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NaVorro Bowman: New rule is great, but it doesn’t fix my knee

NaVorro Bowman AP

The NaVorro Bowman Rule has the seal of approval from the man who gave it its name.

Bowman, the 49ers’ All-Pro linebacker, says he is glad the owners voted to allow recovery of a loose ball in the field of play to be reviewed on instant replay. During the NFC Championship Game, Bowman recovered a Seahawks fumble only to have the officials for some reason rule that he hadn’t. Replays made clear that he had the ball, but under the prior NFL rules, the referee wasn’t allowed to use replay to get the call right.

Adding injury to insult for Bowman was that he suffered a very serious knee injury on the play. Bowman told the San Jose Mercury News that he’s working hard at rehabbing.

That doesn’t fix my knee,” Bowman said of the rule change, “but [the wrong call] won’t happen anymore.”

Bowman said he isn’t motivated either by the bad call that went against him or by any type of ill will toward the Seahawks. He’s just working hard at getting back on the field.

“I’m not really a grudge type man,” Bowman said. “I got to move on if I want to continue playing.”

The big question facing Bowman is when he can continue playing. He may have to open the season on the physically unable to perform list, and he said he doesn’t have a specific schedule for full recovery. This was a severe injury, suffered while making a great play that the officials missed.

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DeMarcus Ware added to injury report, listed as probable

Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots, NFL Getty Images

One of the Broncos’ top pass rushers is a late addition to the injury report, but it does not appear to be a big deal.

Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (illness) was placed on the report Saturday, the team said. However, he’s listed as probable for Sunday’s game vs. Miami.

According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Ware was sent home sick on Saturday.

The 32-yard-old Ware has started all 10 games for the Broncos this season, notching 28 tackles and nine sacks. He had played the previous eight seasons with the Cowboys, where he established himself as one of the top pass rushers of his generation.

The Broncos (7-3) are a half-game ahead of the Chiefs and one game in front of the Chargers in the AFC West.

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Week 12 “Three and Out”

Romo AP

With only six Sundays left in the season, things are getting more and more interesting for the teams in contention.  And, for some of the teams not in contention, more and more dysfunctional.

Speaking of dysfunctional, PFT continues to produce every Saturday a three-questions-per-game look at every contest to be played on every Sunday.  There’s one less Sunday game this week, with Jets-Bills moved to Monday.  But with only two teams on byes, there will be plenty of stuff going on in the twelfth Sunday of 2014.

To get up to speed on all of the action, perform the action that requires precious little effort — scroll down.

Browns at Falcons

1.  How much will Josh Gordon be used?

Plenty.  Heavily.  Extensively.

Officially, the Browns plan to ease Gordon, who missed 10 games under his latest drug suspension, back into the game plan.  The Falcons aren’t buying it.  Neither is anyone else.

Gordon remains one of the best receivers in the NFL.  He potentially opens up the rest of the offense.  He’ll be on the field, and he’ll be a key contributor.

2.  What kind of chemistry do Gordon and Brian Hoyer have?

Given that they have played in only three games together, this isn’t quite Montana and Rice.  But in their very career game together last year, it was.

Hoyer and Gordon connected 10 times for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings.  It was the last time the Browns played in a dome.

On Sunday, Gordon and Hoyer are together again.  In a dome again.  So, yeah, things could get interesting.

3.  Do the Falcons wash their hands enough?

Apparently not.  Three offensive starters have missed time this week with the flu.

Receiver Julio Jones, running back Steven Jackson, and fullback Patrick DiMarco headline the victims of the virus.  Coach Mike Smith has said Jones will play, and he’s listed a probable (as are Jackson and DiMarco).  But will Jones be ready?

It’s been kind of difficult,” Roddy White said this week regarding the absence of Julio Jones. “Going through plays and stuff, we’ve got people moving around.  He’s just got to get healthy.  He’s going through the flu bug so we’ve just got to get him right and get him ready on Sunday.”

Buccaneers at Bears

1.  What kind of reception will Lovie Smith get?

The over/under on signs that say “Lovie Come Home” or something similar at Soldier Field should be 52.5.  Smith, whom linebacker Lance Briggs has said should be regarded among the best coaches in franchise history with George Halas and Mike Dikta, remains beloved in Chicago.  Smith is likely even more beloved now that the team is struggling under Marc Trestman.

Those cheers could quickly subside if/when Smith and his 2-8 Bucs upend the Bears, who continue to struggle even though they managed to outscore the Vikings a week ago.  Or maybe Bears fans will convert to Tampa fans.  After all, the Buccaneers are a lot closer to playoff contention in the NFC South than the Bears are in the NFC North.

2.  Can Mike Evans keep it going?

There’s no reason to think he can’t.  The rookie told PFT Live earlier this week that the pro game already has slowed down for him.  His performances the past three weeks underscore that reality.

In each of the last three games, Smith has seven catches.  In each of the last three games, he generated at least 124 passing yards.  In each of the last three games, he scored at least one touchdown.

Last Sunday, Evans became the youngest player in league history to surpass 200 receiving yards in one game, securing the NFC offensive player of the week award with seven catches for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

With size, speed, and uncanny ball skills, Evans quickly is becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL.  Soon, he could simply be one of the best receivers in the NFL, regardless of age.

