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Panthers win fifth straight, beat 49ers 10-9

Carolina Panthers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The Panthers played like it was their Super Bowl.

And in many ways, it was.

The Panthers won the biggest game of the Ron Rivera era, beating the 49ers 10-9 with a dominant display of defense.

The Panthers had won four straight, and five of their last six, but they had done so against the dregs of the league. Going on the road against the defending NFC champs was going to be a different challenge.

The Panthers met that challenge, and then some, stifling the 49ers at every level in the second half. They even caught a few breaks late, with a Jonathan Stewart fumble bouncing to fullback Mike Tolbert as they worked to run out the clock.

They still had to play defense one last time, and Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence picked off Colin Kaepernick to end the game. They sacked Kaepernick six times, limiting the 49ers to 91 yards passing.

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Rivera disagrees with Kuechly ejection, potential fine

Kuechly AP

Sunday’s blowout loss to the Packers included an early exit for linebacker Luke Kuechly, who inadvertently made contact with a game official.  Coach Ron Rivera doesn’t accept the decision, or the explanation that he received for the move.

I disagreed with it,” Rivera said Monday, via David Newton of ESPN.com.  “I disagreed with the explanation I was given.  I looked at the tape and I felt the tape agreed with what I felt.”

The league’s position is that officials should be protected from all physical contact, including but not limited to punching, pushing, shoving, grabbing, or other intimidating or interfering contact — and that any offenses against officials are strictly prohibited.

“To tell you the truth, I didn’t know who was grabbing me,” Kuechly said Sunday regarding the incident that got him ejected, via Newton.  “I was trying to get out of there a little bit. You’ve just got to stay calm in those situations and just walk away and let it take care of itself.”

The situation took care of itself with Kuechly taking an early trip to the locker room.  The next question is whether the NFL will take money out of Kuechly’s future pay.

“No,” Rivera said Monday regarding whether Kuechly should be fined. “Not at all. Zero chance.”

But since the NFL believes the ejection was proper because even inadvertent contact is prohibited, a fine would seem to be appropriate under that same reasoning.  Kuechly will get a preliminary answer on that point — subject to appeal — later this week.

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Hue Jackson says getting shut out falls on him

Hue Jackson, Andy Dalton AP

The Bengals gained 135 yards on offense against the Colts last Sunday, the franchise’s lowest total in a game contested by the first string since the perfect storm that pitted a Bengals team quarterbacked by Akili Smith against the 2000 Ravens defense.

When you’re in the same sentence as that kind of futility, things have gone very wrong. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said Monday that the blame for the offense’s inability to block, run or throw in the 27-0 loss should fall on his shoulders.

“All those things you just mentioned falls at my responsibility, making sure that we’re on top of everything, and honestly I don’t think I did a very good job of that,” Jackson said, via Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Jackson said that the offensive showing was not “who we are,” but Dehner points out that the losing effort was both extreme and in line with other performances this season. The offense has sparkled in games against poor defenses from Tennessee and Carolina, but they settled for field goals for much of the day against the Ravens and did almost nothing on offense against the Patriots until the game was out of hand.

The Ravens, Patriots and Colts are the best defenses that Cincinnati has faced this season, so it appears that part of who the Bengals are is a team that has a hard time getting in the end zone against good defenses. Plenty of teams are in that group, of course, but recent playoff memories don’t provide much solace about the offense’s ability to step it up against the toughest opposition.

A strong outing against Baltimore in Week Eight would provide some contrary evidence for a team trying to win for the first time since September.

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Lovie Smith: We’re not shopping any of our players

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The trade deadline is a week away and the Percy Harvin deal has led to some wondering about what other deals might be struck between NFL teams this week.

One name that’s been brought up as a possibility is Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported over the weekend that the Bucs are getting “a ton” of calls about trading Jackson and that the team is “open to anything” although they are fond of Jackson as a player.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith was asked about that report during his Monday press conference and didn’t rule anything out. He did say the team wasn’t actively trying to move Jackson or anyone else on the team, however, and told reporters that the team’s roster now was likely to be their roster next week as well.

“We like our football team that we’re going with, that we have here right now,” Smith said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “We’re not trying to shop any of our players, to answer any questions out there. And it’s people — if they call about some of their players, we take all calls. We don’t (say), ‘Oh, this area code? We’re not going to take this call.’ We listen to what everybody has to say, and we go from there. You see who’s on our roster today. I would just kind of go with that.”

