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Bettis says he understands if Hall of Fame votes him down

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee will determine on the day before the Super Bowl whether Jerome Bettis should be enshrined in Canton. Bettis says that whether he’s voted up or down, he can accept it.

I understand the process now and I know that I can’t become emotionally invested in the process because when you look at everybody on that list, not just the finalists, you look at the semifinalists, everybody deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” Bettis told ESPN.com. “The fact that I’m [a finalist] is an incredible honor. Whoever gets in deserves to be in because all of the names on that list deserve to be in, but you can’t put everybody in.”

Bettis is one of 15 modern-day finalists, and under Hall of Fame rules a maximum of five of them can be voted in. Bettis’s numbers would seem to be worthy: He’s sixth all-time in rushing yards, with 13,662, and everyone else who’s in the Top 10 in rushing yards is in the Hall of Fame except LaDainian Tomlinson, who is not yet eligible. Bettis is a six-time Pro Bowler, a two-time first-team All-Pro, and he was among the Top 10 in rushing yards in the NFL five times.

The case against him is that he never led the league in rushing or touchdowns and only led the league in any statistical category once, when he led the NFL in rushing attempts with 375 in 1997. Bettis’s yards per carry average is also low, at just 3.9, and he wasn’t much of a threat in the passing game.

Is that case enough to vote him down?

“You take yourself through that journey and then that disappointment [of not making it] is natural, but you shouldn’t be disappointed because it didn’t affect my career,” Bettis said. “I can’t look at it that way because then it’s kind of tainting my career. I had a heck of a career. I’m proud of everything I accomplished and so that’s kind of the way I look at it. Hopefully my time will come.”

Bettis’s time probably will come eventually. If it doesn’t, he sounds like he’s at peace with it.

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Christian Ponder looks back on “roller coaster” career

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There once was a time when Christian Ponder was the future of the Vikings.

Now that he’s been replaced by the next future of the Vikings, he’s coming to terms with his four years in Minnesota.

I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity I was given,” Ponder said, via Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The Vikings didn’t bother picking up the option on the 2011 first-rounder’s contract, meaning he’ll be a free agent in March. But with Teddy Bridgewater showing well down the stretch, Ponder is realistic about what’s next, though he hasn’t ruled out coming back.

Ponder has seen it from every angle in Minnesota, from getting drilled as a rookie to leading his team to the playoffs, only to miss that game with an injury.

“One of my fondest memories was beating Green Bay to get into the playoffs,” he said. “Such a fun night. Beating Green Bay at home to get into the playoffs. Of course I couldn’t play the next week.

Last year was such a weird season. Bringing Josh {Freeman] in, not starting well. Starting Matt [Cassel]. Starting Josh. Concussion against Chicago and then Matt started rest of the year.

One way to describe is up and down. It’s really been a roller coaster.”

The severe lack of quality quarterbacks in the NFL probably means Ponder will get another shot somewhere else. Whether he ever has a better chance than the one he had remains to be seen.

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Friday morning one-liners

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Running the ball has not gone well for the Bills.

The Dolphins like what they’ve seen from Dion Jordan at linebacker.

Contract notes about QB Tom Brady, WR Julian Edelman and other Patriots with bonuses, guarantees and incentives on the horizon.

Jets QB Matt Simms hasn’t played much, but feels he’s still made progress this season.

Ravens DT Timmy Jernigan tries to never play mad.

The Bengals Defense will get a second chance to slow down Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell.

QB Connor Shaw hopes to get thrown into the fire by the Browns this weekend.

Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons reflects on his first Pro Bowl selection.

J.J. Watt took some time away from the Texans to ring in Christmas with former First Lady Barbara Bush.

The Colts have nothing to gain in the standings, but they say that won’t change their approach to Week 17.

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has cut down on his interceptions.

Who is going to be the Titans quarterback next year?

Broncos players aren’t worried about QB Peyton Manning.

