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Browns get a ticket boost from Johnny Manziel

NFL: 2014 NFL Draft Reuters

Johnny Manziel isn’t only good for the television business.

The new quarterback helped spark some interest where it matters most to the Browns — the bottom line.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns sold more than 1,000 season tickets (new customers and renewals) within the first hour after the end of the first round.

It’s amazing that eighth-overall pick Justin Gilbert has that kind of drawing power.

Manziel will be an object of fascination among Browns fans (and let’s face it, the rest of us) for some time.

But the early interest will also make it harder for the team to holdup to the stated premise that Brian Hoyer is the quarterback of the present.

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Clock is ticking on Falcons, Mike Smith

MikeSmith AP

It’s not a good sign for current Falcons coach Mike Smith that the franchise has retained a firm to help find a new head coach.  It’s an even worse sign that Smith currently is losing 27-3 at home in a playoff play-in game.

It adds up to Smith being fired as soon as Monday.  Which makes the Falcons arguably the most attractive available option for coaching candidates.

Most vacancies arise in part because the team doesn’t have a competent quarterback.  The Falcons do, in Matt Ryan.  Throw in receiver Julio Jones, and the glass is more than half full for the offense.

Throw in the presence of G.M. Thomas Dimitroff (who drafted Ryan and traded up for Jones) and assistant G.M. Scott Pioli (who helped set the table in New England for years and drafted Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston during his time in Kansas City), and there’s a system in place for upgrading the talent.

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Tommy Smith reiterates that Ken Whisenhunt, Ruston Webster are safe

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans AP

In early November, Titans CEO Tommy Smith said that he wasn’t considering making a change at either coach or general manager.

Smith said the same thing in early December, but there were still questions about the futures of coach Ken Whisenhunt and General Manager Ruston Webster after Sunday’s loss to the Colts. Smith remained consistent, however.

Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.net reports that Smith simply said “yes” when asked if Whisenhunt and Webster would remain on the job after the 2-14 season. It was Whisenhunt’s first year as the head coach in Tennessee while Webster has been in his role for three seasons.

Both men have plenty of work to do this offseason in order to avoid a repeat of the same questions this time next year. One of the pieces they’ll have to work with is the second overall pick in the draft. It looked for much of the day like they would get the first overall pick, but Tampa couldn’t hold their lead over the Saints and the Titans suffered yet another loss this season.

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Two Megatron TDs tie the score, Rodgers returns

megatron AP

The Lions’ best player has scored two touchdowns to tie the score in Green Bay. Now the Packers’ best player is about to answer.

Lions receiver Calvin Johnson caught two touchdown passes, one late in the second quarter and one early in the third, to turn a 14-0 Packers lead into a 14-14 tie game.

But now Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is getting ready to re-enter the game. Rodgers was carted to the locker room just before halftime after aggravating a calf injury, but now Rodgers is back and ready to go.

The NFC North is on the line in Green Bay, and the Lions’ offense is starting to make some plays. But with Rodgers at the helm, the Packers’ offense is ready to roll.

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Panthers up 27-3 in the third, on verge of playoffs

Cam Newton,Joe Webb , Derek Anderson AP

The Panthers have blown leads in the Georiga Dome before.

But it might be hard to blow this one.

The Panthers are leading the Falcons 27-3 midway through the third quarter, pulling away with the game for the NFC South title, and the distinction of making the playoffs with a losing record.

The Panthers are running well, but they’re also pressuring Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan heavily, with four sacks so far.

They’ve outgained the Falcons 252-116 so far, with their pass rush keeping Ryan from letting anything develop downfield.

 

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Franchise-tag fight looming for Justin Houston

Houston AP

With linebacker Justin Houston ready to hit free agency with 22 sacks, the Chiefs have to decide whether to pay Houston or to use the franchise tag.  Prior offers were deemed to be substandard by Houston; now that he has completed his rookie deal with a four-sack flourish, the leverage swings sharply in his direction.

And so the franchise tag becomes a very real possibility.  Also a real possibility is a fight between player and team over the position he actually plays.

Listed as a linebacker (but wisely not self-described as a linebacker on Twitter), Houston arguably is actually a defensive end, which carries a higher franchise-tag value.  Per a league source, Houston’s camp will now examine the 2014 game film to determine whether Houston lined up more as a defensive end than as a linebacker.

If the tape supports an argument that Houston spent more of his time playing defensive end, a grievance will be filed, identical to the grievance filed several years ago by Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs.  That time, the two sides worked out a compromise.  This time, it could go all the way to an arbitration ruling.

Regardless of the amount of the tag, the two sides will have until July 15 to work out a multi-year deal.  If, however, Houston continues to not like the offers made by the Chiefs, he could choose to take it one year at a time until the Chiefs decide to let him hit the open market — or until they give him a long-term deal that reflects something close to his market value.