Jackson has played well for the Bucs, but he’s pricey and older than 2014 first-round pick Mike Evans on a team that appears to need more remodeling before they’re going to be a contender. Closing the door to someone offering you a return that can help in that process would make little sense, even if you feel it is unlikely anyone is going to hit the price you’ve set as an acceptable offer.

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Lions apparently in the mix for Australian rugby star

dfp1021jarrydhayne Getty Images

The Lions are in England today, but it seems they’re looking to Australia for the future.

Via the Detroit Free Press, Lions coach Jim Caldwell didn’t dispel a link between his team and Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne.

I can’t tell you much about that,” Caldwell said. “I mean, I know who he is, obviously, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you. I have no knowledge of it in that regard.

“To be honest with you, it could be. It could be a personnel issue, but I’m not aware of it. Besides that, our focus is pretty narrow this time of the year, so getting out of that realm, it’s hard to do. But it could happen.

“Obviously, there are a lot of good athletes around this country, and there are a bunch of them playing other sports, you know, basketball, baseball, rugby, which is similar to our sport, and there is a lot of carryover. So, we’ll see.”

Hayne is one of the top players in Australian rugby, and Lions running back Reggie Bush told a television interviewer there he could play in the NFL. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reported the Lions are one of six teams interested in him.

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Report: Pierre Thomas out 2-3 weeks with shoulder injury

pierrethomas AP

Saints running back Pierre Thomas suffered a shoulder injury Sunday that may sideline him.

Thomas is expected to miss two or three weeks, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

The shoulder injury took place during Sunday’s loss to the Lions, a loss that was costly for New Orleans on the injury front: center Jonathan Goodwin suffered a leg injury, defensive end Glenn Foster had a knee injury and nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley had a head injury.

The versatile Thomas is third on the team in rushing with 133 yards and third on the team in receiving with 26 catches. The 2-3 week timeframe would put Thomas out for Sunday night’s game against the Packers and next Thursday’s game against the Panthers, as well as possibly the following week’s game against the 49ers.

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Brian Hoyer’s still “firmly” the starter, at least for now

Johnny Manziel, Brian Hoyer AP

Even during one of his worst performances, against a previously winless team, the Browns never considered replacing quarterback Brian Hoyer with Johnny Manziel.

But this week, against a winless team, that might change.

Even as he admitted there’s a chance to see Manziel this week, Browns coach Mike Pettine backed Hoyer.

Brian is still firmly our starter,” Pettine said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Nothing’s changed. Each week we make the decision as to if we want to include Johnny in the plan.”

“It was discussed briefly [pulling him], but it was a situation where we still wanted to…at least try to end the game with Brian on a positive note.”

That note was never struck, which is why Pettine left the door open for the rookie to play a part this week.

“Each week when the offensive staff gets together — and I’ll jump in with them too — is that they put the plan together, and it’s what gives us the best chance to win,” said Pettine. “So if the situation this week maybe calls for him to play some then that will be the case. But we’re not going to hit the panic button after one loss. While we know that the quarterback position needed to be more productive, it was more symptomatic of the entire offense.”

Hoyer completed just 16-of-41 passes against the Jaguars, with a career-low 46.3 rating. He wasn’t sharp the previous week against the Steelers, but a win may have bought him some time.

With Manziel waiting in the wings, that time might not last however.

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A.J. Green has “made a lot of progress” from toe injury

A.J. Green AP

The Bengals could have certainly used A.J. Green last week, as they were shut out by the Colts.

But they may be closer to getting him back.

According to Coley Harvey of ESPN.com, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Green has “made a lot of progress.”

It was a more optimistic note than last week, when Lewis said his star receiver’s return was still “up in the air.”

“He’s made significant progress and feels good about everything that he’s being told,” Lewis said. “What the prognosis is is, I guess, the most important thing. It’s been a consistent message he’s gotten. As we said earlier, the time [off] will allow things to progress and so forth that way.”

Green has been dealing with the toe injury all season, playing through it at times, but he’s missed the last two complete games. But he’s continued to work, with the team sending out a video of him jogging along the sideline.

Without him, the Bengals were held to 135 yards of total offense against the Colts.

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Bill O’Brien frustrated by Texans performance

Bill O'Brien AP

The Houston Texans have lost three straight games and four out of their last five after falling 30-23 to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.

And Texans head coach Bill O’Brien is none too happy about it.

