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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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Bennie Logan: I don’t know what’s so great about Cowboys offensive line

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The Eagles and Cowboys will meet for the first time this season on Thanksgiving, which means that the Eagles Defense will get their first in-person look at Dallas’s much-praised offensive line.

They’ve taken a look at them on film, however, and one member of the Eagles defense hasn’t been impressed by what he’s seen. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan had some praise for DeMarco Murray, but he isn’t buying that this year’s group is any better than the one he faced as a rookie last season.

“Yeah, they’re OK. I don’t really know what’s great about them,” Logan said, via CSNPhilly.com. “The running back’s having a good year running, but I don’t see anything spectacular about them. Same offensive line we faced last year and they have one new guy. We faced them [before]. They’re OK linemen.”

Sunday night’s game-winning drive against the Giants the latest illustration of how well the Cowboys linemen are playing. Tony Romo had time to do his taxes before delivering passes that moved Dallas quickly down the field. Were that an aberration, you couldn’t read much into it but the fact that the Cowboys have done it all year suggests they’re better than OK.

Logan and the rest of the Eagles will get their chance to prove otherwise on Thursday.

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Still no practice this week for NaVorro Bowman

St Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have until Dec. 9 to see if linebacker NaVorro Bowman can return this season.

And they’re willing to wait another week to see if he can.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Bowman won’t practice this week.

Bowman, who blew out his knee last year during the NFC Championship Game, was eligible to return to practice last week. But the 49ers have decided to wait before activating him from the physically unable to perform list.

He’s had an MRI which was declared “fine,” and spent last weekend visiting Dr. James Andrews.

As long as they have something to play for, they’re going to continue to wait, and could even put him on the 53-man roster and deactivate him each week until he’s ready.

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Jay Gruden: “Every intent” to start RGIII this week

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It was another Monday of questions for Washington coach Jay Gruden about quarterback Robert Griffin III, including whether Griffin would be in the starting lineup against the Colts this week.

Gruden said that he had “every intent” of putting Griffin in the lineup, but added that “there’s a chance” to re-evaluate things at several positions after the Redskins lost 17-13 to the 49ers in Santa Clara on Sunday. Griffin was 11-of-19 for 106 yards and battered behind an offensive line missing left tackle Trent Williams, who Gruden hopes will be back this week, in the game, leaving Gruden to sum it up as not “a good day” for the passing offense.

Gruden also said that they had to look all over the offense for ways to improve, a process that should start with the offensive line but has to include Griffin. And it should probably include Griffin continuing to start.

There’s no playoff spot coming, which means eyes should be on the future and making a decision about Griffin’s future with the team has to be a priority. He’s played just four full games since Gruden became the head coach and everyone in Washington needs to know if they’re looking for another quarterback this offseason. Unless they’ve already made that call, there’s reason to see what Griffin does the last five games before making it.

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Report: Broncos will work out kickers this week

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The Broncos came back late in Sunday’s game with the Dolphins and escaped with a 39-36 win, but there were still plenty of things to dislike about the team’s performance.

One item on the list is kicker Brandon McManus’s continued struggles. McManus pushed a 33-yard field goal attempt into the right upright with the Broncos trailing 21-17 in the third quarter. It’s the fourth missed field goal of the year for McManus, who they acquired in a trade with the Giants before the start of the season and decided to keep when they released Matt Prater at the end of Prater’s four-game suspension at the start of the year.

Another change may be on the horizon. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Broncos are planning to work out kickers this week as they evaluate what to do at the position moving into the final weeks of the regular season.

Former Cardinal Jay Feely and longtime Bill Rian Lindell are two veterans who have worked out with teams this year without landing a job, although it’s not known who might be on Denver’s list.

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Ray Farmer on Manziel: The time of the incident is concerning

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Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel and his entourage were reportedly involved in an altercation after a 33-year-old man asking Manziel for a hug outside an elevator at a Cleveland apartment and hotel complex at 2:36 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Chris Gonos, the man whose request apparently touched off the melee, spoke to CleveScene.com and confirmed much of the website’s original account of what went down. He also added that he thought someone in his group caught Manziel with a punch to the face after Manziel “sucker punched” his brother.

Browns General Manager Ray Farmer has also released a statement about the incident, which did not result in any arrests.

“We are aware of the incident and are in the process of gathering additional information in order to gain a complete understanding of what occurred. Nonetheless, the time of the incident is concerning to us. We continually stress to all of our players the importance of sound decision making in an effort to avoid putting themselves in these types of situations. We have addressed this appropriately with the player and will have no further comment at this time.”