The Chiefs website wants you to know a bit more about LB Joe Mays.

Will RB Latavius Murray have a long run as the top Raiders back?

Chargers coach Mike McCoy is looking for the best outing of the season from his team.

They didn’t have any Pro Bowl selections, but the Cowboys Defense is looking good at the right time.

Rookie WR Corey Washington thought he’d do more for the Giants this season.

Eagles RB LeSean McCoy incorrectly “thought this was the team” to make a playoff run.

Five storylines for the Redskins in their season finale.

Tracing where things went wrong for the Bears this season.

The Lions will be trying for a rare interception of Aaron Rodgers this weekend.

Members of the 1991 Packers remember the last time the Lions won at Lambeau Field.

Vikings CB Captain Munnerlyn is trying to finish strong.

The Falcons can’t afford another injury in the secondary.

Panthers K Graham Gano doesn’t doubt himself after missed kicks.

RB Charles Sims has gained confidence at the end of his rookie season with the Buccaneers.

What do the Saints need to do to end their season with a win?

Said Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, “Week to week, different quarterback, do you like it? No. But it is what it is.”

Rams DB Lamarcus Joyner has had a humbling rookie season.

A look at the unraveling of the Jim Harbaugh era with the 49ers.

Seahawks S Kam Chancellor wore a microphone during last week’s win.

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Frank Gore excited about future of 49ers, and his own

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For an aging running back on a team full of uncertainty, Frank Gore is confident.

In his own future, as well as the future of his quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Gore told Mindi Bach of CSNBayArea.com that after a conversation with 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke, that he had a clearer picture of his role with the team in 2015.

“We were just talking about football, and basically, he was saying, ‘Next year we gotta do this, we gotta do that.’” Gore said. “So I said, ‘Well, I’m going to be here next year then?” He said, ‘Yeah, I want you back here next year.’”

That’s some degree of news in an of itself, given that the 31-year-old is entering the final game of his contract with the team, and they have younger options available.

But even with the coaching uncertainty, Gore thinks the team will rebound next year.

“I know there will be changes, but I think the guys at the key positions, that’s what matters,” he said. “Next year, I think Kap will get back to himself. Anquan Boldin will come back. Stevie Johnson is still under contract. Vernon Davis is still under contract. Joe Staley, Anthony Davis. I look at Patrick Willis will be back, Navorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, for the season. So I think the guys at the key spots are good enough for me to say, ‘Yeah, I want to be back.’”

Injuries have derailed the 49ers this season, among other problems. But getting Kaepernick back on track will be critical for whomever ends up coaching them.

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Andy Dalton returns to practice, but other Bengals still sick

Andy Dalton AP

The Bengals had two big pieces of their offense back at practice on Christmas Day.

Quarterback Andy Dalton was a full participant in practice after missing Wednesday’s session after the team sent him home sick. Dalton’s one of several Bengals players who have spent Christmas week battling illness and tight end Jermaine Gresham joined him in making a return after taking a day to convalesce.

Cornerback Terence Newman and safety Reggie Nelson remained out of work on Thursday, however, and kicker Mike Nugent and cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris were added to the list of those under the weather. There’s still ample time for everyone to get better in time for Sunday, although they may continue to do it away from the team to ensure germs don’t continue to spread.

Wide receiver A.J. Green hasn’t been sick, but he has been battling an arm injury since Monday’s victory over the Broncos. Green missed practice Wednesday, but joined Dalton in making a Thursday return to the field. Green was limited, but looks like he’s on track to play on Sunday.

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Report: Steven Jackson unlikely to play this week

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If the Falcons are going to the playoffs, it appears they’re going to have to get there without running back Steven Jackson.

According to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Jackson is expected to be inactive for Sunday’s game against the Panthers because of a quadriceps injury.

An MRI done this week spoiled some of the initial optimism about his prognosis, and the team promoted running back Jerome Smith from the practice squad, so they may be planning to go without Jackson.

