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NFL morning after: Peyton’s place in history

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The list of players who have won at least five MVP awards in the major sports reads like a who’s who of the greatest athletes in history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan in the NBA. Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky in the NHL. Barry Bonds (perhaps with an asterisk) in Major League Baseball. And that’s it.

Peyton Manning, who almost certainly clinched the fifth Most Valuable Player award of his stellar NFL career, is about to join that list.

We could debate where Manning ranks among the all-time great quarterbacks in football history, but I almost think that’s too narrow a debate. Perhaps the discussion needs to be where Manning ranks among the great competitors in the history of sports.

Think about all Manning has accomplished. He’s already the only NFL player who has ever won four MVP awards. He already owns several NFL records and will most likely own every significant career passing record before he’s finished. In addition to his fifth MVP award this year, he’s also going to get his 13th Pro Bowl selection and his seventh first-team All-Pro selection and perhaps his eighth offensive player of the year award. Last year he added a comeback player of the year award to his trophy case. In college he was a first-team All-American and winner of the Sullivan Award as America’s greatest amateur athlete. In high school he was the national player of the year.

Manning broke the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season in Sunday’s win over the Texans, with his 51st touchdown pass of the year giving the Broncos their final score in an easy win. Next week he’s likely to break the NFL record for passing yards in a season, as the Broncos just need to beat the Raiders to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They’re one win away from heading into the postseason as the favorites to come out of the AFC and go to the Super Bowl. But as I was watching that unfold on Sunday, I was thinking two somewhat contradictory things.

First, I was thinking that it’s undeniable how great Peyton Manning is. He’s been an American sports star since he was a teenager, and he’s the best player in the NFL today at age 37. He’s about to get his fifth MVP, and there are another few seasons when he had a good case for the award (including last year, when he came in second). He’s just consistently amazing.

But the second thing I was thinking is that, no matter how much he does individually, he won’t be remembered as the greatest ever if he doesn’t get a second Super Bowl ring. That’s not right — football is the ultimate team sport, and no one wins or loses alone — but that’s the way it is. If any team other than the Broncos is hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the first Sunday in February, this will be remembered as another year when Peyton Manning didn’t get it done.

To me, though, Manning’s place in history is secure. He’s the best quarterback who ever lived.

Manning was the player who impressed me most on Sunday. Below are some other thoughts:

Dallas has a badly coached defense. We’ve been talking all season about what a bad job Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is doing, and there are many examples of that, but I was particularly struck by how ill-prepared the Dallas defense was when Washington showed a new formation on Sunday. With Washington’s offense lining up four receivers to the left side early in the second half, the Dallas secondary didn’t know how to line up in coverage, and so they blew a timeout — and then Dallas gave up a touchdown pass two plays after that timeout. If your defense is wasting timeouts because you can’t figure out what the other team’s offense is doing, and if you can’t get your coverage straightened out even after you’ve called timeout, you’ve got serious problems. Firing Rob Ryan and hiring Kiffin was a huge mistake for the Cowboys.

Weird call that I liked: Longtime Jaguars center Brad Meester had never caught a pass in his NFL career, but because he was playing his last home game after announcing that he’ll retire at the end of the season, the Jags decided to call a trick play with Meester as an eligible receiver. Sure enough, Meester caught the pass and then made a nifty little move to run for a first down. The Jaguars have had a rough season, but they haven’t quit on coach Gus Bradley, and plays like that pass to Meester show why: Players enjoy playing for a coach who makes football fun, and what’s more fun than letting a 300-pound 36-year-old catch a pass?

Weird call that I disliked, Part 1: With the Broncos facing fourth-and-3 in Houston, the offense stayed on the field, and I liked that decision — Denver’s offense should be able to pick up three yards on Houston’s defense. But I hated the play they ran, with Peyton Manning throwing a short pass to tight end Julius Thomas, who was tackled for a two-yard gain. If you’re throwing on fourth down, throw past the line to gain.

