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Cardinals roll to 40-11 win vs. Colts

Karlos Dansby, John Abraham AP

The surging Cardinals continued their run into wild-card contention in the NFC, defeating Indianapolis 40-11 on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona.

The victory was the Cardinals’ fourth straight and moved them to 7-4 on the season. At present, they are a half-game up on idle San Francisco (6-4) for the final wild-card spot in the NFC. If the 49ers defeat Washington on Monday night, San Francisco will retake the No. 6 seed on account of having beaten Arizona earlier in the season.

The Cardinals and 49ers play in the season finale for both clubs in Glendale on Dec. 29.

The Cardinals started fast and never looked back against Indianapolis (7-4). Arizona scored on its first drive, with quarterback Carson Palmer connecting with Larry Fitzgerald on a four-yard TD first-quarter TD pass.

The Cardinals broke the game open with a 20-point second quarter to take a 27-3 halftime lead. The big plays were another Palmer-to-Fitzgerald TD, this one 27 yards; and a 22-yard interception return by linebacker Karlos Dansby.

Fitzgerald, who racked up 52 yards on five catches, became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 11,000 yards receiving. And Palmer was on-point once again for Arizona, completing 26-of-37 passes for 314 yards and a pair of scores.

By contrast, the Colts’ offense sputtered. Quarterback Andrew Luck was held to 163 yards passing on 20-of-39 attempts. Colts tailbacks Donald Brown and Trent Richardson combined for 17 yards on nine carries. Overall, Arizona outgained Indianapolis 410-239.

With the loss and Tennessee’s final-minute win at Oakland, the Colts’ lead in the AFC South is down to two games. The Colts can take a huge step toward the division title with a win vs. Tennessee next week. However, a loss would allow the Titans to draw within one game.

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Panthers pick up fifth-year option on Luke Kuechly

Luke Kuechly AP

Some decisions on whether to pick up the fifth-year option on a first-round pick can be agonizing ones.

The call to extend Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly’s contract through 2016 was not likely one of them.

Carolina has officially picked up the option of Kuechly, its star middle linebacker, the team announced Saturday afternoon.

The 24-year-old Kuechly has played and started every regular season game for the Panthers since entering the NFL in 2012, notching 473 tackles, defending 27 passes, recording seven interceptions and racking up six sacks.

Kuechly will now be due $11.1 million for 2016. The Panthers are likely to work to sign him to a longer extension at some point.

Teams have until May 3 to exercise fifth-year options on first-round picks in the Class of 2012.

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Former NFL defender secures deal on Shark Tank

Scott Getty Images

Only recently have I discovered Shark Tank, the fascinating, American Dream reality show in which fledgling entrepreneurs pitch investment opportunities to established investors for partnership opportunities.

After stumbling over reruns on CNBC, I set the DVR to record the new episodes of the show on ABC.  Last night’s new episode coincidentally included former NFL defensive back (and linebacker) Bryan Scott.

Scott appeared individually, on behalf of four total owners of Noene, the distributor of a thin shoe insole that absorbs and disperses high-frequency shock.  Scott sold 30 percent of the company to Mark Cuban and Daymond John for $200,000 — even though the company has no sales yet.

A second-round pick of the Falcons in 2003, Scott spent three seasons in Atlanta before being traded to the Saints in 2006.  He finished his career with six years in Buffalo, from 2007 to 2012.

At a time when far too many former NFL players find themselves out of money at some point after retiring, Scott could be one of the few who makes much more after his career ended than he ever made during it.

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Cosell would put Perriman with Cooper and White

Breshad Perriman, Jhavon Williams AP

The first round of the draft unfolds in five days.  And it has been assumed for months that two receivers stand alone at the top of the class.

NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell thinks another player deserves to be mentioned with Alabama’s Amari Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin WhiteBreshad Perriman of Central Florida.

“I think Cooper is the top receiver prospect this year,” Cosell writes in an item for Yahoo! Sports.  “But if you asked me who is No. 2 among White and Perriman, that’s a tougher question.  I really like Perriman.  I heard an interesting comparison on Perriman from a scout the other day:  Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas.  I can see that. Perriman is a big powerful, explosive, fast guy.  Although he and White are about the same size, on film Perriman looks like the bigger guy.  I could see ranking Perriman even with or ahead of White, although I’m in the minority on that.”

