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Bowman interception return for TD seals 49ers win in Candlestick farewell

Atlanta Falcons v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers gave Candlestick Park a victorious regular season farewell and kept hope alive for a possible return encounter in the postseason.

And NaVorro Bowman quickly went from goat to hero in order to seal the win.

Bowman intercepted Matt Ryan and returned it for an 89-yard touchdown to seal a 34-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. The play came three plays after the Falcons recovered an onside kick that dipped under Bowman’s hands and was recovered by Jason Snelling to keep hope alive for a miracle rally for Atlanta.

Ryan connected with Harry Douglas for 11 and Tony Gonzalez for nine more to move to the 49ers 10-yard line before Bowman sealed the deal.

After a slow first half offensive for the 49ers, San Francisco scored on all four of their possessions in the second half to rally from a 10-3 halftime deficit. The win keeps alive hopes of winning the NFC West for the 49ers and the potential for at least one more game at Candlestick.

The 49ers need to win next week against the Arizona Cardinals and hope for a second straight home loss by the Seattle Seahawks against the St. Louis Rams to win the division.

Colin Kaepernick threw for 197 yards and a touchdown and ran for another.

Kaepernick scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to give the 49ers a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. San Francisco had completely dominated the half up to that point. They had scored 17 unanswered points in the half to take the lead and the 49ers’ defense had held Atlanta to just seven offensive plays on their first two possessions of the half.

But the Falcons weren’t ready to roll over just yet. Matt Ryan led Atlanta on a seven-play, 69-yard scoring drive to keep within reach of San Francisco. Ryan connected with Roddy White for a pair of third down conversions before hitting White for a 39-yard touchdown behind the 49ers’ defense.

White caught 12 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons on the night.

The touchdown cut the 49ers lead to 20-17. The Falcons defense couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Kendall Hunter broke free for 45 yards down to the Atlanta 2-yard line. Frank Gore scored from a yard out two plays later to extend the lead to 27-17.

But Atlanta wouldn’t quit. Ryan led the Falcons 61 yards on nine plays and hit Tony Gonzalez for a 2-yard touchdown pass to once again close the deficit to just three with 2:14 left to play. A roughing the passer penalty by Ahmad Brooks against Ryan moved the kickoff to midfield and gave the green light for Atlanta to attempt an onside kick.

The onside try by Matt Bosher dipped under Bowman’s hands and was one-handed by Snelling along the sideline to give the ball back to the Falcons.

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Monday morning one-liners

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Short passes worked out better than deeper shots for the Bills.

Dolphins RB Lamar Miller had a big day against the Chiefs.

The Patriots’ problems on the offensive line haven’t shown signs of subsiding.

Penalties have been an issue for the Jets in the first two weeks of the season.

RB Lorenzo Taliaferro took advantage of the opening in the Ravens backfield.

The Bengals kept QB Andy Dalton from being sacked for a third straight week.

Browns PR Travis Benjamin’s choice not to field a late punt came back to hurt the team.

The Steelers had two backs with 100 rushing yards for the first time in almost 30 years.

Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins played well in a losing cause.

Said Colts QB Andrew Luck, “There definitely was a sense of urgency and you don’t want to start 0-2 but you definitely don’t want to start 0-3. We realize we control that and we go out and play this game. I think guys took it to heart and it was a divisional game on the road. This counts big time and we managed to put two decent halves together and get the win.”

The Jaguars defense is moving in the wrong direction.

RB Bishop Sankey provided a rare spark to the Titans on Sunday.

There were no moral victories for the Broncos in Seattle.

Chiefs CB Sean Smith was a big part of Sunday’s win against his former team.

The Raiders stood behind G Gabe Jackson after his costly holding penalty.

Defensive plays stood out in the aftermath of the Chargers win.

The Cowboys pulled off the biggest comeback in franchise history.

Giants RB Rashad Jennings dedicated his 176-yard performance to his father.