3.  Will the clocks at Soldier Field work any better this week?

They can’t work much worse.  Last week, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy with a malfunction that forced quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to play a soccer-style guessing game regarding the amount of time remaining.  This week, the situation apparently has been remedied.

“That was a first, and we’d like to say a last,” a Soldier Field spokesman said this week.  “But the [clocks] are ready for Sunday.”

The one thing we know for sure is that, given Lovie Smith’s more laid-back style, it’s unlikely he’ll describe the clocks the same way Zimmer did.

Bengals at Texans

1.  Which Andy Dalton will show up?

Good question.  Two weeks ago, it was Andy Dalton 2.0.  Last Sunday, it was Andy Dalton 2.0.

Having a healthy and productive receiver A.J. Green helped; Green generated 127 receiving yards against the Saints.  Rookie running back Jeremy Hill added 152 on the ground.  Now, running back Gio Bernard has recovered from a hip injury.  So Dalton has weapons.

Of course, the Texans have a fairly potent weapon in defensive end J.J. Watt.  If he can make Dalton uncomfortable, we may see more of the guy who failed in Cleveland two weeks ago — and less of the guy who beat the Saints in their own building.

2.  Are the Texans a legitimate contender?

Only one game behind the Colts, Houston has a pair of encounters remaining against Jacksonville and a visit from the Titans.  That should get Houston to eight wins.  Standing between eight and 11 are the Bengals, Colts, and Ravens.

The test starts Sunday.  Beat the Bengals, and nine games should be a sure thing — 10 games will be a strong possibility.

3.  With Gio Bernard healthy, how much will we see Jeremy Hill?

With Bernard injured, Hill gained more than 360 yards in three games.  Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson says that has resulted in Hill earning more time once Bernard returns on Sunday.

While the Hill-Bernard rotation could drive fantasy owners crazy down the stretch, it could help the Bengals hold off the other three teams in the AFC North.

Jaguars at Colts

1.  What will the Colts do without Ahmad Bradshaw?

Trent Richardson gets yet another chance to justify Indy’s decision to send a first-round pick for the guy on whom the Browns burned the No. 3 overall selection.  Richardson currently has an average of 3.4 yards per carry; Bradshaw, who is out for the year with a broken bone in his leg, was gaining 4.7 yards per attempt.

If Richardson can’t get it done, look for Boom Herron to get more chances.

One guy who won’t be helping the cause is Ben Tate.  While the Colts made a waivers claim on the former Browns tailback, the Vikings had priority.  Surprisingly, the Colts showed no interest in LeGarrette Blount, who gained 166 yards and scored four touchdowns against Indy in the 2013 playoffs.

2.  Could Coby Fleener have a big game?

With tight end Dwayne Allen ruled out due to an ankle injury, Fleener will get a chance to build on his Week 11 performance, which resulted in 144 receiving yards.

I think he’s playing better than I’ve ever seen him,” receiver (former, as of Saturday afternoon) Griff Whalen said this week of his Stanford and Colts teammate. “His demeanor on the field is more physical and more aggressive. After the catch, he’s not shying away from contact. He’s embracing it.”

It’s not bad for a guy who nearly quit football in high school, but who stuck with it because a scholarship was the only path to college.

3.  Does Jags coach Gus Bradley like a little scuffling in practice?

Absolutely.  It happened on Thursday, and Bradley approved.

“We had some guys getting together and had to break them up a little bit but through competition going on,” Bradley said.  “It was a very spirited practice. . . .  It wasn’t like a like a big fight. It was just a scuffle.”

But it shows that the Jaguars still have a little fight in them, despite having only one win on the year.

Packers at Vikings

1.  Will Teddy Bridgewater’s presence make a difference?

Probably not.  While the rookie definitely represents a step up over Christian Ponder, who played poorly when Bridgewater was injured in Week Five, Bridgewater has yet to play like he did in his debut as a starter against the Falcons.

And the Falcons are a far cry from the Packers, who have been rolling over every team in their path.  To outscore Green Bay, Bridgewater must be able to go toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers.  Few quarterbacks in the NFL currently can pull that off.

2.  How much will Ben Tate play?

Tate was cut by the Browns in part because he didn’t like his role.  In Minnesota, he doesn’t care what his role will be.

He could have a fairly significant one, given that Matt Asiata won’t play this week with a concussion.

Of course, none of the team’s running backs will have much of a role if the Packers run away with the game the way they ran away with the first round last month in Green Bay.

3.  Will Clay Matthews be used outside or inside?

For now, it looks like he’ll primarily stay inside.  Even with outside linebacker Nick Perry questionable due to a shoulder injury, the Packers may opt not to slide Matthews, who is probable with a groin injury, from the inside.

“I think it’s more of a next man up type of mentality around here,” Matthews said this week. “I’m sure [Jayrone] Eliott will have more opportunities as well as Mike [Neal] and [Julius Peppers]. As we have seen in weeks prior, I rush off the edge and play in the middle, so wherever they need me, I will be there.”​

Lions at Patriots

1.  Will the Patriots double-team Ndamukong Suh?

Not constantly.  Coach Bill Belichick is leery about devoting too many resources to stifling Suh.

