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49ers take big step toward the playoffs with win over Rams

kaepernick AP

If the 49ers are going to be a playoff team, games like Sunday’s against the Rams are the games they need to win. And San Francisco won, convincingly.

The 49ers delivered a 23-13 beatdown of the Rams, improving their record to 8-4 and moving a full game ahead of their nearest rivals for the final NFC wild card spot.

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has struggled for so much of this season, had an outstanding game, completing 19 of 28 passes for 275 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions. He seemed very comfortable spreading the ball around to Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and new arrival Michael Crabtree, who looked good in his first game of the season after tearing his Achilles tendon in the offseason. Crabtree had two catches for 68 yards.

The Rams, on the other hand, were a mess. Their secondary couldn’t cover anyone, and quarterback Kellen Clemens couldn’t get anything going offensively. St. Louis has played good football at times recently, but this loss was a very disappointing performance.

There was one down note for San Francisco, as All-Pro left tackle Joe Staley left the game with a knee injury. If that injury is severe, Staley would be a huge loss. But as the 49ers prepare to host the Seahawks next week, they have to like how they’re playing to start December. And they have to feel good about their chances of playing well into January.

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Odell Beckham tweaked hamstring on Tuesday

Odell Beckham AP

The Giants had a few players forced out of practice on Tuesday because of injuries or difficulties dealing with heat, including first-round pick Odell Beckham.

The wide receiver pulled up while running a pattern and grabbed his hamstring before going to the sideline for treatment. On Wednesday, General Manager Jerry Reese said, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, that Beckham tweaked the muscle. Reese didn’t offer any update on what Beckham might do in practice on Wednesday or any other day.

It’s not the first time Beckham has battled hamstring trouble in his brief Giants career. He dealt with it during the team’s spring work as well and said before Tuesday’s work that he wasn’t sure if it was 100 percent recovered.

Hamstring injuries have a tendency to linger if not given sufficient time to heal so the Giants may dial things back with Beckham in the near future to be sure that he’s in peak condition when he returns to the field. After all, having a speedy new receiver in your offense doesn’t do a lot of good if you can’t use him because he’s got a bad wheel.

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Browns agree with Justin Gilbert, leaving one unsigned

justin gilbert AP

And then there was one.

According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, the Browns agreed to their deal with first-rounder Justin Gilbert today, getting the cornerback under contract before camp opens.

That leaves just Titans first-rounder Taylor Lewan as the only unsigned pick league-wide.

There used to be dozens of these to worry about this week, but the slotted rookie contracts of the new CBA had all but a handful done before July.

It’s no surprise Lewan is the last man standing, as Titans first-rounder Chance Warmack was the last first-rounder to sign last year.

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Jets place Willie Colon and Antwan Barnes on PUP

New York Jets v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Now we know part of the reason the Jets signed Jason Babin earlier today.

The Jets announced that they were placing linebacker Antwan Barnes and veteran guard Willie Colon on the physically unable to perform list to open training camp, in addition to the signing of the veteran pass-rusher.

Barnes is coming off some knee problems, so the addition of Babin gives them some experienced depth to get them through camp. Colon is dealing with knee and biceps injuries.

The Jets also released cornerback Lowell Rose to create the roster spot for Babin.

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Washington dismisses name opposition from George Preston Marshall’s granddaughter

Marshall Getty Images

When they first emerged in Leesburg Today last week, comments from Jordan Wright about the name of the Washington NFL franchise got some attention, given that she’s the granddaughter of George Preston Marshall.  But her opinion didn’t move the needle very much.  After all, only so many stories can be written about specific people who think the team owned by Daniel Snyder should change its name; as time goes by and as more and more offer their views, the bar gets higher and higher.

We opted not to write a story about Jordan Wright’s opinion, relegating the subject to one-liner status.  But the matter has now migrated to the pages of the Washington Post, fueled by the team’s decision to respond to the comments from the daughter of the child of the man who applied the name to the team more than 80 years ago.

“We are aware that Jordan Wright has recently changed her long-held position on the Redskins name,” team P.R. spokesman Tony Wyllie told the Post.  “However, we do know from her bio that she has been paid by the newspaper Indian Country Today, which is owned and operated by the Oneida tribe, the most vocal critics of the Redskins name.  So her change of heart is consistent with her employment choices.”