Said Eagles QB Nick Foles, “My teammates are fighting for me, so I’m not going to stay down. I’m going to get up for those guys. That’s my mindset. It’s not a pride thing where I have to be a tough guy. I know those guys are depending on me so I’m going to get up and keep fighting for them.”

The Redskins head into a short week with some injury concerns.

The Bears expect to see a lot of blitzing on Monday night.

Sunday’s win showed what the Lions offense can be this season.

Packers WR Randall Cobb wasn’t happy with his performance on Sunday.

The Vikings defense was caught off guard early in Sunday’s loss to the Saints.

S Kemal Ishmael’s interception return for a touchdown got the Falcons rolling last Thursday.

Sunday night was not a good one for Panthers returner Philly Brown.

The Saints got their first win, but they didn’t solve all their problems.

The Buccaneers spent Sunday watching the rest of the league.

Cardinals WR John Brown was too much for the 49ers to handle.

There were bright spots for the Rams on Sunday, but too many mistakes for them to get a win.

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick had career highs in both rushes and completions as the team slumped to defeat.

Said Seahawks QB Russell Wilson of the game-wininng drive, “The key to taking advantage of those moments is still playing smart football, but also playing with an edge. Playing to the edge, but not falling off the edge. Playing with great poise and great composure.”

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Frank Gore at a loss for words about loss, and his role

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The 49ers were without tight end Vernon Davis because of injury. But they were apparently without running back Frank Gore by decision.

Gore carried the ball just six times for 10 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, as the 49ers went to more and more multiple-receiver formations.

“We did what the defense gave us,” Gore said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, saying he didn’t know that would be the plan.

Then after less than a minute of answering questions, Gore said: “I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now.”

The 49ers have been outscored 52-3 in the second halves of games this season, the time when they’d normally feed the ball to Gore and he’d keep chains and clocks moving. Part of the problem was the lack of tight ends Davis and Vance McDonald, which kept them out their preferred personnel packages.

But after drafting young backs to eventually replace him for years, the 49ers showed what could be a sign that Gore’s role might not be what it used to be.

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Le’Veon Bell’s 81-yard run was a rare feat

belldecoud AP

With the Steelers deep in their own territory in the third quarter on Sunday night, running back Le’Veon Bell took a handoff at the 8-yard line and raced up the middle, running all the way to the Panthers’ 11-yard line before he was finally caught by Carolina’s Thomas DeCoud, for a run of 81 yards. That was a rare feat.

Bell’s 81-yard run was the longest in the NFL this year and the longest since then-Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor ran 93 yards against the Steelers on October 27, 2013. Even more unusual, however, is that Bell ran 81 yards but didn’t reach the end zone. That hasn’t happened in the NFL in 20 years.

The last time an NFL player ran for more than 80 yards but didn’t score a touchdown was in 1994. The runner was Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, and the guy who ran him down on an 85-yard run before he reached the end zone was then-Buccaneers cornerback Martin Mayhew, who is now the Lions’ general manager.

The 81-yarder contributed to a 21-carry, 147-yard day for Bell, who is off to a huge start this season for the Steelers. Bell has 315 rushing yards and 146 receiving yards this season, giving him a league-leading 461 scrimmage yards. (He’s also leading the league in all-purpose yards, even though he doesn’t return kicks.)

Sunday night was the best game yet in a big month for Bell.

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Ron Rivera pulled Cam Newton “to protect him”

Cam Newton, Steve McLendon AP

Cam Newton didn’t play poorly last night, he just didn’t have much of a chance.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he pulled his hobbling quarterback for his own good during last night’s loss to the Steelers.

“I just took Cam out mostly because I was trying to protect him,” Rivera said, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review. I just didn’t want to see him get hit anymore.”

Prior to that, in case you weren’t clear about the cause of their problems, Rivera answered a question about rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin by steering it back up front.

“But, we can’t do anything unless we protect the quarterback,” Rivera said. “That’s the first thing we have to do.”

The Panthers allowed three sacks, but many more pressures. Some of that was on the Steelers who were getting there on three-man pressures throughout the game.