The inclusion of a note about the time of the incident suggests the Browns weren’t thrilled to learn that one of their players was out of the house in the wee small hours of Saturday morning regardless of the circumstances that forced the police to intervene.

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Dominic Raiola won’t be suspended, but will face possible fine

Dominic Raiola AP

Dominic Raiola’s diving at the knee of an opponent on a meaningless play was unsportsmanlike, dangerous and stupid in that he bragged about it afterward.

But it’s not going to get him suspended.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Raiola won’t be suspended by the NFL, but will face a possible fine.

It could (and should) be a sizable one, since he also threw a punch at the back of Patriots lineman Zach Moore’s head earlier in the game.

Of course, he also has to deal with the everlasting shame of being owned by Bill Belichick, which has to be worse than any financial penalty the league can impart.

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Raiola threw a punch to the head, too

Dominic Raiola AP

The misconduct of Lions center Dominic Raiola wasn’t limited to a dive at the knees of New England defensive lineman Zach Moore.  Earlier in the game, Raiola also delivered a blow to the back of Moore’s head.

While it’s unclear whether the league office will discipline Raiola for diving at Moore’s knees on a play that entailed Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford taking a knee, the punch to Moore’s head is more likely to result in a fine.

Last year, the league office initially missed a similar move by Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.  Because the video of the blow to the head of former Cardinals tackle Eric Winston didn’t emerge until after the next game was played by Detroit, the incident did not result in a suspension for Suh, whose history possibly would have provoked another temporary banishment.  In the end, Suh wasn’t even fined — possibly to avoid questions as to why he wasn’t suspended and then questions as to why the blow to the head wasn’t seen soon enough to suspend Suh for the team’s next game.

For Raiola, the combination of the blow to the head and the dive at the knees could potentially trigger a one-game suspension.  At a minimum, it should result in a major fine.

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Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt out for the year

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The Vikings have tackle issues at the moment — one who’s acting poorly and one who’s out for the year.

Via Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt is out for the season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in yesterday’s loss to the Packers.

He’s the second Vikings starter to go on IR this year, following guard Brandon Fusco early in the year.

He’ll be replaced in the lineup by Mike Harris, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Harris was previously with the Chargers, starting 12 games for them in 2012 and 2013.

That’s a much bigger problem for the Vikings than Matt Kalil being rude to a fan, as protecting Teddy Bridgewater so he can develop properly has to be their first priority the rest of the season.

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Report: Manziel entourage accused of assaulting fan

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Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel has managed to stay out of trouble after a rocky offseason that featured inflatable swans, champagne showers, and rolled-up dollar bills.  Even as he has languished on the bench, Manziel has behaved.

The tranquility surrounding Johnny Football may have been disrupted recently, based on a report from ClevelandScene.com.   Per the report, a police report accuses Manziel’s entourage of assault.

33-year-old Chris Gonos reportedly approached Manziel at an upscale apartment complex known as “The 9″ in Cleveland on Friday night, gushing over Manziel and requesting a hug.  Instead of a hug, Gonos got a punch in the face, along with other alleged physical indignities.

The general manager of “The 9″ declined comment to ClevelandScene.com.  The Browns have not yet addressed the issue.

The blows apparently were delivered not by Manziel but by someone who described Manziel as his “client,” claiming that the alleged victim attempted to assault Manziel.

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Matt Kalil regrets knocking hat off heckling fan’s head

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Vikings tackle Matt Kalil has had a rough season and it got worse on Sunday.

Kalil, who has struggled as a blocker all year, was flagged for three penalties that knocked the team back 35 yards and then blew off reporters waiting to speak to him after the game by telling them that he was on a phone call. Kalil might have been on the same call outside the stadium later when a Vikings fan heckled him for his poor game, causing Kalil to react by knocking the fan’s hat off of his head before walking away from the crowd.

Deadspin has a video of the incident as well as the fan’s responses to Ben Goessling of ESPN.com on Twitter after Goessling asked him to explain what went down.

“We just watched Matt Kalil cost us the game, so when he came out I really didn’t want to see him, so I said to him “where do you want to be traded?” and he was on his phone, and when it finally registered with him what I said he turned and then he told me to “get the (expletive) outta here” and then I said “I’d rather have your brother than you on my team” and then he walked away like he didn’t hear what I said, but then he turned back around and asked me what I said again and then I repeated what I said again and then he proceeded to grab my hat off my head and throw it on the ground and mumble some stuff I didn’t hear, I then threw my program in his face.”

