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Steelers, Roethlisberger running out of time to do new deal

Pittsburgh Steelers v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

When it comes to contracts, the Steelers have one very clear rule:  Once the regular season starts, no new deals will be done.

For quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has two years left on his current long-term contract, that means there’s not much time to get the kind of raise he surely covets, especially in light of the current quarterback market.

Despite a cap number of $18.895 million, Roethlisberger will earn only $12.1 million in 2014.  And while I often follow the word “only” with an “(only?)” when throwing around numbers like that, as quarterbacks go Roethlisberger is grossly underpaid.

Plenty of other guys who haven’t played nearly as long nor accomplished nearly as much have broken the $20 million-per-year barrier.  Roethlisberger meanwhile carries the risk of injury (which is quite high given his age and playing style) while waiting for a deal that reflects the current state of the franchise-quarterback market.

The Steelers are content to carry a cap number bloated by multiple can-kicking restructurings, knowing that the next contract will cost them plenty of money.  And while they’ll extend quarterback deals with two seasons left, there’s been no indication of progress on a retirement contract for Roethlisberger.

It doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made.  Both sides have remained largely quiet about the status of talks, a truce of sorts after a series of reports last season from the league’s in-house media operation suggested Roethsliberger may want out of town.  That prompted the player to declare he’ll never leave — and it prompted some (me, at least) to wonder whether the Steelers leaked the story, knowing that Roethlisberger would react by professing the kind of commitment to the Steelers that could make it easier to get him to accept something much less than a market-value deal.

If it worked, no one knows.  And no one likely will know until a deal gets announced and then the numbers are dissected to see whether he signed a Tom Brady-style “take one for the team” contract that pays out $30 million to sign — or whether Roethlisberger accepted a Colin Kaepernick-level contract that continues to underpay the player as the market is poised to explode, fueled by a new trend of annual salary-cap spikes.

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Malcolm Jenkins: Eagles have been living on borrowed time with turnovers

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins Getty Images

The Eagles’ playoff chances took a crushing blow on Saturday afternoon and one member of the team’s defense said that the issues that helped sink them have been brewing for a while.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins referenced two turnovers on Sunday that led to 10 points for the Redskins, including the interception thrown by Mark Sanchez with 1:36 left in a tie game that led to the winning field goal in a 27-24 Washington win. It’s the 26th time that an Eagles quarterback has turned the ball over and the 35th time that the Eagles have given the ball away overall, a sloppy habit that Jenkins said makes it some surprising that the team has nine wins in the first place.

“The biggest thing for us as a team is we were really counting our days anyway,” Jenkins said, via CSNPhilly.com. “We were negative-nine in the turnover ratio [after 12 games; they are now -8 after a three-game losing streak], so to even get nine wins with that was surprising. So once you hit the month of December where everything rights itself a little bit and teams are fighting for survival, you can’t win with that ratio. So we were really on borrowed time, and that’s starting to show up in these games where we’re playing really good teams and I think we finished even today, but we did a bunch of other things too that you can’t do to win.”

There was plenty of other sloppiness from the Eagles, including 13 penalties and two missed field goals, and another faulty decision to leave cornerback Bradley Fletcher one-on-one against a top wideout from another team. It all added up to a loss the Eagles couldn’t afford but one that Jenkins thinks they should have seen coming.

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Dontrelle Inman makes a timely first impression on offense

San Diego Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

There’s an old saying that NFL players should “act like you’ve been there before” when they make a big play during a game.

Sometimes that’s easier than others, though. Chargers wide receiver Dontrelle Inman caught his first NFL pass on Saturday night against the 49ers, for example, so it was hard for him to know exactly how one would respond later in the game to hauling in a fourth-down catch to move the  chains with little time left on the clock in an attempt to come back from being down 21 points with playoff chances on the line.

Inman’s 17-yard gain helped set up Malcom Floyd’s game-tying touchdown and the Chargers’ eventual win in overtime. After the game, Inman said his secret was to not think about the size of the moment.

“I never once thought about that it was fourth down,” Inman said, via the team’s website. “Antonio [Gates] and I talked about that on the field and we were so in the zone, so ready to win the game that nothing mattered.”

Inman had seven catches for 79 yards overall, production that the Chargers needed with Keenan Allen out of the lineup with a broken collarbone. The team hasn’t ruled Allen out of the regular season finale against the Chiefs, but that seems the likeliest option. Inman will again be one of the choices to step up as the Chargers try to secure a postseason bid and this time he’ll be able to act like he’s been there before.

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DeSean Jackson gets the last laugh against the Eagles

desean AP

DeSean Jackson was sent packing by Philadelphia and landed in Washington this offseason, and so he seemed especially happy that his big game on Saturday dealt a big blow to the Eagles’ playoff hopes.