Part of it was on Newton, forced to hold the ball too long because receivers weren’t getting open.

But most of it was on a patchwork and inexperienced line, which is one of the problems they knew about this offseason, but were able to mask in a 2-0 start.

“No, I was not pleased at all by no stretch of the imagination,” Rivera said of the protection. ” We missed opportunities. There are some things that we have to do as coaches to make sure we put these guys in the best positions to have success. We have to take a good long evaluation of ourselves first and foremost and then we will watch the tape and evaluate the players.

“This is a team game and we have to make sure we are giving the players the best opportunity to succeed. At the same time we have to make sure the players are executing.”

The Panthers don’t have a lot of personnel buttons to push on their offensive line, as they’re already rotating guards and trying tackles at new positions. Maybe the simple shaming of showing them the tape of the game, and Newton limping back and forth, will be enough.

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NFL morning after: Even in defeat, Cousins was Sunday’s star

cousins AP

He’s a backup quarterback whose team lost, and yet Kirk Cousins was the player who made the biggest impact on the NFL on Sunday.

Cousins, starting for Washington against Philadelphia because Robert Griffin III suffered a dislocated ankle last week, was excellent: He completed 30 of his 48 passes, threw three touchdowns, showed off a great arm on deep balls and nice touch on short passes, only had one interception and — maybe most importantly — felt the pressure so well and got the ball away so quickly that he was never sacked. Cousins totaled 427 yards on the day, topping Griffin’s career high by 98 yards.

Yes, Washington lost. But blaming Cousins for that would be silly. Washington lost because its defense allowed Nick Foles to throw for 325 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Not because of anything Cousins did, or failed to do.

What Cousins did was make a real case that he’s a better quarterback than RGIII.

Cousins is nowhere near as talented a quarterback as Griffin. Cousins doesn’t have Griffin’s athleticism (for that matter, no quarterback in NFL history is as good an athlete as Griffin, who was an Olympic-caliber hurdler before he left track behind to focus on football), and Cousins probably doesn’t have as good a natural arm as Griffin does, either. In their first two seasons together in Washington, Griffin was better than Cousins, and it wasn’t close. Anyone calling for Cousins to be the starter in the last two years was probably more interested in stirring up a quarterback controversy than in accurately assessing the state of the quarterback position in Washington.

But things have changed. Griffin suffering yet another injury last week has only solidified the feeling that he’s simply too fragile to last in the NFL. And in the new offense run by new coach Jay Gruden, Cousins just looks like a better fit. In Week One, Griffin’s only full game in Gruden’s offense, Griffin looked overly cautious and never got much of anything going. Cousins has looked comfortable taking shots downfield.

I loved RGIII when he was at Baylor, and loved watching him in his rookie year. But I’m getting a sinking feeling that his career will go one of two ways: Either he’ll keep getting hurt, or he and his coaches will be so worried about him getting hurt that he’ll be put in bubble wrap by a stifling offense that doesn’t make use of his talents.

Cousins doesn’t have the same talent as Griffin. But Cousins may have a longer and more successful NFL career than Griffin. He certainly did enough on Sunday to make the case that he — not Griffin — is the quarterback of the future in Washington.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s action:

What a game in Seattle. The Super Bowl rematch was everything we could have hoped for, with the Seahawks jumping out to an early lead and the Broncos storming back to force overtime. The Seahawks got the 26-20 win, the Broncos got at least some satisfaction from knowing they can play a competitive game with the team that blew them out in February, and football fans got a treat. With what the NFL has dragged the game through over the last couple weeks, we deserved it.

