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NFL morning after: Bad rules a big problem for the NFL

waltcoleman AP

After Monday night’s mess in Carolina, where the game ended with a pass interference penalty in the end zone being picked up without explanation by the referee, I didn’t want to spend Sunday thinking about rules and referees. But it was hard not to think on Sunday that the NFL has a real problem on its hands with rules that are written badly, and officials who enforce those rules inconsistently.

Everyone likes to bash the referees when they get something wrong, and I’m going to criticize the referees here today, but it’s important to remember that the referees can only enforce the rules that the NFL gives them. And I’m starting to think that a bigger problem is that the NFL’s rules simply aren’t written clearly enough to allow the officials to do their jobs properly.

Here’s a sampling of my thoughts on the rules on Sunday:

I still don’t know what roughing the passer is. In the Buccaneers-Lions game, Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley hit Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon in the leg and was called for roughing the passer. According to the referee, it was because Fairley hit Glennon too low. But the problem is, Fairley’s hit on Glennon was in about the same part of the leg as Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget’s hit on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning a couple weeks ago. Liuget wasn’t flagged and wasn’t fined and the NFL confirmed that Liuget’s hit was legal. But if Liuget’s hit was legal, I’m not sure why Fairley’s was illegal. And that wasn’t even the only roughing the passer call in that game I couldn’t figure out: Later in the same game, Tampa Bay’s Mark Barron was flagged for an even harder to understand roughing call against Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. And don’t get me started on Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers‘ flag for a clean hit on Josh McCown.

Protecting quarterbacks is a priority, or is it? Last week, when 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks was flagged for a hit to the neck of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the NFL said it was the right call, supposedly because protecting quarterbacks is a priority. So why wasn’t Pittsburgh’s William Gay flagged on Sunday for his hit to the head of Jason Campbell? In both cases, a defensive player went high and hit a quarterback who was still holding the ball, forcing a fumble. When it was Brees getting clotheslined, it was a flag. When it was Campbell getting knocked out of the game with a concussion, it wasn’t a flag? Why? As far as I can tell, the answer is that the rules about protecting quarterbacks aren’t written clearly enough for the referees to call them consistently.

Referees are out of position even when they’re in position. Miami’s Cameron Wake lowered his helmet and drilled Carolina’s Cam Newton in the chin, and Newton ended up spitting out blood. It was a clear penalty on Wake, but the referee didn’t throw the flag. Why? Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira said the ref was positioned exactly where he’s supposed to be, but just didn’t see it. But if that’s the case, the NFL needs to have an official positioned in a place where he will see a hit like that, or make hits to the head of quarterbacks reviewable on instant replay.

Coaches should be allowed to challenge personal fouls. Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was tripped and fell into Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s leg, triggering a flag for a personal foul. On replay, it was clear that Wilkerson only hit Flacco because he was tripped, but the referee can’t look at the replay to get the call right. Jets coach Rex Ryan should have been allowed to challenge, but under NFL rules, he couldn’t.

Coaches shouldn’t be allowed to delay games by throwing bogus challenge flags. As Detroit’s offense was lining up following a missed Tampa Bay field goal, Bucs coach Greg Schiano threw his red challenge flag. After a long delay in which Schiano and the referee conversed on the sideline, it was announced that Schiano had tried to challenge a call that wasn’t reviewable — namely, whether the Bucs’ kick had gone through the goalposts or over a goal post. Under NFL rules, it wasn’t a penalty for Schiano to throw that flag even when he couldn’t challenge. But it should be. Why should Schiano be allowed to delay the game and give his defense time to adjust to the way the Lions’ offense lined up? Later on Sunday afternoon, Giants coach Tom Coughlin did the same thing, throwing his red flag even though the play in question wasn’t reviewable. If a coach throws a challenge flag for something that can’t be challenged, he should be charged a timeout.

