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

AP

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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Julio Jones hires divers to search for expensive earring lost in lake

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Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones isn’t known for dropping footballs, which has made him enough money to afford the purchase of a few extravagant items like expensive earrings to wear while jet skiing around a lake.

It also allows him to afford hiring some help when one of those earrings goes missing. Jones was on Lake Lanier in Georgia when he was thrown from his jet ski while crossing the wake of a boat and he realized that one of his diamond earrings was missing when he surfaced.

The earring, which is worth more than $100,000, remained below and Jones hired a dive team to search for it on the bottom of the lake. The bottom of the lake is some 65 feet below the surface, which the “Scubaman” of Lake Lanier Bobby Griffin — RGH2O could work if he wants another nickname — said was “pitch black,” and their efforts were unsuccessful.

“As long as I’m good, it’s materialistic stuff,” Jones said, via WXIA. “You can always get that kind of stuff back.”

Jones is now at camp with the Falcons where he and the team will try to do what they couldn’t last season and finish as the Super Bowl champions. If they do, let’s hope Jones leaves the ring at home while flying across the lake.

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Martellus Bennett had sleep over in Packers locker room

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Tight end Martellus Bennett didn’t see the ghost of Vince Lombardi or Curly Lambeau during his overnight stay at Lambeau Field.

Bennett, who signed with the Packers in the offseason, arrived from his home in Chicago late Tuesday night and found the doors to the dorm at St. Norbert College locked. So he headed to Lambeau Field, where Bennett said, on Instagram, that he slept for the night.

“Sleeping on the floor doesn’t bother me. I actually like sleeping on the floor from time to time,” Bennett said in an Instagram post.

“I hope there aren’t any ghosts hiding with the Packers though ‘cause if there are some ghosts that are going to come out in this locker room I need to get out of here.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was unaware of Bennett’s overnight stay until reporters asked him about it.

“I was here late last night, so he must’ve come after I left,” McCarthy said, via Aaron Nagler of USA Today Network-Wisconsin. “I don’t usually check lockers for people sleeping.”

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Joe Thomas not worried about memory loss “right now”

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Joe Thomas, who has admitted some memory loss, acknowledged a concussion study released Tuesday but called it a “multi-faceted” issue.

The Browns left tackle told Graham Bensigner in an interview with In Depth in April that he was sure “the damage has already been done” to his brain from a lifetime playing football. Thomas said Wednesday, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that doctors have assured him that some of his small memory lapses are normal.

I’m not worried about it right now,” Thomas said.

He declined to say whether he has undergone additional testing since noticing some forgetfulness, such as where he put his keys.

“But for me, personally, I do monitor those things very closely,” Thomas said.

Boston University researcher Dr. Ann McKee revealed to The New York Times that 110 of 111 NFL players who donated their brains to research had C.T.E. or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the neurocognitive disease thought to be linked to repeated blows to the head. That prompted the questions to Thomas, a 10-time Pro Bowler.

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Eagles cut 2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith

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Another disappointing recent acquisition is out in Philadelphia.

Marcus Smith, the Eagles’ 2014 first-round draft pick, has been cut.

The Eagles tried at times to use Smith as both a defensive end and an outside linebacker, but he just never fit in and managed just four sacks in three NFL seasons. Former Eagles coach Chip Kelly liked Smith’s talent, but the current regime in Philadelphia has had no use for him.

The Eagles declined to pick up Smith’s fifth-year option this offseason, and Smith did not participate in voluntary offseason work. So both sides seemed to understand that they wouldn’t be together much longer.

Still, the decision to cut Smith now, rather than give him one last chance to prove himself in training camp, is a surprise. The Eagles will move on and Smith will now see if some other team believes in his talent.

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Packers announce moves in player personnel department

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The Packers announced more changes to their player personnel staff.

The Packers expanded the role of Charles Walls, who is entering his fifth season with the Packers and third as a college scout, to area scout. He began as a scouting intern with Green Bay in 2013 and served as a scouting assistant in 2014. Walls also previously served as the team’s National Football Scouting representative to the NFL Scouting Combine.
 
Brandian Ross joins the Packers as a scouting intern. The former safety originally signed with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and spent some time on the Packers’ practice squad during the 2011-12 seasons. From 2012-15, Ross played in 45 games with 24 starts for the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins.

