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Panthers improve to 10-4 by beating Jets

DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert AP

Ron Rivera’s gambling style backfired a bit, but the Panthers’ weak link bailed them out.

The Panthers improved to 10-4 by beating the Jets 30-20. Barring a miracle comeback by the Saints against the Rams, that moves the Panthers into a tie for the NFC South lead, with the Saints coming to Charlotte next weekend.

The Panthers followed a familiar formula for the win, stifling the Jets offense throughout the day. A secondary that was billed the “weak link” of their defense by Jets receiver Santonio Holmes came up big late, with cornerback Captain Munnerlyn clinching the game with an interception returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Holmes finished with two catches for 14 yards. While Holmes’ remark was factually correct, the Panthers were clearly motivated by the perceived slight.

Of course, the Panthers had likely done enough to put the Jets away prior to that. The only life the 6-8 Jets really showed was when they responded to a failed fourth down attempt by the Panthers with a long touchdown drive.

But the Panthers came up with a blocked punt which set up a Mike Tolbert touchdown, before Munnerlyn’s pick-six made it all but official.

Running back DeAngelo Williams had 168 combined yards (including a 74-yard receiving touchdown), leading a conservative, but effective attack.

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Pierre Garçon leaves practice after hamstring tweak

Pierre Garcon AP

During wide receiver Pierre Garçon’s first season with the Redskins, he missed time with a foot injury that hampered him even after he returned to the lineup in the second half of the season.

Garçon knows about the problems caused by lingering injuries as a result and he’s trying to make sure he doesn’t have to deal with another one this year. Garçon reached for his right hamstring after making a catch in practice on Monday and then went to the sideline for the remainder of the session. After it was over, Garçon told reporters that he wasn’t sure when he would return but that he felt sure it wasn’t a major injury.

“Just being smart. There’s no real need to keep playing through it right now, early in the season. Just got to be smart and get it healed up,” Garçon said, via CSNWashington.com.  “No need to really rush it, or trying put everything to the wall right now. It is the first week of training camp.”

The Redskins don’t practice on Tuesday, so Wednesday would be the earliest return date for Garçon. Given his value to the offense and experience, an extra day or two to make sure that all is well might not be a bad idea.

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Raiders G.M.: Khalil Mack is like Clay Matthews

Khalil Mack AP

It’s early, obviously. And it might be wishful thinking.

But the Raiders clearly have high expectations for first-rounder Khalil Mack.

According to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie is comparing his newest linebacker to one of the best pass-rushers in the game.

He’s reminded me of Clay Matthews from Day 1,” McKenzie said, referring to Clay III, the Packer, and not the long-time Browns linebacker. “He’s one of those guys that knows how to set the edge, and he has length and power and some tools to rush the passer.

“He’s got that first step, he can bend, he’s relentless.”

McKenize was working in Green Bay when the Packers drafted Matthews in the first round, and said that intensity is something they saw in Mack this year.

“That’s what Clay was, you don’t have tell him to go sic ‘em,” McKenzie said. “He just innately does that. Khalil is that same way.”

“It’s hard to find guys that are skillful that have that innate ability.”

If Mack has the same kind of instant impact (Matthews had 23.5 sacks his first two seasons, and 50.0 in five), the Raiders will be delighted. They out enough solid veterans into their defensive mix that adding that kind of spark could make them respectable quickly.

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Griffin says Titans are a “different team” now

Griffin Getty Images

After a failed 2013 season, Titans tight end Delanie Walker claimed that six or seven of his teammates were cancers, sparking a stream of reactions as people like coach Ken Whisenhunt said the concerns should have been kept in house, cornerback Jason McCourty and receiver Nate Washington said Walker should have called a team meeting, and now-former Titans running back Chris Johnson (who may have been one of the tumors to whom Walker was referring) said Walker should have named names.

Now, Titans safety Michael Griffin has voiced concerns similar to Walker’s, with slightly less inflammatory language — and slightly less flair than teammate Bernard Pollard, who has declared that the Titans “sucked butt” last year.