Weird call that I disliked, Part 2: With the Titans facing fourth-and-goal in Jacksonville, the offense stayed on the field, and I liked that decision — you’ve got nothing to lose, why not go for it? But I hated the play they ran, with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing it out the back of the end zone. If you’re throwing on fourth down, don’t throw it away.

Terron Armstead wasn’t ready. Armstead, the rookie left tackle inserted into the Saints’ starting lineup for the first time on Sunday, looked pretty much the way you’d expect a rookie from a small school like Arkansas-Pine Bluff to look in his first NFL start. The Saints have had problems on their offensive line all year, and I understand why Sean Payton wanted to see if Armstead could help protect Drew Brees’s blind side, but Armstead simply wasn’t up to the task. The Panthers’ pass rush terrorized Brees all day.

Luke Kuechly is amazing. The flip side of the Saints’ offense struggling is that the Panthers’ defense was incredible in Sunday’s win over New Orleans. Kuechly, the second-year linebacker, had an unbelievable day: His 24 tackles were tied for the most the NFL has ever recorded by one player in a game, since tackles began being tracked as a statistic in 1994. Kuechly also became the first player since Derrick Brooks to record 20 tackles and an interception in the same game.

How can teams play so badly, with so much on the line? The Bears entered Sunday night knowing a win would clinch the NFC North. They lost 54-11. The Ravens entered Sunday knowing that if they won out they’d make the playoffs. They lost 41-7. The Lions entered Sunday knowing they needed to win to stay alive. They lost at home to the woeful Giants. The Dolphins entered Sunday knowing that if they won out they’d make the playoffs. They were destroyed by the hapless Bills.

We have an exciting Week 17 ahead of us. Some years all of the top teams are locked into their playoff spots before the season’s final Sunday. But not this year. Only one team, the Chiefs, knows its playoff seed (No. 5 in the AFC). Every other contender still has something to play for. We’re going to see some great football on Sunday. Including, I expect, Peyton Manning to set a new NFL record for passing yards in a season while leading the Broncos to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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With season on the line, Jerry Jones is optimistic

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It’s been a long quest for glory. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believes that glory is finally arriving.

With the 10-win Cowboys two games away from a division title — and one slip-up away from blowing both the NFC East crown and a wild-card berth — Jones sees the cup as almost entirely full. Despite failures in each of the last three years to win a Week 17 game that would have delivered a division title.

“I feel better than I felt in those years principally because of the health of [quarterback Tony] Romo,” Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News. “We’re in better shape with his health than we were in at least two of those three years.

“Just looking at our team and how it’s continually improved and it has, I think we’re playing our best. On an individual basis across the board the players are executing, and they’re healthier than they were in any of the last three years in general, across the board. Now, that has a lot to do with it.”

Still, the Cowboys have to deliver in each of the next two games, at home (where Dallas is a mediocre 3-4) and on the road against Washington. Lose one, and the Cowboys possibly are done.

So plenty is riding on the team’s ability to finish the job. If they perform like they have all year, the Cowboys will continue to defy the odds. If they finish the season like they did each of the prior three years, they’ll quite possibly be watching someone else pursue the glory that Jones so fervently craves.

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Washington openly hoping to play NFC East spoiler

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When you’re out of it and dysfunctional, you take whatever you can get.

So for Washington outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, the motivation for remaining games with the Cowboys and Eagles is simple.

We have a chance to be spoiler here,” Kerrigan said, via “Both of these teams are vying for the NFC East title and we have a chance to ruin one of their seasons so hopefully we can do that.

“You see these teams twice a year. Our fans don’t like the other teams in the East and we don’t either. This is a chance to take some positive for us by giving a negative to them.”

Dallas could clinch the NFC East this week with a win over the Colts and an Eagles loss at Washington.



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No current contract talks for Randall Cobb, Packers

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Before the season started, the Packers locked up wide receiver Jordy Nelson through 2018 before he could become a free agent.

