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Bengals punter has cracked vertebrae, broken jaw

Kevin Huber AP

The hit that knocked Bengals punter Kevin Huber out of last night’s game did more than cosmetic damage.

According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, Huber suffered a cracked vertebrae in addition to a broken jaw, and he’ll be placed on season-ending injured reserve.

As Florio mentioned last night, the hit from Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin should have drawn a flag, and will almost certainly result in a fine since punters are always included in the “defenseless players” category.

The play also resulted in an Antonio Brown touchdown, and put the Bengals in a 21-0 hole from which they never recovered.

Now they’ll have to find a new punter while they try to hang onto a playoff berth, while Huber has more pressing concerns.

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Drew Stanton inactive on Sunday night

Cliff Avril, Drew Stanton AP

The Cardinals confirmed that Ryan Lindley was going to start at quarterback no matter what they decided to do with Drew Stanton on Sunday night.

Stanton hurt his knee in the Week 15 victory over the Rams and was able to get in a limited practice during the week, which was enough for Cardinals coach Bruce Arians to leave the door open to Stanton serving as Lindley’s backup against the Seahawks.

That door’s been closed. Stanton is one of seven inactive Cardinals for the NFC West clash, leaving rookie Logan Thomas as the No. 2 behind Lindley. Wide receiver Brittan Golden, safety Chris Clemons, guard Jonathan Cooper, defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu, guard Anthony Steen and defensive end Kareem Martin are also out for Sunday night.

The Seahawks knew they would be without left tackle Russell Okung this week and expected to be without center Max Unger after listing him as doubtful. Both men are inactive along with tight end Tony Moeaki, wide receiver Kevin Norwood, defensive end Demarcus Dobbs, wide receiver Chris Matthews and defensive tackle Travian Robertson.

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Odell Beckham adds to his highlight reel

Janoris Jenkinsm, Janoris Jenkins AP

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham was in the spotlight often during the first half of Sunday’s game, usually because he and members of the Rams were jawing and taunting one another during a chippy and flag-filled first half.

Beckham remains in the spotlight in the second half, but the reasons are football-related this time. Beckham hauled in an 80-yard touchdown catch to continue his remarkable rookie season. Beckham’s score pushed the Giants to a 34-20 lead through three quarters and pushed him over 90 receiving yards for the eighth straight game. If Beckham closes out the year by topping 90 again next week, he’ll tie an NFL record.

He can put that record alongside the one that makes him the first player to catch 75 passes in his first 11 NFL games. Beckham, who went over 1,000 receiving yards for the year on Sunday, also caught a touchdown in the first half to give him 11 on the season.

It’s not enough to save the Giants season, but Beckham’s exploits certainly make it easier for Giants fans to look toward 2015 on the heels of a third straight season in the NFL wilderness.

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Down 35-0, Colts pull Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck AP

Trailing 35-0 late in the third quarter against the Cowboys, the Colts removed quarterback Andrew Luck from the lineup, replacing him with backup Matt Hasselbeck.

Before departing the game, Luck completed 15-of-22 passes for 109 yards. He was picked twice.

Hasselbeck figures to close this one out, and he could very well see action in the Week 17 finale vs. Tennessee. The Colts (10-4) are all but assured of losing to the Cowboys, which will take Indianapolis out of contention for a first-round bye. Hence, resting Luck next week wouldn’t be completely out of left field.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, are just about set to clinch the NFC East.

Party on, Dallas-Fort Worth. The home team is home free.

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Preliminary diagnosis is Achilles tear for Willie Young

Young Getty Images

The initial news isn’t good for Bears defensive end Willie Young.  Per a league source, the preliminary evaluation indicates that Young suffered a torn Achilles tendon during Sunday’s loss to the Lions.

An MRI will be performed in the morning.

Young, who spent four years with the Lions before joining Chicago, produced 10 sacks this season.  He had a total of six in four prior NFL seasons.

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Raiola claims stomp was inadvertent

Raiola Getty Images

During Sunday’s win over the Bears at Soldier Field, Lions center Dominic Raiola stomped on the ankle of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson.  After the game, Raiola claimed it was an accident.

I know what my intentions were,” Raiola said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.  “We’re out there trying to score a touchdown.  I’m not going to put myself in position to get a 15-yarder, come on now.  I knew I was stumbling.  Me and [guard Rob Sims] had a combination block.  I remember exactly what happened.  Stumbling through.  If I intentionally step on him, that puts me in danger of getting hurt so let’s put that to rest.  He accepted the apology, we move on.”

But Ferguson didn’t accept the apology.  Which makes sense, given the indisputable visual evidence.

“You all saw the play; I don’t have to explain that,” Ferguson told reporters, via Birkett.  “I felt like what needs to stay in between the lines needs to stay in between the lines. . . .  We all saw the play.  You can’t take back what happened with that play, do you know what I mean?  You saw the play.”

As to the apology, Ferguson said, “None of that matters.”

The entire case will matter to the league office.  We’ll have more on this topic during NBC’s Football Night in America, which gets rolling at 7:00 p.m. ET.

