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Welker says Patriots ran same play Belichick’s mad about

Denver Broncos Super Bowl XLVIII Media Availability Getty Images

Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker became the object of scorn from his former coach Bill Belichick, for a playoff hit that took out cornerback Aqib Talib.

But Welker said Belichick shouldn’t be upset — primarily because the same play was in the Patriots playbook.

We ran the same play,” Welker said, via Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.

“It’s a rub play that everybody runs,” he said. “It’s one of those deals where you try to get a rub on that guy, and really, if you can get him to go over the top of you, the more separation the other receiver will have. That’s what I tried to do to get Demaryius [Thomas] a little more open, and unfortunately, we collided.”

Welker was also asked if Belichick hated him, since the Patriots coach coolly referred to his former player as “the receiver” when discussing the play.

“I don’t know if he does,” Welker said. “That’s a question for him.”

So is whether Belichick in fact had the same idea with Welker when he was one of his.

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Santana Moss fined $22,050 for abusive language to officials

Santana Moss AP

Wide receiver Santana Moss expressed regret for blowing his top at the end of the first half of last week’s loss to the Giants and he’ll have to make some financial concessions as well.

According to multiple reports, Moss has been fined $22,050 for his abusive language to officials after a replay review wiped out what had initially been ruled a Robert Griffin III touchdown run. Moss was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected from the game.

The play ended the half with the Redskins up 10-7 and the Giants tied the game with a field goal after opening the half with a successful onside kick that got them the ball in Washington territory. Moss apologized “for being wrong” and letting his emotions get the best of him.

After the game, referee Jeff Triplette told a pool reporter that Moss was ejected because he used “very, very inappropriate language” toward field judge Alex Kemp after he’d already gone far enough to draw the flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.

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Philip Rivers is probable, but Allen and Mathews out

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Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers will be there.

But two of his most productive teammates won’t be.

The Chargers have officially listed Rivers as probable, meaning there’s a virtual certainty he’ll play Saturday night against the 49ers, after a week of conflicting reports about the health of his back.

But neither wide receiver Keenan Allen nor running back Keenan Allen will join him, which will limit Rivers’ ability to put points on the board.

Of course, they’re playing against a banged up 49ers defense, so it might not matter as much.

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DeAndre Hopkins questionable after sitting out third straight practice

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The Texans will wait until Sunday to make a call on wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

After a third straight missed practice, Hopkins (ankle) is listed as questionable on the injury report. According to Drew Dougherty of Texans TV, head coach Bill O’Brien indicated Hopkins’ status will be determined the morning before Houston hosts Baltimore.

The 22-year-old Hopkins has hauled in 69 passes for 1,167 yards and six touchdowns this season. The Texans’ No. 1 pick in 2013, Hopkins has yet to miss a game in his NFL career.

While Hopkins is questionable, wideout Andre Johnson (concussion) is poised to return after a one-game absence. Johnson is listed as probable.

At 7-7, the Texans are two games out of the final wild-card spot with just two left to play.

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Documents show ESPN mischaracterized testimony from Rice appeal

Miller email

Last week, a kerfuffle erupted between the NFL and ESPN regarding an ESPN report that focused on one key portion of the Ray Rice appeal process.  Specifically, the league accused ESPN of distorting the testimony and the evidence.

The fight centered on the impression created by Don Van Natta, Jr. that, only one day before Commissioner Roger Goodell told the owners via memo that the league tried on multiple occasions to obtain the notorious Ray Rice elevator video from law enforcement agencies, the league’s lead investigator, Jim Buckley, wrote in an email to NFL security chief Jeff Miller,  “I never contacted anyone about the tape.”  Last Friday, the NFL said in a statement, “That is a quote not from an email, but from an argument by Rice’s own attorney mischaracterizing the evidence.”

It may look like a Ralph Macchio “I shot the clerk?“-style misunderstanding, but it’s not.  PFT has obtained a copy of the email in question, along with a copy of the key page from the transcript of the Rice appeal hearing.  On this point, the NFL is right.

In the email in question, the NFL’s lead investigator does not say “I never contacted anyone about the tape.”  That quote comes from a question posed to NFL V.P. of security Jeff Miller at the Rice appeal hearing.  The NFL’s lawyer objected to the characterization of the e-mail, and hearing officer Barbara S. Jones said, “I can read them.”

