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Josh McCown understands role is to help Jay Cutler keep job

Josh McCown, Brandon Marshall AP

It had all the makings of becoming a full-bore controversy.

But other than Jay Cutler saying there’s no debate about who the starting quarterback is, the biggest help toward that end might be coming from the backup.

It’s not that Josh McCown hasn’t played well, he has. But the veteran human being has said from the start that he understood his place with the Bears, and that has kept some of the flap to a minimum.

“You want guys on your team that want to be on the field,” McCown said, via Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. “But also, you want guys on your team that know their roles and understand that. And so for me, I understand my role on this team. It’s the backup quarterback. So, that being said, if Jay is healthy, he’s ready to go. I’ll support him and help him as much as I can.”

That help extended to spending Wednesday night at Cutler’s house, helping him go over the game plan for Sunday’s game against the Browns, getting him ready to take the job back which McCown had performed so admirably in.

“He’s been probably Jay’s biggest support in this process,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “No doubt.”

“I don’t look at it as trying to take a leadership role,” McCown said. “I just look at it as trying to serve my team. If all 53 guys approach this as trying to serve your team, good things will come out of it. For me, that’s it.”

Good things have come out of McCown already. The Bears have flopped magnificently without Cutler in the past, but McCown was able to help them win three of the five games the starter missed (with a 109.8 passer rating and 13 touchdowns). But the humility and team-first attitude he’s showing while losing his job might be the thing that helps the Bears the most.

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Report: Chris Polian interviews with Eagles for second time

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

The Eagles have opened the offseason by making a change to the structure of their organization with Howie Roseman’s title changing from General Manager to executive vice president of football operations and coach Chip Kelly taking on a bigger role in player personnel matters.

The team has been looking for another personnel executive to take on some of the General Manager duties while working under Kelly and that search reportedly took a step forward recently. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Jaguars director of pro personnel Chris Polian interviewed with the Eagles for a second time.

Polian appears to be the first candidate to get a second opportunity to talk to the Eagles, who have seen other candidates blocked by their current teams or other ambitions as they try to find the right person to slot into their reworked front office.

Polian has spent the last two years working with the Jaguars and was the Colts’ General Manager from 2009-2011, although the presence of his father Bill at the top of the organization made that job look similar to the one he’d fill with the Eagles if he winds up in Philly.

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Dick LeBeau won’t be joining Cardinals staff after all

Dick LeBeau AP

The Cardinals still don’t have a defensive coordinator, and they apparently won’t be adding one of the best at that job of all time.

According to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, longtime Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau won’t be taking a job on Bruce Arians’ staff.

Arians was expected to fill the coordinator job vacated by Todd Bowles from within his current staff, but he was hoping to add LeBeau as a senior assistant to lend some gravity to the group.

They’ve also shown some interest in Falcons coordinator Mike Nolan, and he’d fit the general criteria established by their pursuit of LeBeau, if not to the same degree.

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Josh Gordon tests positive for alcohol, faces one-year ban

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon faces yet another NFL suspension.

PFT’s Mike Florio has confirmed Gordon is in line for a one-year ban for a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

A source tells Florio that Gordon tested positive for alcohol. Moreover, a source tells Florio that Gordon’s suspension looks to be a “done deal,” with a reversal of the ban not expected. As Florio notes, Gordon is subject to alcohol testing because of his July 2014 DWI arrest.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported Gordon was set to draw a one-year ban from the league.

If Gordon’s suspension sticks, it’s a major setback for a wonderfully talented player who has already lost 13 games to league- and team-levied suspensions in his NFL career.

Furthermore, the news of Gordon’s potential ban throws his future with the Browns into doubt. At season’s end, coach Mike Pettine said the receiver was “squarely at a crossroads with us.”

The 23-year-old Gordon was suspended for the first 10 games of the 2014 regular season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. After returning to the lineup, he did not recapture his best form, catching just 24 passes for 303 yards in five games. Making matters worse, Gordon was suspended for the Browns’ season finale at Baltimore for a violation of team rules.

Fifty-two Sundays ago, Gordon was playing the Pro Bowl, the coda to a spectacular second NFL season, one that saw him catch 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in just 14 games.

One year later, it’s fair to wonder whether Gordon’s Cleveland career will soon be over. What’s more, his NFL future is in some question, as he will have to gain reinstatement if banished by the league.

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NFL bears plenty of blame for #DeflateGate

2011 NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

At this point, it’s unclear whether the NFL will find any evidence to support the suspicion that someone from the Patriots deliberately caused footballs to lose air pressure.  If the NFL fails to find a proverbial smoking gun, that alone could become a different kind of smoking gun.