“As much as you try to double anybody, say Suh, sometimes you can’t because the guy you would have doubling him has to block a blitzer in pass protection,” Belichick said this week. “They create some single matchups like that.”

Still, Belichick knows he needs to find a way to stop Suh.

He changes everything,” Belichick said later in the week.

2.  How much of LeGarrette Blount will we see?

We could see plenty.  Coach Bill Belichick says Blount’s role will be up to him.  It also may be up to Jonas Gray’s ability to show up on time.

With Gray being sent home after being late on Friday due a cell-phone battery snafu, Blount already has a leg up.

Blount used his legs in January, gaining 166 yards and scoring four touchdowns against the Colts.  Gray duplicated the four touchdowns and added 35 yards last Sunday against Indy.  Either guy could give the running game a boost as the weather turns and the wind starts to whip.

3.  How will the Lions deal with tight end Rob Gronkowski?

It sure sounds like they’d like to knock Gronk out of the game.

“Obviously, when we get him in situations where he’s having to block, our defensive ends, we’ve got to rough him up,” Lions safety Glover Quin said this week.  “When we get him in situations where he catches the ball, we’ve got to make sure we’re hitting him.”

Gronk has a history of getting injured, and he plays with reckless abandon. If you hit him hard and hit him often, there’s a chance he gets injured and exits the game.

Before 2012, it was a given that teams should aspire to put the opponent’s best players on the sidelines.  The bounty scandal forced that talk to become muted.  But the incentive remains.  For the Lions, rendering Gronkowski unable to play could be the difference between winning and losing.

Titans at Eagles

1.  How is Mark Sanchez doing?

It depends on who you ask.  Sanchez thinks he’s not doing well enough.  Coach Chip Kelly seems to think he’s doing OK.

The numbers suggest Sanchez is struggling.  But the Eagles currently have no viable alternative to Sanchez.  They need to simply hold it together while Nick Foles‘ collarbone heals.

With seven good teams jockeying for five playoff berths in the NFC, it may not heal in time to salvage Philly’s seat at the postseason table.

2.  How is Zach Mettenberger doing?

He had a solid showing on Monday night, averaging 11 yards per throw and racking up a passer rating of 110.2.  But the rookie has yet to earn a victory for the Titans, who have lost four in a row.

Still, his teammates believe in him.

I think Zach has been doing outstanding,” veteran receiver Nate Washington said this week.  “He brings a lot to the table, a big strong arm. He’s smart behind the center, knows what is going.  We were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, and as a rookie he gave his all.  He is progressing every week, and I think Zach has a huge, bright future in this league and I am excited to watch him grow.”

“He throws a pick-six on the first play of the game and it takes a lot of maturity and a lot of consistency and love for the game to not just throw it in from there,” tackle Taylor Lewan said. “That kind of stuff will get you, and he just bounced right back and started slinging the ball.  That’s the kind of guy he is.  I think he somewhat made a name for himself.”

He would have made more of a name for himself if the Titans had beaten the Steelers.  He has another chance to do it against the other team from Pennsylvania.

3.  Is LeSean McCoy the same player he was in 2013?

He says he is.

“Man, listen: I don’t care what’s out there,” McCoy said this week.  “I’m not going to address, ‘Am I the same player?’  For what?  What are we talking about, am I the same player?  That’s for you all to figure out.  Are you crazy?  Am I the same player?  I am the same player.”
The evidence suggests otherwise.

72.9 yards per game on average.  3.7 yards per carry on average.

He has only one 100-yard game, and three with fewer than 25.  Injuries along the offensive line surely are a factor.  But it’s possible McCoy has indeed slipped, which could make it harder for coach Chip Kelly, who is willing to assess every player relative to skills, salary, and cap number, to justify bringing him back in 2015.

Rams at Chargers

1.  Is Philip Rivers injured?

Yes, but that isn’t slowing him down.

“I can honestly say that there’s nothing going on that’s hindering me in any way,” Rivers said this week. “Shoot, there’s a lot of guys in that locker room that are playing that are a lot sorer than I am.”

It’s not in Rivers’ DNA to cry uncle when it comes to injuries.

“Growing up around it, my dad always said, ‘Shoot, unless you can’t walk, you find a way to play, or find a way to get off the field,’” Rivers said.  “That was the main thing.  Don’t lay out there on the field.  I found my way off a few times last Sunday.”

The Chargers finally put Rivers on the injury report, three days after tight end Antonio Gates said the quarterback has a “very severe rib injury.”  But Rivers says he’ll play on Sunday, and that he’ll be “fresh.”

2.  Is Rivers’ center injured, again?

Yes.  And it could mean that the team’s fourth different starting center will play on Sunday.

Rich Ohrnberger is questionable; if he can’t play, rookie Chris Watt gets the nod.

Watt has 64 snaps at center so far, and he has been playing some guard.

“The old adage is, he’s no longer a rookie,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said this week. “He’s proven himself.”

3.  When will Chris Long be back?

Possibly soon.  He suffered an ankle injury in Week One, and he remains on injured reserve with designation for return, even though he could have returned to the active roster three weeks ago.