They going home. Tell them goodnight. Bye bye,” said Jackson, via PhillyMag.com.

Jackson repeatedly burned Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher in coverage, said leaving a cornerback on a receiver who’s beating him is par for the course for the Eagles’ defense.

“They’re very naive and they play how they play. They could care less who is out there or who is at wide receiver, they’re going to play their defense the way they play it,” he said. “That’s the Philadelphia Eagle defense. I’ve been there a lot of years and witnessed a lot of players – wide receivers, tight ends – get off on some huge games on them, and I’m just happy to be on this side and be able to send them home with a loss.”

With 126 receiving yards, Jackson looked like the best player on the field on Sunday. A player the Eagles wish they could have.

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Julian Edelman, Kyle Arrington and LeGarrette Blount ruled out

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Patriots had a long list of questionable players on Friday’s injury report and they didn’t wait until game time to make decisions on three of them.

The team announced Saturday night that wide receiver Julian Edelman, cornerback Kyle Arrington and running back LeGarrette Blount have all been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Jets.

Edelman was diagnosed with a concussion during the week and his failure to travel to New Jersey indicates that he wasn’t able to gain clearance through the concussion protocol despite being a limited participant in practices during the week. Edelman has 92 catches for 972 yards this season, so they’ll have some catches to spread around to the rest of the receiving corps in Edelman’s absence.

Arrington has been bothered by a hamstring injury that knocked him out of last week’s game against the Dolphins. Arrington had played in 83 straight regular season games for the Patriots. Blount was listed on the injury report with a shoulder injury and his absence could lead to a continuation of Jonas Gray’s return to the lineup after running well against Miami last Sunday.

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AFC playoff picture: Chargers turn up the pressure on wild-card foes

Sean Lissemore AP

Yes, the Chargers surrendered 355 yards rushing to the 49ers on Saturday night. And yes, the Chargers have a few too many injuries for comfort.

Nevertheless, the Chargers’ 38-35 overtime victory at San Francisco keeps them in the thick of the wild-card race. At the moment, they are the No. 7 seed in the AFC, a half-game back of Baltimore and Pittsburgh and a half-game ahead of Kansas City and Buffalo.

Now, the Chargers wait. They are in the clubhouse, visor on table, an iced tea at their fingertips, shirt untucked. They were in some real rough against the Niners, down 21 points on two occasions, but they got it going on the back nine, and they’ve carded a good score.

Yes, their swing isn’t textbook perfect, but these Chargers know how to get up-and-down. Let’s see what the other wild-card contenders do if they get in the deep stuff.

Here’s how the AFC playoff seeding looks after Saturday night. The NFL’s standings and tiebreaking rules were cited. Also, the Week 16 playoff scenarios are herein.

THE BIG SIX

1. New England Patriots (11-3, .786). Has clinched playoff spot. AFC East winner. Seeded ahead of Denver on basis of head-to-head win.

2. Denver Broncos (11-3, .786). Has clinched playoff spot. AFC West winner.

3. Indianapolis Colts (10-4, .714). Has clinched playoff spot. AFC South winner.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1, .679). AFC North leader.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5, .643). Wild card No. 1. Seeded ahead of Baltimore on basis of superior AFC North record (3-2 vs. 2-3).

6. Baltimore Ravens (9-5, .643). Wild card No. 2.

JUST MISSING

7. San Diego Chargers (9-6, .600).

8. Kansas City Chiefs (8-6, .571). Seeded ahead of Bills on basis of head-to-head win.

9. Buffalo Bills (8-6, .571).

10. Houston Texans (7-7, .500). Seeded ahead of Dolphins on basis of better AFC record (6-4 vs. 6-5).

11. Miami Dolphins (7-7, .500).

Note: According to NFL.com, the Browns (7-7) have been officially knocked out of playoff contention with San Diego’s win.

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Chargers’ miraculous comeback keeps playoff hopes alive

frankgore AP

The Chargers are still in it.

After a wild, back-and-forth game that saw the 49ers take a 21-0 lead only to have the Chargers storm back, force overtime and ultimately win 38-35, the Chargers are 9-6 and still right in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

Although a loss to the 49ers tonight wouldn’t have mathematically eliminated the Chargers from playoff contention, it would have made it an extreme long shot. But with this victory, the Chargers are right in the thick of things heading into Week 17.

The 49ers lost despite rushing for a whopping 355 yards — the most rushing yards any losing team has had in an NFL game since at least 1940. It was a tough loss in a game they looked like they were sure to win, and the end of this season is a tough way for Jim Harbaugh to exit San Francisco, as he surely will once this season is over.

San Francisco is out of the playoff race, but San Diego is very much alive. A big win in a great game on Saturday night has the Chargers feeling good about their chances, with one game to go.