Protection of the quarterback going too far. In theory, I support the NFL’s desire to make the game of football safer by taking out hits on defenseless players, particularly hits to the heads of quarterbacks who are in postures where they can’t defend themselves. In practice, NFL officials often go way too far in protecting the quarterback, at the expense of preventing defensive players from doing their jobs. That happened on Sunday in Arizona, where the Cardinals were handed 30 yards on back-to-back plays when 49ers players were flagged for hits on Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton. Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira said on the FOX broadcast that he disagreed with the calls, and so did I. The first was a hit from San Francisco’s Dan Skuta to the head of Stanton while Stanton was beginning to slide, but it’s important to note that he was just beginning to slide — he hadn’t actually touched the ground yet. And on the second, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis used his shoulder to hit Stanton in the chest — exactly the way players are told to hit — and yet he was called for roughing the passer anyway. Those 30 yards helped the Cardinals march down the field for a touchdown. A raw deal for the 49ers’ defense.

A big screwup in Seattle. While the Broncos had the ball in the third quarter, they successfully drew Seattle’s K.J. Wright offside. An official saw it and threw his penalty flag. And then something strange happened: Another official came in and claimed that Wright hadn’t been offside, and the head referee — who has the final call when two officials disagree — went with the official who got it wrong. The TV replays made it clear that Wright had been offside, but that didn’t matter because offside calls aren’t reviewable on replay. The NFL needs its officials to get better at communicating on the field, or make more calls reviewable on replay to get those mistakes right. Or both.

The Bengals are really, really good. Of all the NFL’s 3-0 teams, the one that has impressed me most is in Cincinnati. The Bengals, who just destroyed the Titans on Sunday, have a stifling pass defense and an offense that revolves around receiver A.J. Green, who in my view is the best receiver in football not named Megatron. The Bengals have their bye this week and then visit New England. The Bengals are already the only unbeaten team in the AFC, and a win over the Patriots would be a huge statement that the road to the Super Bowl will go through Cincinnati.

Tulloch pulls a Gramatica. Please, NFL players, take it easy with the celebrations. Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch hurt his knee jumping up to celebrate a sack, in a move reminiscent of former NFL kicker Bill Gramatica blowing out his knee. After watching that I paid closer attention to the way players celebrated for the rest of the day, and honestly, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. Guys are jumping up and down, jumping on each other, smacking each other and generally doing things that can only lead to pain when they involve multiple adrenaline-fueled 250-pound men. Be smart, guys. A simple high-five is sufficient.

NFL should improve the broadcast rules. In the final moments of the Washington-Philadelphia game, FOX’s Joe Buck announced that some viewers would not be able to see the end of the game “because of NFL broadcast rules.” Those rules are dumb. It didn’t affect me personally because I have the NFL Sunday Ticket package, but for fans who only see NFL games through their local network affiliates, it’s ridiculous to have to miss the end of that game. A great game like Washington-Philadelphia should be exactly the kind of game the NFL wants as many fans as possible to see.

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Ken Whisenhunt sticking with Jake Locker

Tennessee Titans v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

Quarterback Jake Locker played poorly for the second straight week as the Titans fell to the Bengals, leading to postgame questions for coach Ken Whisenhunt about whether or not he contemplated making a move to Charlie Whitehurst in an attempt to rally a struggling offense.

Locker was 17-of-34 for 185 yards and two interceptions. He also fumbled twice, although the Titans didn’t lose either of them, and has generally displayed little growth over the early part of this season.

Whisenhunt said after the game that such a move was never on the table. He also cited his own history running a quarterback carousel in Arizona as part of the reason why his focus is on fixing things rather than finding a new starter.

“Jake is still our quarterback. … One of the things that you asked me when I first go here was what would I do differently,” Whisenhunt said, via 247Sports.com. “One of the things was patience with the quarterback. Jake has to play better. Once again, we all have to play better.”

Patience is better than blindly picking between the likes of Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, Max Hall and John Skelton, but it can’t be endless. Locker’s set to be a free agent after this season and the Titans owe it to themselves to find out about rookie Zach Mettenberger if they know Locker’s not going to be back next season. Three weeks into the season is probably too early to contemplate such a move, but it can get late early in the NFL when you don’t have good quarterback play and the Titans don’t have it right now.

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Drew Brees gets fired up after being taken down

Drew Brees AP

Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is one of the smallest players in the NFL.