O’Brien was noticeably heated in his post-game press conference after watching his team allow 21 points in less than 90 seconds at the end of the first half. The Texans never recovered and were unable to rally against Pittsburgh.

“You can’t turn the ball over. You can’t field a kick, bobble the kick. We can’t give up shot plays. You can’t have 12 men on the field on third down to give them a first down. We just can’t do those things,” O’Brien said. “And with all that being said, we’re one onside kick away and these questions are like we lost 50-0. We lost by a touchdown. With all of that stuff that we did. We have to improve it. We gotta coach it better and we gotta play better.”

Houston turned the ball over twice backed up inside their own 20-yard line that led to two quick touchdowns for the Steelers.

“It’s very frustrating when you turn the ball over on your own 2-yard line,” O’Brien said. “The whole thing’s frustrating. Players are frustrated, coaches are frustrated, but again, it’s not like, again, we’re an onside kick away, which, we almost recovered. Almost only counts in horseshoes, but we’re an onside kick away from having a chance to tie the game with all of that being said that we did wrong.”

It’s the second straight week the Texans had allowed 24 points in a quarter. They fell behind Indianapolis 24-0 last week in a 33-28 loss to the Colts.

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Steelers overcome early deficit to earn 30-23 victory over Texans

Houston Texans v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers scored 21 points in the final three minutes of the second quarter to help dig out of an early 13-0 hole en route to a 30-23 victory over the Houston Texans on Monday night.

The Texans took the early lead on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Alfred Blue and a pair of field goals by Randy Bullock to take a 13-0 lead.

But it went all downhill after that for Houston.

After a 44-yard Shaun Suisham field goal put Pittsburgh on the board, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sparked the Steelers offense on their next possession.

It took just two plays for the Steelers to march 63 yards for a touchdown. Roethlisberger connected with LeVeon Bell for 28 yards and then hit rookie Martavis Bryant for a 35-yard touchdown to pull Pittsburgh within three. It was the first career catch of Bryant’s career.

Backed up inside their own 10-yard line, Arian Foster coughed up the ball as he was stripped by Jason Worilds and the fumble was recovered by Sean Spence.

On the next play, Antonio Brown came in motion and took a handoff from Roethlisberger, pivoted and rolled to the left and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore to give the Steelers their first lead.

The deluge continued for Houston as Fitzpatrick was intercepted by Brett Kiesel on the first play of their next possession to give possession back to the Steelers. Two plays later, Roethlisberger hit Bell for a 2-yard score to take a 24-13 lead into halftime.

The Steelers scored 21 points in less than 90 seconds to completely flip the game into their hands. It was the first time since 2002 that a team scored 21 points in that short a time span. The Seattle Seahawks scored 21 points in the span of 90 seconds against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 29, 2002.

Two Suisham field goals extended the lead to 30-16 with three minutes to play. Fitzgerald’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Arian Foster pulled Houston within a score with 1:31 left but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Steelers to seal the victory.

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Saints re-sign TE Tom Crabtree

Tom Crabtree AP

Two days after releasing tight end Tom Crabtree, the Saints have brought him back.

The club re-signed Crabtree, the ex-Buccaneer and ex-Packer, on Monday, according to the NFL’s transactions.

The 28-year-old Crabtree gives the Saints a fourth tight end behind Jimmy Graham, Josh Hill and Ben Watson. Graham, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, played just 30 offensive snaps in Sunday’s loss at Detroit, catching no passes on two targets.

In another roster move Monday, the Saints waived rookie linebacker Todd Davis, whom they signed on Saturday, which necessitated Crabtree’s release. Davis played 18 snaps on special teams and two snaps on defense at Detroit.

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Pete Carroll believes there won’t be fallout from locker room on Harvin trade

Percy Harvin, Russell Wilson AP

Percy Harvin’s former teammates with the Seattle Seahawks were just as surprised as anyone when they learned the mercurial receiver had been dealt to the New York Jets for a conditional draft pick on Friday.

The players found out about the trade as the team was boarding buses to head to the airport for their flight to St. Louis on Friday afternoon. A Seahawks player said Friday night he found out about the trade on Twitter and wasn’t the only one.

While Harvin had altercations with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin during his tenure in Seattle, he certainly wasn’t a universally disliked member of their locker room. Finding out one of the focal point pieces of the team’s offense through the first five games of the season had been traded as the end of a week of preparation had certainly stunned the rest of the team as well.