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Long Michael Floyd touchdown puts Cardinals up at half

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Ryan Lindley’s first career touchdown pass put the Cardinals ahead in the first quarter and No. 2 has them ahead at halftime despite allowing the 49ers to score 13 straight points at one point in the first half.

Lindley connected with Michael Floyd for a 41-yard touchdown that Floyd punctuated by getting the ball across the goal line before going out of bounds. The score came with 36 seconds to go in the half and left the Cardinals with a 17-13 lead to protect.

If they can and if the Rams maintain their lead over the Seahawks, Arizona would be the NFC West champions and they’d have a first-round bye to use to their advantage. If either of those things doesn’t happen, they’ll open the playoffs at the NFC South winner.

Lindley is having a strong day against an injury-riddled 49ers secondary. He’s completed 16-of-25 passes for 260 yards with one interception serving as the only blemish. It’s exactly what the Cardinals would want to see from Lindley given the continued uncertainty about Drew Stanton’s health and another half of it could make for as unlikely a path to a division title as any in recent memory.

The 49ers turned that interception into a Phil Dawson field goal, but the defense has been much improved from last week outside of allowing a 76-yard Anquan Boldin touchdown.

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Broncos taking care of business vs. Raiders

C.J. Anderson AP

The Broncos are on track for a coveted first-round bye.

C.J. Anderson’s two first-half TD runs have given Denver a 20-7 halftime lead vs. visiting Oakland on Sunday afternoon. The Broncos (11-4) will clinch the No. 2 spot in the AFC with a victory over the Raiders.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been solid thus far, completing 15-of-22 passes for 199 yards. His top target has been Demaryius Thomas, who has riddled the Raiders for seven catches for 110 yards.

The Raiders’ lone score came on a somewhat fluky play. A Manning pass parallel to the line of scrimmage was tipped by the Raiders’ Justin Tuck, and rookie cornerback Keith McGill took it back 17 yards for a touchdown. The play was ruled a lateral on the field and was upheld after review.

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Rams keep Seahawks off scoreboard in first half

St Louis Rams v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Seahawks Defense has continued to be inhospitable on Sunday afternoon in Seattle, but the team’s offense has had none of the sparkle that it had against the Cardinals last weekend.

The Seahawks have outgained the Rams 189-66 through the first 30 minutes, but a pair of turnovers and a failed fourth down conversions forced by a very good Rams Defense have conspired to keep them from turning any of those yards into points. Russell Wilson has been sacked twice and thrown an interception while completing 7-of-12 passes for 79 yards and narrowly avoided another giveaway when he fumbled while being sacked by Aaron Donald late in the half.

A teammate recovered, but it was a fitting end to the half for the slumbering Seahawks.

St. Louis hasn’t been doing much other than not turning the ball over on offense, but that’s been enough for them to stay ahead of Seattle thus far. If the Rams formula on defense continues to work into the second half, the Seahawks may need to come up with a score from their own defenders in order to guarantee themselves a division title.

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Aaron Rodgers limps off the field after throwing touchdown pass

rodgers AP

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had to limp off the field today after throwing a touchdown pass against the Lions.

Rodgers felt pressure, escaped the pocked, threw on the run and found Randall Cobb open in the end zone for a touchdown. It was a trademark great play for Rodgers, and it gave the Packers a 14-0 lead late in the second quarter.

But Rodgers, who was already dealing with a calf injury before today’s game, appeared to aggravate that injury and went down untouched. Rodgers had to be helped off the field and then rode a cart into the locker room. Matt Flynn began warming up to replace Rodgers.

The official word from the Packers is that Rodgers is questionable to return with a calf injury.

If Rodgers is out for the game, the Packers may still be in good shape today, as the Lions’ offense hasn’t been able to do anything today. But if Rodgers is hobbled for the playoffs, that would be very bad news in Green Bay.

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Old man Roman Harper makes a play, Panthers rolling

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Roman Harper was the only veteran the Panthers hung onto when they rebuilt their secondary midseason.

And for 16 weeks, you wondered if he had pictures of someone.

But he paid the Panthers back for their loyalty, picking off a Matt Ryan pass and returning it for a touchdown in the second quarter, giving the Panthers a 17-3 lead in the NFC South title game.

Harper’s been valuable to the Panthers for settling a secondary full of kids, and is noted as being good in the locker room. He hasn’t been very good on the field this year, but he just made a play that will make people in Charlotte forget a lot of blown coverages.

The Panthers just created another turnover, and are threatening to run away with this one, and claim a division title with a 7-8-1 record.