But Saints quarterback Drew Brees was comparing him to Hulk Hogan after the game.

Munnerlyn caught the Saints’ attention by suplexing Brees at the end of a sack in the third quarter, and perhaps unnecessarily firing up the quarterback.

It created some fire, some momentum,” Brees said, via Evan Woodberry of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “Obviously I wasn’t too happy about getting suplexed. The guys up front, they don’t like seeing that either.”

The guys who look more like wrestlers noticed, for sure.

“If you want to fire this team up, that’s the guy to go after,” tackle Zach Strief said. “We’re going to defend him.”

The penalty was a killer for the Vikings, because it woke the Saints offense after two sluggish quarters and led to the game-clinching touchdown.

“I talked to [Brees] after the play,” Munnerlyn said. “I told him the play wasn’t what you think it was. I mean, I told him, ‘One guy threw you down and then I piled on top of you and that’s what happened.’ I told him, ‘I inadvertently hit your head and hit your back.’ I mean, he got the call. At the end of the day, we’ve got to learn from this and just stop making mistakes.”

Munnerlyn’s a fiery player who is well known to Brees from his days with the Panthers, but he won’t win the belt making plays like that often.

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Ike Taylor’s broken arm among Steelers “significant injuries”

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

As we noted last night in the wrap-up, the Steelers’ depth is going to be tested the next few weeks because of some injuries on defense.

None were worse, or looked worse, than the broken forearm suffered by cornerback Ike Taylor, when he was hit by teammate Lawrence Timmons.

His arm was just hanging there,” cornerback Cortez Allen said, via Allen Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones left with a wrist injury, and rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier injured his right knee.

Shazier left the stadium wearing a knee brace.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn’t offer any specifics, but did refer to multiple “significant injuries.”

The Steelers turned to Arthur Moats and Sean Spence at linebacker, while William Gay and Antwon Blake shared the cornerback duties.

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Danny Woodhead expected to miss rest of season

Danny Woodhead AP

The Chargers lost running back Danny Woodhead early in Sunday’s victory over the Bills and it may be some time before they get him back on the field.

San Diego announced that Woodhead, who left the game on crutches, suffered a right ankle injury that caused him to be carted off the field. It looks like it is more than your garden variety ankle injury, however.

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports that Woodhead suffered both a severe high ankle sprain and a fractured fibula. He’s expected to have surgery that will bring his season to an end, although Woodhead will surely get another opinion or two before deciding to undergo such a serious operation.

“You hate it for him first,” quarterback Philip Rivers said, via U-T San Diego. “Obviously, it’s going to hurt us. But you hate it for him. He’ll get through it. It’s tough, I know, early like this to get hurt like that. We’ll miss him, but guys will step up. You don’t want anybody to get hurt. We’d be disappointed if anybody got hurt. But it just adds to the fact that you know a guy who loves it that much, cares about it that much, and goes down on his first snap.”

Ryan Mathews missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury, leaving Donald Brown to pick up a career-high 36 touches during the San Diego win. Mathews is expected to be out a few more weeks, which should mean Branden Oliver and/or Marion Grice get worked into the mix for the 2-1 Chargers.

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Cary Williams criticizes Eagles’ practice regimen

Cary Williams AP

In comments remarkable for their timing (after a win moving Philadelphia to 3-0), their audience (the media) and their directness, Eagles cornerback Cary Williams was reportedly critical of the team’s practice regimen following the club’s 37-34 victory vs. Washington on Sunday.

According to Andy Schwartz of CSNPhilly.com, Williams said the club’s practices have left him worn down — and Williams indicated other players felt similarly.

“I’m not the only guy that feels burnt out. I’m just a guy that’s man enough to stand up for players and just say that we’re burnt out,” Williams said Sunday, per CSNPhilly.com. “My legs hurt. My legs were done in the fourth quarter. My legs were done in the third quarter. My legs were done before the game started.”