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Chargers, 49ers head to overtime

rivers AP

It’s not over yet in San Francisco.

Phil Dawson’s potentially game-winning 60-yard field goal missed at the end of the fourth quarter, and as a result the Chargers and 49ers are heading to overtime.

It’s been a wild, back-and-forth game in which the 49ers jumped out to a 21-0 lead only to have the Chargers storm back and finally tie it 35-35 in the final minute.

Now they’ll have an additional opportunity to settle it.

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90-yard run gives 49ers some breathing room

Kaepernick Getty Images

Just as the Chargers were creeping back into the game, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick delivered a potential knockout blow.

Late in the third quarter and just inside the San Francisco 10, Kaepernick exploded for a 90-yard touchdown run to re-establish the home team’s 14-point lead, 35-21.  The effort came on a pass play, with Kaepernick stepping up in the pocket to his right, seeing a crease, and taking off.

That 14-point lead had just been carved in half by a Kaepernick blunder deep in 49ers territory, losing the ball while trying to avoid a sack.  San Diego recovered in the end zone to cut the margin from 28-14 to 28-21.

The Chargers’ score came one play after an impressive 63-yard catch and run by tight end Vernon Davis was wiped out by a pair of penalties.

There’s still time for the Chargers to come back and win, but the momentum has just swung sharply to the 49ers, not long after it had swung sharply to the 49ers.

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Desperate Eagles become Colts fans

Kelly AP

Looking like a team ready to make its move to the top of the NFC only 23 days ago, the Eagles have chased their 9-3 start with an 0-3 run that has a once-promising season on the brink.

The formula is now as simple as it can be for the Eagles:  Root for the Cowboys to lose the next two, and beat the Giants in New York.  Dallas faces the Colts on Sunday.

“I’ve been a big Andrew Luck fan before, now I’m going to be an even bigger one,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said after the game, via the team’s official website.

Coach Chip Kelly doesn’t seem to be interesting in donning blue and white.

“We have one game left against the New York Giants and we need to win that game,” Kelly told reporters after the loss.  “There are a lot of other things that have to happen besides that and we have no control over those.  The only thing we can do is prepare for the Giants.”

Maybe Kelly has the right idea.  Rooting for the Colts on Sunday becomes rooting for the team that just beat Philly next Sunday, when Washington hosts Dallas.  Which means rooting in part for receiver DeSean Jackson, the guy Kelly no longer wanted after 2013.  The guy who gained 126 yards against the Eagles on Saturday.

“We felt like our corners could stay with him and obviously they didn’t,” Kelly said.

No, they didn’t.  And the Eagles now need help to stay with the Cowboys.

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49ers running wild over Chargers

kaep AP

Every year in the NFL, there’s a late-season game in which a team with nothing to play for beats a team with everything to play for. Today it’s happening twice in one day.

Washington has already beaten Philadelphia, and now San Francisco is dominating San Diego.

The 49ers, who are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, are running all over the Chargers, who are still fighting for a wild-card berth. Just five minutes into the second quarter, the 49ers took a 21-0 lead when Antoine Bethea picked off a Philip Rivers pass and ran it back 49 yards for a touchdown.

Prior to that the 49ers had scored two touchdowns on offense, one on a pass from Colin Kaepernick to Bruce Ellington and one on a 52-yard Frank Gore run. San Francisco is cruising.

The Chargers will either pull off one of the biggest comebacks of the season, or they’ll lose a huge game to a team that’s already out of the playoff race.

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Chargers suffer yet another injury at center

Chris Watt AP

No team has been more devastated by injuries at one position this season than the Chargers at center.

Chris Watt, who got the start tonight against the 49ers, was San Diego’s fourth different starting center this year. And in the first quarter, he suffered an apparent left ankle injury and limped off the field. He was later carted to the locker room and replaced by Trevor Robinson.

Chargers centers Nick Hardwick, Rich Ohrnberger and Doug Legursky are all on injured reserve.

The injury to Watt isn’t the only problem for the Chargers tonight: A bigger problem is that their defense can’t stop the 49ers’ running game. San Francisco had 126 rushing yards in the first 12 minutes of the game and took an early 7-0 lead.

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NFC playoff picture: Lions clinch thanks to Eagles’ loss

Miami Dolphins v Detroit Lions Getty Images

The big winners in Washington on Saturday were the Lions, who clinched a playoff berth with the Eagles’ loss.

And the big losers were, of course, the Eagles: They’re not eliminated from playoff contention yet, but they’re precariously close and now have to have a whole lot of games go their way.

Here’s how the NFC playoff picture looks after the Eagles’ surprise loss.

THE BIG SIX

1. Arizona Cardinals (11-3). NFC West leader. Has clinched playoff spot. Would clinch NFC West and No. 1 overall seed with victory Sunday vs. Seattle.