Wide receiver Randall Cobb is also headed for free agency when the year comes to an end, but he didn’t get a new deal from the team. It doesn’t sound like one is forthcoming, either. Cobb said Thursday that there are no current contract talks going on with the team, something that Cobb says “is what it is” while adding that he hasn’t given much thought to what will happen after the season.

He did say that Green Bay is a great place to play and it’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t want to follow up his first 1,000-yard receiving season by catching more passes from Aaron Rodgers. The size of the deal also plays a role, though, and Cobb said before the season that he didn’t think he had done enough on the field to warrant a big deal. Has he done enough to be paid like a top receiver now?

“That’s a question for you,” Cobb said, via the Green Bay Press Gazette. “Am I? I don’t know. I’m trying to be the best Randall I can be. I don’t know what that means, but I’m trying to be the best I can be. I’ll let everybody else decide what.”

Sorting out Cobb’s contract will likely be one of the first things on the Packers’ to-do list when their season comes to an end and quarterback Aaron Rodgers said it’s important that the team hold onto a player who is having his best season as a pro. If they don’t, there will be plenty of other quarterbacks asking their teams to let them replace Rodgers as the man getting Cobb the ball.

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Taped calls show very strong effort to get Peterson to show up for NFL meeting

Peterson AP

Four days ago, the NFL Players Association filed a legal challenge to the suspension of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  The exhibits to the petition include a pair of recorded phone calls between Peterson and NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent.

PFT has obtained the recorded phone calls.  They create the distinct impression that Vincent was trying aggressively and zealously to persuade Peterson to attend a meeting in the league office on Friday, November 17.

“We’ve gotta make sure you show up on Friday,” Vincent said at one point in the first of two recorded calls.  That first call also had Vincent suggesting very strongly to Peterson that, if he shows up for the meeting, he could learn as early as that night that he would miss only two additional games before returning for the final five games of the season.

“The number that you gave me is real,” Vincent said in reference to a two-game suspension, “but you gotta go through the process.”

Vincent’s words ultimately were used by the NFLPA and Peterson as evidence that the NFL retaliated against Peterson for not showing up at the November 14 meeting, yanking a wink-nod understanding that he’d be suspended two games and hitting him with a harder punishment.  But it was unclear from the two phone calls whether Peterson definitely would be suspended only two games if he showed up at the meeting.  Listening to both tapes, the impression is that Vincent (regardless of motivation) desperately wanted to get Peterson to attend the meeting, and that Vincent (regardless of motivation) came off as a guy who was trying to broker a deal behind the scenes.

There’s no clear guarantee from Vincent that Peterson would have gotten only two games if he had shown up for the meeting.  With Vincent asking Peterson “can I trust you?” and insisting that Peterson not tell anyone about their discussions regarding a two-game suspension, it’s clear Vincent had one clear objective — to get Peterson to show up.

Possibly, Vincent was doing so at the behest of Commissioner Roger Goodell and/or others in the upper echelon of the league office.  Possibly, Vincent was simply acting on his own, thinking that he’d be helping Peterson by getting Peterson to submit to a meeting that was loosely defined and, given the involvement of outside experts, unprecedented.

Vincent’s testimony from the Peterson appeal hearing, a copy of which PFT also has obtained, makes it clear that Vincent was dealing with a diverse group that had developed no consensus as to Peterson’s additional punishment.  The audiotapes don’t convey the same “anything can happen” message to Adrian; instead, Vincent was strongly selling optimism that the final outcome could be two games.

Far more telling than the discussions about a two-game suspension were a couple of other comments that have not been emphasized by another media outlet that obtained the audio.  First, Vincent asked Peterson in the initial call, “If there is more discipline, what should it be?”  This strongly implies that Vincent, contrary to his superiors, believes suspension with pay is discipline.

Second, if there was any doubt about the first comment, Vincent elaborated on that point in the subsequent call.  “You were away from the game,” Vincent said.  “You were not participating, even though it was a paid leave.   You were not participating.  And ballplayers know their shelf life.”

