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Packers impressed by “genetic freak” Julius Peppers

NFC Championship Football

The Packers are used to seeing Julius Peppers twice a year.

Their first workout with him on their side had them excited about the possibility of 16.

Teammates were impressed by Peppers’ first OTA workout, and are already thinking about what he’s capable of.

“You obviously notice his athletic ability right off the bat,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said, via Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He’s 34 and runs like he’s 18. If ever there was a genetic freak put on this planet, it is Julius. He’s just a specimen. I have a ton of respect for how he works, too. What a great teammate just from Day 1. He’s a quiet guy that already knows what he is doing, so it is fun to be around a guy like him.

“Him being in Chicago all these years, and getting to see him up close and personal two games a year, is always something I’ve been impressed by. Now, to have him on our side, to see how good of a guy he is, how good of a teammate he is, he’s already lived up to — and exceeded — my expectations.”

Peppers has created a high bar for himself because of his natural gifts. While it’s easy for someone so large and so graceful to appear effortless and thus draw criticism, he’s compiled 118.5 sacks and ranks in the top 20 all-time in that category.

They’ve all come from a 4-3 defensive end spot with the Bears and Panthers, and the Packers are using him as a hybrid outside linebacker (hence the unfamiliar number 56).

But so far, they’re excited about what they’ve seen, and what he might add as a pass-rusher opposite Clay Matthews.

 

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Packers aren’t sharp, but improve to 8-3 by beating Vikings

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

The Packers didn’t have their normal offensive firepower.

But they had Eddie Lacy, and that was enough.

The Packers held on for a 24-21 win over the Packers, thanks to an offense boosted by the physical running of Eddie Lacy.

Lacy had 25 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown, and looked particularly strong during the fourth quarter. He was able to keeps clocks and chains moving, and had a nice spin move through contact to punctuate a 10-yard shovel pass touchdown.

That allowed them to survive a day when quarterback Aaron Rodgers failed to pile up the kind of huge numbers he’s had in recent weeks. Rodgers was still 19-of-29 for 209 yards and two scores.

And on a day with the Lions losing to the Patriots, that allowed the Packers to move to 8-3 with a one-game lead in the NFC North.

They looked like a team with one eye on next week’s game against the Patriots, as this one was closer than it should have been longer than it should have been.

The Vikings were competitive but sloppy, playing well enough on defense. But with Teddy Bridgewater missing too many opportunities, it was hard to say they were ever really a threat.

Bridgewater completed xxx, and got them to within a field goal late, showing good poise as he moved them downfield. But the rally came too late, and after too many inaccurate passes missed the mark.

The Vikings fell to 4-7 with the loss.

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Colts swatting away the Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts

After a slow start, the Colts have run away from the Jaguars.

Leading just 6-3 as the third quarter began, Indianapolis has scored 17 unanswered points to take a 23-3 fourth-quarter lead at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts tallied a pair of third-quarter TDs, with Andrew Luck’s 73-yard TD pass to T.Y. Hilton building the Indianapolis edge to 20-3. Trent Richardson has also added a one-yard scoring run for Indianapolis, which has dominated the second half.

The Jaguars’ offense has had a day to forget, struggling to get much going at all, especially in the passing game. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles has been sacked four times.

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Bears awaken in third quarter, take lead

Matt Forte, Dashon Goldson, Danny Lansanah AP

With their playoff hopes flickering as they trailed 10-0, the Bears started the third quarter of Sunday’s game vs. Tampa Bay on a tear.

Their offense, which struggled through the first half, got it together, with quarterback Jay Cutler connecting with wideout Alshon Jeffery on a two-yard TD pass to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 10-7.

Then, the Bears’ defense made a pair of takeaways. First, defensive end David Bass forced Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown to fumble, and linebacker Christian Jones made the recovery. One play later, tailback Matt Forte darted in from 13 yards, giving Chicago a 14-10 edge.

And on the Bucs’ next series, their offensive woes deepened, with Bears safety Ryan Mundy picking off a deflected pass. Four plays later, Forte was back in the endzone, scoring a one-yard TD to extend Chicago’s lead to 21-10.

For the Buccaneers, it has been a wicked and surprising turn of fortune after playing very well in the first half. But the third quarter belonged to Chicago.

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Tashaun Gipson carted off after collision with Joe Haden

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The Browns are clinging to a lead in the fourth quarter against the Falcons and they’ll need to protect it for the final 9:31 without safety Tashaun Gipson.

Gipson and cornerback Joe Haden collided with each other while trying to make a play on a pass to Julio Jones and Gipson needed medical assistance while Haden made his way to his feet without delay. Gipson tried to get up with the help of trainers, but couldn’t put any weight on his right leg and the cart was summoned to take him from the field. He’s been ruled out with a knee injury for the rest of the game.

The play also saw Haden flagged for holding, which gave the Falcons a first down inside the red zone. Steven Jackson ran into the end zone from a yard out a few plays later and the Browns lead was cut to 23-21.

The Browns Defense stood up well in the third quarter, allowing Atlanta to gain just 30 yards while they went from being down 14-13 to holding a 23-14 lead. Running back Isaiah Crowell provided the touchdown with a nifty 26-yard scamper through the Falcon defense.

