second touchdown was one of the most incredible catches ever, giving the Giants a 14-3 lead over the Cowboys.

After being tugged to the ground by Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, Beckham reached up with his right hand, back over his head, and pulled Eli Manning’s pass in.

Officials reviewed it, but I suspect it was because they just wanted to look at it again.

The Cowboys responded with a nine-play touchdown drive of their own, but a shovel pass to Jason Witten was so pedestrian by comparison, that cutting it to 14-10 just means they’re giving Beckham another chance.

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Mallett could miss several weeks with pectoral injury

Mallett Getty Images

The Ryan Mallett era may not be over (there is one?), but it could be interrupted.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that Mallett has a pectoral injury that possibly will knock him out of action for several weeks.

An MRI will reveal the extent of the damage.  If Mallett can’t play, the Texans likely will turn back to Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Mallett played with the injury — possibly for the entire game.  There’s chatter that the injury may have occurred during pregame warmups.

The fourth-year player led the Texans to a win last weekend in his first NFL start at Cleveland.  In a loss to the Bengals, Mallett completed 21 of 45 passes for 189 yards and one interception, which equates to a passer rating of 49.2.

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Lynch meets with reporters, doesn’t say much more than “yeah”

Lynch Getty Images

The NFL requires all players to meet with reporters after every game.  Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has failed from time to time to comply with that requirement, triggering a $100,000 fine this past week.

On Sunday, he complied with the mandate after a win over the Cardinals, opting to exercise his prerogative to say as little as possible.

Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News-Tribune has the full transcript of Lynch’s remarks, which in response to most questions consisted of simply a remark.  As in a one-word response.

In many cases, it was simply, “Yeah.”  Even if the question didn’t call for a “yes” or a “no.”  (Or a “yeah.”)

How did your back feel?  “Yeah.”

Thoughts on how the defense played?  “Yeah.”

Anything to add about today?  “Yeah.”

Talk about the Cardinals Defense.  “Yeah.”

What did you think of Russell Wilson’s day, overall?  “Yeah.”

How is your back doing?  “Yeah.”

So, yeah, it’s far more productive and meaningful for Lynch to talk to a reporter on the phone from the bus than it is for him to talk to the media in the locker room.  And it remains to be seen whether the NFL accepts non-responsive responses to most of the questions posed to Lynch.

UPDATE 9:49 p.m. ET:  The Seahawks have posted the video at the team’s website. It’s obvious Lynch had no desire to say anything other than “yeah.”  (He did add a couple of “maybes.”)

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Odell Beckham touchdown gets Giants out to early lead

Odell Beckham AP

The Cowboys tried to get all their yards at once.

The Giants were willing to take theirs a bit at a time.

The result was the Giants getting out to a 7-0 lead over the Cowboys, with an Odell Beckham Jr. touchdown to open Sunday Night Football.

Their first drive was a methodical affair, taking 13 plays to move 80 yards, showing a good mix of running and short passes.

The Cowboys were the opposite on their first series, with a loud three-and-out, with Tony Romo throwing incomplete to a triple-covered Dez Bryant downfield to end it.

We’ll see if the Giants can keep up this offensive competence, as the Cowboys have proven over the course of the year they can score.

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Chargers hold off Rams, move to 7-4

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptm4m2i0njg5zgmzy2nimzc2otqyodc4ndq0mtawztjj AP

With their final five games against clubs with winning records, the Chargers absolutely had to have a win Sunday vs. St. Louis.

And they got it.

Overcoming several big mistakes, getting a lift from multiple Rams penalties and making a game-saving interception in the final minute, the Chargers held on for a 27-24 win in San Diego.

With the victory, the Chargers move to 7-4, which places them one game behind Denver in the AFC West. San Diego is also one of four 7-4 teams vying for two wild-card spots, with Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Cleveland the others.

The Rams (4-7) gave the Chargers all they could handle, and they looked likely to take the lead or send the game into overtime in the final minute. However, quarterback Shaun Hill was picked by Chargers safety Marcus Gilchrist in the endzone, and San Diego ran out the clock.

This was a roller-coaster game for both clubs. Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins set the tone early, picking off Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and taking it back for a 99-yard second-quarter TD to give St. Louis a 10-3 lead.

But the Rams missed a couple of chances to add to their edge in the first half. A penalty nullified a long Kenny Britt TD catch, and the Rams also had a field goal blocked.

Those squandered opportunities loomed large as the Chargers scored two TDs in a 21-second span in the third quarter. First, tailback Ryan Mathews — again bothered by a shoulder ailment — rushed for a 32-yard TD about five minutes into the period. Then, the Chargers got a big play from the defense, with Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget causing Hill to fumble and Andrew Gachkar taking it in for a 13-yard score.

Suddenly, the Chargers had a 20-10 lead. But San Diego couldn’t put away St. Louis. A fumbled punt set up the Rams’ second TD of the game, a six-yard run by Tavon Austin that cut the lead to 20-17. On their next drive, the Chargers would then turn the ball over deep in Rams territory, with Jenkins causing Keenan Allen to fumble.

But as the fourth quarter began, the Chargers were in the midst of one of their classic clock-chewing drives, and when Rivers hit Allen for a 29-yard TD with 8:09 left, the Rams found themselves down 27-17.

The Rams’ subsequent drive looked set to be a three-and-out, but St. Louis, backed up on its 26 and facing a 4th-and-4, faked the punt, with punter Johnny Hekker hitting Stedman Bailey for 19 yards. The Rams would capitalize, with Hill connecting with Bailey for a seven-yard score with 2:04 left.