Faced with that language during the Peterson appeal hearing, Vincent offered the following explanation: “Can I tell you why I shared that? Is because inside this group I had people who have no idea what the culture of or what the lifespan is of a National Football League player and they could care less. I was hoping, when this — that they would consider that you have a shelf life, the body has a shelf life as an NFL player. Because there are people in this group, they could care less. I was giving context so they can keep things into consideration.”

That’s the strongest, clearest argument yet against the NFL’s ill-advised position that paid leave for allegations of off-field misconduct isn’t discipline.  And it’s coming from the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, one of the highest ranking members of the league office.

Regardless of anything else that happens with Peterson’s case, Vincent’s taped comments and testimony should become the centerpiece of a challenge by the NFLPA to the league’s cockeyed notion that putting a player on paid leave harms neither the player nor his team.  Surely, it does.

If there was any doubt, just ask Peterson and the Vikings, who’d likely be a lot better than 6-8 right now if they’d had Peterson available for even half of the season.

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Odell Beckham would vote for Jarvis Landry for rookie of the year

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Odell Beckham has emerged this season as not just a leading rookie of the year candidate but perhaps the best receiver in all of football. But that’s not how Beckham views himself.

In fact, when Beckham was asked whom he’d choose as rookie of the year, he picked a couple of his LSU teammates: Beckham said Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry would be his first choice, and Bengals running back Jeremy Hill would be his No. 2.

(LSU’s offense was loaded with talent last season: In addition to Beckham, Landry and Hill, it also had quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who was starting for the Titans until he got hurt, guard Trai Turner, who is starting for the Panthers, running back Alfred Blue, who has 483 rushing yards for the Texans, and wide receiver James Wright, who has 121 yards from scrimmage for the Bengals.)

Beckham said the rookie of the year award would be nice, but he’s not giving it a lot of thought.

“It’s always in the back of your mind. But right now, honestly, just finish out the last couple of games and whatever happens, happens. You can only control what you can control. I’m just [thinking] whatever happens, happens,’’ Beckham told the New York Post. “Of course [it’d be nice]. If it were to happen, it’d be quite an accomplishment. But that’s not up to me; just keep doing what you’re doing.’’

Generally, Beckham said, he doesn’t think about individual accomplishments, which is why it’s strange to him when fans talk to him about his stats because they have him on their fantasy teams.

“I don’t have time for that,’’ said Beckham. “People talk to me about fantasy all the time. It’s something I really don’t pay much mind to it because I don’t like . . . I’m on someone’s fantasy team, ‘do good for me.’ I don’t play football to play for someone’s fantasy team. I play because this is what I love to do.’’

The Giants love what Beckham is doing for them this season. And no matter how much credit he wants to give to his old college teammates, Beckham is the best rookie in the NFL.

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Roy Miller needs knee surgery to repair meniscus injury

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The Jaguars announced a contract extension for defensive tackle Roy Miller earlier this week that will allow them to hold onto Miller without competing for his services with other teams when free agency opens in 2015.

It will also allow Miller to avoid selling his services while coming off of knee surgery.

Miller didn’t play against the Titans on Thursday night after missing practice all this week with a knee injury and Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union reports that Miller will need surgery to repair his meniscus. O’Halloran expects Miller will be placed on injured reserve before the Jaguars season comes to a close against the Texans next weekend.

Miller should be recovered in time to take part in the Jaguars’ offseason program, which will help him make good on the four-year, $16.25 million commitment that the Jaguars made to him this week. Miller’s season comes to a close after 14 starts, 20 tackles and a sack.

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Friday morning one-liners

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Marcus Thigpen has provided a jolt to the Bills special teams.

The Dolphins would like to get RB Lamar Miller 1,000 rushing yards.

Better communication is part of the Patriots’ plan to do a better job against the Jets run game than they did earlier this season.

Jets rookie S Calvin Pryor says he’ll prove his doubters wrong.