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Brian Schwenke fumbles after a catch, Eagles extend lead

Brian Schwenke AP

Titans center Brian Schwenke handles the ball on every offensive play, but he doesn’t usually get it back after snapping it to the quarterback.

On Sunday, though, Schwenke found himself with the ball in his hands a second time after a pass was deflected by an Eagles defender. Schwenke made the decision to run with the ball and gained some yardage, but his lack of experience as a ballcarrier showed when Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks knocked the ball loose.

The Eagles recovered and Mark Sanchez hit James Casey with a pretty throw in the end zone to extend Philly’s lead to 34-17 early in the third quarter. Sanchez is now 21-of-29 for 224 yards and LeSean McCoy is up to 114 rushing yards during a good day for the Eagles Offense.

It’s been a pretty good one for the defense as well, although a couple of breakdowns in the second quarter have kept this game closer on the scoreboard than it has looked on the field for most of the day.

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Trent Williams, David Amerson won’t play on Sunday

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington Redskins Getty Images

The 49ers had a lot of success attacking Giants backup right tackle Charles Brown last Sunday.

They’ll get a shot at a backup left tackle this Sunday. Redskins left tackle Trent Williams is inactive for the game after suffering sprains to both his ankle and MCL. Rookie Morgan Moses took over after he was injured last week and the need to turn to him this week won’t do much to help an offense that’s been the subject of many bad vibes in recent weeks.

Washington also ruled out cornerback David Amerson, who wasn’t on the injury report. There’s been no announcement from the team about why Amerson, who is a starting cornerback, is out for the game.

Tight end Jordan Reed, quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and defensive lineman Chris Baker are also inactive.

The 49ers ruled out right tackle Anthony Davis and defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey on Friday. Quarterback Josh Johnson, WR Bruce Ellington, WR Quinton Patton, cornerback Tramaine Brock Brock, tight end Vance McDonald are the other inactives for the 49ers.

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Packers lead 14-13, but Vikings hanging around

Richard Rodgers AP

The Packers are playing like a team confident it can make a play whenever it pleases.

There’s a reason for that, based on things Aaron Rodgers has done today.

But the Vikings are hanging around, trailing just 14-13 after a 51-yard field goal by Blair Walsh.

The Packers made of the day’s most remarkable plays, with Rodgers rolling to his right then throwing a lob back across his body to a wide open Richard Rodgers for a touchdown.

But they’ve also made enough mistakes on defense and special teams to let the Vikings keep it within reach. If Teddy Bridgewater were more acccurate (he’s 13-of-27 passing), they’d be in position to lead, but dropped passes and inaccurate ones have forced them to settle for field goals.

If anything, the Packers look a bit too relaxed.

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Buccaneers take 10-0 lead over sputtering Bears

Jay Cutler, Gerald McCoy AP

As might be expected, the Buccaneers’ defense has shown up big time in Lovie Smith’s return to Chicago.

A 19-yard Mike Evans TD catch and a 32-yard Patrick Murray field goal have given Tampa Bay a 10-0 halftime lead at Soldier Field. However, the Bucs’ defense has been star of the show, holding the Bears to just 68 yards on 28 plays.

The Bears have gotten little going in the ground game, gaining just 14 yards on seven carries. Quarterback Jay Cutler, meanwhile, lost a fumble on a Gerald McCoy sack, which helped lead to Evans’ eight TD of the season.

As the first half ended, Bears fans booed their club off the field, for Smith’s Buccaneers had been the far better side in the first 30 minutes.

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LeSean McCoy running well with Eagles up 27-17 at half

Tennessee Titans v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The reasons for concern about Eagles running back LeSean McCoy’s drop in production haven’t been in evidence in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.

McCoy has run 14 times for 100 yards and scored a touchdown in the second quarter on the way to a 27-17 lead over the Titans at halftime. It’s McCoy’s third time with at least 100 rushing yards this season and comes a few days after McCoy insisted he’s the same player that led the league with more than 1,600 rushing yards last season. Another half like this one will convince a few other people of that.

The Eagles would likely appreciate it as the Titans came back from 17-0 down in the first quarter to get back into the game. Zach Mettenberger hit one long pass to Justin Hunter, with the help of a well-angled deflection, for a touchdown and one to Delanie Walker to set up a Shonn Greene score as the Titans found some footing after a brutal opening quarter for the offense. The rookie was 8-of-15 for 170 yards overall while Mark Sanchez went 19-of-27 for 195 yards.

Sanchez made a bad throw that wound up as an interception, but he’s delivered more good than bad for Philly thus far. That includes a couple of completions just before halftime that led to a 49-yard field goal try. Cody Parkey couldn’t hit it, however, and the lead held at 10 when the teams went to their locker rooms.

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Fitzgerald inactive for Cardinals

Fitzgerald Getty Images

If the Cardinals are going to beat the Seahawks in Seattle, the Cardinals will have to do it without receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald is inactive for Sunday’s game with a knee injury suffered last week against the Lions.  Although Fitzgerald finished the game, he suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain.  That’s enough to wipe a player out for at least a week — and indeed it has.