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Aaron Rodgers on calf injury: It will take a lot to keep me out next week

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptc0n2q5zjdlztiyytu0mzy2odcyogiymgzjmjrlythh AP

The Packers clinched a playoff spot on Sunday by beating the Buccaneers, but they still need a win next week against the Lions if they’re going to be the NFC North champs.

Getting that win would be much easier if Aaron Rodgers is at quarterback. Rodgers, who has been battling the flu, pulled his left calf early in the game and remained in with limited mobility over the remainder of the contest. Rodgers said that the calf tightened up on him at halftime and that he “just didn’t have the running threat” over the course of the game because of the injury, but he sounded confident that he’d be on the field against Detroit.

“Well, it’s too early to give a 100 percent guarantee, but it would definitely take a lot to hold me out of that game,” Rodgers said, via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The injury didn’t stop Rodgers from going 31-of-40 for 318 yards, but a lack of mobility might be more noticeable against the Lions defensive line than it was in Sunday’s game.

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Cowboys 30 minutes away from division title

Greg Toler, Dez Bryant AP

The Cowboys couldn’t have played much better in the first two quarters against Indianapolis.

Tony Romo’s three TD passes and a scoring run by tailback DeMarco Murray have given the Cowboys a 28-0 halftime lead over the flat Colts.

With a win, Dallas will clinch the NFC East and end Philadelphia’s playoff hopes.

Romo was nearly perfect in the first 30 minutes, completing 13-of-14 passes for 155 yards, with scoring passes to Terrence Williams (nine yards), Dez Bryant (19 yards) and Cole Beasley (24 yards).

Murray, for his part, has handled a fairly normal workload despite a broken hand, carrying 14 times for 40 yards.

The Colts have made a bushel of mistakes. Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman committed the most costly of six first-half fouls against Indianapolis; his taunting penalty kept the Cowboys’ first TD drive alive. Later, with the Colts trailing 7-0, defensive back Dewey McDonald dropped a pass from Pat McAfee on a fake punt, which set up Bryant’s TD to give Dallas a 14-0 lead.

The Cowboys’ defense, meanwhile, has been outstanding, and it slammed the door on Indy one last time to end the half when safety J.J. Wilcox picked an Andrew Luck pass in the endzone.

The Colts get the ball to begin the second half, perhaps giving Indianapolis a flicker of hope. But that’s all it will be unless Indy can match Dallas’ passion and execution.

And that could be impossible on this day, with the Cowboys right on the doorstep of the NFC East title.

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Fists and ejections fly in St. Louis

Trey Watts, Orleans Darkwa, Adrien Robinson AP

The Rams and Giants aren’t battling for a playoff spot and they don’t have much in the way of a historical rivalry, but something’s got the two teams riled up in St. Louis.

It’s been a first half filled with post-whistle pushing and shoving, personal fouls for taunting and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Giants kicker Josh Brown for kicking a member of the Rams in the face during a post-play scrum on a kickoff. Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham has been in the middle of much action, drawing a taunting penalty of his own for spinning the ball near Rams safety T.J. McDonald after a touchdown and then being the recipient of taunting from McDonald later in the half. Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree was also penalized for hitting Beckham out of bounds  near the end of the second quarter, touching off a major brawl that resulted in several ejections.

Rams defensive end William Hayes, Giants wide receiver Preston Parker and Giants defensive end Damontre Moore were all ejected for their roles in the fight. There were punches thrown and referee Pete Morelli also announced that contact had been made with an official by a member of the Giants, which left them down 15 yards when all was said and done.

When the two teams weren’t fussing and feuding, the Giants have controlled the action. They scored on their first drive, forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and turned a Shaun Hill interception into three more points on the way to a 20-13 halftime lead. Beckham’s touchdown after the fumble was the first the Rams Defense allowed in 12 quarters and running back Orleans Darkwa also found the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.

Eli Manning was 16-of-18 for 200 yards in the first two quarters, outgaining the Rams by 44 yards and outpacing the 108 penalty yards racked up by his team.

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With loss at Houston, Baltimore’s postseason hopes take a hit

J.J. Watt, Joe Flacco AP

An off day by the offense has put Baltimore’s playoff hopes in some peril.

The underdog Texans intercepted quarterback Joe Flacco three times and shut down Baltimore’s ground game en route to a 25-13 victory on Sunday in Houston. In defeat, the Ravens gained just 3.1 yards per play.

With the loss, the Ravens fell to 9-6, and they have fallen behind San Diego in the AFC pecking order. The Chargers (9-6) now are in firm control of their playoff hopes; if they win next Sunday at Kansas City, they are in the postseason, as they have already defeated Baltimore and Buffalo (8-6).

Flacco struggled through one of his worst days as a pro, completing just 21-of-50 passes for 195 yards. He did throw a pair of TD passes to Torrey Smith, but it was a nightmarish afternoon for the former Super Bowl MVP.

The Ravens had some tough injury luck, too, with left tackle Eugene Monroe and right tackle Ricky Wagner departing with injuries.

Starting less than a week after signing with the Texans, quarterback Case Keenum completed just 20-of-42 passes for 185 yards, and he was picked once. However, he was better than Flacco, which speaks to the sort of day the Ravens’ offense endured.