Injury ended S Terrence Brooks’s rookie season, but the Ravens still see a bright future.

Bengals T Andrew Whitworth isn’t worrying about making the Pro Bowl.

T Joe Thomas longs for a chance to play in a playoff game with the Browns.

TE Heath Miller’s blocking has been a plus to the Steelers run game.

The Texans expect to have LB Whitney Mercilus back in the lineup this week.

Getting traded to the Colts was a boost to CB Vontae Davis’s career.

The Jaguars may be moving on from WR Cecil Shorts after the season.

Titans RB Leon Washington got to celebrate a touchdown with his son on Thursday night.

The Broncos brought TE Dominique Jones back to the 53-man roster.

WR Jason Avant has made himself at home with the Chiefs.

Raiders rookie G Gabe Jackson brings a mean streak onto the field.

Chargers LB Dwight Freeney says age isn’t the reason for a drop in sacks.

Said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones of QB Tony Romo, “It has the potential to be his best season. The factor that would impact the most in my mind would be if we do have the kind of season that we’re all dreaming about here, then it would be his best.”

Former Giants G Chris Snee recounts telling coach and father-in-law Tom Coughlin that he was retiring.

Free agency is waiting for Eagles LB Brandon Graham after the season.

DE Jason Hatcher may not play again for the Redskins this season.

Bears CB Charles Tillman remains a believer in QB Jay Cutler.

If teams with head coaching vacancies come calling, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s stay with the Lions could be a short one.

CB Davon House is making progress in his return from a shoulder injury, but may not play in the final two Packers regular season games.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wants more toughness from his team late in games.

WR Roddy White says the Falcons will be ready with or without Julio Jones in the lineup.

It’s been a tough sophomore season for Panthers DT Star Lotulelei.

The Saints are moving Corey White to safety.

Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy is sad to miss a matchup with Aaron Rodgers.

DE Frostee Rucker will see college coach Pete Carroll when the Cardinals meet the Seahawks this weekend.

The Rams secondary will get its first look at Giants WR Odell Beckham.

There will be plenty of backups on defense for the 49ers this Sunday.

Seahawks T Justin Britt will have a lot to deal with against the Cardinals defensive line.

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Eddie Lacy can’t see himself wearing goggles

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Eddie Lacy can’t really see. But he can’t see himself looking like Eric Dickerson either.

The Packers running back is having problems with his contact lenses, and was limited in practice the last two days because of an irritated eye.

Lacy’s eye started bothering him when he wore his contacts past their normal 30-day shelf life, and now he said he can’t read nameplates across the locker room if he closes his right eye. He’s getting glasses soon, but said he didn’t want to have to wear goggles this week.

Otherwise, could goggles be an option?

I refuse,” Lacy said, via Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “I don’t want to say I refuse because I might because I think it will be better than wearing contacts, but that’s kind of old-fashioned.”

He said he plans to put his contacts back in this weekend, and coach Mike McCarthy said he didn’t think it would otherwise impact Lacy’s availability for this week’s game.

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Browns still confident Johnny Manziel will make plays soon

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After months of hype and hope and anticipation, one awful start isn’t going to change the way the Browns think about Johnny Manziel.

They’d like to see some results sooner, rather than later, but still see bright potential in the first-rounder who flopped in his starting debut last week.

“I feel the same about Johnny as I always have,” Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Johnny is a playmaker. He’s done that throughout his career. Nobody can argue with that at all. There were a couple times in that game he did make some plays. We weren’t able to capitalize on it. . . .

“Johnny is going to have some growing pains. He’s played a type of football that he’s not going to be able to down in and down out in the NFL, but you still want him to do it at times. He did it at times. You know he’s going to have some bad plays from his lack of experience, and we hope to manage those and not put him in those situations as much.”

It almost has to get better for Manziel, if only because it would be hard to be worse. He threw for 80 yards with two interceptions last week against the Bengals, and only ran 38 plays.