According to CSNPhilly.com, Williams suggested “you can’t continue to run your team into the ground and expect great results.” He also noted the Eagles didn’t get a rest day after the win at Indianapolis on Monday night. Per CSNPhilly.com, the Eagles ran last Tuesday.

Williams’ remarks are an unexpected controversy for coach Chip Kelly as Philadelphia turns its attention to next Sunday’s game at 1-2 San Francisco. However, Williams’ comments come with the Eagles atop the NFC East and having outscored opponents 74-24 in the second half.

Still, it’s possible Williams has made some valid points. Of course, it’s also possible his remarks were made in the heat of the moment after a long, demanding game. But Williams made the comments in the public forum in a robust media market, so there’s no getting away from them, and Kelly will surely be asked about them this week. Also, with Williams indicating other Eagles have similar feelings about the practices, it’s a given reporters will be asking his teammates what they think of the workouts. And Williams, surely, will be asked if he stands by his remarks. Here is a story that will spawn follow-up stories, for there are other questions to be asked now that wouldn’t have been pondered otherwise.

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Sunday night wrap-up: Ben Roethlisberger wakes up

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The rumors of the demise of the Steelers offense were greatly exaggerated.

The Steelers offense went through a drought since the first half of the opener, but did just enough at the right times to beat the Panthers 37-19, with Ben Roethlisberger looking like Ben Roethlisberger again.

The Steelers quarterback found something resembling a rhythm in the second quarter, and was rewarded for his patience in the second half. He threw a pair of touchdown passes to Antonio Brown, and finished the night 22-of-30 for 196 yards.

That was more than enough to beat the Panthers, but perhaps a sign that the Steelers have found the kind of balance they’ve been looking for under offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Roethlisberger had a couple of chunk plays, but mostly worked the intermediate spaces.

And he worked them well.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. The Panthers would love to be able to run the ball, but the way they’re built right now, it’s hard.

Their offensive line is both patchwork and young, as both tackles are new to their jobs (right tackle Nate Chandler was a defensive tackle two years ago). They’re rotating journeyman Fernando Velasco and rookie Trai Turner at right guard.

If not for having an anchor in center Ryan Kalil and a promising young player in left guard Amini Silatolu, it would be a total mess. And those two were beaten several times, which is a really bad sign.

At least they have the good sense to not beat their heads against the wall, with just five rush attempts in the first half (for 10 yards). It’s not what you’d expect against a leaky Steelers run defense (which came in allowing 174.0 yards per game on the ground), or from a team that has spent so heavily on backs over the years.

2. Oh, and by the way, Cam Newton’s not nearly right, from a physical standpoint.

The Panthers quarterback didn’t have much of an offseason because of ankle surgery, and then suffered a rib injury which kept him out of the opener. He’s wearing body armor just to be on the field, and was getting pinned in the pocket by three-man rushes.

Were he well, he’d have spun out of a few of those pressures and run, regardless the status of his line.

But he’s not, which makes him a bit of a sitting duck.

3. Now that he’s realized that you can’t smoke a bunch of weed on the way to the airport, Le’Veon Bell’s become a really good running back.

He was able to find holes in a good Panthers run defense, and looks better since losing some weight this offseason.

He’s a solid between-the-tackles runner, and has enough burst to make big plays out of small cracks, as he did on his 81-yard burst in the third quarter. He finished with 147 yards.

The Steelers gashed the Panthers for 264 on the ground, with LeGarrette Blount adding 118 and a touchdown late.

4. The Steelers haven’t drafted as well as they’re accustomed to in the past, and that will create depth problems eventually.

The depth was tested in the second half, when linebackers Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones and cornerback Ike Taylor left the game in the third quarter.

Taylor suffered a pretty grotesque-looking arm injury, and the fact they immediately applied an air cast made it apparent it was broken.

5. The Panthers made a conscious decision to part ways with Steve Smith, primarily because he didn’t play well with others.

They clearly miss having proven offensive targets, but the guy they could have used Sunday night was Ted Ginn.

