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McCarthy: Aaron Rodgers returning to lineup Sunday

Arizona Cardinals v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

With the NFC North title on the line, Aaron Rodgers is returning to the Packers’ starting lineup.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy announced Thursday that Rodgers, the club’s star quarterback, is on track to start the season finale at Chicago after missing the previous seven games with a broken collarbone.

“We’re preparing for the Chicago Bears with Aaron Rodgers as our starting quarterback,” McCarthy said.

Rodgers practiced in full on Thursday, the club said.

“He’s throwing the ball very well going on three weeks. He’s been working his feet, working his conditioning, and getting ready for this moment. And that moment’s here,” McCarthy said Thursday.

McCarthy said the club has done its “due diligence” and that Rodgers “is ready.”

A victory by the Packers (7-7-1) will give the Packers their third consecutive division title. They currently trail Chicago (8-7) by a half-game.

Rodgers suffered the injury in the first quarter of Green Bay’s November 4 loss to Chicago. At the time, the 30-year-old Rodgers was playing at an exceptionally high level for Green Bay, which was then atop the NFC North. Even as the Packers dealt with a host of injuries to key pass catchers, Rodgers thrived, leading Green Bay to an unbeaten record in October.

Matt Flynn has been the Packers’ primary replacement for Rodgers, starting four games. He replaced Scott Tolzien, who started twice after Seneca Wallace was injured early in the Packers’ first game without Rodgers.

On the season, Rodgers has completed 168-of-251 passes for 2,218 yards with 15 TDs and four interceptions. He has compiled a 108.0 quarterback rating.

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Bill O’Brien: We’ll work both guys in practice, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is our quarterback

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Brooks AP

The Texans have lost three straight games and four of their last five, which isn’t helping their chances of making the playoffs.

It also isn’t hurting Ryan Fitzpatrick’s chances of remaining the team’s starting quarterback. Texans coach Bill O’Brien was asked at his Wednesday press conference about the circumstances that would lead to Ryan Mallett overtaking the veteran on the depth chart. O’Brien didn’t spell them out, but suggested that no move is on the horizon in Houston.

“I think that Ryan [Mallett] has improved every week. He’s getting a better grasp of what we’re doing here. I think the things that he’s trying to work on — accuracy, just consistent accuracy, things like that,” O’Brien said, via the team. “I think he’s working hard to get those to a level where they need to be to be able to play a lot of football in this league. Fitzy is our quarterback and when you look at our tape, again, you cannot just point to one position and say that’s the position that is at fault. There are a lot of positions that need to play better; we need to coach better, all those different things. It all goes into why sometimes we stall offensively. It’s not one guy. So we’re going to continue to work with both of these guys in practice and we’ll see how it improves and hopefully it will get better and better and that will help our offense get better.”

Fitzpatrick is what he is as a quarterback at this point in his career and the Texans can’t be too unhappy with his solid completion percentage, net yards per attempt or overall play on an offense. Still, 3-4 is 3-4 and a failure to improve that record though the next stretch will leave them with little reason not to see what Mallett can do after trading for him this offseason.

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Brandon Marshall on Jay Cutler: We’re great

Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall AP

Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall’s locker room outburst last Sunday garnered a lot of attention, particularly part of it that many thought was directed toward quarterback Jay Cutler.

Marshall pointed out the talent on the offense without mentioning Cutler and said the “same mistakes” regarding protecting the football are holding the team back. Coach Marc Trestman said this week that Marshall’s words were directed more generally than that and Marshall dismissed any talk of issues with Cutler during his weekly appearance on Inside the NFL.

“I have a really nice condo. And guess what? Jay Cutler built that condo,” Marshall said. “We’re great. We’re great. You know, we’re like brothers. I think Coach Trestman said it the best. But if I have a problem with Jay Cutler, I’m going to go to Jay Cutler. If Jay Cutler has a problem with me, he’s going to come to me. We have that type of relationship.”

Marshall also said that he doesn’t regret anything he said Sunday, though he does regret saying it for those outside the team to hear. The Bears will get back to work on Wednesday and there are sure to be more questions about the temperature in the locker room, but the best answer anyone can give will come with a focused and winning performance against the Patriots in New England.

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Texans won’t hand Jadeveon Clowney’s starting job back immediately

Jadeveon Clowney AP

The Texans took No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to Pittsburgh with them Monday, but didn’t rush him back onto the field.

Likewise, his place in the starting lineup isn’t a given when he does return, according to Texans coach Bill O’Brien.

With a long layoff after sports hernia surgery and his replacement Whitney Mercilus playing well (two sacks against the Steelers), O’Brien said they will ease Clowney back into the rotation.

“He played a tough football game,” O’Brien said of Mercilus, via Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle. “He’s one of the more improved guys on our team from when we got here last winter.