A huge missed call cost the Vikings, and the referee was powerless to review it. Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk blatantly grabbed and twisted Adrian Peterson’s facemask before forcing Peterson to fumble. It was an obvious penalty, and the officials should have seen it. But they missed it, and the referee couldn’t use replay to review it because for some odd reason facemasking isn’t subject to replay reviews. If we’re going to have instant replay at all, and if we’re going to have all turnovers automatically reviewed, why on earth can’t the referee look at the replay, see the blatant facemask, and get the call right?

No one knows what constitutes a catch. Late in the Cowboys’ win over the Giants, Dallas’s Dez Bryant grabbed a pass from Tony Romo, went to the ground and then lost possession. The officials ruled it incomplete, and I think the officials got it right. But the NFL’s convoluted rules about what constitutes a catch make it almost impossible for anyone to say with any confidence what will or will not be ruled a catch, and there were plenty of fans on Twitter saying they were sure Bryant had caught the pass. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett seemed to think it was a catch, too, as he called a timeout in the hopes that the extra time would trigger the replay assistant to tell the referee to review the play — which he didn’t do. The NFL simply has to do a better job of explaining what makes a catch and what makes an incompletion, so fans and coaches aren’t left confused at big moments in big games.

Forward progress isn’t clearly defined. The biggest play of the Giants-Cowboys game came when Giants receiver Victor Cruz caught a pass, was wrapped up by two Cowboys, then had the ball ripped out of his hands. The officials ruled it a fumble, and Dallas’s Jeff Heath picked it up and ran 50 yards for a touchdown. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after the game that it was “unbelievable” that the officials didn’t rule Cruz’s forward progress had been stopped, but I can believe it because I see forward progress ruled inconsistently every week.

The NFL should eject players who enter the field during fights. When Rams defensive end Chris Long saw his brother, Bears guard Kyle Long, engaged in a skirmish on the field, Chris ran from the sideline onto the field to grab Kyle and pull him away. Chris may have simply been trying to break up the fight, but even if all they’re trying to do is break up a fight, players shouldn’t run onto the field and into a skirmish. One of the ugliest incidents in the history of American sports came in a 1977 NBA game, when Rudy Tomjanovich ran into a skirmish and Kermit Washington reacted by turning around and swinging, shattering bones in Tomjanovich’s face. The way to avoid such incidents is for all players to allow the officials to break up fights, not enter fights themselves. Other sports give automatic ejections to players who run from the sideline onto the field during a fight, and the NFL should, too.

I don’t like the overtime rule. Overtime in Green Bay felt unsatisfying all around. Here’s how I’d change the overtime rules: 1. Do away with the overtime kickoff. 2. Let the home team pick which yard line the first overtime possession will start on. 3. Let the road team pick whether to start on offense or defense, based on where the home team put the ball to start overtime. 4. Play pure sudden death, first team to score wins, and play until someone scores, with no ties.

NFL refs have a communication problem. The NFL admitted after last week’s Monday Night Football mess that referee Clete Blakeman dropped the ball when he failed to explain why a flag thrown on Carolina’s Luke Kuechly in the end zone was picked up, and the league office told refs last week that they need to use their microphones to explain to the fans why penalty flags get picked up. Amazingly, on Sunday against Miami, Kuechly committed another penalty on a pass into the end zone — and again, an official threw a flag, only to have the referee announce that there wouldn’t be a penalty, without explaining why. How does the NFL allow this to continue happening? The referees need to explain themselves. And the NFL needs to give the referees clearer rules to work with, so those explanations will make more sense.

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Roger Goodell will testify in Ray Rice appeal hearing

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Ray Rice 1, NFL 0.

The first skirmish in the Ray Rice appeal hearing has resulted in a big victory for Rice and the NFL Players Association — and a potentially costly loss for the league office and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Per a league source (and as multiple others are reporting as the news is leaked to multiple reporters), former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones has decided that Goodell should testify at the hearing.