It’s a different team now,” Griffin said, via Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com.  “It’s a different team in the fact that it’s different all the way around.  You see this team in a positive direction, aimed in the right direction. The guys we’ve brought in the last two years, the coaching staff — all of this you can see where this team can go. . . .  It’s a different mood when you come here.  You’re just excited and ready to play football.  [Before] you just had a lot of guys that had other things on their minds.  Other things were more important.  They were just happy to be here rather than more happy to win football games. That being said, the guys who are here [now] want to play football.”

Griffin didn’t say who those guys with “other things on their minds” were or what those “other things” were.  But his views mesh with Walker’s, and it’s good news for a franchise that by all appearances has struggled to find its way since blowing the No. 1 seed via a division-round home loss to the Ravens in January 2009.  If Griffin is right, the Titans may be finding their way again.

It would help to find an answer at quarterback.

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Adrian Peterson may not play in the preseason

Adrian Peterson AP

On Monday, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson promised that the Vikings offense will be less predictable than it has been in the past few seasons.

Peterson said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune, that “you won’t be able to write” the same stories about the lack of versatility in the Vikings’ offense. Based on coach Mike Zimmer’s own comments Monday, the team won’t be providing many hints about Peterson’s role in the new scheme until the regular season.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Zimmer said there is “nothing to see” from Peterson in the preseason that the team needs to prepare for the season. Zimmer allowed that Peterson may make a cameo appearance if the running back feels it will benefit him to see action in a preseason game, but it doesn’t look like the coaching staff views it as any kind of a priority.

Whatever the Vikings offense winds up looking like this season, Peterson is going to be playing a major role in it. The injury risks involved with playing Peterson, then, are pretty great when the rewards for preseason reps are going to be low for a player of his stature. There are more rewards to be found in giving the rest of the offensive players work, though, and that sounds like the priority in Minnesota this summer.

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Looney becomes the wildcard in Alex Boone holdout

Looney Reuters

As the holdout of 49ers guard Alex Boone lingers, the team’s resolve or lack thereof will hinge on the performance of his replacement, Joe Looney.

So far, so good.  So the 49ers say.

Coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters on Sunday that Looney has had “some ‘wow’ moments” in practice.

“One in particular, I was like, ‘Wow.’  He pulled, he was on a track, he was square, he delivered a blow,” Harbaugh said.  “Good things.”

Boone’s ongoing no-show isn’t a good thing, but there’s no obvious middle ground for player and team.  The team wants Boone to show up before they’ll talk to him about a new contract.  He doesn’t want to show up until he gets the new contract.

A fourth-round pick in 2012, Looney is perhaps best known for a low hit in a preseason game last year on former Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams.  Looney claimed in the aftermath of the incident that he’s not a dirty player.

Now the 49ers need him to be a good player, clean or dirty or otherwise.

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Panthers optimistic about Kelvin Benjamin’s MRI

Kelvin Benjamin AP

Losing Kelvin Benjamin would be a potential disaster for the Panthers.

So the fact they’re not freaking out about his “precautionary MRI” is probably a good sign.

Benjamin was sent back to Charlotte for tests after banging knees with a teammate Sunday afternoon. He finished practice and signed autographs afterward, so there was no early sign of panic.

“It could just be one of those things where if he had iced it right away and not finished [Sunday’s] practice, maybe it would have been better,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, via Black and Blue Review. “If it’s negative we’ll just keep on rolling. I’m optimistic that is what it’s going to be.”

There’s also some video of Benjamin riding around campus on a comically small minibike (or maybe he’s just so big it looks like something a clown would ride in the circus).

“We want to be smart with it,” Rivera said. “He came in this morning and [head trainer Ryan Vermillion] just wanted to be careful with him.”

They need to be, since he’s got the most potential to become a big-play threat of any of the Panthers’ odd lot of receivers.

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Giants want Eli Manning to complete 70 percent of his passes

eli AP

The Giants are setting a high goal for Eli Manning’s completion percentage this season. A very high goal.

Giants quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf told reporters today that he wants Manning to reach a 70 percent completion rate this season.

Frankly, that’s preposterous. Manning completed just 57.5 percent of his passes last season, and his career completion percentage is 58.5 percent. The highest rate he’s ever had in any season was 2010, when he completed 62.9 percent of his passes. Unless the Giants are planning an offense that consists of nothing more than dump-offs to running backs, the idea that a career 58.5 percent passer is suddenly going to become a 70 percent passer is silly.