“He’s getting better each day,” coach Jeff Fisher said this week. “We’ll just wait and see how he is [Friday].  If that’s the case [and Long is ready], then obviously we have to make a roster move, so we’ll see how he is.”

Whether or not the roster move is made late Saturday, the roster move could be coming sooner.

Cardinals at Seahawks

1.  What’s wrong with Seattle’s passing game?

The easy answer is that receiver Golden Tate left for free agency, that receiver Percy Harvin was traded, and that tight end Zach Miller has landed on IR.  And that the offensive line has been banged up all year.

The tougher answer is the question of whether quarterback Russell Wilson has plateaued as a passer.  Heading into the season, it appeared he had found the proverbial next level.  Now, not.

Since a Monday night performance at Washington that launched an MVP campaign for the third-year quarterback, Wilson has lost a lot of his touch.

In the four games including the win at Washington, Wilson threw eight touchdown passes and one interception.  In the six games since then, five touchdown passes and four picks.  He also is missing open receivers and relying much more on his legs.

Whether it’s by the air or by the ground, the Seahawks need Wilson to come through on Sunday against Arizona, or the chances of repeating as NFC West champions will be slim and none even before a Thanksgiving night showdown against the 49ers.

2.  How much should be expected from Larry Fitzgerald?

It’s hard to say.  He has a Grade 2 MCL sprain, and as former NFL athletic trainer Mike Ryan explained earlier this week on PFT on NBCSN, that usually means the player will miss at least a week.

But Fitzgerald played a full half with the knee injury, and he remains optimistic that he’ll be able to go on Sunday.

Officially a game-time decision, Fitz has had a big game in every other game since the bye week.  This week, he’s due for another big game.  With the Cardinals unexpectedly soaring and one win away from delivering a regular-season knockout punch to the Seahawks, don’t count him out.

3.  How has Drew Stanton discovered his current level of performance?

In part, by revising his diet.  An offseason consultation with an allergist resulted in a determination that Stanton is allergic to milk.  In addition to dairy products, he also was advised to ditch pork, turkey, bananas, and cucumbers.

(Cucumbers?  If I couldn’t eat cucumbers I would no longer want to live.)

Stanton dropped 15 pounds, and he feels better than ever.

“I recover faster, feel light and still have my strength,” Stanton said this week. “I just feel a lot better at this weight.”

The way he’s playing, he’d feel good at any weight.

Dolphins at Broncos

1.  Why is Peyton Manning getting impatient?

Because he knows the window is closing on his team’s ability to force the road to Arizona through Denver.  And if the Broncos eventually have to return to Foxboro in January, it’s probably not going to end any better than it did three weeks ago.

Your sense of urgency has to increase,” Manning said this week.  “Realizing there aren’t many games left and we better get on it, better get going.  Need to play better, I need to play better, . . . You can say all you want, you can talk about doing it, but you’ve got to go and do it.”

It starts, in many respects, with the offensive line.  The Dolphins have the horses to swarm Manning like the Rams did last week, and like the Seahawks did in the Super Bowl.  That’s a lingering problem that needs to be fixed or the Dolphins won’t be able to get back to the NFL championship game.  And if they do, they may get roughed up yet again.

2.  Is Bill Lazor worried about reports of griping from players?

Nope.

He says that any actual or perceived friction with players reflects that which is normal for NFL teams.

“You’ve been at practice, nothing is different,” Lazor said this week. “You’ve been at training camp where you could be at the whole practices.  I would like to think that, if the players were asked, that they would say I’ve been professional.

“I’d say there would probably be very, very few times that a curse word has come out of my mouth, but that I’m demanding from them.  The greatest feedback I’ve gotten from our players in one-on-one settings is when they’ve told me how much they appreciate the expectations I have for the offense.”

Those expectations, for the most part, haven’t been met.  So the truth is that the players, not the coaches, are the more likely source of any friction.

3.  Will the Broncos sign Richie Incognito?

Denver hasn’t given him a job yet; if he’d been on the team for Sunday’s visit from Miami, the story lines (and punchlines) would have written themselves.  It remains unclear whether Denver will give him a shot.

No real updates,” coach John Fox said this week. “It’s kind of a personnel matter and we did have him in for a workout. I think that was well-documented. . . .  We work out a lot of people throughout the season. We’re always looking to improve our football team any way possible and I’ll leave it at that.”

So what does Incognito’s former head coach think of the possibility of Incognito getting a job with the Broncos?

“I think Denver has a great front office and a great personnel staff, and they have to certainly make decisions that are best for their football team,” coach Joe Philbin said.  “I’ll leave it at that.”

So they’ll both leave it at that.  For now, the NFL has continued to leave Incognito on his couch.

Washington at 49ers

1.  What should be expected from Aldon Smith in his second game of the year?

Plenty.  In his first game after a nine-game suspension, Smith participated in 54 of 68 defensive snaps.  His mere presence helped make it easier for his teammates to create pressure on Eli Manning, by diluting the available protection.

This week, the protection for Washington could be diluted from the get-go, if left tackle Trent Williams (knee, ankle) can’t play.  Williams’ absence would thrust rookie Morgan Moses into the fray, and he’d be facing Smith.

