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NFL should be alarmed by Cowboys-Raiders brawl

Raiders AP

On Saturday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh suggested that the media engage in a “self-check” when reporting on training-camp fights.  Not many “self-checks” occurred on the practice field Tuesday in California, when the Cowboys and Raiders launched into a full-blown brawl.

The brawl, which resulted in a dogpile against the low-security fence separating the players from the crowd, culminated in a fan swinging a helmet at Cowboys cornerback B.W. Webb, and Webb attempting to retaliate.

The league-owned TV network failed to engage in an appropriate “self-check” when displaying images of the brawl, omitting any mention of fan involvement, and ultimately downplaying the whole thing as a “camaraderie builder.”

The only place an incident like builds camaraderie is the NFL’s legal department.

The league’s lawyers likely find the images horrifying.  Not because of what happened, but because of what could have happened.  The fan could have struck and injured Webb.  Webb could have struck and injured the fan.  Webb and other members of the Cowboys could have gone into the crowd and started beating on people, Pacers-Pistons style.

Apart from the potential involvement of fans in a setting where security is far more lax than it is at games, at some point a brawl among players becomes a violation of the personal-conduct policy, which expressly prohibits workplace violence.  Nine years ago, Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth received a five-game suspension for taking a cleat to the head of Cowboys center Andre Gurode.  At what point does a guy emerge from the kind of scrum that happened on Tuesday with a similar injury?

Good lawyers (and the NFL has good lawyers) worry about the worst-case scenario before it happens and plan for ways to avoid it.  On Tuesday, a worst-case scenario was avoided not by planning but by dumb luck and a last-ditch “self-check” that kept players from creating a scene that would have made the league long for the P.R. fallout from the Ray Rice suspension.

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Bengals think Vontaze Burfict can return from concussion this week

Vontaze Burfict AP

The Bengals are back from their bye week and readying their preparations for Sunday’s attempt to extend their winning streak to four games against the Patriots on Sunday night.

Part of that process will involve doctors taking a look at linebacker Vontaze Burfict to see if he’s recovered enough from his most recent concussion to rejoin the team on the field. Burfict suffered concussions in each of the first two weeks of the season and missed Week Three, so he’s had some extra time to recover and coach Marvin Lewis believes the linebacker will be ready to go this week.

“I would imagine he will. Yes,” Lewis said, via FOX19 in Cincinnati.

The Bengals had no trouble polishing off the Titans without Burfict in the lineup, but the Bengals are obviously better off when he’s healthy and making plays on defense. If Burfict is cleared for practice on Wednesday, that outcome will be more likely.

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FCC unanimously dumps blackout rule

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The NFL wants to “Protect Football on Free TV.”  The FCC did just that on Tuesday, voting unanimously to abandon the blackout rule.

“This is a historic day for sports fans,” Sports Fans Coalition chairman David Goodriend said in a release.  “Since 1975, the federal government has propped up the NFL’s obnoxious practice of blacking out a game from local TV if the stadium did not sell out.  Today’s FCC action makes clear:  if leagues want to mistreat fans, they will have to do so without Uncle Sam’s help.”

It doesn’t mean the blackout rule has died; the NFL and broadcast networks can agree to abide by its terms.  Today’s decision means only that the NFL can’t insist on network blackouts via an FCC policy that previously gave the NFL the ability to pull the plug.

Since 1975, the NFL has blocked local broadcasts of games in which the home team failed to sell all non-premium tickets at least 72 hours before kickoff.

The next step could be to pursue federal legislation that would eliminate the broadcast antitrust exemption if the NFL doesn’t abandon the blackout practice altogether.  If the bill introduced last year becomes law, blackouts immediately will go the way of the dodo bird, the dropkick, and Tom Brady’s talent.

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Jared Allen resumes working out after bout with pneumonia

Jacksonville Jaguars v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Bears defensive end Jared Allen was knocked out of the Bears lineup last week with a case of pneumonia that reportedly left him 18 pounds lighter and unable to get on the field.

Allen’s outlook for Week Five after such a serious illness isn’t clear yet, but he has resumed working out at the team’s facility. Coach Marc Trestman said it was good to see him on Monday.

“We’ll see where he is on Wednesday,” Trestman said, via CSNChicago.com. “It was good to see him in the building, good to see him in all the meetings, he got some work in the weight room. That’s encouraging.”