There’s a certain irony that undoubtedly applies to Wyllie’s belief that beliefs can be so easily bought.  How many employees of the team, including perhaps Wyllie himself, are saying what needs to be said in order to ensure that checks signed by Daniel M. Syder, Millionaire will continue to be deposited into their accounts?  If the team thinks “employment choices” directly influence opinions, it’s fair to wonder how many people who have chosen to work for Snyder are muzzling any disagreement with the name in order to continue to be employed.

The team surely wouldn’t expect Wright to admit that her “employment choices” are influencing her opinion.  In turn, I don’t expect Wyllie or anyone else who works for Snyder to do the same thing.

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Alex Boone will hold out from 49ers camp

Alex Boone AP

Vernon Davis reported to 49ers training camp. Teammate Alex Boone will not.

Boone is holding out from 49ers camp, as expected. The 27-year-old Boone has two years left on his contract, with base salaries of $2 million in 2014 and $1.2 million in 2015, and he believes he deserves significantly more than that.

The question is whether the 49ers are willing to give him more than that. They may think they have the leverage because Boone has two years left in his deal and they can fine him $30,000 a day for every day he misses, and they may also think that giving him a pay raise would be rewarding a holdout.

Boone has started all 16 games in each of the last two seasons, and he’s an important part of the 49ers’ offense. By holding out, he’s betting that the 49ers will decide he’s too important to be without, and will give him a raise to get him back in the fold.

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Hernandez’s first murder trial moved to January

Aaron Hernandez AP

Whenever a headline about a guy’s upcoming murder trial contains the term “first,” that’s not good.

For former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, the first of two murder trial has been moved from October 2014 to January 2015.  Specifically, jury selection begins on January 3, and the trial starts on January 9.

Whenever the trial begins (and it could be delayed one or more additional times), Hernandez will face the accusation that he killed Odin Lloyd in June 2013.

Hernandez’s second murder trial, which accuses him of killing Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, is scheduled to begin on May 28, 2015.  That date also is tentative.

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Vernon Davis still wants a new deal

Vernon Davis AP

After skipping the offseason program, losing a $200,00 workout bonus and subjecting himself to up to $70,000 in fines for skipping a mandatory minicamp, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis decided to stop the financial bleeding by showing up for training camp.

Per a league source, his decision to show up for training camp was influenced by multiple factors, including but not limited to $30,000 per day in fines and, after five days, partial signing bonus forfeiture.

The source says Davis still wants a new contract, and he’s “definitely” not OK with proceeding absent a raise.  The team reportedly won’t negotiate with players who are holding out.

It’s possible one specific type of negotiation already has occurred.  It’s common for teams to waive fines when a holdout ends, and it’s just as common for no one to talk about it.  It’s a point Hines Ward recently made on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk, regarding his own 2005 holdout, which lasted until the middle of August.

As to Davis, no one is saying anything.  And perhaps all that that implies.

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Redskins will put Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen on PUP

Jim Haslett, Jason Hatcher AP

The Redskins are going to be short on defensive linemen when they open camp tomorrow.

According to ESPN 980 (via, defensive ends Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen will be placed on the physically unable to perform list to open camp.

Hatcher had an arthroscopic procedure after minicamp, and is in the middle of the four- to six-week recovery time.

Bowen, however, is coming off microfracture surgery, which makes his return harder to figure.

Hatcher signed a deal with $10.5 million guaranteed to come over from Dallas this offseason.

That will stretch a defensive line that was already old, with most of its key contributors over 30.


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Five questions: New York Giants

Eli Manning,  Tom Coughlin AP

In four of the last five years, the Giants haven’t qualified for the playoffs.  A championship win during that lone postseason appearance takes some of the sting out of it, but Lombardi Trophies cam lose their luster pretty quickly.

With two straight subpar seasons since the most recent Super Bowl victory, the Giants could be teetering toward significant change if they go three years without a playoff appearance for the first time since 1994 through 1996.  Which could be good news; the last two times coach Tom Coughlin was clearly on the hot seat, he took the team to the top of the mountain.

Here are five questions for the team unrelated to the coach’s potentially tenuous job status.

1.  Which Eli Manning will show up?

The Giants quarterback recently admitted that he’s a “little nervous” in the team’s new offense.  He should be.