It was a disaster by any measure, but Shanahan thinks Manziel is resilient enough to withstand it.

“I think he is,” said Shanahan. “Johnny is a real impressive guy. I don’t think everybody knows really what Johnny is about, and Johnny is very humble. Johnny is a real dude. He’s not going to sit there and BS me or anything. We all were embarrassed by that game.

“Anytime you don’t put up points – it’s not just Johnny – all of us are extremely embarrassed about that. We want to get back to Sunday, and Sunday couldn’t come quick enough. Monday and Tuesday were real rough. Felt a little better Wednesday getting out and practicing. Felt better today getting our practice in, and we just want to get out there again so we can get that bad taste out of our mouths.”

Of course, if he doesn’t play better the next two weeks, people will be wondering if the familiar taste of Cleveland will ever change.

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Doug Marrone: Blame me, not Nathaniel Hackett, for offensive struggles

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The Bills have eight wins and one of the best defenses in the league, which makes it pretty obvious where the blame will lie should they fail to find a door into the playoffs over the next two weeks.

It’s the offense, obviously, and head coach Doug Marrone tried to head off criticism of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett for that unit’s shortcomings on Thursday. Marrone said that blame should be on him for “anything that happens” with the football team and said that Hackett has been dealt a tough hand when asked about what he’d discuss with Hackett after the season.

“Those are things that I would talk with Nathaniel about,” Marrone said, via “[When] we go through a process after the season, like everybody knows, we’ll sit down and talk. It’s been two years now. We’ve gone through, I don’t know, how many quarterbacks that we’ve played. We’re playing with a quarterback that wasn’t in our training camp. I think all of those things are pretty big challenges when you’re trying to get things going from an offensive standpoint.”

The quarterback issues have been a challenge, although it’s hard to completely separate EJ Manuel’s failure to develop in his second season from the job done by the person in charge of the offense. Even with C.J. Spiller’s injury, it’s also hard to explain how one of the league’s best rushing attacks from last season is now averaging a toothless 97.5 yards per game.

None of that appears to have Hackett on thin ice in Buffalo, but it’s hard to come up with explanations other than the offense for why the Bills’ playoff drought could extend another season.

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Tough to say what Jaguars have in Blake Bortles

bortles AP

Blake Bortles’s rookie season has not gone according to plan.

When Jacksonville took Bortles with the third overall pick in the NFL draft, the plan was to sit him for the entire year. But the Jaguars were so bad early this season with Chad Henne as the starter that the coaches decided at halftime of Week Three that they had no choice but to bench Henne and see what Bortles could do.

It’s never a good sign when a team has to abandon its plans for developing the franchise quarterback after only 10 quarters, but the good news for Jacksonville should be that it has almost an entire season of tape on which to evaluate Bortles. The problem, however, is that from watching Bortles play, it’s tough to say what the Jaguars have in him.

In last night’s win over the Titans, Bortles showed some progress: He led two 11-play drives that ended in touchdowns, he didn’t have any turnovers, and he used his feet effectively, running for 50 yards and generally doing a good job of avoiding the pass rush despite not getting much protection.

However, Bortles also had a season-low 115 passing yards, a season-low 4.4 yards a pass and a season-low completion rate of 50 percent last night. As his rookie season wears on, Bortles seems to be throwing shorter passes and throwing the ball away more often. The result is that his interceptions are way down (he has just two picks in the last four games after having 12 picks in his first six games), but his yardage is down too, and we’re not seeing him throw downfield successfully. And Bortles’s big arm was one of the main reasons he was viewed as a strong prospect.

The Jaguars’ entire offense has been a mess this season, with a bad line and injuries at running back and wide receiver. As a result, you can hardly blame Bortles for the way he’s become a safe and at times overly cautious quarterback down the stretch. But you also can’t really evaluate Bortles. He’ll be the Jaguars’ starting quarterback next year, but the Jaguars really don’t know if he’s a franchise quarterback they can rely on for years to come.

