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NFL morning after: Bears make a statement in a muddy marathon

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No teams played under tougher circumstances than the Bears and Ravens on Sunday, who kicked off at noon local time, endured a two-hour delay when a torrential downpour hit Chicago in the first quarter, then returned to play one of the muddiest, sloppiest football games you’ll ever see.

And when the game was over and Chicago’s Robbie Gould kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime, no team had done more to put itself back into the NFL playoff picture than the Bears.

Last week, when the Lions completed a season sweep of the Bears, it appeared that Chicago’s chances of winning the NFC North had slipped away. That feeling was compounded in Chicago by the news after the game that two of the team’s most important players, quarterback Jay Cutler and cornerback Charles Tillman, had suffered injuries in losses to the Lions.

But the injury-plagued Bears weren’t going to give up easily, and they played well on both sides of the ball on Sunday against the Ravens. Backup quarterback Josh McCown completed 19 of 31 passes for 216 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions. And that injury-plagued defense (missing not only Tillman but linebacker Lance Briggs and defensive tackle Henry Melton) held Joe Flacco to 162 yards on 17-of-31 passing, with two interceptions.

“I wish everybody could see the progression that goes in to winning a game like this, from the time we left the locker room last week devastated from a division loss,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said after the game. “To see the energy to be able to sustain itself through a five and a half hour game.”

The Bears aren’t a great team. Their run defense, which allowed the previously struggling Ravens running back Ray Rice to gain 131 yards, still stinks. And although they did catch up to the Lions in the NFC North (thanks to the Lions’ loss to the Steelers), Detroit still has the head-to-head tiebreaker edge over Chicago.

But the Bears showed on Sunday that they’ve still got a lot of fight left in them. And with an easy schedule the rest of the way (the 6-5 Eagles are the only winning team the Bears face in their final six games), it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Bears in the playoffs.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

Players, hold onto the ball as you’re running to the end zone. Saints cornerback Corey White intercepted 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and raced toward the end zone, with Kaepernick giving chase. As White neared the goal line, instead of simply cradling the football the way players are taught to from Pop Warner forward, White inexplicably started holding the ball with two hands in front of him, then dropped the ball, fumbling it out of the end zone and turning it back over to the 49ers. It’s amazing how often players fumble as they’re running to the end zone, as if they’re already preparing their end zone celebration before they actually get to the end zone.

Worst call of the day? Detroit’s fake field goal. The Lions were controlling Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, up 27-23 in the fourth quarter, when they had a fourth down at the Steelers’ 10-yard line. Instead of kicking the easy 28-yard field goal and taking a 30-23 lead, the Lions tried a fake field goal, punter Sam Martin fumbled the ball, and Pittsburgh recovered. From there, the Steelers dominated the rest of the game, marching down the field after that botched fake field goal to take the lead, then padding their lead with another touchdown in the fourth quarter to win 37-27. Lions coach Jim Schwartz said after the game that he called for the fake because he wanted to be aggressive. He should have taken the three points.

We still can’t figure out the Jets. With Sunday’s loss to the Bills, the Jets became the only team in NFL history to alternate wins with losses in each of their first 10 games of the season. The Jets have lost to bad teams like the Bills and Steelers, but they’ve also beaten good teams like the Patriots and Saints. If you only saw their 38-13 loss to the Titans, 49-9 loss to the Bengals and Sunday’s 37-14 loss to the Bills, you’d think the Jets were the worst team in the NFL. But every time they lose, they bounce back with a win. And despite Sunday’s ugly showing, the Jets are still in the playoff hunt.

Vontaze Burfict is a knucklehead, but he’s a knucklehead who makes plays all over the field. Burfict, the Bengals’ second-year linebacker who wasn’t drafted last year because teams were too leery of his character issues, had another personal foul penalty on Sunday. But he was also an absolutely dominant presence, with 15 total tackles and a brutal hit that forced a fumble, which Burfict scooped up and ran to the end zone for a touchdown. Burfict is a great linebacker.