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Trevor Siemian gets first reps with starters at Broncos camp

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Trevor Siemian was the starting quarterback for the Broncos last season and he’ll be the first quarterback on the field with the starting offense at the first practice of training camp on Thursday.

Broncos coach Vance Joseph made that announcement on Wednesday, via Mike Klis of KUSA. Paxton Lynch, who is competing with Siemian for the starting job, will be the first man up on Friday in a rotation that’s following the same pattern that the team employed during their offseason program.

Joseph reiterated what he said at the end of the team’s spring work about the lack of a timeline to make a decision about which of the two will be in the starting lineup come the first week of the regular season. At the time, Joseph also downplayed the impact of spring work by saying the “true evaluation” of the two quarterbacks would come during the summer.

Lynch’s play picked up near the end of the offseason program and continued progress could lead that evaluation to go the 2016 first-round pick’s way, but, for now at the very least, Siemian remains the first man up in Denver.

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Sam Bradford: “Nothing has changed” regarding his contract

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Matthew Stafford may not be the only NFC North quarterback headed for the franchise tag in 2018.

Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford also enters the last year of his contract. He told reporters on Wednesday that “nothing has changed” regarding the deal, via Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The Vikings could extend Bradford at any time before March. The question becomes whether he’d pull the plug on negotiations at some point before then.

The bigger question, looming for 2018, is whether the Vikings would use the franchise tag to keep him from leaving. If so, Bradford would make more than $22 million in 2018, with a 20-percent raise in 2019 and then a 44-percent raise looming for 2020.

Bradford will make $18 million this year, the second season of a two-year, $36 million deal. Last year, the Vikings paid only $7 million to Bradford, with the Eagles forking over the other $11 million before trading him.

Before that came a six-year, $78 million contract, pushing Bradford’s career earnings to $114 million through 2017. The money he has made will make it easier for Bradford to dig in and refuse subpar offers and hit the open market next year, or take the franchise tag.

From Minnesota’s perspective, committing to Bradford would mean de-committing to Teddy Bridgewater. So the Vikings will be kicking the can in 2017, and possibly in 2018.

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Belichick faces his first questions about going undefeated in 2017

AP

Get used to it, NFL fans, Patriots fans, Patriots players, and Patriots coaches. With the defending Super Bowl champions mashing the gas in the offseason, the Pats will be picked to win the Super Bowl by most — and pegged to go 19-0 by many.

Multiple players already have faced those questions. On Wednesday, coach Bill Belichick did for the first time.

The reporter who asked it came up with a plan for avoiding the Wrath of Bill. Instead of asking the question directly, the reporter asked Belichick how he’d react if asked the question.

“I was reading a national publication earlier that had me wondering,” the question went, “would you opt for a piercing death stare or just utter disgust if somebody asked you about your team being hyped to go undefeated this season?”

Belichick didn’t take the bait. As if he ever does.

 “Yeah, right now, we’re just trying to have a good day here today, get off to a good start in training camp,” Belichick said. “We’re not really worried about all that’s in the future. That will come when it comes.”

Next came the next try to be cute.

“Do you think I would have been better off reading the July issue of Nantucket Magazine, in which you were featured on the cover?” the reporter asked.

 “For what?”

“For reading instead of talking about you guys going undefeated.”

 “Yeah, I don’t know.”

Here’s what I know: Until the Patriots lose a game, the questions will continue. And maybe we’ll eventually find out whether Belichick would respond with a “piercing death stare” or “just utter disgust.”

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Eagles release offensive lineman Allen Barbre

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The Eagles announced that Isaac Seumalo would open camp as their starter at left guard. That left Allen Barbre without a job, and looking for another one.

The team announced they had released the veteran lineman.

The versatile Barbre started 28 games over the past two years, able to fill in at right tackle (for the suspended Lane Johnson) as well.

“Allen Barbre is a pro’s pro,” Eagles executive Howie Roseman said in a statement. “Not only did he help the team with his solid play as a starter at left guard, but his ability to step up and play multiple positions helped us battle through some difficult situations. We had a conversation yesterday and agreed it made sense to allow him to pursue some other opportunities, but the door is open for him to return here as well.”

The 33-year-old Barbre was slated to make $1.25 million this year, and Roseman’s statement suggest a pay cut could be in order if he comes back. But Barbre has also played well enough it’s reasonable to think he could find a starting job elsewhere.