Goessling reports that Kalil apologized for refusing to talk to reporters and said he regretted his actions with the fan, whose Twitter handle is a profane reworking of late Twins great Kirby Puckett’s name. Kalil said he should have just walked away from the fan, which is certainly good advice for any player faced with a heckler even if one can understand the desire to answer back.

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Brian Hoyer: I have to do a better job

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If someone compiled a list of things you don’t expect to hear a quarterback say after leading a game-winning drive in the final seconds, “I feel like I let my team down” would have to be somewhere near the top of the list.

That’s what Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer said after Sunday’s 26-24 victory over the Falcons that moved the Browns to 7-4, however, and he was pretty accurate in his assessment of the game. Hoyer went 4-of-6 — one incompletion was a spike to stop the clock before Billy Cundiff’s winning kick — for 61 yards on the final drive of the game, but that came after he’d thrown three interceptions that left you wondering whether coach Mike Pettine would get a round of questions about Johnny Manziel after the game.

“It’s great to win but I’m really disappointed in myself,” Hoyer said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I feel like I let the team down even though we won. That’s not how I play. Obviously it’s great to get a win and be 7-4, but I have to do a better job.”

Hoyer has generally done a better job this year with only stinkers in losses to the Jaguars and Texans joining Sunday’s performance as ones that didn’t add to the team’s chances of winning. That’s not a terrible ratio, especially with Hoyer able to fight through Sunday’s struggles and get a win that counts the same as if he’d had the game of his life.

The Browns will obviously have to weigh this game along with all the others Hoyer plays this season when deciding how to handle his impending free agency, but that’s an issue for February. In November, it’s enough that the Browns won a game they probably should have lost.

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Tashaun Gipson expected to miss 6-8 weeks with MCL sprain

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The NFL’s leader in interceptions is likely to miss the remainder of the regular season.

Browns safety Tashaun Gipson, who is leading the league with six picks, has suffered a grade-3 MCL sprain, according to Adam Caplan of ESPN. That’s an injury that typically comes with a recovery time in the six-to-eight-week range.

With only five weeks remaining in the regular season, that could be a season-ending injury. But the Browns are in the playoff hunt at 7-4, so it’s possible Gipson could return for the postseason.

Gipson was carted off the field during Sunday’s win over the Falcons after a collision with cornerback Joe Haden. The injury looked bad enough that there were fears of a torn ACL, so in that context, an MCL sprain is actually good news. Gipson should be 100 percent for offseason work, and it’s still possible that he’s not done this season.

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Ryan Mallett’s pectoral injury a season-ender

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Ryan Mallett waited nearly four years for a chance to start in the NFL, and that chance ended after two weeks.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the pectoral injury suffered by the Texans quarterback yesterday against the Bengals was season-ending.

The Texans will now have to turn back to Ryan Fitzpatrick, though it’s possible they’ll take a look at fourth-round rookie Tom Savage if they decide they’re in tire-kicking mode again.

The Texans gave up a sixth-round pick in exchange for the former Patriots backup, who will now go into the free agent market as damaged goods.

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NFL has no comment on Lynch’s media comments

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On Sunday, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch complied with the letter of the league’s media policy by meeting with reporters after a 19-3 win over Arizona.  But Lynch violated the spirit of the rule with a series of non-responsive responses to reporter questions, with “yeah” being the predominant answer — even when the question didn’t call for a “yeah” or “nah” answer.

The NFL has “nah” comment on the matter, which sheds no light on whether Lynch will be disciplined for doing what plenty of others have done in recent weeks, from “on to Cincinnati” to “focused on San Francisco” to “I’m just trying to be a good teammate.”

Lynch was fined $100,000 for failing to meet with reporters last Sunday.  He later called two reporters, giving far more meaningful responses than his stream of “yeah, yeah, yeahs” from Sunday.

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Lions won’t discipline Raiola

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The NFL might discipline Detroit center Dominic Raiola, but the Lions won’t.

Raiola, who admitted after Sunday’s loss to the Patriots that he took a cheap shot at Zach Moore’s knees as payback for what he perceived as the Patriots running up the score, is under review for potential discipline from the league office. But Lions coach Jim Caldwell said today that the team will not discipline Raiola.

“He and I talked,” Caldwell said today. “We addressed the issue. He knows how we like to do things here. That’s the end of the story.”

The way they’ve played the last couple of weeks, the Lions look like a team in need of a wake-up call, and the Lions cutting Raiola would be a strong statement to the rest of the team about how they like to do things. But that’s not going to happen. The Lions may say they don’t condone Raiola’s actions, but they’re going to leave it to the league to do something about it.

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