Texans star tailback Arian Foster had a productive day, racking up 96 yards on 25 carries and tossing a five-yard TD pass on an option pass. By contrast, the Ravens got just 33 yards on 16 carries from their ground game.

The Ravens host fading Cleveland next week, but they will need more than a just a win now to secure a playoff spot. Moreover, they are now eliminated from AFC North contention, with Cincinnati (9-4-1) guaranteed to have a better record than Baltimore.

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Cam Newton rips “classless” fans who cheered Manziel injury

Johnny Manziel AP

Cam Newton said he liked the support he heard from the home fans Sunday.

But he didn’t like the ones who cheered when Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel went down with a hamstring injury.

Newton said he thought it was “classless,” when some fans cheered as Manziel was being tended to by trainers.

“We’re better than that,” he said, before walking out of the interview room.

Newton wasn’t making a blanket statement, or ripping his entire fanbase. Just the stupid ones, who cheered when an opponent was down.

Manziel didn’t return in the second half, after leaving just before halftime.

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Panthers-Falcons tie would deliver division title to Carolina, in unusual way

Tie Getty Images

With the Falcons beating the Saints and the Panthers defeating the Browns, next week’s game between Carolina and Atlanta becomes the NFC South championship game.

But what if there’s a tie?  That’s when it gets a little interesting.

A tie between the Panthers and Falcons would give the Panthers the edge over the Falcons, with Carolina’s 6-8-2 besting Atlanta’s 6-9.  But if the Saints win to move to 7-9, what happens?

What happens is that the Saints and Panthers would, in the eyes of the NFL, be tied.  The NFL considers a tie as one-half of a win; at 7-9 for the Saints and 6-8-2 for the Panthers, the two teams would have identical winning percentages of 43.75 percent.  With the head-to-head tiebreaker a 1-1 split of their series, the Panthers would eke out the division tiebreaker with a 3-2-1 mark over the Saints’ 3-3 record.

So the Panthers win the division with a win or a tie.  The Falcons need to win the game.

And now your day is complete.

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Cowboys feasting on Colts’ mistakes

Terrance Williams, Greg Toler AP

The Cowboys are playing like they are dead-set on clinching the NFC East right now.

Dez Bryant’s 19-yard TD catch has given the Cowboys a 14-0 first-quarter lead over the Colts at AT&T Stadium.

Bryant’s score came one play after Colts rookie defensive back Dewey McDonald dropped a pass on a fake punt, giving Dallas the ball inside the Indianapolis 20.

The Cowboys’ first points came on a nine-yard TD pass from Tony Romo to Terrence Williams. The score punctuated a drive extended by a taunting penalty on Colts inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman on a third-down stop.

The Colts (10-4) entered Sunday with an outside chance at a first-round bye, but their slow start has increased the odds that they will be playing in the wild-card round yet again.

Meanwhile, Dallas (10-4) now just needs to hold on to win the division for the first time since 2009.

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Stephen Ross says Joe Philbin will return in 2015

Minnesota Vikings v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

After a dismal performance in the second half of a loss to the Patriots last week, there was talk that the axe might fall on head coach Joe Philbin when the season came to an end.

Things went better for the Dolphins on Sunday when they blocked a Vikings punt for a safety at the end of the fourth quarter to take a 37-35 win in improbable fashion. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made it a merrier Christmas week in the Philbin household after the game when he said that Philbin would be back as the team’s coach in 2015.

“Here’s a Christmas present. You don’t have to ask me anymore. He has one year left on contract and is coming back,” Ross said, via Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post.

The Dolphins can’t make the playoffs with a win over the Jets next week, but they can finish 9-7 for the first winning season of Philbin’s tenure. It would also make two straight years of improved win totals and Ross appears to believe that Philbin can keep making progress in his fourth year on the job.

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Reports of fans outside Raymond James Stadium hit by lightning

lightning-getty-3 Getty Images

A frightening scene is unfolding outside Raymond James Stadium as there are reports of fans being hit by lightning.

According to Bay News 9, Tampa Fire Rescue has responded to the stadium. Officials said from five to seven people were being transported to a local hospital for treatment.

The stadium cleared out early as the Bucs lost 20-3 to the Packers. While there’s no word about the identity of those hit, the fact they were outside the controlled environment of the stadium as storms approached would have made it less likely to hear warnings to seek cover.

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Jameis Winston cleared in FSU Code of Conduct case

Winston Getty Images

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston didn’t face prosecution in the wake of sexual assault accusations made in 2012.  He also will not face any discipline from Florida State.

Winston’s lawyer, David Cornwell, has published via Twitter the conclusion of the in-house proceedings:  “In sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for ANY of the charged violations of the Code.”  Cornwell has confirmed that the quote comes from the ruling in Winston’s case.

The legal proceedings possibly will continue with a civil case seemingly inevitable.  But the absence of an adverse ruling against Winston removes plenty of the stigma that would have existed if Florida State had determined that Winston’s conduct violated university rules and policies.  Which in the NFL’s current environment makes it easier to justify drafting Winston.

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