If Jackson can’t go, Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Devonta Freeman will have to carry more of the load, with the NFC South title and the playoffs on the line.

“We’ve got to get both of those guys ready to go,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “And I think both of them, if they have to play, will be prepared and ready to go.”

Freeman has made enough plays to earn the notice of teammates, but being without a veteran in such an important game is still a blow for the Falcons.

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Andre Johnson “doesn’t mind” a pay cut to stay with Texans

Lardarius Webb, Andre Johnson, C.J. Mosley AP

Earlier this month, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson said that he wanted to play 15 years in the NFL before retiring and that he wanted to play all 15 of those years with the Texans.

It was a change from the offseason, when Johnson was asking to be traded because he wasn’t sure about the direction of the franchise with a new head coach coming aboard. The Texans still lack a quarterback, but Bill O’Brien’s done well to give the Texans a shot at a 9-7 record heading into the final week of the season and it’s easy to understand being more convinced of the path that the team is on at this point.

Complicating Johnson’s ability to stick around for his entire career is the $10.5 million he’s supposed to make in 2015 while counting a little more than $16 million against the cap. That doesn’t fit with a player whose production has slowed this season or with a team that has DeAndre Hopkins ready to be their No. 1 receiver. Johnson’s uncle and advisor Andre Melton, who served as Johnson’s de facto agent early in his career, said that Johnson is willing to take less to remain in Houston.

“We understand it’s a business and we’re willing to deal with that. And Andre doesn’t mind having a pay cut,” Melton said, via the Houston Chronicle. “They’re going to come in the offseason and say, ‘Hey, Andre: This is what we need to do,’ If we can come to some type of common ground with everybody where everybody can be happy, then we’ll work on that, that’ll be fine. And if we can’t, it will be sad to say. … But we’ll see who can give [us] a shot at a ring.”

Agreement on pay cuts can sometimes be tough to find, but it would appear there’s a way to work out a continued stay in Houston if Johnson’s motivations have been accurately represented.

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Karlos Dansby bemoans rookies wasting time

Karlos Dansby AP

Browns head coach Mike Pettine defended first-round picks Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel earlier this week.

But one of their teammates said both “wasted” their rookie seasons, and better turn it around fast.

“When you’re a first-round pick, you’ve got to c’mon, man” veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “They’ve got to reset their goals and they’ve got to do it fast.”

Dansby said Gilbert simply didn’t work hard enough, and noted Manziel saying he squandered chances as well.

“There’s so much [Gilbert] could’ve done better and he didn’t put forth the effort,” said Dansby. “So yeah, it’s a wasted year.

“Like Johnny said the same thing, it’s a wasted year for him. That’s how he feels. He’s like ‘Damn, I’ve got to take this more seriously. I’ve wasted all this time.’ That’s basically what he’s saying. So it’s like ‘Don’t waste your time man, because it’s precious bro. You never know when you’re going to be done. You’re one play away from never playing this game again.”’

To Dansby, the problem is generational.

“But that’s the thing with a lot of rookies these days,” he said. “Their only goal is to get into the NFL. They want the glam and the flash but they’re not willing to put in the grind and the work and the time in order to be great. They want it to just fall in their lap and it doesn’t happen like that.”

Of course, both players have shown flashes of potential — at varying times and degrees. But their struggles are magnified because of their draft status, and the Browns can’t afford for them to not produce much longer.

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Jay Cutler on Bears: “Everyone could get axed”

Jay Cutler AP

After what he’s been through the last year with the Bears, nothing will surprise quarterback Jay Cutler.

So if being benched and getting his job back a week later won’t do it, neither would a good housecleaning.

“I think you’ve just got to prepare yourself that anything can happen — that’s kind of what I’m prepared for,” Cutler said, via Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I mean, everyone could stay. Everyone could get axed. You just never know what direction it’s going to go. You have to stay open-minded and know that things happen for a reason.”

