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Mike Pettine “not concerned” about Johnny Manziel’s off-field activities

Johnny Manziel AP

Have you seen the photo of what appears to be Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel floating on an inflatable swan drinking out of what appears to be a rather large bottle of champagne?

For Browns coach Mike Pettine, Manziel’s off-field work isn’t of any worry to him as long as he takes care of business on the field and in the Browns’ facility.

“I’m not concerned. I would become concerned if there was something criminal and I’d be concerned if it affected his job,” Pettine said Tuesday, according to Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com.

Pettine also indicated that Manziel isn’t exactly the first football player to have a good time away from his work.

“I think there’s a lot of our guys, when they leave here and if they were followed around, I think you’d get some similar pictures,” Pettine said, per ESPNCleveland.com, which noted that the Browns’ head coach added: “I don’t know about an inflatable swan … but I think you’d still get some pictures.”

If nothing else, Pettine appears to have a good sense of humor. And his tone appears consistent: Manziel’s job performance is what matters.

Pettine also hits on a good point: where Johnny Manziel goes, attention follows. Here’s a safe bet: this isn’t the last tweeted or Instagramed photo we’ll see of him, to say nothing of swans or pools or nightlife or anything else. There is great interest in the Johnny Football Experience.

Soon enough, we’ll start to get a sense of how he adapts to the NFL game. And the swan and the Vegas stories will be little faded memories of pro football’s late spring, when we’re all just grabbing onto anything buoyant to float toward when they put the pads on again.

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John Harbaugh: I’m interested in Brady Hoke being the coach of Michigan

Brady Hoke AP

A report over the weekend that the University of Michigan was interested in Ravens coach John Harbaugh as a potential replacement for Brady Hoke was answered by another report that Harbaugh wasn’t interested in the job.

Harbaugh delivered the same message at Monday’s press conference. Harbaugh said he’s “interested” in Hoke, who worked on the same staff as Harbaugh at Western Michigan when Jack Harbaugh was the head coach, remaining the coach in Ann Arbor.

“I don’t really know why [the rumors have started],” Harbaugh said, via the team. “Brady Hoke is a guy that we all believe in. The Harbaughs believe in Brady Hoke. He’s a great coach. He has done it everywhere he’s ever been. He believes in Michigan. I believe in what they’re doing there, and they’re going to get it turned around. The team should be galvanized right now, and I would expect them to come out like a bunch of wounded lions and go to work, because they love Brady and they love those coaches, and they just have to go.”

It’s interesting that Harbaugh should use the phrase “wounded lions” since Hoke’s handling of injured quarterback Shane Morris is fueling the fire started by the team’s failures on the field. Hoke lashed out at people questioning his integrity for sending a clearly injured Morris back into the game twice after he took a blow to the head by saying that he would never send a player on the field if there was a possibility of head trauma. That answer rang hollow once school released a statement in the middle of the night admitting that Morris suffered a concussion and wasn’t checked out before returning to the game, however, and it looks less likely with every passing day that Hoke will survive the season.

The replacement may not be a member of the Harbaugh family and John seems like an unlikely choice given his contract and success in Baltimore, but the chatter isn’t likely to go away as long as Michigan is looking for someone to restore some luster to their tarnished program.

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Muslim Husain Abdullah flagged for praying in the end zone

New England Patriots v Kanas City Chiefs Getty Images

When Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah picked off Tom Brady and returned it for a touchdown, he said a quick prayer.

But unlike Tim Tebow doing the same thing when he got to the end zone, Abdullah was flagged.

The Muslim safety said he made a promise to himself that he’d show his respect if he ever scored.

“If I get a pick, I’m going to prostrate before God in the end zone,” Abdullah said, via Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star.

Since he was running as he crossed the goal line, he slid through the end zone before bowing to his knees in prayer. He was promptly flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, a 15-yard penalty.

Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) of the NFL rulebook prohibits “Prolonged or excessive celebrations or demonstrations by an individual player. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground. A celebration or demonstration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate or demonstrate after a warning from an official.”

Christian players have routinely gone unpenalized while kneeling in prayer, though there is no specific exception in the rulebook.

Abdullah said he thought he was flagged for the sliding portion rather than the prayer, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid wasn’t sure that should be the case.

“When you go to Mecca, you should be able to slide wherever you want,” Reid said. “We’ve got two priests in here. They’d probably vouch for me.”