A 70 percent completion rate has only been reached five times in NFL history: Twice by Drew Brees and once each by Ken Anderson, Steve Young and Joe Montana. It’s less common than a 5,000-yard passing season or a 2,000-yard rushing season.

Maybe the Giants also have a goal for Rashad Jennings to rush for 2,000 yards this year. But that goal wouldn’t be any more unrealistic than Manning completing 70 percent of his passes.

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PFT Live: Jets talk with Manish Mehta, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Rex Ryan AP

PFT Live is back this Monday with your daily dose of football news and information and we’ll be kicking things off with a look at Jets training camp.

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News will join Mike Florio for a discussion of how things are shaping up for Rex Ryan’s sixth season as the team’s head coach. Mehta will give us the latest on the Geno Smith/Michael Vick competition for the quarterback job, first-round pick Calvin Pryor’s concussion and the other notable developments from the first few days of practice.

All 32 teams are in camp, so there’s plenty to talk about around the rest of the league as well. PFT Planet can let us know which areas are of the most interest by sending in questions for Florio on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or by giving a call to 888-237-5269 during the show.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Lions activate Golden Tate from PUP list

Golden Tate AP

The Lions opened up training camp without wide receiver Golden Tate on the practice field as a result of a shoulder injury that he suffered during the spring, but Tate was sure that he’d be an active participant before too much more of the summer was gone.

Tate was proven correct on Monday. The Lions have activated him from the Physically Unable to Perform list and the team’s biggest free agent addition is expected to take part in his first camp practice as a member of the Lions.

Tate’s return to practice will allow him to speed up the process of familiarizing himself with the offense being installed by offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi this offseason. Coach Jim Caldwell said, via the Detroit Free Press, that quarterback Matthew Stafford has shown good command of the offense and getting the guys catching his passes on the same page will be an important next step of the process in Detroit.

Defensive end Ziggy Ansah and rookie wide receiver T.J. Jones remain on the PUP list as the Lions open up their first full week of camp.

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Chip Kelly: Draft hype is worst thing about the NFL

2014 NFL Draft Getty Images

There’s no question that the NFL loves the draft and all they hype that goes along with it.

They’ve added days to the process, moved it to prime time and pushed it further back in the calendar to expand the amount of eyes taking in the move from college to the pros for the top prospects in the land. They spend plenty of time and money to promote the event each year and get even more free publicity from around the country as mock drafts and draftniks help whet everyone’s appetite for the selections, a hyperbolic process that inevitably leads to huge expectations for players a few years removed from high school.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly has gone through the process twice on the NFL side and he doesn’t share the league’s fondness for the event.

“What’s the worst thing about the league? I said the draft. I mean, the hype that goes into the draft is insane. Totally insane,” Kelly said, via Peter King of TheMMQB.com. “The biggest thing for me is that everybody thinks whoever you drafted or whoever you signed is now gonna be a savior. They come in just like me and you come in as freshmen in high school or freshmen in college, or your first year on the job at Sports Illustrated – you’re not telling people what to do, you’re just trying to figure out what room to go to.”

“I think a lot of times the hype turns into really, really hard times for the individual who got picked, because there’s so many expectations of everyone building them up to be Superman because they had three months to write about them and talk about them. Then when they get picked, they’re a very, very good prospect, but there’s a learning curve when you go from any job out of college into a company. If you take a job at Wells Fargo when you get out of college, your first day of the job they don’t say, ‘He’s our first-round draft pick, he’s the savior to the company!’”

Kelly went on to add the NFLPA’s Rookie Premiere event, post-draft grades and just about everything short of the food in the Eagles’ war room onto the list of things he doesn’t like about the draft process. Kelly’s either going to have to grin and bear it or find somewhere else to coach, though.

While the draft came into existence as a way for teams to add young players to their rosters, it has gradually become a television show devoted to promoting the league and a new crop of future stars. That creates an industry for people trying to make it seem like there’s a science, rather than educated guessing, to picking 21-year-olds who will become great 26-year-old football players and a message that the moves made over seven rounds in the spring can profoundly change the fortunes of a team in the fall.