Whether Marc Trestman makes it to a third season seems dubious. General Manager Phil Emery’s future is also in doubt.

And Cutler’s own fate is directly tied to those two.

“Coaches could leave. Players could leave. I could leave,” Cutler said. “That’s part of it. . . .

“You’ve got to expect the least expected. Hopefully we make it through the next couple days without something else happening. You never know, though.”

“Yeah, it’s a different season. It’s a weird season. A lot of things have happened. A lot of things haven’t gone our way for numerous reasons.”

Of course, whoever’s sorting out those reasons might decide Cuter’s one of the reasons. And he’s seen enough lately to know he can’t really control that.

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John Fox wants Peyton Manning to return

Fox Getty Images

On Wednesday, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said he plans to return in 2015, if the team wants him.  On Thursday, the coach of the team said he wants Manning to return.

“I would say when you’re kind of in the top three quarterbacks in the league, maybe the top of all time, I’d say there’s a pretty good likelihood,” John Fox told reporters.  “He’s had a tremendous year, there is no doubt.  We’ve still got things to get done and [we are] looking forward to the opportunity.”

So have Fox and Manning talked about 2015?

“It’s cliché but in this business you pretty much stay one week at a time,” Fox said.  “So probably not a lot of conversation, but if you’re asking me moving forward, would we like that opportunity?  I’d say yes.”

Manning is completed the third year of a four-year deal with the Broncos.  His salary for 2015 is $19 million, and Manning’s cap number will be $21.5 million.

In contrast, backup Brock Osweiler, a second-round pick in 2012, will be completing his rookie deal at a base salary of $660,000.  The Broncos will have to decide whether to extend Osweiler’s deal, possibly without ever seeing him play a meaningful role in a regular-season game.  They also could trade him to another team before his contract expires.

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DeMarco Murray out sick on Thursday

DeMarco Murray, Tony Romo AP

Working on Christmas can be a rough draw for some people, but a day at work for a professional football team sounds a lot better than being sick in bed on December 25.

That’s where Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray found himself this Christmas. Murray’s hand surgery didn’t get in the way of playing against the Colts last Sunday, but he’ll have to ward off illness to make it through all 16 games for the first time in his career.

“He is not here today,” head coach Jason Garrett said, via the team’s website. “He was here earlier. He is sick so we sent him home.”

The Cowboys will practice again on Friday and another absence from Murray would make for some concern about Sunday as it wouldn’t make sense for the team to take any undue risks with a playoff berth already in hand.

Linebacker Rolando McClain returned to practice after missing Wednesday’s session after his house in Alabama burned down. Right tackle Doug Free didn’t practice and is on track to miss a second straight game with an ankle injury.

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Achilles injury doesn’t keep Joique Bell from practicing

Jared Allen, Joique Bell AP

The Lions give playing time to several different running backs, but Joique Bell is clearly at the top of the pecking order with 210 of the team’s 373 rushing attempts this season.

No other back has more than 71 carries, so the Lions would have to seriously boost someone’s role in the event that Bell isn’t able to play against the Packers on Sunday. Coach Jim Caldwell left that possibility open on Thursday.

Bell was a participant in practice after being listed as limited by an Achilles injury on Wednesday’s injury report, but Caldwell only said, via Tim Twentyman of the team’s website, that “we’ll see” when asked if Bell would be able to be in the lineup on Sunday. Bell missed one game earlier this year with a concussion and George Winn saw the most carries, although Reggie Bush and Theo Riddick would also be options for bigger roles if Bell were to miss another game.

Bell’s the only big injury concern for the Lions this week. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley was the only player to miss practice and it seems unlikely that he’ll be returning after missing the last seven games with a knee injury.

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Julio Jones, Steven Jackson remain out of Falcons practice

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The Falcons held a practice on Christmas Day, but wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Steven Jackson could have spent the session warming themselves in front of the Yule Log.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports that both players were held out of practice for the second straight day as the Falcons make their way toward Sunday’s NFC South championship game against the Panthers.