Matt McGloin’s first start was a stunner. Not only was McGloin not drafted coming out of Penn State this year, but most people who saw him play in college never thought he’d be more than an extra arm for some team at training camp. The idea that he’d make the Raiders as an undrafted rookie would have sounded farfetched, and the idea that he’d actually start a game in his rookie year would have seemed absurd. But not only did McGloin start on Sunday, but he threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions while leading the Raiders to a win over the Texans. McGloin became the first quarterback since the common draft began in 1967 to go undrafted and have a three-touchdown, no-interception game as a rookie.

Percy Harvin makes an outstanding Seahawks team even better. The Seahawks managed to go 9-1 without the injured Harvin, who made his Seattle debut on Sunday. Now that Harvin is healthy, he makes an enormous difference: The first time the Seahawks threw his way, the Vikings committed pass interference. The second time, Harvin caught the pass for 17 yards. The next time Harvin got the ball, he returned a kickoff 58 yards. On the Vikings’ next kickoff after that, they were so concerned about Harvin’s ability to break a long return that they pooch kicked it to the 30-yard line, giving Seattle great field position. Harvin is a major addition to a team that was already the best in the NFC.

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Colts sign two fullbacks from Super Regional Combine

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The Colts have added a pair of fullbacks who took part in last week’s NFL Super Regional Combine in Detroit.

The club said Thursday it had signed Stephen Campbell and Cameron White, each of whom was not in the NFL in 2013.

Campbell (6-1, 245) played for West Virginia Wesleyan from 2009 through 2012. He participated in the NFL’s New York/New Jersey Regional Combine on February 15, then was invited to the Super Regional Combine.

White took part in the Chicago Regional Combine on March 15 before moving on to the Super Regional Combine. He is a Hillsdale (Mich.) College product (2009-2012).

Both rookie fullbacks have shown they can catch the ball; White hauled in 94 passes in his collegiate career, while Campbell recorded 65 receptions.

The Colts now have three fullbacks on the roster, with veteran Stanley Havili the club’s other blocking back.

The Colts’ willingness to explore all available outlets for talent has been one of the trademarks of G.M. Ryan Grigson’s tenure.

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Report: League installing real-time fiber optics for replay review

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One of the key ingredients for a centralized replay function is the latest in real-time fiber optic technology.  The NHL has it.

According to John Kryk of the Toronto Sun, the NFL will soon have it, too.

Per Kryk, the league will have the ability this year in the league office to view the games as they happen, which will allow V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino to better assist the referees as they engage in the formal replay review.

With the technology in place to see things happen as they happen, it could be that the ability of Blandino to guide the referees through the review process in 2014 ultimately becomes Blandino and company actually conducting the replay reviews from New York City.

That’s the way we’d prefer it to be.  The process could be much more efficient if the referee were removed from the process and the review happened quickly at the proverbial situation room.

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Ex-Jag Richard Collier is “on cloud nine” nearly six years after being paralyzed

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It’s a slow Friday in the football world, which gives us a bit of time to catch up on some stories that don’t have to do with the draft or the coming season.

Vito Stellino wrote one of them in the Florida Times Union about former Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier. Collier’s NFL career came to an end after just nine games when he was paralyzed after being shot 14 times by a man who has since been sentenced to life in prison.

Collier went on to have part of one leg amputated as a result of the 2008 shooting, but told Stellino that he has forgiven the shooter while forging ahead with a fulfilling life that no longer includes football. Collier speaks against gun violence, runs a foundation called The Spirit Strong, rehabs diligently and plays father to twin sons he had with his wife earlier this month. It’s all part of a life that Collier says “keeps getting better” almost six years after his football career and much more were cruelly taken away from him.

“It was a bad situation, but no one can ever take away my joy. I am still smiling, just enjoying life,” Collier said. “It was hard at first, but I got around to smelling the roses. I take every day and appreciate it. I could have died. Somebody was looking over me. I don’t take it for granted. Life is great. No matter what the situation is, I’m on cloud nine. Everything I want, I have right in front of me.”