So Cosell actually puts Perriman ahead of White.  When it comes to the draft, all it takes is one team planning to take a receiver to agree with Cosell.

We’ll find out Thursday night whether Perriman goes before White.  Or whether White before Cooper.  The only safe bet based on Cosell’s evaluation is that Perriman won’t go before Cooper.

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Dominik chafes at Jameis-JaMarcus comparison

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

It’s spring, when a middle-aged man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of figuring out how to get a coveted prospect to slide down the board.

As the draft approaches, some teams love a player enough to spread negative information and/or opinions about him in the hopes that he’ll be on the board when they are making their pick.

The highest-profile example (so far) for 2015 comes from the recent article featuring an unnamed executive comparing quarterback Jameis Winston to quarterback JaMarcus Russell.  The former G.M. of the team that is expected to select Winston has gone on the record to strongly disagree with the comparison.

I think it’s rude,” former Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik told Jorge Sedano of ESPN Radio, via JoeBucsFan.com.  “I think it’s completely off base to call him JaMarcus Russell.  I just don’t see the comparison.  Look, if you want to say one thing about Jameis [as a football player], the only thing I’d sit there and say is at the end of the season, he lost 17 pounds to go to the [Scouting] Combine.  I didn’t like that.  You now, because I’d like to think he’s playing as well as he can all the way through the bowl series and then getting himself ready for the Combine, instead of having to get himself in shape.  But from a football standpoint, from a football intelligence, from a competitor, from a leader, it ain’t close.  It’s embarrassing.  For my personal opinion, whatever G.M. said that, probably should not be a G.M., quite frankly.”

While that G.M. would likely respond by saying, “Well, I’m a G.M. and Dominik isn’t,” that G.M. can’t say anything because that G.M. hasn’t gone on the record with the Jameis-JaMarcus comparison.

Yes, the anonymous sourcing of information fuels the journalism industry in many ways.  But the anonymous sourcing of opinion can be harder to handle, since the anonymous source of the opinion may be hoping to get the Buccaneers to waver on Winston, ultimately passing on him or trading the pick for less than the Bucs would otherwise want.

Without knowing who the anonymous source of the opinion is, it’s impossible to know whether that source secretly hopes the opinion will prompt the Buccaneers and other teams to get out of the way, so that the team for which the anonymous source works can draft Jameis Winston.

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NFLRA takes issue with perception (reality) that some officials were let go

Officials Getty Images

The NFL has seen 18.5-percent turnover in its game officials over the last two years.  And for good reason; as V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino said earlier this month, the league won’t keep officials who aren’t getting the job done.

“If an official isn’t performing up to the standards then they won’t be in the NFL,” Blandino said, confirming that the league “moved on from” some officials.

“Any official, in any competitive arena, could have a poor season, so one season may not necessarily cause us to terminate an official,” Blandino said.  “But if it becomes a trend, multiple seasons, we have a tier-based ranking system, the third tier being the lowest performers.  Once they enter Tier 3 we put them in an enhanced training regimen and put them in that program, and if we still don’t see improvement, that’s when we move on.”

The NFL Referees Association has taken issue with the characterization that five officials have been fired, via a Saturday morning press release.

“It is a totally inaccurate and disrespectful to these outstanding retiring game officials for anyone to give the impression or infer they were fired,” NFLRA executive director Jim Quirk said.  “After the reports surfaced, we immediately reached out to the League with our concerns.  We were pleased that during this conversation, management admitted that their public statements were misinterpreted, and they did not mean to give the impression the five retiring officials were fired.”

So who are the five officials who retired?  The NFLRA won’t say.

“Medical privacy laws do not permit me to publicly name the 20-plus-year veteran game officials who retired due to medical conditions,” Quirk said.

For 2015, the NFL has hired nine new officials, with five replacing those who aren’t returning and four new positions.

A league source confirmed that the NFLRA privately objected to the characterization the NFL has fired “some of its worst officials.”  But the source also acknowledged that some of the officials who “retired” had no intention of retiring, and thus were let go.

Which means that the league moved on from them.  Which means they were some of the league’s worst officials.