Even if (and at this point it could be a big if) the league finds proof of foul play, was it really worth it?  The NFL has tarnished its own shield by painting a Super Bowl participant as a cheater without clear evidence of cheating.  As noted on Friday, some believe that former Commissioners (such as Paul Tagliabue) would have addressed complaints coming from teams like the Colts regarding underinflated footballs not by trying to lay a trap for the Patriots, but by letting the Patriots know that the league office is paying attention to the situation, and that if there’s any funny business happening it needs to stop, now.  Instead, the league office opted to try to catch the Patriots red handed.

But what has the NFL really found?  As one league source has explained it to PFT, the football intercepted by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was roughly two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum.  The other 10 balls that reportedly were two pounds under may have been, as the source explained it, closer to one pound below 12.5 PSI.

The NFL has yet to share specific information regarding the PSI measurements of the balls that were confiscated and measured at halftime.  Which has allowed the perception of cheating to linger, fueled by the confirmation from Friday that the NFL found underinflated balls, but that the NFL still doesn’t know how they came to be that way.

“The goals of the investigation will be to determine the explanation for why footballs used in the game were not in compliance with the playing rules and specifically whether any noncompliance was the result of deliberate action,” the league said. “We have not made any judgments on these points and will not do so until we have concluded our investigation and considered all of the relevant evidence.”

Regardless of how hard or easy it could be or should be to get to the truth, the NFL owes it to the Patriots and the league to get there, quickly.  Instead, the premier American sporting event apparently will be played under a dark cloud, and anything other than an eventual finding of cheating will seem anticlimactic and contrived.  Even if the conclusion is regarded as legitimate, it won’t undo the damage that the Patriots and the NFL will have suffered during this bizarre period of pending allegations that have not yet been proven.

So at a time when the league office is still reeling from an insufficient investigation in the Ray Rice case, the league office now faces even more criticism for a clumsy sting operation that possibly will end up being a swing and a miss.  Surely, much of that criticism will be directed privately at the league office from the Patriots.

Complicating matters for the NFL is that the bat initially was swung by Mike Kensil, a former employee of the Jets with a reputation among the Patriots for being an agitator. (Kensil’s father, Jim, served as president of the Jets for 10 years from the late 1970s to the late 1980s.)  And so on the same day that the tampering charges filed by the Patriots against the Jets over Darrelle Revis became the latest chapter in a longstanding feud between the franchises, the tentacles of acrimony between the two franchises found a way to erupt into a brouhaha unlike many the NFL ever has seen.

The NFL never should have let this specific situation get to that point.  Even if the league deemed it proper to lay a trap, they should have realized the challenges of actually making a trap work.  In this case, it appears that they didn’t.

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Akeem Ayers: Titans did me a favor trading me to Patriots

Rob Ninkovich, Akeem Ayers AP

Akeem Ayers is in the Super Bowl because he was traded from the Titans to the Patriots during the 2014 season. He’s thankful for that.

Ayers said he appreciates the Titans for getting rid of him and getting him to a place where he could succeed.

“They made a decision that they felt like they needed to make,” Ayers said, via the Providence Journal. “I don’t have any hard feelings. I just took it as motivation and especially being here on this team, I feel like they did me a favor, honestly. I really don’t have any hard feelings for them. I have a lot of close friends on the team and I still talk to them. It’s nothing personal. I came here and I did a good job here and we’re going to the Super Bowl.”

Ayers barely got on the field for the Titans during the first half of the season, but he was a key contributor to the Patriots’ defense during the second half of the season. The Titans didn’t just do Ayers a favor. They did the Patriots a favor as well.

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Report: Raheem Morris expected to be Falcons defensive coordinator

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Falcons are believed to be waiting for the Seahawks to finish the Super Bowl so that they can go ahead and hire Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as their next head coach, but that hasn’t stopped them from moving forward with other coaching moves.

They’ve decided on Kyle Shanahan as their next offensive coordinator and they may be moving forward with his defensive counterpart as well. Mike Jones of the Washington Post reports that the Falcons have set up an interview with Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and that the expectation is that Morris will take the position.

Morris interviewed for the coordinator job in Washington as well as the one with the Giants, but both teams went in other directions with their ultimate hire. Morris has never been a coordinator at the pro level, although working under Quinn wouldn’t be quite a full coordinator role because Quinn is expected to still call the defensive plays.

Morris played for Hofstra when Quinn was an assistant and then joined him on the coaching staff at the Long Island school before both men moved on for other jobs. Morris and Shanahan were both on the same Washington staff in 2012 and 2013.