In other words, quarterback Robert Griffin III had better be ready to run.

2.  Is Robert Griffin III in trouble?

Yes, if the head coach has any say in Griffin’s future.  On Monday, Jay Gruden called out the quarterback both for calling out teammates and for not playing very well.  Gruden later said he went too far — and then he went even farther, calling Griffin “coddled” and making it clear that the “clock’s ticking” on the second overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Gruden specifically mentioned that Colt McCoy has generated a 2-0 record during games played while Griffin was injured.  McCoy could end up playing while Griffin is not injured.

After the year, Washington could be moving on from Griffin — if Gruden gets to make the call on the future of the quarterback position.

3.  Is Jay Gruden in trouble?

Yes, if the owner still remains fully committed to the guy for whom the team gave up three first-round picks and a second-round pick less than three years ago.

While Daniel Snyder and president/G.M. Bruce Allen have remained silent about this week’s string of regrettable remarks from quarterback and coach, they surely have an opinion.  If the opinion is that the first-year head coach has unfairly undermined the franchise quarterback, the franchise may not give the coach a second year.

Cowboys at Giants

1.  Will Cowboys limit DeMarco Murray’s touches?

They claim they won’t, but they should.  The Giants have the worst run defense in the entire league, and the Cowboys have to play again on Thursday, against the Eagles.

This would be a great opportunity to get Murray a little rest, give Joseph Randle some reps, and have Murray ready to roll on a short week made even shorter by playing on Sunday night and again on Thursday afternoon.

2.  How healthy is Tony Romo?

He apparently has recovered from the fractured transverse processes in his back, but he still doesn’t practice on Wednesdays due to the broader concerns about the condition of his spine.  With a game on Thursday, that’s more than a little concerning.

The best move for the Cowboys would be to build a big lead on Sunday night and then get Romo out of the game, so that he’ll have maximum time to rest before facing Philly with the division lead on the line.

3.  Is Eli Manning on the hot seat?

We’d have a more clear picture if his coach were Jay Gruden.  And while no one with the Giants is saying anything bad about Eli (indeed, co-owner John Mara has praised him), the seat has heat as it relates to a contract that expires after the 2015 season.

With a salary of $17 million and a cap number of $19.5 million next year, it could become very difficult to apply the right value to Eli for 2016 and beyond.  Impasse on that point could be the thing that ultimately forces the Giants to move on, because they surely won’t be inclined to apply the franchise tag to Manning in 2016, when based on his 2015 cap number he’d be owed a guaranteed salary of $23.4 million.

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Colts cut return man Griff Whalen, sign RB Zurlon Tipton

griffwhalen AP

Colts return man Griff Whalen’s latest mistake was his last in Indianapolis.

Whalen was part of the odd botched kickoff return that easily could have been a safety on Sunday against the Patriots. The Colts signed veteran return man Josh Cribbs this week and have now cut Whalen today.

With Whalen released, the Colts have used the roster space to add running back Zurlon Tipton from the practice squad.

Tipton signed as an undrafted free agent this year after a very good college career at Central Michigan. He’ll add some depth at running back behind Trent Richardson and Dan Herron after the Colts lost Ahmad Bradshaw for the season this week.

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Falcons to honor member of Tuskegee Airmen on Sunday

Tuskegee Airmen Getty Images

The Falcons will honor a living member of the Tuskegee Airmen during Sunday’s game vs. Cleveland.

According to the club’s website, the Falcons will recognize 98-year-old Edward Johnson, a sergeant in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II.

Johnson served with the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bombardment Group, serving as an instrument-flying instructor, the Falcons said.

The Tuskegee Airmen were African-American members of the Air Corps and the U.S. Army Air Forces whose ranks included pilots who flew bombing missions in World War II.

According to the Falcons, Johnson is a long-time fan of the club who has never attended a game. He will be accompanied by one of his daughters.

The ceremony will occur sometime during the first half, the Falcons said.

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Free Jets-Bills tickets at Ford Field already all gone

FordField Getty Images

Free tickets to an NFL game don’t come along very often, and fans in Detroit have made the most of the opportunity.

The Lions announced at noon Eastern that all of the free tickets to Monday night’s Jets-Bills game at Ford Field have already been distributed online. The “very limited” number of tickets that weren’t part of the online distribution will be given out at the Ford Field box office on Sunday.

Originally scheduled for Sunday in Buffalo, the Jets-Bills game was moved to Monday in Detroit because of the snowstorm that hit Buffalo last week.

Buffalo has lost its home-field advantage for the game, as presumably most of the fans in attendance will simply be football fans, not Bills fans. But at least they won’t be playing in an empty stadium. When the tickets are free, any NFL game is worth seeing.

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Belichick on Suh: “He changes everything”

Ndamukong Suh, Tom Brady AP

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is telling his offensive linemen that they have a big responsibility on their hands against Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on Sunday.

“He changes everything,” Belichick said on NFL Network. “You can’t let him penetrate or he’ll foul the whole play up. You’ve got to secure him on the line of scrimmage and again, that’s a lot easier said than done because of his talent and also some of the different looks they give you. He’s very disruptive in both the running game and the passing game. He’s got great effort. He makes plays in pursuit and on the backside. So really there’s no weakness in his game.”