Collier remains hopeful that medical advances will help him make even more progress and we share that hope for him and anyone else in a similar position, but remains positive that everything will work out even if they don’t. After reading Stellino’s profile, it’s hard not to share that feeling.

 

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Mark Dominik: Teddy Bridgewater’s problems go beyond Pro Day

Teddy Bridgewater AP

Former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s draft stock has appeared to decline dramatically in recent weeks, as a disappointing Pro Day has led to talk that he’s not the potential No. 1 overall pick that he was proclaimed to be during the 2013 season. But one NFL personnel man says that in reality, Bridgewater’s stock was never that high to begin with.

Mark Dominik, the former Buccaneers general manager who now serves as an analyst for ESPN, said on NFL Live that he doesn’t believe Bridgewater’s Pro Day is a problem so much as his skinny frame, as well as the fact that Bridgewater didn’t always look like an elite passer on tape.

“There were things you saw on tape when you watched him,” Dominik said. “Something that scouts internally, we talked about it in Tampa with Teddy Bridgewater last year. Is he really the premiere quarterback? I like the young man, I think he’s a quality individual, he’s got character and leadership and those things. But this is a quarterback, and you’re judged by what quarterback you draft, and I think Teddy Bridgewater might not have all the pieces you’re looking for.

Dominik indicated that if teams with Top 5 picks like the Texans, Jaguars and Browns are interested in Bridgewater, their interest is in hoping Bridgewater falls all the way out of the first round and is still available early in the second round. That’s a long fall from where most people thought Bridgewater would be drafted.

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Report: Rams to pick up fifth-year option on Robert Quinn

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The Rams will reportedly add a fifth year to defensive end Robert Quinn’s contract.

According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the club will pick up the 2015 option on Quinn, their 2011 first-round pick and one of the NFL’s top pass rushers, by the May 3 deadline.

Quinn, 23, notched 19 sacks in 2013 and garnered Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Professional Football Writers of America.

When the Rams pick up the 2015 option, Quinn will be due a base salary of $6.969 million, according to Albert Breer of NFL Media, who reported the 2015 salary numbers for first-rounders selected with picks Nos. 11-32 on Friday.

Quinn was picked one spot before the Dolphins took center Mike Pouncey 15th overall in 2011. Were the Dolphins to pick up Pouncey’s option, the Pro Bowl center would make $7.438 million in 2015, according to the figures reported by Breer.

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Carr believes there’s a “very good chance” he’ll go in round one

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Today’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN includes a visit from former Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr.  The younger brother of 2002 first overall pick David Carr, some think Derek could be a first-rounder, too.

Derek believes it could happen, based on everything he has been hearing.

“I would say there’s a very good chance,” Carr said in an interview to be played on Friday’s broadcast.  “Just from what coaches have told me, something I’ve heard from General Managers.  I’d say that the chances of it happening are very good.”

The chances of the full interview being shown during Friday’s show are very good, too.  The chances of Ravens defensive lineman Chris Canty joining the program as a guest analysis are even better.

The chances of you answering the poll question posted below will be 100 percent, at the moment you answer it.

The chances of you tuning in at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN are hopefully closer to 100 percent than zero.  The chances of me holding my breath or any other bodily function for it are precisely zero.

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Dolphins thinking about shaking up linebackers

Koa Misi, Joe Philbin AP

The Dolphins spent a lot of money on free agent linebackers last year, and they appear to be set to shuffle some of those guys around.

According to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, the Dolphins are planning to move outside linebacker Koa Misi to the middle, replacing Dannell Ellerbe.

Ellerbe would then move to the weakside, and Phillip Wheeler would play the strongside spot.

Misi signed an extension last fall, after former General Manager Jeff Ireland spent on Ellerbe and Wheeler last offseason.

Such a move would be a huge admission that last year’s moves were a mistake, but since Ireland was fired, they’re the kind that are easier to admit.