Whatever the offense, Eli Manning’s career has arrived at an unexpected crossroads, at the age of 33 and with a pair of Super Bowl pelts on his wall.  Wrapped around that second NFL title are four failed seasons, with 2013 featuring a career-high 27 interceptions.

Eli’s older brother has a reputation for performing incredibly well during the regular season and then failing to meet expectations in the playoffs.  Eli has a knack for thriving in the postseason, but not being able to get there often enough.

After the second championship, Eli had seemed to be a lock for the Hall of Fame.  Now, his candidacy depends on what happens over the balance of his career.  Starting now, in a new offense with plenty of jobs riding on Eli’s ability to thrive in it.

If he’s only a “little nervous,” he’s not nearly nervous enough.

2.  Can the offensive line get the job done?

The Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl run was fueled by great performances from both the offensive and defensive lines.  Last year, the offensive line wasn’t great.  This year, with the retirements of David Diehl and Chris Snee, the offensive line could be even worse.

The primary goal of training camp and the preseason will be to find the best combination of five starters and hope they can find a way to stay healthy.  A good offensive line works in seamless harmony, opening running lanes and keeping the quarterback from getting hurried, hit, and/or sacked.

The offensive live never gets enough credit when things go well, balanced by never getting enough blame when things don’t.  Things need to go well for the offensive line this year, or plenty of offensive linemen and other employees could be going away.

3.  What happened to the pass rush?

In 2007, the Giants figured out how to beat the Patriots and Tom Brady.  Specifically by knocking him down early and making him worried about getting knocked down for the rest of the game.

Four years later, the Giants showed that they still knew that the best way to win on a big stage is to throw the opposing quarterback off it.

Three years after the fact, who’s left?  Michael Strahan gets his ugly mustard jacket in less than two weeks, Osi Umenyiora can soon be seen on Hard Knocks as a member of the Falcons, and Justin Tuck has taken his 11.0 sacks to Oakland after allegedly being lowballed by the Giants.

Mathias Kiwakuna and his six sacks and restructured deal that has left him with a stick in a place where sticks don’t normally go is back, and the team hopes that the once-promising Jason Pierre-Paul can improve on his paltry sum of two sacks in 2013.  With Pierre-Paul in a contract year, he has plenty of millions of reasons to get back to being the guy who had 16.5 sacks in 2011.

4.  Who plays tight end?

Maybe Pierre-Paul should ask to play offense.  He’d have a good chance to play tight end.  Possibly as the starter.

Look at the depth chart.  The five tight ends currently on the roster are Kellen Davis, Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, Adrien Robinson, and Xavier Grimble, who sounds like the antagonist in a Dickens novel.  That quintet combined for six total NFL catches last year.

It’s hard not to imagine the Giants making moves at the position, even if they merely pounce on a tight end cut by another team.  Or, ideally, if Jermichael Finley is cleared by the Giants and decides to keep playing football.

5.  Will they be able to run the ball?

Speaking of guys with neck injuries whose futures were in doubt, running back David Wilson has been cleared to play.  The next question becomes whether Wilson, a first-round pick in 2012, can get back to the top of the depth chart, or whether he’ll play second fiddle to newcomer Rashad Jennings, whom G.M. Jerry Reese has called a “bell cow” type.

Former Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis is also on the roster, and it remains to be seen whether former Packers assistant Ben McAdoo will play the hot hand or use a revolving door at tailback.

Whoever gets the ball needs to do something with it, which could be difficult if the offensive line and/or Eli Manning don’t play well.  But that could be the key to opening up the passing game.  Which will take a lot of pressure off the defense.

Which will make the team better.  Which could keep Tom Coughlin around for at least another year.

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Mike Pouncey now expected to miss two months of season

Miami Dolphins Training Camp Getty Images

Despite some early optimism, it looks like Dolphins center Mike Pouncey’s absence will be a lengthy one.

According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Pouncey is now expected to need four months to recover from his June hip surgery, which would extend his rehab into late October.

“Eight weeks is probably what we’re looking at,” a source said of the time Pouncey was expected to miss.

The Dolphins have an early bye week, so he might just miss seven games if that timetable holds up.

The Dolphins open camp Friday, and Pouncey will be placed on the physically unable to perform list at that time. The more interesting call will come at roster cuts. They can save a roster spot by using the regular season PUP designation, which would mean he’d miss at least six games.