With those conditions in place, hype is an unavoidable byproduct and it is one that isn’t going anywhere.

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Buccaneers sweating it out this training camp

Buccaneers Camp Football AP

Most of the other teams in the steamy part of the country are going early or late (or to West Virginia) to avoid the heat.

But the Buccaneers are charging right into the teeth of it, practicing in the swelter of the afternoon.

According to JoeBucsFan.com, the heat index for today’s 1 p.m. practice is scheduled to hit 100 degrees.

 

Bucs coach Lovie Smith has talked about using the heat to play into their home field advantage this fall, and most of their practices are scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are having most of their workouts in the morning, while the Saints headed to the mountains of West Virginia where the conditions are fall-like.
We’ll see if it works to Smith’s advantage this year, or whether his team is wiped out in camp and has little left for the regular season.

 

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Stephen A. Smith apologizes for his “provocation” remarks

Smith Getty Images

On Friday’s edition of First Take, Stephen A. Smith embraced something far more than debate by suggesting in connection with the Ray Rice suspension that female victims of domestic abuse need to be careful to avoid provoking the men in their lives to commit violence.  The comments drew a very strong reaction, including pointed comments on Twitter from ESPN’s Michelle Beadle, who said among other things after watching Friday’s show, “I’ll never feel clean again” and “I’m now aware that I can provoke my own beating.”

Smith responded by clumsily attempting to explain himself on Twitter, but in reality digging in deep enough that he eventually deleted the stream of tweets and posted a lengthy apology.

To launch Monday’s edition of First Take, Smith delivered what seemed to be a heartfelt apology, apology while reading from a teleprompter.

“Good morning,” Smith began.  “On Friday, speaking right here on First Take on the subject of domestic violence, I made what can only amount to the most egregious error of my career.  While elaborating on thoughts concerning the NFL’s ruling versus Ray Rice, following a domestic dispute with his then fiancee, I ventured beyond the scope of our discussion by alluding to a woman’s role in such heinous matters, going so far as to use the word ‘provoke’ in my diatribe.  My words came across that it is somehow a woman’s fault.  This was not my intent.  It is not what I was trying to say.  Yet the failure to clearly articulate something different lies squarely on my shoulders.  To say what I actually said was foolish is an understatement.  To say I was wrong is obvious.  To apologize, to say I’m sorry, doesn’t do the matter its proper justice to be quite honest.”

Based on his grave delivery of that line, I actually wondered whether the next comment would be that he’s stepping down, for a week or a month or forever. That’s not the case.

“But I do sincerely apologize,” Smith continued.  “As a man raised by the greatest mother in the world and four older sisters, I’ve religiously spoken out against domestic violence all of my life.  I’ve done so repeatedly over 20 years in this business, as well as over these very airwaves.  Right here on First Take.  My primary reason for doing so is because I’ve experienced and dealt with the matter within my own family.  Unfortunately, I did an incredibly poor job of asserting my point of view last Friday.  For that, again, I am truly, truly sorry.  Particularly to victims of domestic abuse and to my female family members and loved ones I’ve disappointed and who know I know better, you all deserved a better professional and quite frankly a better man last Friday sitting on this very set, in this very chair.  My heartfelt apologies to each and every one of you.”

Smith paused and looked down for dramatic effect before saying “in this very chair,” which made me think of another guy who said something stupid about Donovan McNabb in one of the various chairs at ESPN roughly 11 years ago.  That guy was dumped.  Smith wasn’t.

While the situations may be distinguishable in many ways, ESPN has shown a hair trigger in the past when it comes to suspending on-air talent for a week or two.  Smith apparently won’t be suspended or otherwise disciplined.

“We will continue to have constructive dialogue on this important topic,” ESPN said in a statement released after Smith’s on-air apology.  “Stephen’s comments last Friday do not reflect our company’s point of view.  As his apology demonstrates, he recognizes his mistakes and has a deeper appreciation of our company values.”

We’ll leave it for others to argue whether Smith should or shouldn’t be fired or suspended.  But his remarks were clearly wrong.  When it comes to domestic violence, there’s no “last straw” that justifies an attack.  Disengage from the argument.  Run away, to a stream of insults if need be.  Assume a defensive posture as a last resort.  But find a way out before it ever gets to the point where anyone could even begin to think that the actions of another justify something like an uppercut to the chin.