Apparently, no one from ESPN read them.  Again, the email from the NFL’s lead investigator does not say, “I never contacted anyone about the tape.”  Nevertheless, the ESPN article as published (and as still existing on declares, “The last e-mail on the chain from Buckley says: ‘I never contacted anyone about the tape.’

It’s clear that Van Natta based his assertion not on the email but on lawyer Jeffrey Kessler’s mischaracterization of it.  Indeed, Van Natta tracks verbatim the question posed by Kessler to Miller:  “The last e-mail on the chain says, ‘I never contacted anyone about the tape.'”

ESPN has said on multiple occasions regarding this issue, “We stand by our reporting.”  PFT asked ESPN to release the entire transcript, but ESPN declined to do so.  (PFT also contacted the hearing officer last Friday with a request that the entire transcript plus exhibits be released publicly, but received no response.)

Frankly, ESPN shouldn’t stand by its reporting on this specific point.  Van Natta made a mistake.  ESPN should admit it and fix it.  Unless and until ESPN does, the NFL has a good reason to be upset with the company that once pulled the plug on a popular fictional show about pro football at the behest of former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

In this specific case, the documents PFT has obtained show that the NFL is right, ESPN is wrong, and next year’s Monday Night Football schedule possibly will consist of Titans-Jaguars, multiple times over.

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Washington puts Brandon Meriweather on IR

Meriweather AP

Brandon Meriweather has been dealing with a toe injury that’s kept him inactive the last three weeks, and now it’s going to keep him out for the year.

Washingnton announced that the veteran safety was being placed on injured reserve.

They filled his roster spot with linebacker Steve Beauharnais, promoting him from the practice squad.

Meriweather’s about to turn 31, and will be a free agent this offseason, and the toe injury won’t help his market.

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DeMarco Murray questionable, won’t have to run “gauntlet” to prove he can play

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The Cowboys haven’t officially ruled running back DeMarco Murray in the lineup for Sunday’s game against the Colts, but things certainly appear to be trending that way.

Murray has been listed as questionable for the game, which will kick off less than a week after he had surgery on a broken bone in his left hand. Murray said that the decision to play with a protective shell on his hand will rest with him, something owner Jerry Jones confirmed on Thursday, and  coach Jason Garrett said Friday that the team isn’t going to force Murray to prove his hand can take a beating in order to put him in the lineup.

“We’re not going to create a situation where OK, go through the gauntlet and everyone is going to beat on your hand,” Garrett said, via the Dallas Morning News. “We ain’t doing that. But hopefully when you see him practice he looks like himself. His feedback matters. His mindset, his mentality matters, it matters more than anything else. But then we’ll look at it and see if he’s looking like himself.”

If Murray really is going to make the final call, it is hard to believe he’ll choose not to play. Whether for individual reasons associated with showing toughness or impending free agency or because it’s a crucial game for the team, players typically want to play and nothing Murray’s done this week suggests he feels otherwise.

Right guard Zack Martin is questionable and right tackle Doug Free is doubtful after a week spent tending to ankle injuries. Jermey Parnell will likely start in Free’s place.

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Bryan Bulaga questionable due to concussion

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Packers may need to turn to J.C. Tretter at right tackle again this weekend.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is questionable to play in Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers after suffering a concussion in last Sunday’s loss to the Bills. Tretter replaced him and struggled against the Bills defensive line during his time in the game, including a play that saw defensive end Mario Williams beat him for a sack and fumble of Aaron Rodgers that turned into a safety.

The Packers didn’t hold a formal practice on Friday, but coach Mike McCarthy said, via the Green Bay Press-Gazette, that Bulaga would have been limited if they did because he remains in the concussion protocol. McCarthy did say that Bulaga was making process, so he could still get out of the protocol in time for kickoff against the Bucs.

Cornerback Davon House has been ruled out again this week because of a shoulder injury and the team is hopeful that he’d be able to return for a possible playoff game in a couple of weeks.

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Ryan Lindley will start regardless of Drew Stanton’s status

Drew Stanton AP

The Cardinals are holding out hope that quarterback Drew Stanton’s knee will feel well enough for him to suit up on Sunday, but they aren’t wavering from their plan to start Ryan Lindley even if Stanton can play.

Coach Bruce Arians said Friday, via Darren Urban of the team’s website, that Stanton will be a game-time decision on Sunday after getting some practice time in during the week. Arians added that Stanton will be backing up Lindley in the event that decision leads to Stanton being in uniform.