Sometimes an offense can avoid good defensive tackles by running to the outside, but Belichick says there’s no getting past Suh.

“He’s got to be blocked on every play, no matter what the play is,” Belichick said.

That’s the top priority for the Patriots’ offensive line.

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Blount praises Belichick as “100 percent honest”

blountbelichick Getty Images

As he starts his second stint with the Patriots, running back LeGarrette Blount says he’s glad to be back with a coach he trusts.

Blount, who had well-publicized problems getting along with coaches in prior stops during his career, said after getting cut by the Steelers and then signed by the Patriots this week that he’s thrilled Belichick thinks enough of him to bring him back to New England.

“It means a lot,” Blount said, via the Boston Herald. “Bill is a straightforward shooter. He’s a 100 percent honest person. I truly believe that if I do what I have to do, I’ll make myself a role on this team. Whatever I have to do, I’m going to do it to be productive. I’m going to stay ready, and whenever they call me to carry the ball, I’m going to go out there and do whatever I can to do to make them comfortable with the decision to bring me back.”

Blount seemed humbled by the events of the past week, in which he was passed over on waivers by every team before the Patriots came calling.

“I’m just happy and excited to be back now,” Blount said. “As you all can see, I’m kind of flustered and at a loss of words, but I’m excited to be back now. It’s going to be fun.”

Belichick doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a fun guy outside New England, but it’s clear that Blount thinks he’s in the right place, with the right coach.

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Harbaugh compares Vernon Davis to an olive jar

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Iconoclastic 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has been called many things.  He can now add olive jar to the list.

That one comes courtesy of coach Jim Harbaugh.

“I just feel like he’s ready to break out,” Harbaugh told reporters on Friday regarding Davis.  “I really do.  You use the old olive jar analogy.  The olives are packed in there real tight and you open up the lid and you can’t get any to come out.  You can even dump it upside down and it doesn’t come out.  But if you get that one to come out, then they just want to all come out and plop out.

“So, I think that’s the case and I think it’s going to happen soon.  Hopefully this weekend.  Get that one big one and then they start coming out.”

(We’re still talking about olives, right?)

Davis generated a mere 44 yards in Week One against the Cowboys.  But that still represents his regular-season high.  Over the last three games, Davis has 34 yards.  In all three games.  Combined.

That’s not the way to earn the contract he held out of offseason workouts to get.  Maybe the lesson going forward is that guys who want new contracts should show up for offseason workouts.

Especially when they also decide to become human corporations with a stock price that hinges on their performance.  From a high of $12.50 in April, shares in Vernon Davis, Inc. have plunged to $7.10.

It’s enough to trigger an aggressive order to sell! sell!

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Chiefs add Jason Avant, put A.J. Jenkins on injured reserve

Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Chiefs have made a change at wide receiver.

Jason Avant, the veteran receiver who was cut by the Panthers this week after complaining about the offensive play calling, has signed with the Chiefs. Avant previously played for Chiefs coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia, so he’ll arrive with an understanding of the offense and should be able to contribute immediately.

The 31-year-old Avant had 21 catches for 201 yards before the Panthers cut him. The last time he played for Reid, in 2012, he averaged four catches a game, and the Chiefs would love to see Avant settle into that kind of role in their stagnant passing game.

Kansas City has also announced that receiver A.J. Jenkins is done for the season with a shoulder injury. Jenkins, the former 49ers first-round pick, had nine catches for 93 yards this year.

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Pete Carroll says everyone in Seattle loves Marshawn Lynch

Pete Carroll, Marshawn Lynch AP

Amid talk that Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch’s surly demeanor is wearing thin in Seattle, coach Pete Carroll says he loves coaching Lynch.

Carroll said any talk that Lynch won’t be back in Seattle in 2015 must be coming from outside the organization.

“Somebody just started talking about that — he’s under contract next year, we’d love to have him back,” Carroll told USA Today. “There’s no hesitation in us saying that and there never has been. Somebody else said that. That’s never come from here. No one thinks that at all.”

Lynch is on pace for his second career 1,300-yard rushing season, and he’s having his best year ever as a receiver: He’s on pace to gain a career-high 395 receiving yards and already has a career-high three receiving touchdowns.

“Marshawn’s playing the best he’s played since he’s been here,” Carroll said. “His feet are on fire. He’s tough as hell. He’s doing everything. He’s catching the ball. He’s our guy. And he has been all this time.”

Lynch may not always be the easiest person to deal with, but there’s no question that he produces on the field. Carroll wants to win, and that’s why he wants players like Lynch.

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Federal judge strikes down latest New Jersey attempt at sports betting

Money Getty Images

The powers-that-be in New Jersey continue to swing and miss when it comes to circumventing federal law that prevents the legalization of gambling there.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Michael Shipp has ruled that the latest effort by New Jersey to legalize sports betting at race tracks and casinos cannot proceed.

“We are going to continue pursuing every legal option available,” New Jersey Senate president Steve Sweeney told the AP.  “The economic impact that sports wagering can have on New Jersey is far too important to simply shrug our shoulders and move on.”