Given the tolerance the league has shown for other religious celebrations, there should be no difference, and there should be an apology on the way.

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Brady snubs Garoppolo after touchdown drive

Brady Getty Images

Tom is getting upset.

The man who said he’ll retire when he sucks but who didn’t retire immediately after Monday night’s suck-filled loss to the Chiefs wasn’t ready to embrace the man who replaced Brady following a pick-six that pushed the score of last night’s game to 41-7.

Via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Brady passed out plenty of high fives and other congratulations to offensive players following the seven-play, 81-yard scoring drive engineered by rookie Jimmy Garoppolo.  But Brady steered clear of Garoppolo.

It’s probably nothing personal against Garoppolo, even though he managed to immediately do something with the same offense that Brady has had a hard time doing anything with all year long.  A broader sense of frustration likely lingers for Brady given the decision to not use the second-round pick that landed Garoppolo on, say, an offensive lineman or a tight end.

Still, Brady isn’t playing well.  He has a career-low 79.4 passer rating and a career-low yards-per-attempt of 5.8.  While the situation can be blamed on any of the other 10 offensive players, franchise quarterbacks usually find a way to play well despite flaws in those around them.  Brady isn’t.

“Everything should be on the table now with Brady and the Patriots,” Volin writes, “if [coach Bill] Belichick truly wants to do what’s best for the team, as he constantly stresses.”

For Belichick, the real question becomes whether Brady gets special treatment given those 10, 11, and 13-year-old Super Bowl rings, or whether the head coach will rip the name off the back of the jersey and make a cold, dispassionate assessment of whether the current starter at the quarterback position should continue to be the starter, for the balance of 2014 and beyond.

Or maybe Belichick is just biding his time for another Mo Lewis moment.

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FCC is expected to dump blackout rule today

Test+Pattern

The good news is that the NFL will have a welcome diversion from its various off-field problems.  The bad news is that the diversion will come from another off-field problem.

At 10:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the FCC will vote on scuttling the blackout rule, which prevents games from being televised in the home team’s market if the non-premium tickets aren’t fully sold within 72 hours of kickoff.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Representative Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) will conduct a conference call in advance of the vote.  Blumental, Higgins, and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation in 2013 that would strip the NFL of its broadcast antitrust exemption unless the blackout rule is dumped.

On Monday, the Sports Fan Coalition announced a press release touting the looming action by the FCC, passing along a rumor that the agency’s five commissioners will vote unanimously to overturn the blackout rule.

The NFL has opposed the effort via the goofy “Protect Free Football on TV” movement, which suggests that lifting of the blackout rule will result in the complete removal of NFL football from over-the-air broadcast TV.  We’ve asked the NFL on multiple occasions to connect the dots that begin with the NFL being required to televise games that aren’t sold out via free TV in the local market and that end with the NFL abandoning free TV altogether, but we’ve received no explanation or further insight.

That’s because it’s a hollow threat.  Apart from the inevitable attack on the broadcast antitrust exemption that would result if games leave free TV, the NFL needs free TV; nothing else would allow the NFL to generate massive live TV audiences.  Last week, the NFL renewed a deal with Sky Sports that ensures an enhanced presence of the game on free TV in England, since the NFL realizes that free TV means that more people will watch the games — and in turn that more people will become fans of the sport.

The scuttling of the blackout rule won’t cause the NFL to lose fans.  But it will cause the NFL to lose the ability to sell those last several thousand tickets by scaring the locals into thinking they won’t be able to see the game unless they pay for the privilege to be there in person.  Or maybe the more accurate answer is that it will force the NFL to be a little more creative when it comes to pricing tickets and/or coming up with reasons to get fans to choose to come to the games.

Either way, we’ve yet to see a good reason to keep the rule in place.  Especially in cities where public money was used to build the stadium.

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Ron Rivera: We want to unleash Cam Newton, but have to do it the right way

Terrell Suggs, Cam Newton AP

The Panthers have been routed by the Steelers and Ravens the last two weeks and they’ve had Cam Newton run four times for 14 yards over the course of those two games.

That’s not the Newton that ran for 28 touchdowns over the last three seasons and it’s a major part of the Panthers offense that has been completely missing this season. The reason isn’t some big secret. Newton had ankle surgery in the spring and a rib injury to start the regular season, causing some wraps to be thrown on his game but the team’s facing questions about when those wraps are going to come off.