Trestman wouldn’t confirm the magnitude of Allen’s weight loss, but getting enough strength back to play on Sunday is far from a sure thing. The chances that he’ll recover enough to play his usual workload probably aren’t great, either, so Willie Young should see plenty of time whether or not Allen winds up getting the green light against the Panthers.

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Bruce Carter will miss some time with quad strain

New Orleans Saints v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

After Dr. Jerry Jones misdiagnosed Morris Claiborne’s torn patellar tendon as an ACL, we’re probably going to want to get a second opinion.

But Jones said this morning on is weekly radio show on KRLD-FM that linebacker Bruce Carter would likely miss this week’s game.

This is one of those week-to-week [injuries],” Jones said, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We couldn’t get a firm yes from our trainers. It is one of those the proverbial, ‘Let’s see how he’s doing.’ These injuries, quad strains, are not long-term injuries. But you say, ‘Well, missing a game is getting pretty long term when you don’t have but 16 of them,’ but still we’ll have to see with him. If he’s moving pretty good.

“I think Carter is a good healer, and some people heal faster than others. So we’ll want to keep a close eye on him.”

Defensive end DeMarcus Ware missed three games with a quad strain last year, though it’s not clear if the extent of Carter’s injury is similar.

Carter went down like a sniper got him while chasing a Khiry Robinson run in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over the Saints.

The Cowboys had momentarily found some stability on defense with Carter, Justin Durant and Rolando McClain at linebacker, but they’re going to have to adjust now.

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Week Four power rankings

Smith Getty Images

1. Seattle Seahawks (No. 1 last week; 2-1):  Richard Sherman is even better than the bye.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 2; 3-0):  Winning at Foxboro on Sunday night will no longer be viewed as an upset.

3. Denver Broncos (No. 3; 2-1):  The team they need to be most worried about in the AFC resides in the AFC West.

4. Arizona Cardinals (No. 6; 3-0):  Nothing wakes up a dead nerve faster than a couple of great performances from Drew Stanton.

5. Baltimore Ravens (No. 7; 3-1):  Steve Smith arrived as a luxury; he has become a necessity.

6. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 4; 3-1):  For a team with almost no offensive line, they’re not bad.

7. San Diego Chargers (No. 8; 3-1):  The Chargers are glad the Jets are sticking with Geno Smith for their visit to San Diego.

8. Detroit Lions (No. 12; 3-1):  Sunday’s visit from Kyle Orton and the Bills is precisely the kind of game the Lions of recent years would have found a way to lose under current Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

9. Green Bay Packers (No. 14; 2-2):  For this week’s spelling bee, Aaron Rodgers will try “euonym.”

10. Indianapolis Colts (No. 16; 2-2):  Thirty years after the Colts escaped in the night to Indy, Baltimore’s current team will announce its arrival by kicking down the door.

11. San Francisco 49ers (No. 17; 2-2):  “Who’s got it better than us?  According to unnamed sources, everybody!”

12. Atlanta Falcons (No. 9; 2-2):  At this rate, offensive line coach Mike Tice will be suiting up to play.

13. Dallas Cowboys (No. 19; 3-1):  Glitz, glamor, glory.

14. Houston Texans (No. 20; 3-1):  Maybe J.J. Watt should play quarterback, too.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 10; 2-2):  Mike Tomlin doesn’t like being known as a players’ coach.  If Sunday’s performance continues, he may not be known as any kind of coach.

16. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 24; 2-2):  The biggest question from last night’s romp is this — how in the hell did they lose to the Titans?

17. New Orleans Saints (No. 11; 1-3):  At least Rob Ryan won’t be able to blame the lack of head coaching opportunities on his hairdo.

18. Chicago Bears (No. 13; 2-2):  The Bears should petition the NFL to play all remaining games on the road.

19. New England Patriots (No. 5; 2-2):  Tom Brady said he’ll retire when he sucks; when is the press conference?

20. Carolina Panthers (No. 15; 2-2):  Giving up 75 points in two games isn’t quite the best way to win the division again.

21. Buffalo Bills (No. 18; 2-2):  Quarterback change now, coaching change later.

22. Cleveland Browns (No. 22; 1-2):  No Manziel news during the bye week was the best news the Browns could have gotten.

23. New York Jets (No. 21; 1-3):  With games coming up against the Chargers, Broncos, and Patriots, the clock is ticking on Geno.