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Haslam says Browns won’t tolerate “irresponsible” players

Manziel Getty Images

With the Browns seeing a 7-4 start disintegrate to an 0-5 finish, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam won’t be hiring a new coach or a new G.M.  The same ultimately may not be said for some of the team’s high-profile players.

Via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Haslam said after Sunday’s loss to the Ravens that the Browns are “not going to tolerate people who are irresponsible no matter what round they were drafted in.”

He’s referring to quarterback Johnny Manziel, cornerback Justin Gilbert, and receiver Josh Gordon, each of whom found trouble this weekend for failing to be where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there.

Haslam also said that the Browns will continue to work with the team’s irresponsible players, but he made it clear they’ll be gone if they don’t “fall in line.”

As to Manziel, it remains to be seen whether he has gotten the message.  During Sunday’s loss, he was on Twitter, clicking “favorite” on a tweet from TMZ regarding Chris Rock’s looming divorce from his wife.

Maybe someday Chris Rock will be favoriting a tweet from TMZ regarding Manziel’s looming divorce from the Browns.

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Two Seahawks turnovers help them into 6-0 hole

Russell Wilson, Mark Barron AP

The Seahawks need a win on Sunday to assure themselves of a division title and it would also give them home field throughout the NFC playoffs.

They’ll need to be much sharper as their game against the Rams unfolds if they want to get that victory. Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree forced a fumble after a Marshawn Lynch catch and safety T.J. McDonald recovered for the second Rams takeaway of the first half. The Rams didn’t do a lot offensively after getting the ball, but Greg Zuerlein hit a 52-yard field goal to extend their early lead.

They weren’t able to turn the first one — an interception of Russell Wilson by Marcus Roberson inside St. Louis territory — into points, but the turnovers have helped them remain ahead of the Seahawks 6-0 with time winding down in the second quarter.

The Rams have also stopped the Seahawks on fourth down and their defense has a lot of fans in Dallas, which stands to get a first-round bye if the Seahawks and Cardinals both lose, right now.

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Mike Wallace benched, has Brandon Gibson speak to media for him

Mike Wallace AP

The Jets are 4-12 and might be clearing house in the organization, but it was the Dolphins supplying the locker room drama after the two teams ended their 2014 season.

Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace was benched for what head coach Joe Philbin described as a “coaching decision” and what Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports was an argument with a coach.

“I always play the guys I think give us the best chance to win,” Philbin said.

Jackson also reports that Wallace did not speak directly to the media after the game. Instead, wideout Brandon Gibson stood next to his teammate and answered questions as Wallace’s spokesman. “Wallace” confirmed that the coaches sat him down for the second half and said that he expects to be a member of the team through the rest of his contract.

Wallace is signed through the 2017 season and is set to make $9.85 million in base salary next season. The Dolphins would take on a lot of dead money if they were to cut Wallace, although the fact that the offseason has only just started makes it hard to guess at how things will play out after another 8-8 season in Miami.

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Titans clinch second pick in draft, lose to Colts

Coby Fleener, Daimion Stafford AP

The Titans ended their season Sunday with their 14th loss in 15 games.

And they didn’t even get the No. 1 overall pick for their troubles.

The Colts rolled to a 27-10 victory Sunday afternoon in Nashville, dropping the Titans to 2-14. However, the Buccaneers, not Tennessee, will pick first on account of a weaker strength of schedule.

Quarterback Andrew Luck threw for 160 yards and two TDs for 11-5 Indianapolis, which will host a wild-card game as the No. 4 seed in the AFC. The Colts were locked into their playoff position; as a result, Luck rested in the second half, with Matt Hasselbeck closing out the game.

Tight ends scored all three TDs for Indianapolis, with Coby Fleener catching one from Luck and Hasselbeck and Jack Doyle hauling in one from Luck.

In victory, however, the Colts saw Adam Vinatieri’s streak of 29 made field goals in a row come to a close after he missed a 46-yard attempt.

The Titans mustered just 192 yards of offense, with tailback Shonn Greene’s 52-yard run one of the few highlights. Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst was limited to 72 yards passing on 12-of-28 attempts, though he did toss a six-yard score to Kendall Wright.

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Micah Hyde punt return gives Packers 7-0 lead

rodgers AP

The Lions’ special teams have been an unmitigated disaster all season, and with the NFC North on the line, today is no different.

Green Bay got on the board first at Lambeau Field when Micah Hyde took a Lions punt 55 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. The Lions’ coverage unit wasn’t even close.

That punt came after the Lions’ defense had a great goal-line stand, stopping the Packers on seven straight goal-to-go plays. The Packers picked up an extra first down thanks to a pass interference penalty in the end zone, but even that wasn’t enough, as the Lions ultimately stuffed Green Bay on fourth-and-goal.

But while the Lions’ defense made a big play, their offense and special teams have done anything but. And the Packers have a 7-0 lead.

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