Coach Ron Rivera said that the team wants to “unleash” Newton and move him from being one percent of the rushing offense closer to his customary 30 percent, but that they need to make sure the time is right before cutting loose.

“It’s very hard,” Rivera said, via ESPN.com. “You can see it. You just know he wants to cut loose and do certain things. You can feel it, and a lot of times you see him start to do it, but it’s coming. We’ve got to do this the right way.”

There’s plenty wrong with Carolina’s offense right now, including an offensive line that has helped Newton get sacked nine times in three games. If he’s going to be taking those hits in the pocket, he might as well take a few outside of it as he tries to provide the spark that’s been missing in Carolina.

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Tick bite sent Rams center Scott Wells to ICU

St. Louis Rams v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Football players ending up in the hospital with knee injuries or broken bones are almost commonplace.

But there was nothing normal about Rams center Scott Wells‘ experience this summer.

A tick bite led to a bacterial infection which landed Wells in the intensive care unit. Called ehrlichia, it’s similar to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and can be fatal.

He thought he was suffering from the flu during June practices, but quickly realized it had gone beyond that when his urine was dark brown.

“Wednesday night I was put in ICU,” Wells said, via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “From the way (doctors) explained it to me, it attacks your bone marrow and starts to shut down your immune system so you can’t fight it off. Then your organs start to shut down trying to fight it off.

“So it went from what seemed to be just a cold virus, flu-like symptoms, to really sick really fast.”

Wells said his body temperature reached 104.5  degrees, and he lost 20 pounds during the four days he was in the hospital.

“It took some time to gain the weight back,” Wells said. “I was in great shape when I got sick, and the doctor said that’s what helped me get through it. But I’m healthy now. I’m fine now. There’s no residual long-term effects from it. Everything is normal.”

He’s back in the lineup and normal now, but will never look at a bug bite or flu symptoms the same way again.

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Jon Gruden may be the Raiders’ target as their next head coach

New Orleans Saints v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The Raiders have fired head coach Dennis Allen, and there’s one man Raiders owner Mark Davis would love to hire next: Jon Gruden.

Gruden coached the Raiders from from 1998 to 2001 and then beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl after Davis’s father, the late Raiders owner Al Davis, traded him to the Buccaneers. Gruden has long been viewed as the first choice for Mark Davis as the person who could come back and turn the franchise around.

But it remains to be seen whether Gruden is interested in the job. Publicly, Gruden has always insisted that he loves working as a commentator and has a contract that ties him to ESPN for years to come. But few people believe Gruden would turn down the right opportunity to return to coaching.

The question, then, is whether he views Oakland as the right opportunity. Given the current state of the franchise, which hasn’t made the playoffs since Gruden beat them in the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, Gruden may have no interest. But if Davis were to offer Gruden significantly more money than ESPN is paying him, and offer Gruden the authority to oversee the personnel department and pick his own players, it could pique Gruden’s interest. Don’t be surprised if Davis makes a run at Gruden.

And if Gruden says no, Jim Harbaugh’s name is being floated. This could get fun.

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Arrowhead Stadium takes back its noise record

New England Patriots v Kanas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Seahawks and Chiefs are no longer division rivals, but they do keep going back and forth at each other.

Via Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star, the Chiefs took back the record for loudest outdoor stadium during last night’s thrashing of the Patriots.

A representative from Guinness confirmed that Arrowhead Stadium reached 142.2 decibels, surpassing the previous record of 137.6 set at Seattle last season.

The Seahawks broke the previous record of 137.5 set by the Chiefs against the Raiders.

We have the feeling these two are going to be yelling at each for years to come.

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Bill Belichick scoffs at questions about quarterback change

Tom Brady AP

The Patriots have a lot of problems at the moment.

But they do not, as you might suspect, have a quarterback controversy.

After his team took a 41-14 thrashing from the Chiefs, coach Bill Belichick answered a lot of questions.

But he didn’t have to answer the one about whether the quarterback position would be evaluated this week, after he pulled Tom Brady and let rookie Jimmy Garoppolo finish up.

According to Phil Perry of CSNNE.com, Belichick “was dismissive, chuckling briefly, at the question.”

That’s a reasonable response considering it’s Tom F. Brady, but the Patriots offense was a mess all night.