When J.D. comes back, he’ll have to work back into the mix. That’s not just something that’s going to be handed to him, that’s for sure. Whitney’s played well enough to deserve playing time, that’s for sure, and that’ll be a competition. …

“You don’t just hand it to a guy coming off of six weeks being out, especially when the other guy has played pretty well.”

Of course, the Texans didn’t bypass other needs to take a player such as Clowney for him to be a part-timer, so that adjustment period likely won’t be long. But having multiple pass-rush threats will help.

O’Brien said Clowney’s cutting ability wasn’t quite where he had hoped in pre-game warmups, so the decision to deactivate him was easy. That means this week in practice will likely determine whether and how much Clowney will play against the Titans Sunday.

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Aaron Rodgers meets Packers owner (sort of) Eddie Vedder

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When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers met President Barack Obama, he was surprised to hear the Commander in Chief wanted to trade him to the Bears.

But upon meeting Bears fan Eddie Vedder earlier this week at a Pearl Jam concert, he was surprised to find out Vedder was one of his bosses.

During his weekly show on ESPNWisconsin (link to full interview here), Rodgers said it was interesting to learn that Vedder actually owned a share of his team’s stock.

“He did say that he was an [Packers] owner,” Rodgers said. “A buddy had gotten him stock certificate a few years back. As opposed to when we met the President and he made a joke about trading me to Chicago, there wasn’t any conversation about that. We actually talked about some other things.”

Having met the most powerful man on Earth, meeting a rock singer was a big deal, but not enough to make him nervous.

I didn’t geek out in that situation,” Rodgers said. “I was proud of myself. I didn’t really need a pep talk. I’d seen him perform before, and obviously was a big fan for a while, but I didn’t feel those pre-meeting nerves.”

At one point in the show, Vedder took the stage in a Packers No. 10 jersey, though Rodgers insisted it was in honor of one of their early album titles and not Matt Flynn.

“Flynn obviously played along, or maybe in his mind believed that it was a Flynn jersey that he was wearing,” Rodgers said. “I’m pretty sure it said ‘Vedder’ on the back, and obviously the Ten was for the CD title.”

The two icons swapped souvenirs (a jersey for a guitar), but it’s unclear if that’s enough for Vedder to disavow the Bears, or at least wait until Obama gets that trade pushed through.

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Stephen Tulloch: We aren’t the same old Lions

New Orleans Saints v Detroit Lions Getty Images

The Lions were in position to win the NFC North last season after they won six of their first nine games, but things fell apart down the stretch and Detroit watched the playoffs from home.

That memory may be keeping some people from buying into the Lions’ chances this season despite their 5-2 record. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch is out with a torn ACL, but he’s remained around the team and explained Tuesday why this year’s team won’t repeat the failure from 2013. It starts with the change of head coaches named Jim from Schwartz to Caldwell.

“It starts with the head man; it starts with coach Caldwell,” Tulloch said on 105.1 in Detroit, via the Detroit Free Press. “The person that he is, the coach that he is, I’ve never been around a man like that before in my life. He’s like a father figure. We don’t want to let him down. He treats us like men, all of us, from day one. He’s just an accountable person. He’s going to make sure every guy’s accountable, that we’re going to do what we have to do. We’re not going to cause any problems in the locker room. There’s no drama. Everybody believes in what’s going on and I think it’s translating to wins. And people can kind of move away from the ‘same ol’ Lions.’ The new Lions now because this is definitely a guy that believes in change and he’s done a good job doing that.”

The change from Schwartz to Caldwell is obviously impactful, but they addition of defensive coordinator Teryl Austin also seems pretty significant. The Lions have allowed the fewest yards and second-fewest points in the league this season after being in the middle of the pack in 2013. That’s definitely not the same old Lions and definitely a reason for optimism about the second half of the season this time around.

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Joe Philbin “excited” about Dion Jordan’s return

Dion Jordan AP

Defensive end Dion Jordan was back at practice for the Dolphins on Tuesday, the first time he’s been able to take part in work with his teammates since the start of the regular season.

Jordan spent the first six games of the season serving a pair of suspensions for violations of the league’s drug policy, which added off-field questions to any on-field ones raised by a quiet rookie season for the third overall pick of the 2013 draft. Jordan said he “bettered” himself during his time away from the team and that people should feel confident that he’ll remain drug-free, two things he likely shared with coach Joe Philbin in recent conversations.

“We’ve talked numerous times,” Philbin said, via the Miami Herald. “It’s about looking forward and moving forward in all aspects, professionally, personally. I’m excited about having him back.”

Philbin said that no decision will be made on activating him for Week Eight until later in the week. If Jordan can be a factor defensively upon his return, it should allow Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon to play fewer snaps and remain fresher come the second half of games.