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Bears hire another former Broncos assistant

John Fox AP

John Fox brought offensive coordinator Adam Gase with him from Denver to Chicago and now the team has added another member of the 2014 Broncos offensive coaching staff to the ranks.

The Bears announced that they have hired Bo Hardegree as an offensive assistant. Hardegree was an offensive quality control coach in Denver in 2014, his first year as an NFL assistant.

Before making the move to Denver, Hardegree spent three years as a coaching intern on both sides of the ball at LSU. He was a graduate assistant at Duke for three years before that and played quarterback as well as tennis at the University of Tennessee during his collegiate career.

Hardegree joins Gase, special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, offensive line coach Dave Magazu and two others as assistants following Fox to Chicago for the 2015 season.

 

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Justin Forsett: The plan is to return to the Ravens

Divisional Playoffs - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Getty Images

Running back Justin Forsett is preparing to play in the Pro Bowl on Sunday night and would rank high on the list of participants that no one would have thought would be in the game if they’d voted at the start of the season.

After leading the league in rushing yards per attempt, though, Forsett was a good choice for the game and the last act of his breakout season will come before he turns his full attention to figuring out where he’ll play next year. Forsett is set to be a free agent and said recently that he’d like to exit the “friend zone” of short stays and have a long-term relationship with a team.

At the Pro Bowl this week, he said his plan is to have the Ravens be that team.

“That is the plan, they gave me my shot, they trusted me and believed in me enough to give me that shot so I’d like to stay,” Forsett said, via NFL.com. “They expressed that they want me back. I want to be back, so we’ll see what happens.”

The Ravens switched offensive coordinators with Gary Kubiak leaving for the Broncos head coaching job, but new coordinator Marc Trestman said he plans to keep the zone blocking scheme that helped spring Forsett in place for 2015. That would seem to help Forsett’s chances of sticking around, although, as always, the money will wind up determining where Forsett hangs his hat.

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Jets making a couple of hires in personnel department

New York Jets Introduce General Manager Mike Maccagnan and Head Coach Todd Bowles Getty Images

The Jets said goodbye to Rex Ryan at the end of the regular season, but they’ll have another Rex in the organization for the 2015 season.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that the team will hire Rex Hogan to be their director of college scouting. Hogan was a national scout for the Bears in recent years and had worked for the organization since 2004 before being let out of his contract to make the move to the Jets.

Breer also reports that the team will be bringing Brian Heimerdinger on board in a “prominent role” in the front office. Heimerdinger has worked for the Rams for the last few years and is the son of the late Mike Heimerdinger, who spent a year as the Jets’ offensive coordinator when Herman Edwards was the team’s head coach.

Heimerdinger broke into the NFL as an intern with the Texans when new Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan worked in Houston. The two hires come after the Jets parted ways with personnel execs Terry Bradway and Jeff Bauer in moves that started the remodeling of the front office under the new boss.

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Bill Nye says Bill Belichick made no sense

Nye Getty Images

We’ll be posting the entire transcript of Bill Belichick’s Saturday press conference so that anyone interested in reading the whole thing can review it, process it, understand it.  One fairly famous scientist who presumably listened to the entire press conference and/or read the transcript already has issued a verdict.

Bill Nye, a mechanical engineer who worked at Boeing before becoming TV’s “Bill Nye The Science Guy,” appeared on Sunday’s Good Morning America to say Belichick’s explanation “doesn’t make any sense.”

Another group based in Pittsburgh that includes brainiacs from Carnegie Mellon (somehow, I was admitted there and graduated with a degree a metallurgical engineering and materials sciences and a degree in engineering and public policy) claims that the conditions of the AFC title game would have caused a significant drop in air pressure.

“We took 12 brand new authentic NFL footballs and exposed them to the different elements they would have experienced throughout the game.” said Thomas Healy, founder of HeadSmart Labs and a masters student in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon.  “Out of the twelve footballs we tested, we found that on average, footballs dropped 1.8 PSI when being exposed to dropping temperatures and wet conditions.”

As explained by the group that conducted the simulation:  “During testing, twelve brand new footballs were inflated to 12.5 PSI in a 75 degree Fahrenheit room.  This was to imitate the indoor conditions where the referees would have tested the footballs 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff.  The footballs were then moved to a 50 degree Fahrenheit environment to simulate the temperatures that were experienced throughout the game.  In addition, the footballs were dampened to replicate the rainy conditions.”