Before anyone takes up the cause of the officials who were involuntarily retired, keep in mind the broader goal of getting as many calls right as possible.  If people aren’t able to do that on a consistent basis, failure of the NFL to move on from “some of its worst officials” would justify far more criticism than whatever criticism has arisen from the league’s effort to improve the pool of game officials.

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Sanchez: We need another guy to throw, that’s why we signed Tebow

Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez AP

Mark Sanchez thinks Tim Tebow is a camp arm.

Sanchez told CSNPhilly.com that he’s been told Tebow was signed as another quarterback to give the receivers some work because Sam Bradford is still not 100 percent.

“He’s obviously a great guy, he works hard. And we needed another guy to throw while Sam’s still recovering,” Sanchez said. “So that’s the reason [for the signing], at least as explained to me. We’re excited about the upcoming year and I think we have a great group.”

But that reason makes no sense. If the Eagles just wanted another guy to throw, there are dozens of quarterbacks with better arms than Tebow who could do that job.

Where Tebow potentially has value to a team is in the things he can do beyond throwing the football: Tebow is good at escaping the pocket under pressure, good at making something happen when a play breaks down and good at managing the clock when his team is trailing in the fourth quarter. There’s value in those skills, which is why Tebow had some success as the Broncos’ starting quarterback.

But as a passer, Tebow is limited, which is why he has completed only 47.9 percent of his passes in his NFL career.

So while Sanchez may have been told that Tebow is just a camp arm, Chip Kelly must have other plans. If the Eagles wanted a camp arm, they would’ve signed someone with a better arm than Tebow.

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Dan Marino wouldn’t trade the Hall of Fame for a Super Bowl ring

Marino Getty Images

Dan Marino is on the short list of the greatest players never to win a championship, and he’s just fine with that.

Appearing at a Pro Football Hall of Fame function on Friday, Marino was asked whether he would trade the gold jacket that comes with Hall of Fame induction for a Super Bowl ring. Marino’s one-word answer: “No.”

Enshrinement in Canton represents the greatest individual achievement a pro football player can aspire to, and Marino isn’t just in Canton, but he’s even among the elite in the Hall of Fame, an easy choice as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

And yet a Super Bowl ring is what every player is playing for every year, and although this is probably unfair, virtually every story about Marino’s career mentions the absence of a ring.

Marino’s comments are reminiscent of a story from a couple years ago, when LaDainian Tomlinson said he’d take the Hall of Fame over a Super Bowl ring, while Tedy Bruschi shot back that a ring is the greater accomplishment. Tomlinson, of course, never got a ring but will likely get to the Hall of Fame, while Bruschi isn’t going to Canton but does have three Super Bowl rings.

Marino’s comments may be an accurate representation of the status of enshrinement in Canton as the greatest achievement for a football player. Or they may just be an attempt to look on the bright side on the one count where Marino’s career fell short.

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Report: LSU’s Jalen Collins has multiple failed drug tests

2015 NFL Scouting Combine Getty Images

Timing is everything in life.

And if you’re a fringe first-round prospect, having bad news emerge in the week before the 2015 NFL Draft is particularly poorly timed.

Via Albert Breer of the NFL Network, citing sources with four teams, LSU cornerback Jalen Collins had “multiple failed tests” for drugs during his college days.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily have to ruin his prospects, as a former teammate with a similar rap sheet has gone on to have a productive and positive start to his career.

But teams will also have to weigh his ability at a coveted position against the possibility that he might not be able to keep himself eligible.

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Greg Hardy has to abandon his Bentley on a flooded street

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When it rains, it pours.

Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy capped off a memorable first full week of work in Dallas by having to abandon his Bentley when flood-waters rose around it.

According to WFAA, the Bentley was ditched near the intersection of Interstate 35 and Continental Avenue. Hardy returned to take some personal items from the car, but declined comment on anything to the news crew, before leaving in a white Ferrari while the Bentley was being pulled from the water.

Of course, this was the same day he was involved in a verbal altercation with a teammate while working out, an incident that escalated when defensive tackle Davon Coleman made reference to the domestic violence which led to his 10-game suspension.

So yeah, he’s had better weeks.

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Roger Goodell says both Los Angeles stadium projects look good

Roger Goodell AP

St. Louis officials might have felt good about what they told the NFL this week.