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Wednesday morning one-liners

Robert Mathis AP

When given enough time to pass, QB Kyle Orton has looked good for the Bills.

Dolphins DE Dion Jordan said fans “should be confident I’m drug-free. I’m very confident.”

For the Patriots’ defensive backs, covering Bears WRs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery will be a tall order.

With 2014 looking like a lost season the Jets will have big decisions in 2015.

The Ravens are playing well in all three phases of the game.

Bengals players are trying to make a difference in their community.

Your reminder that the 1964 Browns were the last Cleveland team to win a championship.

Monday night’s win was nice, but the Steelers still have issues.

Texans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t appear to be close to getting benched.

Despite losing Robert Mathis, the Colts’ pass rush is holding up well.

Jaguars LB Telvin Smith is showing a knack for making big plays.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt says he’s noticed “a sense of pessimism” in Tennessee. (Maybe his team should give the locals something to be optimistic about.)

The Broncos are focusing on stopping Chargers TE Antonio Gates.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid will reunite this week with Donovan McNabb, his old quarterback who will call Sunday’s game on FOX.

The Raiders’ defense is struggling on third down.

Chargers WR Keenan Allen hasn’t scored a touchdown this season, but he has made a difference to San Diego’s offense.

The Dallas defense may have a tough time with Washington WR DeSean Jackson on Monday night.

With Victor Cruz out of the season, the Giants can’t afford to have Odell Beckham play like a rookie.

Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos had dinner with Mel Gibson during the bye week.

Washington QB Colt McCoy got in some target practice at the team facility.

Mike Ditka thinks one of the problems in the Bears’ locker room is that the team needs permanent captains.

The Lions were pleased to find a big fan in England.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has gone 192 passes without an interception.

The Vikings had enough injuries on the offensive line Sunday that if they’d suffered one more, TE Rhett Ellison would have had to play on the line: “It’s never really discussed, but I would have gone in and played tackle,” Ellison said. “I’m sure we would have slid our protection to my side to help me out. At least that’s my guess.”

The Falcons keep on shuffling their injury-riddled offensive line.

Carolina is the prettiest team in the ugly NFC South.

The Saints got off to a strong start, but their terrible finish ruined a good game on Sunday.

Tampa Bay hasn’t had much of a home-field advantage this season.

The Cardinals would like to extend QB Carson Palmer, but that’s not their only contract priority.

Former Rams WR Isaac Bruce says that if St. Louis fans want to keep the team, they need to show up. (And if the Rams want the support of their fans, they need to keep playing like they did on Sunday.)

Will former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. get a bust in Canton?

Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin has benefited from lining up in the slot.

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Demarcus Lawrence has Jerry Jones “frothing at the mouth”

DeMarcus Lawrence AP

Even though their defense is better than it used to be (not that that’s hard), the Cowboys still have just six sacks on the season.

They’re hoping help for that is just around the corner.

With Demarcus Lawrence practicing well after breaking his foot, the Cowboys hope he’s ready to play when he can be brought back from IR/designated for return on Nov. 2.

Lawrence had everybody frothing at the mouth a little bit out there last week,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on KRLD-FM. “He has really improved his body during this time off. He’s used it to really have a lot of strength work. It’s something that he didn’t do as much [in college] as he’s doing now. He’s had quite a physical improvement.”

The second-round pick could make an immediate impact once he’s well, as there’s no real pass-ruhser on the roster, with defensive tackle Henry Melton leading the team with 1.5 sacks.

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Decision on Jon Beason’s toe surgery coming today

New York Giants v Detroit Lions Getty Images

Giants linebacker Jon Beason should know today what his plans for the season are, but admitted yesterday that shutting himself down for the season was an option because of a problematic toe injury.

Right now I’d say it’s 50-50 if the smart thing is to get it fixed and get ready for next season,” Beason said on WFAN, via Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News.

Beason said he was “frustrated” with his condition, but pointed out he wasn’t medically whole.

“I’m playing without a crucial ligament in my big toe,” he said.

Surgery could fix that, but would knock him out for the year. He opted to not have surgery to get ready for the opener, but wasn’t able to finish the next game. He missed the next three games, but came back against the Eagles before aggravating it last week against the Cowboys.
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Antonio Brown still mad at refs, but apologizes for swearing at them

Antonio Brown, A.J. Bouye AP

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown’s no less happy at the officials he believes cost him a touchdown.

But he at least deleted the swearing at them.

Brown posted “F—ing refs,” next to a picture of his feet apparently in bounds on his Twitter page, has since deleted it, and come back with an even better reply.

Apologies for cursing the refs but dang,” the latest message reads, while Kermit the Frog looks at a picture of Browns feet, clearly in bounds.