It’s so obvious that Goodell should testify in a case that hinges on whether Ray Rice lied to Goodell that it’s surprising the league resisted.  It makes Goodell and the league look like they have something to hide, at a time when the NFL is trying to create the impression of transparency.

Then again, lawyers representing a large company typically try to shield the chief executive from testifying.  While it often happens because the chief executive actually has something to hide or lacks the ability to engage in effective verbal fencing with a skilled trial lawyer, folks who are used to having a lot of power typically don’t like submitting to someone else’s authority.

Goodell now will be submitting to the authority of Judge Jones — and answering potentially hostile questions from lawyer Peter Ginsberg, who has a history of hostilities with Goodell and the league, via his representation of Jonathan Vilma in the Saints bounty case.

The transcript of Goodell’s testimony, along with the rest of the evidence generated in the Rice appeal process, also will (or at least should) become part of the official investigation conducted by former FBI director Robert Mueller.  Anything Goodell says while testifying in the Rice appeal hearing should be compared to anything he said to Mueller for evidence of any inconsistencies.

With multiple owners reportedly taking a wait-and-see approach to Goodell’s employment status based on the outcome of the Mueller investigation, Goodell’s performance while testifying in the Rice appeal could, in theory, influence whether he’ll remain on the job.  He’ll need to be more direct and responsive before Judge Jones than he was during his September 19 press conference — and during his testimony in the Super Bowl ticket case.

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Pete Carroll has nothing more to say about Percy Harvin

CARROLL AP

The Seahawks haven’t really said all that much about the stunning decision to trade receiver Percy Harvin.  Coach Pete Carroll didn’t add much to the collection in his weekly Wednesday press conference.

“We already have made that move,” Carroll said in response to the question of how the team has moved on from Harvin.  “It doesn’t feel any different today.  We’re moving on.”

Still, plenty of questions remain unanswered regarding Harvin, including the specific things he did that prompted the decision to trade him for far less than what the Seahawks gave the Vikings to acquire him less than 20 months ago.  There have been plenty of reports about belligerence and refusal to play and fights with teammates, but the Seahawks have avoided confirming or commenting on any of them.

They probably never will.  And for the same reasons no one knew what was going on with Harvin while it was happening, no one will really know what’s going on in the wake of the Harvin trade, including but not limited to whether a locker-room division has emerged — and whether any potential resentment of quarterback Russell Wilson has increased in the aftermath of what some believe was an effort to clear Harvin off the roster before he could challenge the franchise quarterback who is less than three months away from becoming eligible to be paid accordingly.

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Report: LaMarr Woodley has torn bicep

LaMarr Woodley AP

One of the Raiders’ notable free agent additions could be lost for the season.

Defensive end LaMarr Woodley suffered a torn bicep in Sunday’s loss to Arizona, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported Wednesday night. The injury is thought to be season-ending, according to Rapoport.

Earlier, Raiders coach Tony Sparano indicated Woodley had suffered a potentially “serious” bicep injury, per Fallon Smith of CSN Bay Area.

The 29-year-old Woodley has played in each of Oakland’s first six games, logging 295 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus data. However, Woodley has been credited with just five tackles, and he has yet to notch a sack.

Woodley joined the Raiders in the offseason after spending six seasons with Pittsburgh. He is in the first year of a two-year contract.

Benson Mayowa is listed as the top backup to Woodley at defensive end.

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Rodgers reflects on “R-E-L-A-X” remarks

Rodgers AP

After the Packers slipped to 1-2 following a miserable loss to the Lions in Detroit, Aaron Rodgers had some advice for antsy Cheeseheads.

“Five letters.  R-E-L-A-X.  Relax.  We’re going to be fine,” Rodgers said.

Fine they’ve been.  With wins over the Bears, Vikings, Dolphins, and Panthers, all that’s standing between a 6-2 record at the bye week are the Saints at the Superdome.  In a conference call with New Orleans reporters, Rodgers was asked about the reaction to his R-E-L-A-X routine.