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NFL V.P. Adolpho Birch struggles to justify Ray Rice suspension

Ray Rice AP

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has not yet spoken publicly on the controversial two-game suspension given to Ravens running back Ray Rice for assaulting his wife. But one of Goodell’s top deputies, NFL V.P. of labor policy and government affairs Adolpho Birch, went on the radio this morning in an attempt to explain. It did not go well.

Birch’s appearance on this morning’s Mike & Mike was so bad — so totally incapable of justifying the relatively light punishment handed to Rice — that host Mike Greenberg felt the need after the interview to address the listeners who had contacted the show to express their frustration with Birch’s evasions. Greenberg said he was frustrated by Birch’s evasions, too.

“I’m a little taken aback by the conversation, to be honest with you. The reaction is overwhelming and no one seems to think that he did a particularly good job of answering the questions,” Greenberg said minutes after the interview with Birch ended. “I do not feel that most people listening to that discussion feel they got an adequate explanation of how they arrived at two games.”

So how did the NFL arrive at two games for Rice? Well, Birch didn’t really have much of an answer. At one point he said the NFL was “bound in large part by precedent in prior cases.” But Birch said that just moments after insisting that prior cases — particularly the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger after he was accused of (but not criminally charged with) sexual assault — couldn’t be compared to the Rice case.

Birch also refused to answer whether the NFL is aware of information that isn’t available to the general public, such as surveillance camera footage beyond what has been widely distributed showing Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiancee out of an elevator. But Birch insisted that a two-game suspension without pay isn’t a minor punishment.

“It is multiple games and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think it’s fair to say that doesn’t reflect that you condone the behavior,” Birch said.

But the question isn’t whether the NFL condones a player beating up his wife. The question is whether the NFL is willing to take severe disciplinary actions against a player who beats up his wife. And the answer to that question is a resounding, “No.” The NFL hands out longer suspensions for everything from getting caught smoking pot repeatedly, to taking Adderall without filling out the necessary paperwork to — in the case of Roethlisberger — being accused of crimes without any arrests or charges. For the NFL to come down harder on pot smokers, Adderall users and players who weren’t evan arrested than it came down on Rice is baffling and requires an explanation.

Birch may have been trying to explain, but he failed. Greenberg said that in the minutes after the interview, the show got thousands of reactions via Twitter and email and that, “I can’t find a single one of them that said, ‘Well, that explained it for me.’ Literally not a single one.”

After Birch’s unsuccessful attempt to to explain the suspension, it’s time for Goodell to step up. NFL fans want to know why Ray Rice got off easy, and they want to hear it from Goodell.

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Ray Rice doesn’t appeal suspension, fine

Ray Rice, Janay Palmer AP

There are plenty of people who felt that the league did not impose the proper discipline on Ravens running back Ray Rice last week when they suspended him for two games and fined him an additional game check from the 2013 season in response to Rice’s February arrest for assaulting his wife and subsequent entry into a pre-trial diversion program.

The reaction of those people, most of whom saw the footage of Rice dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer out of an elevator, has been that Rice was not punished severely enough by a league that they feel has imposed harsher discipline on others for less egregious offenses.

Rice is not among the displeased. He had three days to appeal the penalty, but Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that window closed without Rice making any attempt to plead his case for a lighter penalty. Given the overwhelmingly negative response to the league’s initial decision and their actions in comparable situations, Rice probably didn’t have much chance of getting the penalty reduced and reacted accordingly.

That means he’ll miss the first two games of the season, but will be able to participate in training camp and preseason games before the suspension kicks in.

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Kelvin Benjamin getting a “precautionary MRI”

Kelvin Benjamin AP

The Panthers added a bunch of guys to their receiving corps this offseason, pinning much of the hope on first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin.

Now, they have to hope he’s well.

The Panthers announced this morning that Benjamin was “getting a precautionary MRI” after banging knees with a teammate in practice yesterday.

Benjamin wasn’t going to replace veteran Steve Smith immediately anyway, but if he’s out any amount of time, they could be in real trouble throwing the ball.

Though they’ll go two-tight end more (or maybe three), their next-best options at wide receiver are Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery.

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