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Gary Kubiak expects emotional return to Houston

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The Ravens will be in Houston Sunday, which means offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will be back in town for a game for the first time since being relieved of his duties as Texans head coach last season.

Kubiak said Thursday that he has nothing but “great feelings” for the team and owner Bob McNair after spending eight years as the team’s coach. Things got ugly at the end, but Kubiak took the Texans to their first playoff appearance and victory during a run that left Kubiak “very proud” of the work that was done. As a result of those feelings, Kubiak thinks there will be some emotion come Sunday even though he’s spending the week focused on other matters.

“It’s a big game for our team and it is the next game,” Kubiak said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I’m sure it will be somewhat emotional for me. Come Sunday, it will be a little bit different, but right now, I’ve got my hands full trying to figure out how to block [J.J. Watt] and for us to move the ball.”

If the Ravens score 24 points on Sunday, they’ll set a new franchise record for points in a season. That speaks well of the job that Kubiak has done this season and could help him make his way into consideration for head coaching openings again in the future. Any thoughts of that will also have to wait until after he faces Watt, but there’s little doubt that landing on his feet makes it easier for Kubiak to return to Houston without much bitterness for the way things ended.

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Jimmy Clausen as surprised as anyone he’s starting

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Some Bears players were miffed at learning of Jay Cutler’s benching via social media.

But no one could have been more surprised than the guy who’s starting in his spot.

Former backup Jimmy Clausen said he was stunned at being named starter in this week’s bombshell move by coach Marc Trestman.

I didn’t see it coming at all,” Clausen said, via John Mullin of “It was quite a surprise to me that they wanted to go with me this week. But it’s a great opportunity for me and the team to go out there on Sunday and put our best effort out there and hopefully get a ‘W.’”

Of course, why would Clausen see it coming. He’s the owner of one NFL win, and hasn’t started a game since 2010.

That might be why guard Kyle Long said he was stunned to read about the decision on Twitter.

“I was surprised,” Long said. “But it’s the NFL.”

Almost, anyway.

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Philip Rivers ready to go after “outstanding” day in practice

Philip Rivers AP

Quarterback Philip Rivers doesn’t miss practices often, so his absence from the field earlier this week and reports of a severe back injury led some to wonder if he might actually miss Saturday night’s game against the 49ers.

Rivers’s return to practice on Thursday quieted much of that concern. Coach Mike McCoy’s assessment of Rivers’s work in practice likely put any lingering worry to bed.

“Philip had an outstanding day,” McCoy said, via the team’s website. “A ball did not hit the ground in all of the throws he made today, so Philip was Philip.  He’ll be ready to roll.”

Neither McCoy nor Rivers provided a lot of insight into the nature of Rivers’s injury, although Rivers said that sitting out practice was “the only choice to make” to get him ready to play in a game the Chargers have to win if they’re going to continue pushing for the playoffs through the final week of the regular season. It won’t be easy without wide receiver Keenan Allen while facing a strong defense after two down weeks on offense, but  it’s a better prospect than playing with Kellen Clemens by a pretty wide margin.

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Titans coach complains about calls against Jaguars

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When you’re one of the worst teams in the league, and you lose to one of the teams you were tied with for that honor, there has to be a reason.

Naturally, it was the officials who doomed the Titans last night, as they lost to the mighty Jaguars.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said it was no coincidence that Jags quarterback Blake Bortles was able to scramble and continue drives, finishing the night with 50 rushing yards.

They were holding the crap out of us on our defensive lineman when the quarterback got out of the pocket and we didn’t get a call,” Whisenhunt said, via Jim Wyatt of the Tennesseean. “That was very frustrating.”

Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey took a more responsible approach.

“There were a couple of times I got held,” Casey said, “but at the end of the day you have to get off the blocks and keep him contained. You have to collapse the pocket and not let him escape.”

When you’re 2-13 and playing out the string with Clipboard Jesus, I suppose it’s the kind of thing you latch onto.

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