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Vikings announce contract extension for Everson Griffen

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Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen won’t leave Minnesota any time soon.

Griffen has signed a contract extension, the Vikings announced today.

The full details of the deal aren’t available yet. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network pegs it at four years and $58 million.

The Vikings chose Griffen in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft. After playing out his rookie deal, he signed a five-year contract with the Vikings in 2013, and is now getting another new deal just three years into that contract.

The 29-year-old Griffen has been chosen to the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons.

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Devonta Freeman’s agent leaves Atlanta without a deal

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Devonta Freeman’s been talking about a new contract since before the Super Bowl.

The Falcons have been talking about giving their leading rusher one before training camp.

It doesn’t appear to be going well.

According to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, Freeman’s agent was in Atlanta negotiating with the team, but has left town without a deal.

The team’s apparently not putting a deadline on the negotiations, but they also thought it would go much more smoothly than this.

Of course, Freeman’s agent has a cell phone and so does Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, so they don’t have to be in the same room to negotiate. But with the team taking the field tomorrow, it looks like Freeman will be working under the terms of his rookie deal, which expires after this season.

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Myles Garrett “totally healthy” after foot sprain in minicamp

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The Browns got a scare when first overall pick Myles Garrett had to limp off the field during one of their minicamp practices last month, although the worst fears subsided when the defensive end was diagnosed with a sprain.

Garrett provided a positive update on his status a couple of weeks ago and coach Hue Jackson gave an even rosier one when he spoke to the media on Wednesday. Jackson said they’ll be watching to make sure that Garrett doesn’t suffer any setbacks, but that there’s no immediate concern about his ability to get on the field.

“We will definitely monitor him, but I think he’s totally healthy,” Jackson said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. “Maybe hasn’t done all the conditioning that you would like to see right before training camp, but I think he’s up to speed and ready to go, and he’s looking forward to it.”

Garrett was added to give the Browns a disruptive player up front and he should be seeing plenty of playing time right off the bat as long as his health cooperates in the coming weeks.

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No Falcons on PUP list, but Julio Jones and others will be limited

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With training camps opening around the league this week, teams have been placing players who aren’t ready to practice on the physically unable to perform list.

The Falcons aren’t one of the teams making those moves. Coach Dan Quinn said at a Wednesday press conference that the team will not be putting anyone from their 90-man roster on the list, which means that everyone will be available to practice.

Not everyone will be practicing in full, however. Quinn said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, that wide receiver Julio Jones will be among the players limited in practice. Jones had foot surgery and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said recently that the wideout has “healed up very, very well.”

First-round pick Takkarist McKinley will also be limited after shoulder surgery and those two will be joined in taking on a reduced workload by wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

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Thomas Davis says contract talks are ongoing

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Panthers tight end Greg Olsen talked about a potential training camp holdout as part of his push for a new deal with the team, but reported on time Tuesday and said that he made the call because he “didn’t feel like it was right to add fuel to the fire and be a distraction” after the team’s recent General Manager change.

Olsen also said that he is prepared to play out his contract after failing to get a new deal done before camp. Linebacker Thomas Davis also expressed his desire to sign a new deal with the team this offseason and said Wednesday that his own situation is continuing to play out.

Davis said recently that talks got underway while Dave Gettleman was still with the team and took issue with suggestions that the nature of those talks had something to do with why Gettleman was fired. On Wednesday, Davis told reporters at Panthers camp that the talks have continued with Marty Hurney taking over interim duties in Gettleman’s absence.

Davis is in the final season of a three-year deal and turned in strong play during each of the first two years of the pact.

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Cody Kessler will open camp as Browns “starter” at quarterback

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The Browns aren’t making a quarterback decision yet. But when they start training camp, someone has to work with the starters.

That person, according to Browns coach Hue Jackson, will be Cody Kessler.

He deserves a chance to walk out there first,” Jackson said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

That seems traditional, if not eventual.

After drafting DeShone Kizer in the second round and accepting Brock Osweiler as part of Houston’s salary dump, they have what could be an interesting, if not exceptional competition.

And with Kessler having the most background with Jackson and the system (dating all the way back to last year when he was a third-round pick), he gets the ceremonial duty of the first reps of the competition.

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