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Patriots, Browns, Steelers and Jets reportedly showing interest in Andre Williams

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Running backs might not be a first round staple anymore, but teams are still going to be selecting the top collegiate runners from 2013 at some point over the three day draft process.

One that should be off the board near the top of the list is Boston College’s Andre Williams. Williams was a Heisman finalist last year after running for 2,177 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns and has drawn good reviews as a pass blocker, but he will need to show he can catch the ball after going the entire 2013 season without catching a pass for B.C.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that four AFC squads are showing particular interest in Williams making that growth as a member of their roster. Wilson names the Patriots, Browns, Steelers and Jets as showing the most interest, although it’s hard to see the Jets spending an early pick on a back after signing Chris Johnson this week.

The same could be said of the Steelers, who signed LeGarrette Blount to create an opening for a back with the Patriots. The Browns signed Ben Tate, but could use Williams or another young runner as a complement to their free agent acquisition.

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Dolphins’ Brandon Gibson has no doubts he’ll be ready Week One

Brandon Gibson, Brian Hartline AP

Dolphins receiver Brandon Gibson had his season ended by a torn patellar tendon last year, the kind of knee injury that often prevents a receiver from being ready to return for the start of the following season. But Gibson has no doubts that he’ll be ready to go when the season starts.

Gibson told ESPN he’ll “definitely” be ready for Week One, and he’s already jogging six months after the injury.

“The important thing is to not overstress your patellar tendon; It’s involved in everything you do, really,” Gibson said. “It connects a lot, your knee and your quad. So I basically was on bed rest for a while, a couple months. The only thing I was doing was just rehabbing and little bit of upper-body work. You don’t want to cause too much heavy stress on your knee, but I’m slowly getting into things.”

There’s been some talk that Gibson might not be with the Dolphins when the season starts, but a report from the Miami Herald Gibson will stay in Miami, not least because he would still cost the Dolphins $2 million against the salary cap even if he’s not on the roster. Gibson was off to a good start last season, with 30 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns in seven games, and from all indications he’ll be a contributor to the receiving corps in Miami this year.

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Report: Ravens, 49ers plan joint practice before preseason game

Jim Harbaugh, , John Harbaugh AP

The Harbaugh brothers are scheduled to face one another in a rematch of Super Bowl XLVII in the exhibition season this summer and it sounds like they’ve figured out a way to spend some time together ahead of the contest without infringing on practice time.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reports that the Ravens and 49ers are planning to join up for practice and a scrimmage ahead of their August 7 preseason opener. Those practices would give both teams a chance to see their players against outside competition in a controlled setting, something that several teams do to change up their practice schedule in the summer.

It would also make for a more productive trip across the country for the 49ers, who would get to give frontline players a bit more time in a scrimmage than they would normally get if they were just playing a handful of snaps in the first preseason game.

And then there’s the chance to ask “Who’s got it better than us?” to sweeten the deal all the more.

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Henry Melton settles lawsuit regarding alleged bite of bar owner

Henry Melton AP

Just before defensive tackle Henry Melton signed with the Cowboys, he was sued by a Texas bar owner for more than $1 million for allegedly biting the man in the back during an incident December of last year.

Melton, who countersued with a claim that he was attacked by employees of the bar, called it a “money grab” after signing with Dallas and it may have been a successful one. Jeff Mosier of the Dallas Morning News reports that a court filing on Thursday said both parties agreed to dismiss all filings against each other. No details of the settlement have been announced.

None are likely to be announced, so we’ll just go ahead and assume that someone’s serving as a butler.

According to Mosier, the settlement does not apply to anyone named in Melton’s counterclaim other than the owner of the bar. There are four others and a company named in addition to the bar owner in Melton’s claim and Melton still has a hearing this month related to criminal charges stemming from the incident.

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Isaiah Crowell just hoping an NFL team gives him a chance

Isaiah Crowell, Jerome Howard

In 2011, although South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney immediately made his presence known in college football, the reporters who covered the SEC voted Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell as the conference’s freshman of the year.