The Cardinals, who have ridden a “next man up” mentality to a 9-1 record, have Michael Floyd and John Brown to replace Fitzgerald, who has 46 catches for 658 yards and two touchdowns for the season.

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Bengals pulling away from Texans, 16-3

A.J. Green, A.J. Bouye AP

The Bengals haven’t had much of what you’d call a flow today, but they’re building a commanding lead.

They let Houston hang around in the first half, but just took advantage of a turnover to build a 16-3 lead early in the third quarter.

The Texans had to have been relieved trail just 9-3 at the break, considering they got the ball first. But quarterback Ryan Mallett was picked off by linebacker Rey Maualuga, and the Bengals answered quickly with a Jeremy Hill touchdown run.

The Bengals are fortunate to have gotten the good Andy Dalton today, as he’s 17-of-19 passing. A.J. Green has caught 10 of those for 101 yards, as they’ve played a stable game, without much of what you’d call drama.

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Colts trudge to 6-3 halftime lead

Chris Smith, Andrew Luck AP

The AFC South-leading Colts are in a bit of a battle with the last-place Jaguars.

Host Indianapolis holds a 6-3 halftime lead vs. Jacksonville after two turnover-filled quarters at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts lost three fumbles, including two by Andrew Luck, who has been sacked five times. Overall, Indianapolis has fumbled five times.

However, the Jaguars haven’t been much better, with Blake Bortles throwing one interception and tailback Denard Robinson coughing up a fumble.

The Colts have outgained Jacksonville 148-104, with Luck completing 10-of-17 passes for 112 yards and rushing twice for 26 yards. By contrast, Bortles is just 4-of-10 passing for 34 yards, though he has added 21 yards on the ground.

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Winston explains contact with official

Jameis Getty Images

The link on the ESPN.com home page says Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s contact with an official was “unintentional.”  The headline to the story says it wasn’t “malicious.”  The quotes attributed to Winston contain neither of those inconsistent terms.

He was just holding me because he said we had a substitution,” Winston said after the game regarding the official whom Winston tried to physically relocate.  “It was actually a fast-tempo play, so I was trying to get up under there and let it ride.”

While Winston surely had no actual malice when trying to move the official, Winston’s words prove that the action was necessarily “intentional.”  He didn’t accidentally try to pick up an official and move him.  He deliberately did it.

As MDS pointed out last night, Winston’s history makes him more of a target for criticism in cases like this.  But even without Winston’s baggage, trying to lift up a game official as if he were a suitcase creates red flags, regardless of Winston’s history.

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Falcons grab halftime lead after picking off Brian Hoyer

Julio Jones AP

It hasn’t been the prettiest of halves for the Falcons, but 4-6 teams trying to win a division title can’t really worry all that much about how they get wins.

Matt Ryan threw an interception and lost a fumble on a sack by Paul Kruger, but the Browns could only turn them into six points as their offense misfired once they moved into Atlanta territory. Settling for field goals was still better than the result of another foray onto the Falcons’ side of the field.

Brian Hoyer threw a wounded duck that Falcons safety Kemal Ishmael picked off and returned to midfield. Ryan hit Julio Jones for a couple of first downs and then flipped a shovel pass to Jacquizz Rodgers for an 8-yard touchdown that made the score 14-13 Falcons at halftime. Ryan was 12-of-22 for 161 yards overall and was lucky to escape with just one interception as Browns safety Donte Whitner let a takeaway slip through his fingers.

Hoyer is 11-of-22 for 151 yards and has looked Josh Gordon’s way often in the first half. Any talk of easing Gordon back into the lineup appears to have been misguided as Hoyer looked his way 10 times. Gordon got four catches for 70 yards on those looks and Hoyer has missed him on a couple of deep balls, including one just before the half, that could have boosted those totals and the Browns’ score significantly.

That final miss to Gordon preceded a 60-yard field goal attempt that fell short and into the hands of Devin Hester. Hester returned the ball into Cleveland territory, but guard Joel Bitonio was able to stop him before he added to his record book. It was the most exciting play of a sloppy first half, so perhaps better things are in store in the final 30 minutes.

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LeGarrette Blount scores as Patriots lead Lions

blount AP

It didn’t take LeGarrette Blount to pick up where he left off with the Patriots.

Blount, who re-signed with the Patriots this week after the Steelers sent him packing, scored a three-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Tom Brady also has two touchdown passes, and the Patriots lead 21-6.

The Patriots’ offense has revolved around the passing game, with Blount as the leading rusher with just two carries for five yards late in the second quarter. Although New England went three-and-out on its first two offensive series, the Patriots have picked things up since then.

The Lions’ offense has struggled, with Matthew Stafford looking skittish behind a banged-up offensive line (left tackle Riley Reiff was hurt on the first play). Even when he’s on target, Stafford isn’t getting much help from his receivers: Joseph Fauria and Corey Fuller have both had passes go through their hands in the end zone.

The Lions have had some successful second-half comebacks this year. They’ll need their best second half of the season to beat the Patriots.

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