And Garoppolo was sharp, going 6-for-7 for 70 yards and a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski. It was nice outing, even if it started down 41-7.

Meanwhile, Brady turned it over three times, and passed for 159 yards.

Asked whether playing the rookie was “performance-related to Tom or skill-related,” Belichick said: “We played everybody tonight.”

“I think our team competed,” he said. “I thought we competed there at the end. That’s what they should do.”

It was just hard to tell for most of the night.

“We need to do everything better offensively,” Belichick said. “We had like five first downs in the first half or something like that? We did a lot of things wrong. And we turned the ball over in the second half. Pretty much we need to do everything better.”

But don’t doubt they’re going to do it with Brady, lest you be scoffed at.

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Report: Tony Sparano won’t be Raiders interim coach

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

In the wake of the firing of head coach Dennis Allen Monday night, one of the most logical choices for an interim replacement was assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tony Sparano.

Sparano served four years as head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2008-2011 and has the most recent head coaching experience of any member of the Raiders coaching staff.

But according to Fallon Smith of CSNBayArea.com, Sparano will not be the interim head coach of the Raiders.

Only two other coaches currently on staff would seem to be viable options – offensive coordinator Greg Olson and senior offensive assistant Al Saunders.

Saunders served as head coach of the San Diego Chargers from 1986-1988 and had the title of assistant head coach while coaching in Kansas City, St. Louis and Washington.

Olson was the assistant head coach in Jacksonville in 2012 and has been an offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions (2004-2005), St. Louis Rams (2006-2007), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2008-2011).

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Allen’s firing 23rd permanent in-season coaching change since 2000

Atlanta Falcons v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The firing of Raiders coach Dennis Allen marks the 23rd time an NFL club has changed coaches in-season for reasons of resignation or termination since 2000.

Of the 22 interim coaches in this span, eight went on to earn the club’s full-time head-coaching job the next season. This includes the Raiders’ Tom Cable, who took over for Lane Kiffin in 2008, then went on to coach Oakland through 2010.

Overall, interim head coaches replacing a departed predecessor are a combined 48-81 since 2000 (.372). That’s an improvement over the combined record of the coaches who preceded them. Including Allen’s 0-4 mark with Oakland this season, coaches fired or leaving on their own accord during the season are 65-162 before their severance (.286).

Here’s the list of interim coaches since 2000. Coaches who were eventually awarded the full-time job are bolded. Coaching records are from NFL and Pro Football Reference records:

2000 (4)
Cincinnati Bengals: Dick LeBeau. Record: 4-9.
Arizona Cardinals: Dave McGinnis. Record: 1-8.
Detroit Lions: Gary Moeller. Record: 4-3.
Washington Redskins: Terry Robiskie. Record: 1-2.

2001 (1)
Minnesota Vikings: Mike Tice. Record: 0-1.                                               

2003 (1)
Atlanta Falcons: Wade Phillips. Record: 2-1.

2004 (2)
Cleveland Browns: Terry Robiskie. Record: 1-4
Miami Dolphins: Jim Bates. Record: 3-4.

2005 (1)
Detroit Lions: Dick Jauron. Record: 1-4.

2007 (1)
Atlanta Falcons: Emmitt Thomas. Record: 1-2.

2008 (3)
Oakland Raiders: Tom Cable. Record: 4-8.
San Francisco 49ers: Mike Singletary. Record: 5-4.
St. Louis Rams: Jim Haslett. Record: 2-10.

2009 (1)
Buffalo Bills: Perry Fewell. Record: 3-4.

2010 (4)
Denver Broncos: Eric Studesville. Record: 1-3.
Minnesota Vikings: Leslie Frazier. Record: 3-3.
San Francisco 49ers: Jim Tomsula. Record: 1-0.
Dallas Cowboys: Jason Garrett. Record: 5-3.

2011 (3)
Jacksonville Jaguars: Mel Tucker. Record: 2-3.
Miami Dolphins: Todd Bowles. Record: 2-1.
Kansas City Chiefs: Romeo Crennel. Record: 2-1.

2013 (1)
Houston Texans: Wade Phillips. Record: 0-3.

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Report: Dennis Allen fired by Raiders

Dennis Allen AP

Dennis Allen’s time as head coach of the Oakland Raiders appeared to be running short after the Raiders fell to 0-4 with a 38-14 loss in London against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Now that hourglass has run out of sand.