The Rams would then hold on defense, and on the ensuing punt, Austin would break a 73-yard return down to the San Diego 5. However, a questionable holding call would take that off the board.

Still, the Rams would again get off the mat, and when Hill hit Britt for 27 yards down to the San Diego 6 with about a minute left, the Chargers had their backs against the wall. But Gilchrist would then make a potentially season-saving play for San Diego.

Rivers completed 29-of-35 passes for 291 yards with the touchdown and the pick, with Allen hauling in six passes for 104 yards and a TD. Hill was just 18-of-35 passing for 194 yards with the scoring pass and two interceptions.

Mathews racked up 105 yards rushing on 12 carries for San Diego, which plays at Baltimore next Sunday. The Rams host 1-10 Oakland.

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NFL, NFLPA to meet this week

Green Bay Packers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

In a week that will include fairly little work (especially in those states where deer hunting is a big deal), the NFL and NFL Players Association will carve out some time to get together before they commence carving the carcass of a large bird with intelligence inversely proportional to its tastiness.

Per a league source, the league and union will meet this week to discuss, among other things, potential revisions to the personal conduct policy.  The two sides have met three prior times, with the NFLPA wanting formal “collective bargaining” over possible changes to the policy and the NFL not wanting to make the possible tweaks a subject of formal bargaining.

Regardless of whether it is or isn’t deemed bargaining in the classic labor-relations sense, the players want all appeals of employee discipline to be handled by an independent third-party arbitrator.  The NFL wants to retain the Commissioner’s ability to impose discipline and to handle the appeal directly or to designate the responsibility to someone of the Commissioner’s choosing.

The issue takes on greater importance given the decision of Commissioner Roger Goodell to appoint former NFL executive Harold Henderson as the hearing officer in the Adrian Peterson appeal.  The NFLPA doesn’t regard Henderson as truly independent, in part due to his track record of upholding the NFL’s decisions.

It’s believed that, since 2008, Henderson has affirmed 90 percent or more of the NFL’s decisions in the nearly 90 appeals he has handled under various league policies, with the only widely-known reduction coming in the case of receiver Brandon Marshall, whose three-game suspension was reduced to a one-game suspension and a one-game fine by Henderson.  The union prefers the use of an arbitrator with no connection to the NFL; the league used that approach in selecting a hearing officer for the Ray Rice appeal.

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49ers escape with win after late Carlos Hyde touchdown

Jim Harbaugh AP

The 49ers didn’t make many big plays on offense Sunday, but wide receiver Anquan Boldin came up with one at exactly the right moment in the fourth quarter.

Boldin caught a pass in traffic and shrugged off a hit from Redskins safety Ryan Clark, who led with his helmet, to gain 29 yards. Clark’s penalty added 15 more yards to the total, pushing the 49ers into the red zone. Carlos Hyde scored three plays later and the 49ers had a 17-13 lead with three minutes left to play.

That was plenty of time for the Washington offense to make something happen, but they weren’t able to do it. Aldon Smith sacked Robert Griffin III to help thwart one drive and the final Redskins possession of the day ended when Griffin lost a fumble on a sack by Justin Smith. Those were two of the five sacks that the 49ers racked up along with numerous other big hits on Griffin that left the quarterback even more beleaguered than he was during a week that saw him torn apart by fans, the media and coach Jay Gruden.

Nothing Griffin did on Sunday will stop the criticism from mounting. He was 11-of-19 for 109 yards and the Redskins couldn’t take enough advantage of three 49ers turnovers. It was never bad enough that it felt like Colt McCoy would be getting the call from the sideline, if only because the pass rush would have suffocated him as well, but it wasn’t good enough to make anyone feel better about the overall offensive situation either.

Neither was the 49ers offense for much of the day. Colin Kaepernick was 20-of-29 for 256 yards and Boldin caught nine balls for 137 yards, but Hyde and Frank Gore each fumbled while combining for 52 yards on 20 carries.

The Niners have now scored 33 points in the last two weeks against two NFC East teams going nowhere and they’ll need to find a way to generate more points if they are going to win the games against the Seahawks and Cardinals that they’ll need to win to ensure themselves a playoff spot. The defense will make it hard for anyone to blow them out, but close losses will be just as costly.

They’ll get their first chance to do better on Thanksgiving night against Seattle.

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Broncos turn it on late to beat the Dolphins, 39-36

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After getting off to a sluggish start, the Broncos turned in a dominant fourth quarter today to beat the Dolphins in Denver.

The Broncos, who have been getting off to sluggish starts for about a month now, looked early on like something might be really wrong: Peyton Manning wasn’t connecting with his receivers, and the Dolphins’ offense was moving down the field easily. But when the Broncos needed to make plays, they made them.

Manning threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes and C.J. Anderson ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown as well, and the Broncos’ defense played well against the Dolphins in the final 15 minutes, and Denver won 39-36.

Although it hasn’t always been pretty for the Broncos recently, by winning they improved to 8-3 and are the clear favorites in the AFC West. If the Broncos win next week in Kansas City, they’ll be in great shape to win their division again.

The Dolphins, however, have just been dealt a blow from which they may not recover. At 6-5 Miami is still in the hunt, but this was the type of game the Dolphins needed to win if they wanted to be contenders. With their disappointing fourth quarter, the Dolphins showed they aren’t on the same level as the Broncos.

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