The Dolphins had plenty of upheaval anyway, with an overhaul of their offensive line at every other spot. Now, they’re looking for a center for the first few months.

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Jets agree to terms with Jason Babin

Jason Babin, Paul Posluszny, C.J. Mosley AP

The Jets are adding a veteran pass rusher to Rex Ryan’s defense.

Jason Babin, the 34-year-old defensive end who visited the Jets this week, has agreed to terms. Babin’s agents announced the deal on Twitter.

Babin started all 16 games for the Jaguars last year and recorded 7.5 sacks. That was his highest total since 2011, when he had a phenomenal season in Philadelphia and finished with 18 sacks for the Eagles.

Babin was a first-round draft pick of the Texans in 2004 and has also played for the Seahawks, Chiefs and Titans. Although he’s not the All-Pro caliber player he was a few years ago, he’ll provide some solid depth as a situational pass rusher for the Jets.

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Vernon Davis reports to 49ers training camp

Britain 49ers Football AP

The question has now been answered.

Vernon Davis is reporting to 49ers training camp after all.

The news was broken by teammate C.J. Spillman, who posted a video on Instagram of Davis in the locker room. He’s even greeted by teammates teasing him for making a “cameo appearance.”

The Pro Bowl tight end has been clear in his desire for a new contract, and the 49ers have been equally clear about not negotiating with anyone who isn’t there.

So while Joe Staley showed up and got paid, Davis and Alex Boone got nowhere (so far) by staying away.

Plus, a camp holdout costs $30,000 a day and the team can go after any previously paid signing bonuses, making it an expensive decision.

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Heat sends pair of Bills to the hospital

bilde Getty Images

Nearly 13 years ago, Korey Stringer died from the heat at Vikings training camp.  Since then, the NFL and NFLPA have become more and more careful about exposing players to unsafe temperatures.  (Highs, not lows.  Yet.)

And so it’s a surprise, to say the least, to see that a pair of Bills players ended up in the hospital due to the heat.

Via Mike Rodak of, tight end Chris Gragg and fullback Evan Rodriguez weren’t at practice on Wednesday due to heat-related illness.  Both went to the hospital, and Gragg (as of Rodak’s last tweet) remains there.

It’s a problem most thought had been conclusively solved in the aftermath of Stringer’s passing.  And while it’s not entirely out of the ordinary for a player here or there to experience health-related consequences to practicing in the heat, a pair of hospitalized NFL athletes becomes a red flag that both the league and the union should immediately explore.

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Race car delivers a healthy Reggie Wayne to Colts camp

Reggie Wayne AP

Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne has been waiting quite a while to get back on the football field after tearing his ACL last season, so it is understandable that he wanted the first day of training camp to get here as soon as possible.

And it’s just as understandable that he wouldn’t want to waste a minute commuting when that day arrived on Wednesday. The Colts shared a video of Wayne making his first appearance of the summer as a passenger in an Indy Car driven by race car driver Ed Carpenter.

Wayne was wearing a modified Colts helmet during his ride to camp, but he’ll be trading it in for the more traditional headgear. The team also announced that Wayne has been cleared to take part in practice and continue preparing to make his game return in the first week of the regular season.

Running back Vick Ballard also has the green light in his return from an ACL injury, giving the Colts back two key members of the offense who were absent as the team won the AFC South and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. With tight end Dwayne Allen also back and Hakeem Nicks joining the club, the Indy offense is primed for another strong season.

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Dungy discusses his Michael Sam comments

images Getty Images

On Monday, the Tampa Tribune published 38 words from Tony Dungy regarding whether he’d draft Michael Sam.  On Tuesday, Dungy issued a statement clarifying his thoughts on the issue.

On Wednesday, Dungy talked at length about the situation on The Dan Patrick Show.

Dungy reiterated, as explained in his statement, that the comments were made in the aftermath of the draft, when it became known for the first time that Sam was planning to turn his experiences into a TV series.

“I think the actual first quotes were from an interview with a gentlemen at the Tampa Tribune right after the draft,” Dungy said.  “We were talking about draft and distractions and it was when the Oprah Winfrey show was talking about doing a reality show on Michael Sam and that’s when the discussion came out about distractions as related to draft choices. . . .  We were talking about the show, and I think that was something people didn’t anticipate.  And those things were going to happen and are going to happen, and that’s what I was discussing and what we’re talking about.”