If Stanton isn’t well enough to start, it’s a bit perplexing that the Cardinals would put him into the game at any point since they already have Logan Thomas on the roster to serve as relief for Lindley. Playing a rookie like Thomas against a defense like Seattle’s is hardly an ideal place to find yourself, but neither is playing a balky Stanton when you’ve already booked a ticket for the playoffs.

The Cardinals ruled out guard Jonathan Cooper because of a wrist injury. Paul Fanaika, who missed the last two games with an ankle injury, is expected to return to the lineup.

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Testimony suggests other NFL players drugged drinks

Sharper AP

The criminal cases involving former NFL safety Darren Sharper contain some of the most disturbing allegations ever made against a current or former pro football player.  Testimony generated in connection with one of the criminal cases suggests that other NFL players may have done some of the same things Sharper allegedly did.

Sharper is accused of being a serial rapist, using drugged drinks to incapacitate his victims.  Via Adam Grimm of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, an FBI agent has testified at a pre-trial hearing that one of Sharper’s co-defendants, Brandon Licciardi, told federal agents that, at a Las Vegas convention attended by multiple NFL players, one player told Licciardi that drinks had been spiked with drugs.

The FBI agent declined to name any of the involved players Licciardi mentioned.

“It’s possible I could mess it up,” FBI Special Agent Robert Blythe testified. “There are a couple.”

Blythe said that none of the other players are being investigated — yet.

“There could be investigations going forward.  There’s not currently,” Bythe testified.  “If given time, I intend to look into those allegations.”

Blythe also testified that Licciardi referred to the drugged drinks as “horny juice.”

Another agent, DeWayne Horner, testified that Sharper bet on football and baseball games.  Sharper allegedly lost $25,000 to Russians in California — and stiffed them.  (If that’s true, Sharper probably is far safer in prison.)

Apart from Sharper’s case raising the very troubling question of whether other players are rapists, it highlights the naivete that the league, fans, and the media display when assuming players aren’t betting on football, playing high-stakes fantasy football, or otherwise doing things that could, directly or indirectly, undermine the integrity of NFL games.

In light of the league’s new personal conduct policy, the situation gives rise to another important question.  Will the league affirmatively investigate the vague allegation that other players put drugs in women’s drinks?

UPDATE 3:16 p.m. ET:  “We would look into any information of this nature,” the league office told PFT in response to a request for comment.

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Just like old (sad) times: Buccaneers double-digit home underdogs vs. Packers

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Given the franchise’s many losing seasons, the Buccaneers being 12-point home underdogs to Green Bay on Sunday probably doesn’t rank as an all-time indignity for Tampa Bay.

That said, the Buccaneers haven’t often been home underdogs of this many points.

According to point spread records kept by, the Buccaneers have only been home underdogs of 12-plus points on two other occasions since 1978. (The site’s records don’t go back any farther than ’78; it’s quite possible the ’76 and ’77 Bucs were major home underdogs at some point, too.)

In 1993, the Buccaneers were 14.5-point underdogs vs. visiting San Francisco, which shook off an early Tampa challenge to pull away for a 45-21 victory. And in 2009, the Patriots (-15.5) knocked off the Buccaneers 35-7 in London.

The 1993 Buccaneers were coached by Sam Wyche, who never had a winning record in his four seasons on the job (1992-1995). However, in his final year, the Buccaneers drafted Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, cornerstones for the franchise’s most successful stretch in history.

The 2009 Bucs, meanwhile, were coached by Raheem Morris, who led the Buccaneers to a 10-6 record in his second season. But in Year Three, the Bucs fell apart, and Morris lost his job.

While the 2014 Bucs are 2-12, eight of their losses are by eight points or less. Improvement in Lovie Smith’s second year on the job wouldn’t be a surprise, especially with the Bucs’ NFC South competition having its own problems. Nevertheless, this has been a trying season for the Buccaneers, and Sunday’s point spread, in its own way, tells a little of that story.

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Troy Polamalu not expected to play on Sunday

Troy Polamalu AP

The Steelers host the Chiefs on Sunday in a game that’s vital for both team’s chances of making the playoffs and it looks like the Steelers are going to have to try to win it without safety Troy Polamalu.