Three years later, while Clowney (who was voted freshman of the year by the SEC’s coaches) is a candidate to be the first overall pick in the draft, Crowell is just hoping some NFL team will give him a chance. Crowell was kicked off the Georgia team after he was arrested in the summer after his freshman year, and he spent the last two seasons playing at Alabama State.

Now Crowell tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that when he talks to NFL teams, conversations always circle back to his off-field issues, even though charges were eventually dropped in connection with the weapons charges that led to his dismissal at Georgia.

Crowell is talented enough that there would be no doubts about his ability to make it in the NFL if he didn’t have any off-field issues. But because he does have off-field issues, it’s unclear where — or whether — he’ll be drafted. Crowell ran for 1,121 yards and 15 touchdowns last year at Alabama State, and that performance may have been enough to convince some team that he’s worth a draft pick. Just not as high a pick as he would have been had he stayed out of trouble and stayed at Georgia.

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Source: 49ers haven’t made decision on Aldon Smith’s option

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On Sunday, we reported that the 49ers haven’t decided whether to pick up the 2015 option on linebacker Aldon Smith’s contract.  Since then, more pessimistic accounts have emerged.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News reported that it’s “very unlikely” the option will be exercised.  Earlier on Friday, Adam Schefter of ESPN explained that the 49ers are “not expected” to extend the contract from a four-year deal to a five-year deal.

Per a league source with knowledge of the team’s thinking, however, the 49ers still haven’t made a decision.  And they don’t have to make a decision until May 3, the deadline for picking up the option.

The option-year salary of $9.75 million for Smith would be guaranteed for injury only until the first day of the 2015 league year.  At that point, it would become fully guaranteed for 2015.

Until then, the 49ers would owe Smith the money only if he suffers an injury that would render him unable to play not only this year but next year.  And if they decide to trade him at some point, the 49ers would be able to send to Smith’s new team a contract that covers more than one year.

Other than avoiding the small risk of a two-year injury, the only potential benefit of not exercising the option would be motivational.  The Lions, for instance, aren’t using it for defensive tackle Nick Fairley, in order to prompt him to play hard as he chases a long-term deal.  For Smith, who has 42 sacks in 43 career regular-season games, it’s not about on-field motivation; it’s about staying out of trouble.  The opportunity to earn $9.75 million in 2015 should provide all the motivation he needs in that regard.

Regardless, no decision has been made.  Yet.  The 49ers have roughly two weeks to deliberate.

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Texans bringing Teddy Bridgewater in for a visit next week

Teddy Bridgewater AP

The Jaguars will be taking a second look at Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater over the weekend and one of their AFC South rivals will also be bringing Bridgewater in for a meeting.

Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com reports that the Texans will host Bridgewater next week as they continue to peruse the quarterback options available to them in this year’s draft.

There was a time when Bridgewater was considered a possibility with Houston’s first overall pick, but it is harder to find people who think things will break that way. That doesn’t mean that he won’t wind up in Houston, however.

The Texans also have the first pick of the second round and they could opt to go for Jadeveon Clowney with the first pick before using that pick on a quarterback. Bridgewater could be in play for them if they stay put at the top of the round or if they decide to move back into the first round using that pick as part of a trade package.

That might not be where Bridgewater thought he’d wind up being selected when the process started, but there would be worse landing spots than Houston for a quarterback with designs on starting.

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Report: Rolando McClain expected to work with Ravens soon

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Rolando McClain’s comeback attempt didn’t get off to such a hot start, but the Ravens are apparently letting him continue to attempt it.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, the plan is for McClain to join the Ravens “as soon as Monday” for the offseason program.

He was reinstated from the reserve/retired list this week, despite reportedly faring poorly in his conditioning test.

At this point, he’s a low-risk/no-risk investment.

If he’s interested in being a football player again, Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome (a fellow Alabama man) appears inclined to give him a chance. If McClain doesn’t get in shape, the only thing they’ve wasted is time and a roster spot, of which there are 90.

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