Head coach Pete Carroll said Monday he spent much of the flight to St. Louis Friday evening conversing with players and discussing the decision with the team so they understood what had happened.

“We had a really good talk about it and talked with guys from across the board on our team. I think it was pretty clear that it was accepted as the next thing that we had to do and we did the right thing and on we go,” Carroll said.

“They took it in stride. I think they trust our decision-making and they’ve stood by us throughout. I don’t think there is any fallout at all,” he added.

Receiver Doug Baldwin said after the game Sunday that the trade of Harvin had an effect on the players as they learned of the decision. Carroll said he understands that reaction but also believes the players didn’t let it affect them during their game against the Rams.

“Obviously, like (Baldwin) said, you’re human, you react and you have a response to it but I don’t think anybody had any problem and everybody was concerned about getting to business of playing football. So I think it was fine.” Carroll said.

Seattle’s offense in the second half looked the most productive its been in weeks. The Seahawks scored touchdowns on their final three possessions with each drive covering at least 80 yards. Maybe getting rid of a piece that clearly didn’t fit will jump-start the Seahawks offense. Or maybe they’ll miss one of the more dynamic athletes in the league. Only time will tell.

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Steelers ORT Marcus Gilbert out with concussion

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert has been ruled out of Monday night’s game vs. Houston with a concussion, the team announced.

Mike Adams replaced Gilbert at right tackle for Pittsburgh, which holds a 24-13 lead at halftime.

The 26-year-old Gilbert has started all six games for the Steelers this season. He signed a contract extension with the club in August.

Gilbert will have to be cleared via the NFL’s concussion protocols to return to practice and game action.

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Watt, Mercilus punish Ben, but Steelers storm back

texanssteelers AP

The Texans’ defense got off to a stellar start on Monday night in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers aren’t going away without a fight.

As expected, J.J. Watt is having a big game, with a sack and a recovery of a Ben Roethlisberger fumble. That fumble was forced by Whitney Mercilus, who’s also having a big game, with two sacks in the first half. Mercilus has also knocked down a pass, and Watt has hit Roethlisberger twice.

But Brian Cushing, the linebacker once viewed as one of the best young defensive players in the league, looks like injuries have severely limited him. Cushing just can’t keep up in coverage on Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who already has 89 receiving yards, and as a result the Texans took Cushing off the field and went into a dime package late in the second quarter. That didn’t help, however, as Roethlisberger hit Martavis Bryant for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

That touchdown narrowed the score to 13-10, after the Texans had taken an early 13-0 lead. The Steelers are right back in it.

UPDATE: Then the Steelers scored two quick touchdowns to make it 24-13, Pittsburgh. Wow.

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Arian Foster powers Texans’ fast start

Derek Newton, Arian Foster, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin AP

The Texans rode Arian Foster to a fast start in Pittsburgh.

Foster had five carries for 59 yards on Houston’s first drive as the Texans marched 94 yards in 10 plays to take an early 7-0 lead. The touchdown was scored by Foster’s backup, Alfred Blue, who took a short pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick and ran it in for an 11-yard score.

Foster and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell are dueling for second place on the NFL rushing list, behind DeMarco Murray of the Cowboys. Bell entered the game leading Foster, 542 yards to 513. But after the Texans’ first drive, Foster had moved ahead of Bell. (Neither is close to Murray’s league-leading total of 913 yards.)

Now the Steelers need Bell to get going, as their defense is struggling to contain Foster.

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Report: Austin Pettis late for meeting on Saturday

Austin Pettis AP

The Rams made a somewhat surprising move Monday, waiving wide receiver Austin Pettis, who had caught 107 passes over the last four seasons for St. Louis.

Well, pieces of this puzzle might be starting to emerge.

According to Fox’s Mike Garafolo, Pettis was tardy to a Saturday night team meeting. The next day, Pettis was a healthy scratch for the Rams’ upset of Seattle.

The day after that, he was on waivers.

Garafolo, it should be noted, also opined that Pettis’ tardiness was certainly a contributing factor in his departure, though he didn’t believe it was the only one.

In any event, the reasoning for the release doesn’t matter. Players at Rams Park and points beyond understand being late can come at a big cost, with those outside the starting lineup most vulnerable.

We’ll know by Tuesday afternoon whether the 26-year-old Pettis has been picked up, which is quite possible. He’s making $570,000 this season, per Rotoworld data, and he is in the final year of his contract.

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