According to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, the Raiders have informed Allen he has been terminated as head coach of the Raiders.

Terry Collins of the Associated Press initially reported Sunday evening that Allen had been fired before deleting the report and issuing an apology. Whether the wheels were already in motion then or if it took until Monday evening for a decision to be made is unclear.

Allen won just eight games in just over two seasons as head coach of the Raiders. It would seem likely that Tony Sparano would take over as head coach on an interim basis.

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Jamaal Charles, Alex Smith lead Chiefs to 41-14 rout of Patriots

New England Patriots v Kanas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs steamrolled to a 41-14 victory over the New England Patriots on Monday night.

The Patriots defense could do nothing to slow the Chiefs offense and Tom Brady posted one of the worst starts of his stellar career.

Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis led the Chiefs to 207 rushing yards and Alex Smith passed for 248 yards and three touchdowns as the Chiefs (2-2) posted a dominant showing against New England.

After missing last week due to an ankle sprain, Charles return to the lineup was a boost for the Kansas City offense. Charles scored a rushing touchdown and two receiving touchdowns for the Chiefs.

Smith tossed two scores to Charles and a third to Travis Kelce in posting a 144.4 passer rating on the night.

Meanwhile, the Patriots (2-2) looked disjointed all night. New England’s offense line couldn’t open holes in the running game and Brady was hurried frequently by a strong Kansas City pass rush.

Brady completed 14 of 23 passes for 159 yards with one touchdown with two interceptions – one returned 39 yards for a touchdown by Husain Abdullah. He also fumbled possession to Kansas City following a sack by Tamba Hali. Brady posted a passer rating of just 59.9 Monday night. It was just the 18th time in 195 regular season starts that Brady was held to a passer rating under 60.

The 27 point defeat was the second largest of Brady’s career, behind only a 31-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 7, 2003.

Brady was lifted following his second interception for rookie Jimmy Garappolo.

Garoppolo led one touchdown drive that culminated with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. Garoppolo finished 6 of 7 for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Brandon LaFell was one of the few strong performers for the Patriots. He finished with six catches for 119 yards and a 44-yard touchdown reception.

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Rex Ryan “confident” Dee Milliner will play in Week Five

Dee Milliner AP

For the time being, the Jets are hanging around the fringes of the AFC East race.

And it appears they will be getting one of their top cornerbacks back for Sunday’s game at San Diego.

Second-year pro Dee Milliner, who has missed 3-of-4 games this season because of injury, is expected to play in Week Five, coach Rex Ryan said Monday.

“Milliner, we will just see how he is. I know there will be a pre-practice evaluation on him on Wednesday. But I am confident he will be ready to play this week,” Ryan said, according to an interview transcript from the club.

A first-round pick in 2013, Milliner notched 56 tackles, defended 17 passes and intercepted three passes as a rookie. Even more was expected of him this season, especially after the club parted ways with Antonio Cromartie and didn’t add any marquee cornerback help in free agency or the draft.

And there would be no better time than now for Milliner to return to action while building on his rookie campaign. The Jets, who are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, have the tall order of matching up with the Chargers’ versatile and potent passing game next Sunday.

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AEG seeks six-month extension of Farmers Field agreement

Handout of architectural firm Gensler's artist rendering showing the proposed Farmers Field stadium and event center Reuters

As the NFL privately claims that a return to Los Angeles is coming sooner than later, one of the companies hoping to build an L.A. stadium hopes to expand a soon-to-be-expiring window for doing so.

AEG has announced that it is seeking a six-month extension to an agreement with the City of Los Angeles regarding the construction of the venue that already is known as Farmers Field.  The current deal expires on October 18.

“We have resumed discussions with the NFL and, while much remains to be done before a deal could come together, we remain committed to this project,” AEG president and CEO Dan Beckerman said.  “In light of the positive tone of recent conversations, we feel it would be productive to continue this dialogue while at the same time further exploring alternative plans with the City.”

AEG hopes to build a downtown stadium, at the L.A. LIVE complex.  Rams owner Stan Kroenke has acquired acreage at Hollywood Park, another potential location for an NFL stadium.

The Raiders, Rams, and Chargers are among the teams that could relocate to Los Angeles.  It’s possible that L.A. eventually will have two teams, like it last did 20 years ago, right before the Raiders and Rams left town.

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