When you’re passionate about something, you speak your mind,” Brown said on his radio show on 970 ESPN, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Dean Blandino, the league’s head of officials, maintained the call was correct.

“Touchdowns are hard to come by in the NFL,” Brown said. “That would have given us a two-touchdown lead and made it harder for [the Texans].”

What might be even harder is the realization that swearing at the refs isn’t going to make him any richer, and might make it harder to get a call next time.

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Rams promote linebacker Marshall McFadden from practice squad

New York Giants v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

With a roster spot still open following the released of wide receiver Austin Pettis on Monday, the St. Louis Rams promoted linebacker Marshall McFadden to the team’s 53-man roster from their practice squad.

McFadden appeared in one game for Pittsburgh in 2012 and four games for Oakland in 2013 before signing to the Rams practice squad in October. He has recorded three tackles in those five games.

The Rams also signed receivers Kadron Boone and Devon Wylie, and linebacker Korey Toomer to their practice squad to fill the spots vacated by the promotion of McFadden and the release of receiver Emory Blake and linebacker Denicos Allen.

Pettis cleared waivers and is now a free agent.

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Agent: Report of Marshawn Lynch not boarding bus following Harvin trade is “absurd”

Seattle Seahawks v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

The trade of Percy Harvin to the New York Jets on Friday caught many members of the Seattle Seahawks by surprise.

Harvin’s teammates were finding out about the trade as the Seahawks were preparing to board buses to head to the airport for their flight to St. Louis Friday afternoon.

One player that appeared to take the news heavily was running back Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch expressed his surprise at the move on Twitter and reportedly nearly refused to board the team bus upon finding out about the news. However, Lynch’s agent, Doug Hendrickson, vehemently refuted that notion Tuesday night.

“These reports of (Lynch) going off and not wanting to get on bus are absurd. Please report accurate stories and not bogus ones,” Hendrickson wrote via his Twitter account.

A league source said over the weekend that Lynch had boarded the bus and was ready to depart long before several Seahawks staff members and players. The source added that they were not aware of any incident regarding Lynch threatening to not make the trip in the trade aftermath.

Lynch appeared to be his normal self on the field against the Rams on Sunday in carrying 18 times for 53 yards.

If anything, the trade of Harvin should allow the Seahawks to turn back to Lynch as their primary option on offense without needing to find a way to get Harvin involved in the game. After having just six carries against San Diego and 10 against Dallas, Lynch should once again become the focal point for Seattle’s attack.

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Jeremy Lane returns to practice from injured reserve for Seahawks

Jeremy Lane AP

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane was designated Tuesday as having returned to practice after spending the last six weeks on the injured reserve/designated to return list.

Lane nursed a groin injury into Seattle’s season opener against the Green Bay Packers. He further aggravated the injury in the game and was placed on injured reserve following the game.

Head coach Pete Carroll said Lane is on track to return to the lineup for Seattle’s Week 10 game against the New York Giants when he is eligible to come off injured reserve. With the Seahawks having Tuesday off, Lane will practice for the first time since his injury on Wednesday.

Lane’s injury has forced Marcus Burley into the majority of duty as Seattle’s nickel cornerback this season. Lane has appeared in 19 games with four starts over the last three seasons. He has 44 tackles and four passes defended in his career.

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Steelers ILB Ryan Shazier could return Sunday

Ryan Shazier, Fozzy Whittaker AP

After a four-game absence because of a sprained MCL, Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier could be set to return to the lineup Sunday vs. Indianapolis.

Shazier and reserve safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) have a “pretty good chance of playing this week,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said at his Tuesday press conference, according to the club.

The Steelers’ starting left inside linebacker, the 22-year-old Shazier has notched 20 tackles in three games this season. Sean Spence has filled in for Shazier.

While Shazier and Thomas appear on their way back, right tackle Marcus Gilbert’s status for Week Eight is up in the air. Gilbert, who suffered a concussion in Monday night’s victory vs. Houston, is going through the league’s concussion testing, Tomlin said. Mike Adams is the top backup to Gilbert.

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Chiefs release DE Jerel Worthy from practice squad

Green Bay Packers Mini Camp Getty Images

Defensive end Jerel Worthy, a 2012 second-round pick of the Packers, was released from Kansas City’s practice squad on Tuesday, according to the NFL’s transactions.

A Michigan State product, Worthy (6-2, 308) appeared in 14 games for Green Bay as a rookie, recording 14 tackles and 2.5 sacks. However, injuries have hindered his NFL career. He suffered a left ACL tear late in the 2012 season and spent most of 2013 on the PUP list. He also underwent back surgery earlier this year.

The 24-year-old Worthy had signed with the Chiefs’ practice squad in September after a brief stint with the Patriots. The Packers dealt Worthy to New England in August.

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