It’s unclear whether the footballs were placed in a wet, 50-degree environment immediately after testing for a full 135 minutes before kickoff or whether they waited until just before kickoff to move the footballs to the simulated game conditions.  It’s also unclear whether the various balls were exposed to the same external forces to which a dozen footballs used by an NFL offense would be exposed when rotated through the first half of a game.  It’s also unclear whether re-testing of the footballs was done following the precise duration of the first half of the Colts-Patriots game.

Precision is critical for any scientific experiment.  For example, the official kickoff temperature in Foxboro on Sunday was 51 degrees, not 50.  To fully simulate the conditions, the test should have occurred at 51 degrees.  Also, room temperature typically is 72 degrees, not 75.  That results in a four-degree variance, which surely had an impact on the ultimate findings, since pressure and temperature are directly related.

Overlooked by the CMU folks (and Belichick, and others) was the reported ability of the Colts’ footballs to remain within the accepted range of 12.5 to 13.5 PSI after the same duration of exposure to the same elements and conditions.  If, on average, the footballs tested at a starting PSI lost 1.8 pounds on average (i.e., 14.4 percent of their air pressure), footballs pumped even to the maximum of 13.5 PSI would have lost 1.94 PSI on average, taking them to 11.56, nearly a full bound below the minimum limit.

Look for more scientists in the coming days to emerge from their labs with more experiments and more explanations.  Ultimately, the NFL will need to offer a convincing explanation for whatever it was that caused the NFL to hire the guy who performed the Dolphins bullying investigation to get to the bottom of why the Patriots footballs were not within the required specifications.

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Hue Jackson thought he was “right fit” for Bills head coach

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has a year of head coaching experience with the Raiders and got a chance to interview for another shot at a top job in Buffalo this year.

The Bills opted to hire Rex Ryan instead of Jackson, but Jackson left his interview feeling like he was a good fit for what the Bills were looking for in a successor to Doug Marrone.

“I thought it was the right fit, the right situation. I had a good working knowledge of what they are trying to do, but, hey, it didn’t work out,” Jackson said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Everybody has aspirations, but it’s still got to be the right fit. It’s got to be the right situation. Every head coaching job in the National Football League might not be for me and I might not be for everybody. I think when it’s time it will happen. Until then, I have a really good offensive football team here that, if we can get some luck and stay healthy, we can be one of the better offenses.”

Making that happen will take a decrease in turnovers and a better passing attack, both of which have a lot to do with quarterback Andy Dalton showing improvement over his 2014 efforts. Should Jackson pull that off, his chances of returning to a head coaching role should get a big boost.

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Arizona braces for onslaught of Seahawks fans

Lynch Getty Images

No team has ever played in a Super Bowl hosted in its own stadium.  This season, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians repeatedly cajoled his players to ensure that no other team would be using their facility or dressing in their locker room for the championship game.

Not only did they fail to make it, but a division rival did.  Which means that the locally-despised Seahawks and their fans will be descending on the Phoenix area, hoping to become the first team in a decade to win back-to-back Lombardi Trophies.

Jack Broom of the Seattle Times recently explored the dynamic that has Arizonans torn between being good hosts and welcoming the enemy.  Four years ago in Dallas, there was a local sense of apathy because the Cowboys weren’t playing in the game.  In the Phoenix area, any apathy will be replaced by a passionate desire to see the Seahawks lose.

Three years ago, the thrilled-to-be-hosting-the-game citizens of Indianapolis endured a visit from one of the Colts’ interdivisional rivals, and ultimately got to witness the kid brother of their beloved quarterback take down the Patriots.  As rivalries go, however, this one is closer to the Rams playing in New Orleans in Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf to cap the final season in which the Saints and Rams played twice per year as members of the NFC West.  Or the Buccaneers and Raiders the following year, when San Diegoans got to see their enemies from Oakland obliterated by the Bucs.

The Cardinals-Seahawks rivalry is fairly new.  It’s the first time since Seattle and Arizona both joined the reconfigured NFC West in 2002 that the teams have been competitive at the same time.  But the intensity quickly has migrated toward Bears-Packers, Ravens-Steelers, and Cowboys-Rest-of-NFC-East proportions.

In seven days, it’s safe to say that many Cardinals fans will be pulling for the Patriots and hoping to witness the highest level of schadenfreude football can offer.  No one remembers the teams that don’t get to the Super Bowl; everyone remembers the team who loses it.

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Texans hire Paul Pasqualoni as defensive line coach

Paul Pasqualoni AP

The Texans lost a veteran assistant coach last week when defensive line coach Bill Kollar took a job with the Broncos.