“First people were impressed I remembered how to spell it,” Rodgers said, via quotes distributed by the Saints.  “I think when you say something like that you take on greater responsibility as a leader and you take some of the focus off the team and I think there is a time and a place for that.  Maybe we needed a little something like that before our Week Four game in Chicago.  We responded with a good performance, four in a row, our defense is playing really well, offensively we are starting to get things going a little bit, so every now and then you say stuff like that that sticks.  If we had lost Week Four it probably wouldn’t have gone over as well as it has because we’ve won four in a row.”

It won’t be easy to extend the run to five.

“They are better than that,” Rodgers said of the Saints’ 2-4 record.  “They are 2-0 at home I believe.  They are better at home.  They have lost some close games.  Very talented offense, a very talented defense and very well coached.  I have competed against Coach [Rob] Ryan before and I have a lot of respect [for] the whole family, Rex, Rob, and their father, a guy who obviously changed how defense is played in the league.  I have a lot of respect for them and their defense.  Talented group, they play really well at home, they put up a lot of points.  You have to be expecting Drew [Brees] and those guys to be scoring points so we need to score touchdowns in the red zone and score some points ourselves.”

We’ll find out how it plays out on Sunday night.  And hopefully it’s play out with a closer game that what we’ve seen on Monday Sunday nights this season.

 

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Barry Cofield, Evan Mathis among Wednesday practice returnees

Howard Mudd, Evan Mathis AP

Eagles Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis was among four players on reserve lists to return to practice on Wednesday, per the NFL’s transactions.

Mathis, who is on injured reserve/designated for return with an MCL sprain, can re-enter the Eagles’ lineup on November 16 at Green Bay.

The other players returning Wednesday were Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin (ACL tear), Washington nose tackle Barry Cofield (high-ankle sprain) and Buccaneers tailback Charles Sims (ankle surgery). Cofield and Sims are on injured reserve/designated for return, while Colvin is on the reserve/non-football injury list.

Sims is eligible to return for the Buccaneers’ Nov. 9 matchup vs. Washington, while Cofield can be activated for the Nov. 16 meeting with Tampa Bay.

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Judge will continue to preside over Peterson case

JudgeCase AP

The prosecution may still win the war, but its lost the battle over who’ll preside over the war.  Or something.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Kelly Case will continue to handle the Adrian Peterson child abuse prosecution.  A retired judge has decided that Case should not be recused based upon an alleged bias against the prosecution.  The allegations included Judge Case’s admitted reference to the lawyers for both parties as “media whores.”

Retired Judge Jeff Walker determined that prosecutors failed to meet the high standard necessary for forcing a judge out of a case.   And it appears that there will be no appeal of the decision.

“We’re going to hope Judge Case does the right thing, gives us a fair trial and at the end of that trial, we’re confident that Mr. Peterson is going to be found guilty,” First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant said.

While the swing and a miss could alienate Judge Case, the allegations of bias could force him to go out of his way to create the appearance of fairness and even-handedness in any rulings made before and during the trial, which is still tentatively scheduled to begin on December 1.

Peterson hopes to stand trial as soon as possible, given that he is essentially suspended with pay while the legal process is pending.

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Rex doesn’t want unrealistic expectations for Harvin’s instant impact

harvin AP

Jets coach Rex Ryan says no one should expect Percy Harvin to become the team’s best offensive playmaker instantly.

Ryan says Harvin will have a role in the offense on Sunday against the Bills, but no one should expect him to know the whole playbook after a week with the team.

“I’m just saying that it’s hard to expect a guy to come in and learn an entire offense,” Ryan said. “We’re going to use him. It’s not to expect him to play 50 plays or something like that. That’s probably unrealistic.”

Ryan said the Jets may use Harvin on both kickoff returns and punt returns, even though Harvin has never returned a punt in the NFL or in college. For Ryan, the goal is just to find the best ways to use Harvin.