Polamalu has been out of practice all week after hurting his knee against the Falcons in last weekend’s Steelers win and the team listed him as doubtful for the matchup with Kansas City. By definition, that means he has a 25 percent chance of getting on the field although his lack of practice time and previous knee issues this season likely drop that even lower.

Polamalu missed two games earlier this year because of knee problems and he’s generally looked like a less effective player this year than he has over the course of his career. That may lead to some tough decisions about his future come the offseason as Polamalu is signed for two more years at salaries calling for more than he’s shown this season.

Cornerback Ike Taylor is also doubtful because of a variety of injuries and tight end Matt Spaeth is questionable because of an elbow injury.

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T.Y. Hilton is questionable, but they’re not ruling him out

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The Colts are listing wide receiver T.Y. Hilton as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Cowboys, and he has taken the designation to heart.

Hilton told Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star that he felt “50-50,” in reference to his hamstring injury, and he hasn’t practiced all week.

But Colts coach Chuck Pagano wasn’t ready to rule him out, saying “this guy is pretty special.”

Hilton leads the Colts in receptions and receiving yards, and they’ve already clinched their playoff berth via the AFC South title. So there’s a clear temptation to let him rest and recover for the postseason.

Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is officially out with his groin injury. Veteran wideout Reggie Wayne was held out of Friday’s practice, but it was for rest and he’s listed as probable.

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Anthony Barr done for year with knee surgery

Barr AP

Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, will miss the final two games of the season due to that injury.

Coach Mike Zimmer announced on Friday that Barr, the ninth overall pick in the draft, will have surgery on the knee.

“He played great,” Zimmer said of Barr.  “Played great.  And he’s a great football player.  Good kid.  Studies hard, does everything right.  He’s very conscientious, hard working. . . .  He’s already excited about getting back, getting this fixed and getting going.”

Zimmer called the procedure “very minor” before making an obvious observation that ranks among our favorites:  “Again, minor procedure.  When it’s on somebody else.”  But Zimmer added “it should be nothing” and later called it a “slight meniscus tear.”

Barr’s impact was a lot more than nothing in 2014.  He had four sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and the NFL equivalent of a partridge in a pear tree — a forced fumble, fumble recovery, and fumble recovery return for a touchdown in overtime as the Vikings beat the Bucs for what was Minnesota’s third win of the season.

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Doug Free, Zack Martin remain out of practice

Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears Getty Images

There’s been a lot of attention paid to running back DeMarco Murray this week as he tries to go from Monday hand surgery to Sunday’s lineup, but that’s not the only injury concern for the Cowboys.

It’s also not the only injury concern that could impact the team’s ability to run the ball against the Colts. Right tackle Doug Free and right guard Zack Martin are both dealing with ankle injuries and both players were out of practice for a third straight day on Friday. Coach Jason Garrett sounded pessimistic about Free’s chances of playing, but is holding out hope that Martin can make it to the field on Sunday.

“We’ll just see what he’s able to do today. Hopefully he can move around a little bit — did a great job in the game the other night, just fighting through it,” Garrett said, via the team’s website. “He’s worked very hard in his rehab, so we’ll see what he’s able to do today.”

It would be unusual for a rookie to play without any practice time during the week, but Martin’s 14 starts into his first NFL season and hasn’t shown much shakiness over the course of the season. Given how important offensive line play has been to the Cowboys’ success this season, we’d guess that he’ll have a strong shot of playing if his ankle cooperates over the next 48 hours.

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Bills officially activate Spiller

Spiller Getty Images

It’s official.  C.J. Spiller is back.

Placed on IR with designation to return after breaking a collarbone in October, it seemed unlikely the fifth-year tailback (and friend of PFT) would be back this year.  He returned to practice earlier this week, and the Bills officially have added him to the active roster.

The move gives Spiller an unexpected chance to make a strong closing argument before becoming a free agent.  He hadn’t done much before suffering the injury; he now has a chance to showcase the skills that helped him average six yards per carry en route to 1,244 rushing yards in 2012.  That same year, Spiller had more than 1,700 yards from scrimmage.

The ninth pick in the 2010 draft, Spiller has made more than $25 million in five seasons.  How much he makes in 2015 will hinge on what he does for the rest of 2014.

And getting a chance to play in the playoffs wouldn’t hurt.

Before the Bills can do that, they need to win Sunday in Oakland, a place where Buffalo hasn’t prevailed since 1966.  Spiller’s return can’t hurt.

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