They’ll replace him with another seasoned coach. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that Paul Pasqualoni will join Bill O’Brien’s staff as Kollar’s replacement.

Pasqualoni coached the Bears defensive linemen in 2014 and was the head coach at the University of Connecticut from 2011 to his midseason firing in 2013. Pasqualoni has also coached with the Dolphins and Cowboys and is best-known for his 14-year run as the head coach at Syracuse. Pasqualoni was 107-59-1 in that job.

He’ll have the benefit of working with defensive end J.J. Watt in his new job, although Pasqualoni and the rest of the team’s defensive coaching staff should find plenty to do with the non-MVP candidates that make up the rest of the unit.

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Brian Hoyer open to Browns return if he can compete for starting job

Connor Shaw, Austen Lane AP

When the Browns benched Brian Hoyer in favor of Johnny Manziel late in the regular season, it seemed as if they would be moving on from Hoyer when he became a free agent.

Manziel fizzled, though, and there’s nothing close to certainty that he’ll be the starter when the Browns take the field to start the 2015 season. As a result, Hoyer’s not closing the door on a return to the team. His agent Joe Linta said that he’s heard interest, but no numbers, from the Browns in a return and indicated his client has no hard feelings about how things played out in 2014. Linta also outlined the scenario that would keep Cleveland as an option for Hoyer.

“I think the only thing that would make him not [want to] come back is if they said Manziel or whoever we take in the draft or whoever we sign in free agency is going to be the starter and you will only be the backup,” Linta said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. “I think that would probably drive him away a little bit. If [coach Mike] Pettine said, ‘Hey, it’s going to be an open competition again between you and Johnny,’ great, let’s go. … [Hoyer] wants to play. The kid wants to have an opportunity to compete and play.”

Linta said Hoyer anticipates meeting with Pettine and others from the team soon to discuss their plans and that negotiations would pick up at next month’s scouting combine if everyone is on the same page.

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Sunday morning one-liners

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwqzztuwzmqzmtvlmtnkngexndu5odg3ndkwnjg3otmy AP

Bills DT Marcell Dareus paid a visit to Luke Air Force Base.

The wait for a wax likeness of former Dolphins QB Dan Marino has come to an end.

Patriots WR Matthew Slater is familiar with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll from his college days facing USC as a UCLA player.

The Jets signed T Sean Hooey to a future contract, making him the first acquisition since G.M. Mike Maccagnan came on the job.

The Ravens met with USC CB Josh Shaw during Senior Bowl week.

T Marshall Newhouse is one of the free agents the Bengals will consider re-signing this offseason.

Eight reasons why Browns T Joe Thomas has been a fixture at the Pro Bowl.

Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler has waited a long time for his opportunity.

Texans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick helped a high school student with a project.

Colts CB Vontae Davis feels all “grown up” as he prepares for his first Pro Bowl.

QB Blake Bortles and Jaguars receivers will hold a passing camp before the start of offseason work.

Former Titans RB Eddie George has transitioned well from the football world to the business world.

Making the Hall of Fame case for former Broncos RB Terrell Davis.

A look at the Chiefs offensive line heading into the offseason.

Former Raiders WR Tim Brown hopes the sixth time is the right time to make it into Hall of Fame.

Reminiscing about the Chargers’ trip to Super Bowl XXIX.

Assessing the chances that Cowboys TE Jason Witten can make it to the Hall of Fame.

The Giants have good memories of the last Super Bowl played in Arizona.

Eagles RB Darren Sproles feels validated by his Pro Bowl selection.

Which of their own free agents should the Redskins re-sign this offseason?

Bears QB Jay Cutler might have preferred facing a blitzing defense to being left alone with his kids.

Previewing free agent options on the offensive line for the Lions.

Grading the Packers Offense for the 2014 season.

Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman is showing patience building with youth.

The top five plays of the Falcons season as chosen by the Falcons.

Panthers TE Greg Olsen and LB Luke Kuechly will be on opposite sides in the Pro Bowl.

Reviewing Saints director of college scouting Jeff Ireland’s work with the Dolphins.

The Buccaneers website takes a look at some standout players from the Senior Bowl.

CB Justin Bethel wants to add more defensive work to his special teams duties with the Cardinals.

Said Rams DE Robert Quinn, “It’s a nice vacation, especially at this time of year. But I’m just proud to be here. To be voted to the Pro Bowl is a huge honor and a blessing. Being here and getting a chance to practice with and play against the best of the best, it’s something special.”

The 49ers offensive coordinator search will move on without Lane Kiffin.

Are this year’s Seahawks similar to the 2003 Patriots?

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