“I think when you look at how we are going to use Percy, it might be different than how he was used in Minnesota [and] how he was used in Seattle. I guess time will tell, but I truly believe with his kind of talent it’s going to be a big help, obviously for our offense and with that, our whole team,” Ryan said.

If the Jets can go on a run in the second half of the season, big plays from Harvin may contribute to saving Ryan’s job.

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Arians says Carson Palmer’s shoulder is fine

Palmer

That dead nerve in Carson Palmer’s shoulder has come back to life.  And it looks like Palmer’s zombie arm joint will continue to get the job done, indefinitely.

Coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday that Palmer no longer has to worry about the shoulder, according to Darren Urban of the team’s official website.  Arians also said that Palmer is once again lifting weights in the upper body.

Arians also said that Palmer shouldn’t miss any practice time, and that he’s getting closer to 100 percent.

Palmer missed three games due to the shoulder injury, and the Cardinals won each of them.  They’ll get perhaps their biggest test of the season when the Eagles come to town with an extra week to get ready.

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Chiefs say Charles was checked for concussion

jamaalcharles AP

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles says he tried to avoid having to go through the league’s concussion protocol after a collision on the field Sunday. But the Chiefs say Charles was, in fact, checked out on the sideline before being allowed to go back in the game.

Chiefs head trainer Rick Burkholder said Charles was checked during Sunday’s game and has been checked this week and did not get a concussion in the collision, which did cause a concussion for Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers.

“When he got hit, I obviously checked with him,” Burkholder said. “I know coach talked to him a bit there. I came back and consulted with the team physician; he was absolutely asymptomatic, wasn’t complaining about anything. . . . Obviously, we check on those guys as they come off the field almost every series. I know coach spent time with him on the plane after the game.”

Burkholder’s statement that Charles was “absolutely asymptomatic” contradicts Charles’s statement that he “was seeing light bulbs, like, light bulbs around my eyes.” Seeing flashing lights is one of the symptoms of a concussion.

Charles may not have told Burkholder that he was seeing flashing lights, and Charles may not have exhibited any other symptoms of a concussion when he was examined. But Charles has said since that he had a symptom associated with concussions. And whether he actually had a concussion or not, it’s alarming that he indicated he wanted to avoid being diagnosed.

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Harvin doesn’t show up on the Jets’ injury report

Harvin AP

Former Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin had been battling a thigh injury for the couple of weeks before he was traded to New York.  Or maybe it was a “thigh” injury.  As in not an injury at all but just an excuse to not practice.

Either way, Harvin didn’t show up on his first injury report as a member of the Jets.  So his thigh — or “thigh” — injury has healed — or “healed” completely.

Is it fair to suggest Harvin was perhaps embellishing an injury to justify missing practice?  Yes, given that one of his disputes with former Vikings coach Brad Childress happened when Childress questioned whether Harvin’s ankle injury was an “ankle” injury.

Regardless, Harvin launches his time in New York at 100 percent.  We’ll see how long he stays there.

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Jimmy Graham limited at Saints practice

Jimmy Graham AP

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham wound up in the lineup against the Lions last week after several days of uncertainty because of his shoulder injury, but he only played a limited number of snaps and didn’t have a catch as the Saints blew a lead in the fourth quarter.

The Saints got back to practice on Wednesday to start their preparation for facing the Packers on Sunday Night Football and Graham remained a limited participant in the action for New Orleans. Barring a setback, his presence last week suggests he’d be in the lineup again this week in a game that the Saints could really use to give themselves boost in the struggle for playoff spots in the NFC. The question will be how effective Graham can be, but it’s not one that will be answered on the practice field.

Running backs Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas both missed practice, which was no surprise in Thomas’s case as he’s expected to miss a couple of weeks because of a shoulder injury. Robinson is dealing with a forearm issue, which he said, via the Baton Rouge Advocate, was just “a little boo-boo.”