But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that not one but two Los Angeles projects are also appealing to the league, based on what he’s seen of both stadium plans.

Speaking to the Associated Press Sports Editors Friday, Goodell said both the Inglewood site being planned by Rams owner Stan Kroenke and the Carson location being proposed for the Chargers and Raiders were both “viable” and have a “great deal of potential to be successful.”

We had presentations earlier this week that are very exciting,” Goodell said, via Barry Wilner of the Associated Press. “Not just for a return but to continue being successful going forward.”

He also suggested the timetable is accelerating, with the currently January 2016 window for applying for relocation could be moving up.

Goodell said he thought the St. Louis group was making progress, though it’s unclear if it’s too late to keep the Rams, as Kroenke has practically placed shovels next to the ground ready to move dirt in Inglewood.

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NFL moves on from ATC spotters with team affiliations

Spotter Getty Images

The ATC spotter charged with scanning the field for evidence of players in distress now has unprecedented power:  The ability to stop the game and direct the officials to remove a player for further evaluation.

Given the potential for that power to be abused through, for example, the erroneous perception that a quarterback needs to be removed from the game for evaluation on a key play late in the game, the NFL has decided to ensure that the ATC spotters have the appearance of independence.

According to the league office, any ATC spotter who has worked as an athletic trainer at any time for a team or who has been employed by any NFL team within the prior 20 years was relieved of their duties on Friday.

“It was done to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest with the new safety rule change regarding the medical timeout that was passed last month,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarth told PFT by email.

While that amounted to only 12 of the 64 spotters, the 12 presumably aren’t happy.  One of the 12, who requested anonymity, expressed strong disagreement with the move.

“It’s sad to me that the NFL overreacts in this way, so as to put people who are much less able to know what’s going on down on the field (since they’ve never been there, as an Athletic Training Intern, ATC, or otherwise) and are going to be calling and stopping play for things that are not necessary,” the now-former ATC spotter said.

The move underscores the unprecedented authority that the ATC spotter will have, along with the league’s ongoing responsibility to ensure that it’s exercised properly.  It also arguably underscores the need for ensuring that potential conflicts of interest be avoided for other league employees with influence on the game — an issue with which Patriots fans have become acutely familiar in the wake of the #DeflateGate scandal.

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Norv Turner tells Bridgewater doubters where to stick their brooms

New York Jets v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

A year ago, when the Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater in the first round of the NFL draft, there were plenty of doubts. After Bridgewater’s lousy Pro Day workout, some around the NFL believed he simply lacked the physical tools to become a franchise quarterback.

A year later, after Bridgewater showed a lot of promise as a rookie, the Vikings are feeling pretty good about their pick, and Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner is taking shots at those who doubted Bridgewater. Noting that one of the drills Bridgewater struggled with at his Pro Day involved throwing passes over upraised brooms, Turner said anyone who downgraded Bridgewater over that is a fool.

“Someone should take those brooms and shove them up someone’s backside,” Turner told ESPN.

Turner’s son Scott Turner, the Vikings’ quarterbacks coach, said Bridgewater made up for his poor Pro Day with a good private workout with the Vikings, and that alleviated any concerns.

“We didn’t think he put forth his best effort on his Pro Day, but we weren’t sounding alarms like the whole world was at the time,” Scott Turner said. “That [private] workout answered those questions for us, positively.”

A whole lot of teams are now wishing they hadn’t dropped Bridgewater on their boards just because he couldn’t throw over a broom.

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Unnamed scout on Kevin White: “He’s like Larry Fitzgerald”

TCU West Virginia Football AP

West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White is just about a lock to hear his name called in the first round of next week’s draft, with all but the matter of whether he’ll be the first player at his position to be taken to be decided.

In his latest mock draft, Rotoworld’s Josh Norris projected the Mountaineers star to come off the board at No. 7 to Chicago, calling White one of “a handful of foundation pieces in this draft.”

As a senior at West Virginia, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound White hauled in 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns. He then proceeded to run an impressive 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.

White also received some high praise in Nolan Nawrocki’s 2015 NFL Draft Preview. In White’s scouting report, Nawrocki quoted an unnamed scout who called the West Virginia receiver “the top player in the East hands down.”