For now, the immediate legal option will be pursuing an appeal of the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which already has blocked efforts by New Jersey and Delaware to avoid the clear terms of a 1992 law that prevents the expansion of sports wagering.

The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA filed suit to block New Jersey’s latest attempt.  Maybe New Jersey should simply legalize gambling on whether its efforts to legalize gambling will ever succeed.

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Gruden says the “clock’s ticking” on Griffin

Gruden AP

Two years ago, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III took the NFL by storm with a combination of running and passing that kept defenses off balance and guessing all year long.  Until he was injured while running.

Since then, an effort has been made to make Griffin more of a passer and less of a runner.  And it hasn’t worked.

Now?  Coach Jay Gruden sounds willing to consider having Griffin run some more as a last-ditch effort to make him more productive.

“It’s a production-based business,” Gruden told Albert Breer of NFL Media.  “We haven’t won many games lately with him.  We gotta figure out a way to get in the end zone.  We just have to score.  I don’t care how we do it.  If it’s running the zone-read, I don’t care.  Quarterback sneaks, I don’t give a damn.  We gotta find a way to utilize him where we can get productive drives and stay away from negative plays and have some consistency.”

Consistency and the absence of negative plays could help Griffin rebuild his shattered confidence.  Which Gruden may have further shattered while discussing Griffin’s shattered confidence on the record.

“His biggest thing, he’s been coddled for so long,” Gruden said of Griffin.  “It’s not a negative, he’s just been so good, he just hasn’t had a lot of negative publicity.  Everybody’s loved him.  Some adversity is striking hard at him now, and how he reacts to that off the field, his mental state of mind, how it affects his confidence, hopefully it’s not in a negative way.  I read Drew Brees said after a couple interceptions, ‘I’m never gonna lose confidence, I’m gonna come out firing all the time.’”

And then Gruden may have stomped the shattered pieces of confidence into powder.

“He’s auditioned long enough,” Gruden said of Griffin.  “Clock’s ticking.  He’s gotta play.  We’ll see. . . .  We want Robert to excel, we really do.  But the last two games, it hasn’t been very good, anywhere.  We gotta play better around him.  And the biggest thing for us as playcallers, and for him, we just have to come together and jell with plays he’s comfortable with.  That takes time.  But we don’t have a lot of time.”

Griffin’s time could run out because of the backup who won two games before Griffin returned from injury.

“We have a guy behind him that played pretty well, and people are looking, ‘OK, he’s 2-0,’” Gruden said regarding Colt McCoy.  “There’s always pressure on the quarterback to perform.  And if you don’t perform, like any other position, somebody’s behind you pushing you.”

The way Gruden has been talking lately, maybe McCoy will end up pushing Griffin to the bench.  Or maybe right out of town.

Unless Griffin pushes another head coach out of town first.

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Refs missed a Cutler fumble, but replay couldn’t fix it

cutler AP

One of the limitations of instant replay was demonstrated on Sunday in Chicago, where Jay Cutler fumbled, only to have the officials wrongly rule it an incomplete pass — and to have the referee unable to do anything about it on a replay rule.

As explained by NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino in a video distributed by the league, players on the field stopped when they heard an official blow a whistle for what he thought was an incomplete pass by Cutler. Replays clearly showed that Cutler had fumbled, not thrown a pass, but that didn’t matter because if the players stopped playing when they heard an official blow a play dead, there’s nothing instant replay reviews can do about it.

“The problem is, everybody has stopped,” Blandino said. “The rule is, if the ruling on the field is an incomplete pass or down by contact but it’s really a fumble, in order to give the ball to the recovering team, that recovery has to happen in the immediate continuing action. So players can’t stop as a result of the dead ball ruling, as a result of the whistle.”

Blandino acknowledged that video of the play clearly showed Cutler had fumbled, and a Vikings player was the first to pick it up — but only after everyone had stopped playing because of the whistle.

“It is a fumble, you can see that,” Blandino said. “The referee ruled incomplete pass. It should’ve been a fumble.”

Bears fans saw a similar play last year, when an Aaron Rodgers fumble that most of the players on the field thought was an incomplete pass was picked up by the Packers and run in for a touchdown. The difference in that play was that the players stopped because they thought it was an incomplete pass, not because an official blew a whistle. On that play, the officials on the field correctly ruled that Rodgers had fumbled, and they correctly allowed the play to keep going even though most of the players on the field thought it was an incomplete pass.

“What we teach is do not blow the whistle,” Blandino said.

Unfortunately, the ref in Sunday’s game didn’t follow that teaching.

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Week 12 injury report roundup

Larry Fitzgerald, Mohammed Seisay AP

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week 12 of the 2014 season.

Browns at Falcons

Browns tight end Jordan Cameon (concussion) and wide receiver Marlon Moore (hamstring) are out, with linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee, doubtful) likely to join them on the sideline. Safety Johnson Bademosi (concussion) and linebacker Jabaal Sheard (foot) are both questionable. The Falcons have ruled out cornerback Robert Alford (wrist) and tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring), but the rest of the 53-man roster is healthy enough to play.