Center Jonathan Goodwin was also out of practice for the Saints and the team’s move to add Eric Olsen to the roster could be an indication that he’s going to miss his first game of the season.

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Report: Bill Belichick sent Darrelle Revis home for being late

New York Jets Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has sent players home for being late during blizzards.

So it’s no surprise that the same rules apply to the Island.

According Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, the absence of cornerback Darrelle Revis from Tuesday’s practice was because Belichick sent him home for being late.

The report said Revis arrived late to the team facility, and Belichick sent him away rather than allow him to participate in meetings or practice.

Players had the weekend plus Monday off after last Thursday’s win over the Jets, with instructions to return Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. There was no word how late he was.

A source close to Revis said he accepted responsibility for his tardiness, and he was back at work Wednesday.

Given the hot-and-cold nature of Revis’s relationships with employers, this one is worth filing away.

It’s also an important play for Belichick in establishing control, proving to his roster that no star is beyond the rules (though we wonder what would happen if Tom Brady had a flat tire).

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West says Jaguars simply wanted it more than the Browns

West Getty Images

So how did the previously 0-6 Jaguars upend the previously 3-2 Browns by a score of 24-6?  Chalk it up to good, old-fashioned motivation.

They wanted it more than we did,” rookie running back Terrance West said Tuesday, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“We looked like the 0-6 team, and they looked like the 3-2 team,” West said.  “That was the big difference.  They just had more plays.  The team that had the better plays, big plays are going to come out with a win, and that’s what happened yesterday. Their fans, they were in the game.”

Some think the absence of center Alex Mack, who suffered a season-ending broken leg the prior Sunday, kept the Browns from winning.  West disagrees.

“I think we probably would’ve had more rushing yards if Alex Mack’s there, but the way the Jaguars played us, they wanted it more,” West said. “He probably wouldn’t have made a difference.”

The Browns face another winless team on Sunday who may want it more, especially since the Raiders face a murderer’s row of opponents for most of the rest of the season.  Playing a team that just lost to the 0-6 Jaguars could give the 0-6 Raiders some real hope.

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Sam Shields, James Starks and Morgan Burnett miss practice

Carolina Panthers v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Packers got back on the practice field on Wednesday without several regulars in their lineup.

Cornerback Sam Shields, safety Morgan Burnett, running back James Starks and defensive end Datone Jones were all held out of practice as they recover from injuries. Shields missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury and the Packers have a bye after they face the Saints on Sunday night, but coach Mike McCarthy said that the team wasn’t going to let that keep Shields out against Drew Brees if he’s given the green light to play.

“I don’t keep players out for games,” McCarthy said, via the team’s website. “If a player can play, he plays. Sam is going through medical situation and if he’s ready to play, he’ll play.”

Jones also missed the victory over the Panthers, which made it two straight weeks out of the lineup because of an ankle injury. Starks is also bothered by an ankle injury while Burnett is nursing a calf problem, but McCarthy said that all three were moving well during their rehab work.

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Brandon Flowers officially out for Thursday night

New York Jets v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

Once cornerback Brandon Flowers was diagnosed with a concussion last Sunday, it became doubtful that he’d be able to play against the Broncos on Thursday night.

The Chargers confirmed that the short turnaround wasn’t enough time for Flowers to get cleared on Wednesday by ruling him out of the contest. With the extended break before Week Nine, Flowers should have a decent chance of making his return when the team travels to Miami.

Flowers may not be the only cornerback out on Thursday. Jason Verrett missed last week’s game after limited practices all week because of a shoulder injury and he’s questionable after another week of limited practice. Steve Williams is also listed as questionable because of a groin injury. If neither can go, the Chargers will be down to Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall and Chris Davis at the position.

Linebacker Jerry Attaochu is doubtful with a hamstring injury despite getting in some practice time the last two days while running backs Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown and linebacker Manti Te’o have been ruled out once again.

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