Said the unnamed scout: “He is the reason they are in every game. He’s like Larry Fitzgerald.”

On PFT Live in March, White said Fitzgerald, the Cardinals’ star receiver, had given him good advice about competing in the NFL.

“He’s kind of like my mentor, somebody that I look up to that’s in the NFL,” White said.

The No. 3 overall pick 11 years ago, Fitzgerald has had a stellar career, one that figures to garner him serious Hall of Fame consideration. If White is in the same ballpark as Fitzgerald in terms of impact, some club is going to be very happy to have turned in a card with his name on it next Thursday in Chicago.

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Winston initially kept crab leg incident from Harbaugh, Fisch

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The primary headline this week regarding quarterback Jameis Winston arose from his about-face regarding the notion that he shoplifted crab legs from a grocery store in 2014.  Setting aside for now the question of whether Winston’s latest version of the events is accurate (Deadspin has made a persuasive case that it isn’t), there’s more to the story.

Specifically, there’s more to the story of how the story emerged.  Specifically, Winston initially omitted the story about the crab legs when generally asked about getting in trouble in the past.

In the episode of ESPN’s Draft Academy during which Winston provided an alternative version of the crab-leg caper, Winston and quarterback Bryce Petty met with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch as part of the preparation process for interviews at the Scouting Combine.

Harbaugh at one point asked Winston, “Any discipline when you were in high school?”

“Yes sir,” Winston said.  “I was disciplined for one game against John Carroll for laughing at my coach ’cause he cried, and he felt that I disrespected him.”

“What about in college?” Harbaugh said.

“In college, I got disciplined for a game against Clemson for standing up on a table and saying something wrong,” Winston said.  “That’s the only time I got disciplined in college.”

“Any encounters with the police?” Harbaugh said.

Winston then explained the incident involving a BB gun fight while hunting squirrels.

“The police had rolled up on us and thought I had an assault rifle,” Winston said.

Winston said nothing about the crab legs, for which he was cited for shoplifting and suspended from the Florida State baseball team.  Fisch pointed out the failure to mention the crab legs, and Winston reacted as if he’d forgotten about it.

“That’s like the elephant in the room for you,” Fisch said.  “I mean, everyone’s going to want to know what happened.  So don’t like by accident only talk about the BB gun and your high school coach crying and forget about the fact that everybody on SportsCenter read about that incident.  Because then it looks like you’re covering it up or you’re hiding it.”

“I screwed up, I f–ked up,” Harbaugh suggested as a quick way to deal with the situation.  “I f–ked up, learned from it.  You know, be serious as a heart attack.”

Then the alternative story emerged.

“How am I supposed to handle like if I just got them for free?” Winston said.

And that’s when Winston offered up the same version that he undoubtedly later gave to anyone from the NFL who asked him the question at the Scouting Combine or elsewhere.

For teams that already have decided that they’re comfortable with Winston, this surely won’t change their minds.  For teams that already have decided they’re not, it definitely won’t.  But for anyone still on the fence, maybe it will have an impact.

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Ray Rice tells Rutgers football players to “not make the mistakes that I made”

Navy v Rutgers Getty Images

Before Rutgers held its spring football game Friday night, a prominent former Scarlet Knights star addressed the team:

Ray Rice.

Rice, the former Ravens running back who has been out of the NFL since being released by the Ravens in September, told Steve Politi of New Jersey Advance Media he wanted to give the current Rutgers players some life advice.

“I just shot them straight. I’m sure if you speak to them, they’ll give you a lot better explanation of what I told them, but I gave them the message to go out there and not make the mistakes that I made,” Rice told Politi. “If I can help them understand, then I’ve made an impact. It costs no money to give them a good message like that.”

Rice was released by Baltimore after video surfaced of him striking his now-wife in an Atlantic City elevator. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood, who asked Rice to talk to his players, told New Jersey Advance Media the former star running back had some valuable knowledge to share.

” . . . Ray made the wrong decision, and he’s held himself accountable to it, and he’s paid the price for it, and I thought today was an opportunity for him to deliver a message to try to prevent one of our young people doing that in the future,” Flood told Politi.

Rice rushed for nearly 5,000 yards in just three seasons at Rutgers and is the school’s all-time leading rusher.

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