Watching undrafted rookie Philly Brown bobble away the game in the fourth quarter by letting a punt bounce off his chest and into the end zone for a Steelers touchdown was sad.

Ginn split for Arizona in the mass evacuation of the receivers room, though wanted to keep the guy who emerged as an offensive threat and a trustworthy returner.

But they didn’t really have the money to make a competitive offer, since they used the franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardy, which put more than 20 percent of their salary cap into Hardy and defensive end Charles Johnson.

That made them top-heavy, and susceptible to injury or the commissioner’s exempt list. So while it was nice to think about having a pass-rush secured, it left them thin in so many places.

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Ryan Shazier leaves with knee injury, won’t return

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

One of the bright spots of the Steelers defense had a short night.

Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier has left the game with a knee injury, and won’t return.

Shazier was caught by one of his own teammates while trying to back away from a pile, and immediately limped to the sidelines, where trainers were looking at his right knee.

The first-round pick from Ohio State has been a revelation, the rare rookie who can start for Dick LeBeau. We’ll probably find out tomorrow whether he will again anytime soon.

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Steelers take 9-3 lead over Panthers into halftime

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Are you ready for some field goals?

The Steelers have a 9-3 edge over the Panthers at halftime, in a game featuring solid defense on both sides.

The Steelers embarked on a 16-play, 87-yard voyage in the second quarter, but came away with just a field goal.

An apparent touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton was negated when the Steelers wideout was ruled to have stepped out of bounds.

Otherwise, the Panthers have given up some running yards, but held when needed.

The Steelers are out-rushing them 66-10 at the break, and both quarterbacks are taking some hard shots.

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49ers fall under .500 for only second time under Harbaugh

Harbaugh AP

Since Jim Harbaugh became head coach of the 49ers, things have been good.  Far more often than they’ve been bad.

Things have been so good that Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals puts the 49ers under .500 for only the second time since Harbaugh arrived in 2011.

Like last year, the 49ers have lost two in a row after winning the opener.  In 2013, the 49ers responded to adversity by winning five straight.

To do that again, the 49ers will have to beat the Eagles, Chiefs, Rams, Broncos, and Rams.  This team simply may not be good enough to reprise that feat, which could explain what Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News called “[o]ne of the most tense 49ers post-game locker rooms I’ve ever been in, especially for a regular-season game.”

Kawakami also shares the full transcript of Harbaugh’s press conference, which had even less useful content than his usual media availability.  If that’s even possible.

It remains possible that the 49ers will turn things around.  But it won’t be easy, and the margin for error in the top-heavy NFC West already is shrinking.

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Chris Harris: Russell Wilson “better than” Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson AP

For the second time in calendar year 2014, the Seahawks beat the Broncos on Sunday, and as was the case in Super Bowl XLVIII, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was impressive in victory.

And after the Seahawks’ 26-20 overtime win vs. the Broncos, Denver cornerback Chris Harris reportedly suggested Wilson, a third-round pick in 2012, was superior to Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the top pick in the same draft.

Russell Wilson is better than (Luck). No question,” Harris said after the game, according to Vic Lombardi of CBS 4 in Denver.

On Sunday, Wilson completed 24-of-34 passes for 258 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against a Denver defense improved from a season ago. He also rushed nine times for 40 yards. Wilson was efficient, on-point and in-control in overtime, hitting 4-of-6 passes for 35 yards and racking up 21 yards on four carries on a drive ending in the game-winning touchdown by Marshawn Lynch.

The Broncos have faced the Colts twice in the last calendar year, falling at Indianapolis in 2013 and besting the Colts in Denver two weeks ago. But the Broncos have yet to knock off Seattle in a game of consequence in the last two seasons. And when the game reached extra time on Sunday, Wilson had the Broncos’ number.

And clearly, Wilson has garnered the respect of Harris. The Broncos’ cornerback has, in turn, provided a nice chunk of sports radio programming for Monday, free of charge, for the “Luck or Wilson” debate is one where the ardent on either side can make some compelling arguments.

But we know which side Harris is taking.

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