Dungy compared the Sam situation to the controversy surrounding former Dolphins (current 49ers) tackle Jonathan Martin, who quit the team after being bullied.  Both bring a distraction of some type to an NFL locker room.  The question is whether either are good enough from a talent standpoint to overcome those non-football issues.

“I talked to some General Managers,” Dungy said regarding work that was done during the 2013 football season, “and they said that Jonathan definitely has the talent to play in the league, but would they want the distraction of everybody’s following the story, and people asking their players over and over, ‘How are things are going?’, ‘What’s going on with Jonathan?’, ‘Who’s saying what to him?’  And because of the fact that they didn’t view him as a difference maker, they probably wouldn’t want the distractions.  And I guess that’s my point in the whole thing.  If we substitute Jonathan Martin for Michael Sam and have the same quotes and the same comments, nobody’s gonna replay those quotes two months and three months later, and try to say that there’s any more to it than what was actually said.”

Dan asked Dungy about his position on the distractions created by Sam and the distractions created by signing Mike Vick after he spent time in prison for dogfighting, a common comparison that has been made in the aftermath of Dungy’s remarks.

“People have to make their own decisions, and a lot of people made decisions that they didn’t want to accept that,” Dungy said regarding Vick.  “And if Philadelphia said that same thing to Michael, I don’t think he could be mad, I couldn’t be mad.  That’s a decision that they make for their team, and I’m sure they had discussions about it.  And that was my only point, that those things are discussed.  And people asked my personal opinion, and I gave the gentleman my opinion.  But it wasn’t anything to attack Michael Sam or it wasn’t to come out the day before they report to camp and say he shouldn’t be there.  I don’t believe that at all.  I do believe he should be there, and I’m glad he is.”

Dungy said he was caught off guard by the timing of the publication of his past comments.

“I was very surprised, because as I say I’ve been out here in Oregon six or seven weeks and haven’t heard anything about it and hadn’t talked to anybody in the media in two months, so I was shocked when I read Mike Florio’s [website] and that was the headline, ‘Tony Dungy wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam.’  And I know a lot of people are trying to make this about my Christian faith, and that’s not something I’m going to back down from ever.  And I do have my Christian beliefs.

“But I think people should recognize that when you go into coaching, you have a responsibility to deliver a good football team to your owner, so you’re going to do everything you can to do that.  So I would not, and I’ve said that many times and been on record when asked about Michael Sam specifically.  No, I wouldn’t have a problem coaching him and I would not have a problem [with] him being on the team, and you make those decisions based on what people bring to the table athletically, and what they can do to make your team better.”

Dan asked about whether Dungy’s Christian beliefs come into play.

“I think it always does,” Dungy said.  “And I think that’s part of walking as a Christian, and I accept that part of it.  People are always going to have their views, I don’t expect everybody to agree with me.  But I don’t think people should expect me to back down on my views about faith.  But again, this was not a discussion about that.  This was a discussion about a particular situation at a particular time and a particular player.  And I think for people to take it into, ‘Well, this means he hates this group of people’ or ‘He wouldn’t do this,’ those are things I’ve been reading in the past day that really surprised me.”

Dungy takes issue with the idea that his position on Sam arises from Dungy’s views on homosexuality or gay marriage, as advanced by Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.

“Gay marriage and who should be on a football team have nothing to do with each other,” Dungy said.  “Bob Kravitz . . . knows the type of locker room that we had, the type of players.  Not everybody on that team was a Christian, not everybody believed the same things I did.  Not everybody had the same political views.  And that’s fine.  That’s good.  That’s what a football locker room is all about.  But to equate this to gay marriage to me is really silly.”

Dan also asked Dungy whether he plans to reach out to Sam.

“I hadn’t thought about it, but I think it might be a good idea I’ve love to do that, and hopefully I get the chance,” Dungy said.  “I would want to wish him the best and let him know I have no bitterness or animosity toward him.  Even though I don’t agree with his lifestyle, I love him.  And I wish him the best, and I’d love to say that to him.”

Chances are that discussion will happen sooner than later.  Whenever it occurs, the debate regarding what Dungy said and what he meant will linger, with some being fair about the assessment of Dungy’s words and some being unfair about it.  Which is pretty much how it works on any subject that is even remotely controversial.

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