Buccaneers at Bears

It’s a four-man injury report for Tampa and all four — linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring), running back Doug Martin (ankle), running back Charles Sims (ankle) and cornerback Alterraun Verner (hamstring) — are questionable. The Bears ruled out defensive end Trevor Scott (knee), linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring) and wide receiver Chris Williams (hamstring) while listing tackle Eben Britton (illness), cornerback Demontre Hurst (knee) and tackle Jordan Mills (ribs) as questionable.

Bengals at Texans

Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (hip,collarbone) is set to return after being listed as probable, but linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) is out again this week. Defensive end Margus Hunt (ankle) is also out. The Texans will wait to make a call on running back Arian Foster (groin, questionable) for a second straight week and they’ll continue to be without cornerback Kareem Jackson (knee).

Jaguars at Colts

The Jaguars ruled out defensive end Andre Branch (groin) and linebacker Jeremiah George (ankle), but the rest of the roster is healthy heading into Sunday. The Colts ruled out tight end Dwayne Allen (ankle), tackle Gosder Cherilus (shoulder) and cornerback Greg Toler (concussion). Defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle, probable) is set to return.

Packers at Vikings

It will be a week without tight end Brandon Bostick (hip) for the Packers. Cornerback Jarrett Bush (groin), linebacker Jay Elliott (hamstring), defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) and linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder) are all questionable. The Vikings added running back Ben Tate this week because Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon were banged up. Asiata (concussion) won’t play, but McKinnon (back) is probable. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee), wide receiver Greg Jennings (rib), tackle Matt Kalil (knee) and wide receiver Jarius Wright (hamstring) are questionable.

Lions at Patriots

The Lions will wait to make a final determination on running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and they’ve ruled out defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) and guard Larry Warford (knee) for another week. New England listed tackle Marcus Cannon (hip), defensive end Dominique Easley (knee) and safety Nate Ebner (finger) as questionable. Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) is probable, though.

Titans at Eagles

Cornerback Marqueston Huff (hamstring) is unlikely to play for the Titans, who will wait to make final calls on wide receiver Justin Hunter (knee), linebacker Derrick Morgan (knee), safety Daimion Stafford (shoulder) and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (back) after listing them as questionable. Quarterback Nick Foles (collarbone) remains out, but the rest of the Eagles on the injury report, including offensive lineman Matt Tobin (concussion), are probable.

Rams at Chargers

The Rams will try to win against another AFC West team without defensive tackle Alex Carrington (knee), cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (groin), cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) and wide receiver Damian Williams (hamstring). They hold out hope for tight end Jared Cook (back), tight end Cory Harkey (quadricep) and long snapper Jake McQuaide (back) after listing them as questionable. Chargers safety Jahleel Addae (concussion) and center Rich Ohrnberger (ankle, back) are both questionable and quarterback Philip Rivers (chest) is probable.

Cardinals at Seahawks

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee, questionable) will be a game-time decision after missing practice all week. Defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) is out. The Seahawks expect to have linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe, probable) back in the lineup, but cornerback Marcus Burley (hamstring), linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) and center Max Unger (knee, ankle) have all been ruled out. Guard James Carpenter (ankle) is questionable.

Dolphins at Broncos

The Dolphins ruled out linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) and have little hope that cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle, doubtful) or tight end Charles Clay (knee, doubtful) will play. Running back Lamar Miller (shoulder, knee) and guard Daryn Colledge (back) are both questionable. The Broncos ruled out running backs Ronnie Hillman (foot) and Montee Ball (groin), but wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) was listed as probable after practicing on Friday. Tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) didn’t practice and is listed as questionable.

Redskins at 49ers

Defensive end Chris Baker (chest) and tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring) are out for the Redskins, who listed two offensive linemen — guard Shawn Lauvao (concussion) and left tackle Trent Williams (knee, ankle) — as questionable. Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (biceps) won’t make his return this week and right tackle Anthony Davis (concussion) is out as well. Cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring), wide receiver Bruce Ellington (ankle), tight end Vance McDonald (hip) and linebacker Dan Skuta (ankle) are all questionable for the home team.

Cowboys at Giants

Cornerback Tyler Patmon (knee, ankle) is out, but the Cowboys are otherwise free of injury concerns as they return from the bye week. The Giants ruled out defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf), right tackle Justin Pugh (quadricep) and linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) with Geoff Schwartz (toe, probable) expected to take Pugh’s spot in the lineup.

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Roman Harper fined $8,268 for unnecessary roughness

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Panthers safety Roman Harper has drawn a $8,268 fine from the NFL for an unnecessary roughness penalty in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta, the league confirmed to PFT on Friday.

Harper was flagged for unnecessary roughness after tackling Falcons wide receiver Roddy White around the helmet in the third quarter. As White was falling, both of Harper’s hands contacted White’s helmet, and Harper punctuated the tackle with a little push to the head with his left hand. This started a brief confrontation between Harper, White (who struck the safety in the facemask) and Falcons tailback Antone Smith (who shoved Harper). Ultimately, Harper drew the 15-yard penalty.

A ninth-year pro, the 31-year-old Harper has started all 11 games for Carolina this season, recording 41 tackles and three interceptions.

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