2. Detroit Lions (10-4). NFC North leader. Would clinch NFC North with a win and a Packers loss.

3. Dallas Cowboys (10-4). NFC East leader. Would clinch NFC East with a win vs. Indianapolis on Sunday.

4. New Orleans Saints (6-8). NFC South leader. Would clinch NFC South with a win vs. Atlanta and a Panthers loss.

5. Seattle Seahawks (10-4). Wild card No. 1. Would clinch a playoff berth with a win vs. Arizona on Sunday.

6. Green Bay Packers (10-4). Wild card No. 2. Would clinch a playoff berth with a win vs. Tampa Bay on Sunday.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6). Can still win the NFC East but only if they beat the Giants next week while the Cowboys lose both Sunday against Indianapolis and next week against Washington.

OTHER NFC SOUTH CONTENDERS

Carolina Panthers (5-8-1). Will win the NFC South if they win out and the Saints lose once.

Atlanta Falcons (5-9). Will win the NFC South if they win out.

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Eagles choke in Washington

zachertz AP

Philadelphia had everything to play for. Washington had nothing to play for. Everyone figured the Eagles would win easily.

It didn’t work out that way.

Instead, the Eagles went into Washington badly needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and instead choked the game away, losing 27-24 on a Kai Forbath field goal with five seconds left. Mark Sanchez was good for much of the game, but his one interception was what set up Washington’s game-winner.

Adding insult to injury for the Eagles, the best player on the field for Washington was DeSean Jackson, the wide receiver whom Eagles coach Chip Kelly released this offseason. Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was excellent catching short passes, with 15 receptions for 115 yards. But the Eagles could have used a receiver who can stretch the field — that’s what they had last year with Jackson, and that’s what they lacked today.

The loss doesn’t completely eliminate the Eagles from playoff contention, but it does mean their playoff hopes are slim. Eagles fans are now desperately hoping the Cowboys lose tomorrow against the Colts.

Washington won’t be going to the playoffs, but it will go into the offseason with a tough decision about the quarterback position. Robert Griffin III helped the team win today, but he was far from spectacular as a passer, completing just 16 of 23 passes for 220 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. (In fact, the best thing he did was draw repeated roughing the passer penalties against the Eagles.) Has Griffin done enough to get the starting job next year? Has Jay Gruden done enough to keep the coaching job next year?

Those questions remain to be answered. But today, Washington fans can celebrate. They just earned a hard-fought win, and likely knocked the rival Eagles out of the playoffs in the process.

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Vick praises Jameis Winston as the “future of the NFL”

Winston Getty Images

A vague sense has emerged in recent weeks that a draft-stock gap exists between 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston.  There indeed may be a gap by the time the 2015 draft begins, and it may be Winston who’s the better player.

Jets quarterback Mike Vick, the first overall pick in the draft nearly 14 years ago, recently heaped praise on Winston.

“He may make some poor decisions, but he gets on that football field and he plays his ass off,” Vick said, via Darryl Slater of NJ.com.  “Yeah, he can mature.  He’ll mature.  I see him maturing as time goes on.  Like, this year hasn’t been as bad of a year as the first year was for Jameis.  I think the kid will continue to improve.  I think he’s the future of the NFL.”

This year hasn’t been perfect, though.  The offseason featured the crab-leg caper.  Then, Winston was suspended for a game after yelling an obscene phrase on campus.  He nevertheless dressed for the game and entered the field in full uniform before being sent back inside.  More recently, Winston placed his hands on and physically moved an official who was delaying the snap.

As a result, Winston will attract plenty of attention, wherever he goes.  And that could make it difficult for him to thrive with a team like the Jets.

“I think it’s hard,” Vick said.  “I think his support cast just has to be around him.  You can’t put him in a room with a group of young guys. . . .  The more veterans around, the more he’ll pick up on things and he’ll mature quickly.  That’s the trend I’ve been around since I’ve been in the league.”

For Winston, the trend at the college level has been to win, each and every week.  He’s 29-0.  A win over Mariota and Oregon will move him to 30-0 and commence talk that, despite Mariota’s accomplishments, perhaps Winston is the better NFL prospect.

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Questionable roughing the passer calls help Washington take the lead

rg3 AP

Two roughing the passer penalties have helped Washington take a surprising lead in the third quarter today.

A 12-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by Darrel Young was helped along when the Eagles were twice flagged for hits on Robert Griffin III.

Both of the calls were questionable. Neither was particularly late, neither was a direct shot to Griffin’s head and neither drove Griffin into the ground at the end of the hit. Plenty of worse hits go uncalled every week.

But these two were called, and they went against the Eagles, who now trail 17-14.

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