Jones missed Week 15 with what was originally called a hip injury, but has been clarified as being a strained oblique. Jones returned for seven catches and 107 yards last week, however, and is expected to play again this week despite being short of 100 percent physically.

Jackson’s outlook is less clear. He hurt his quad against New Orleans and the team hasn’t given much in the way of an update about his condition during the week, so Friday’s listing on the final injury report of the week should give us our best insight into the team’s plan for Jackson on Sunday.

Kicker Matt Bryant (illness), wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot) and Roddy White (ankle) all returned to practice after missing Wednesday’s workout.

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Report: Logan Thomas won’t start for Cardinals, Ryan Lindley will

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Cardinals rookie Logan Thomas had a rough opening to his first practice since being named the team’s Week 17 starter, but both he and coach Bruce Arians said that things got better as the session went along on Wednesday.

It appears that they didn’t get good enough for Thomas to hold onto the starting job until Sunday, however. Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports that the Cardinals have decided to go back to Week 16 starter Ryan Lindley for their regular season finale against the 49ers.

When Arians made the call to go with Thomas earlier this week, he said that he wouldn’t hesitate to pull the rookie if things weren’t going well and that Thomas’s practice performance could lead him to change his mind before Sunday. That makes Thursday’s report less surprising, if not particularly positive for an Arizona team that was likely hoping Thomas would prove to be a better option than Lindley in the event that Drew Stanton doesn’t heal in time to play in their postseason opener.

The Cardinals practice on Thursday, although Arians isn’t expected to meet with the media to discuss the latest twist at quarterback for the Cardinals until Friday.

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Thirty years ago today, Jerry Rice was Blue-Gray Game MVP

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On many Christmases past, football fans and NFL draftniks had an excuse to duck away from unwrapping gifts for a few minutes. The old, reliable Blue-Gray Game was on, delivering a nice little needed dose of football in-between heaping plates of holiday cheer.

An annual game for college stars hoping to turn pro, the Blue-Gray Game was one of the primary talent showcases of its time. And on Christmas 1984, those who tuned into the Blue-Gray Game saw a prolific wide receiver from a Division I-AA school star against major-college standouts.

Thirty years ago Thursday, Mississippi Valley State’s Jerry Rice was the Blue-Gray Game MVP as the South rolled to a 33-6 victory over the North.

Rice caught a pair of TDs, including a 60-yarder, according to The Associated Press‘s account of the game.

“I wanted to make a point for small college players everywhere,” Rice said afterwards, per the AP.  “I wanted to play well for them.”

The Blue-Gray Game hasn’t been played as a college football all-star contest since 2003. Perhaps because of its placement on Christmas — and perhaps because it was that nice little shot of holiday football — the game still inspires some nostalgia. We wouldn’t mind its return. And we really wouldn’t mind seeing some highlights of the ’84 game, when Rice — soon to be an NFL star — made a big splash.

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Kenny Vaccaro fined $10,000 for late hit

Kenny Vaccaro, Corey White AP

Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro’s second NFL season hasn’t gone particularly well as he’s struggled to provide reminders of the promise he showed during his rookie season.

Vaccaro’s season got worse last Sunday when the Saints were eliminated from the playoffs and again this week when he learned he’d been fined by the league for a late hit during the game. Vaccaro was not penalized for the play, but was dinged $10,000 by the league for hitting Falcons running back Steven Jackson late. Vaccaro plans to appeal and says he was making a legal hit while trying to stop Jackson’s progress.

“I’d never try to hurt anybody, but at the same time, if I don’t do that, I’m not hustling, I’m not finishing the play,” Vaccaro said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “So you’ve got to pick your poison. I’m just trying to get the guy down. … You’ve got to defend every blade of grass on the field.”

Vaccaro drew a fine for roughing the passer in his first NFL game last season, but has otherwise avoided league discipline in his first two seasons.

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