24. Miami Dolphins (No. 25; 2-2):  Maybe Joe Philbin should refuse to commit to Ryan Tannehill every week.

25. New York Giants (No. 26; 2-2):  Yep, being on the hot seat is the best thing that could have happened to Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning.

26. Minnesota Vikings (No. 29; 2-2):  Sixteen years ago, a rookie receiver helped the Vikings pull off a win for the ages at Lambeau Field.  Now, Teddy Bridgewater gets his chance to do the same thing.  If he can play.

27. St. Louis Rams (No. 27; 1-2):  Take a look at the next eight games on the schedule.  The wheels are about to come off.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 32; 1-3):  The quarterback of the past and the quarterback of the future still isn’t the quarterback of the present?  Sure.

29. Washington (No. 23; 1-3):  Robert Griffin III or Kirk Cousins?  How about neither?

30. Tennessee Titans (No. 28; 1-3):  Ken Whisenhunt says he may have overestimated his team.  The rest of the world properly estimated them.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 0-4):  Shad Khan is showing far more patience with his football team than his soccer club.

32. Oakland Raiders (No. 30; 0-4):  The bye week is favored by 9.5 points.

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NFL says Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for praying after touchdown

Husain Abdullah AP

Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah followed in the footsteps of many other players on Monday night when he celebrated his interception return for a touchdown by going to his knees in prayer.

Unlike those other players, Abdullah was penalized for going to the ground under the league’s rules for unsportsmanlike conduct. The only difference between Abdullah and the other players was that Abdullah is Muslim and his prayer therefore looked a bit different than what we’ve seen from others, although that didn’t make it any odder since the NFL doesn’t have rules governing which deity their players are permitted to offer thanks to after a touchdown.

Abdullah said he thought the penalty might have been for sliding to his knees rather than dropping, but NFL spokesman Michael Signora didn’t split any hairs on Tuesday when announcing that the official erred in throwing the flag.

“Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct following his fourth quarter touchdown,” Signora wrote in an email to PFT. “Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) states ‘players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.’  However, the officiating mechanic in this situation is not to flag a player who goes to the ground as part of religious expression, and as a result, there should have been no penalty on the play.”

Whatever the reason for the official’s misunderstanding of Abdullah’s intent, it is good to see the league act quickly to make it clear that the official and not Abdullah was in error.

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Jets sign Chris Owusu

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Jets made some moves to shake up their receiving corps on Monday.

Fourth-round pick Jalen Saunders was dumped from the roster so the team could sign former Bills third-rounder T.J. Graham and the team announced a bit later in the day that they have also signed former Buccaneers wideout Chris Owusu.

Owusu was released by the Bucs last week when they signed Louis Murphy, ending a tenure with the team that stretched back to the 2012 season. Owusu played 17 games for the Bucs over that span, catching 16 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown.

There’s no question that the Jets need any help they can find for their passing game, but it’s hard to feel like Graham and Owusu are going to move the needle all that much. They should get chances to prove otherwise, however, as David Nelson hurt his ankle against the Lions and is expected to miss some time.

Cornerback LeQuan Lewis was released to make room for Owusu. According to the Jets, that’s the 31st transaction that Lewis has been involved in during his NFL career.

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Mark Davis fires the guy who really wasn’t to blame

Dennis Getty Images

The worst-kept, stutter-stepped secret in the NFL came to fruition last night, with Raiders owner Mark Davis reacting to an ugly London loss by dumping his third-year head coach, Dennis Allen.

But how much of the team’s horrific performances over the past two-plus seasons can be pinned on Allen?  Was it Allen who threw away $6.5 million guaranteed on Matt Flynn?  Was it Allen who wasted another $8 million on Matt Schaub?

Was it Allen who presided over the gradual deterioration of the roster and, in many respects, the entire franchise over the last decade?

If Allen deserves to go, so does G.M. Reggie McKenzie.  And if they bear blame for the current mess, so does the late Al Davis, who stubbornly refused to step aside from running the football operation in the latter years of his life.  While the elder Davis earned with decades of excellence the privilege to continue in the captain’s chair for as long as he wanted, the younger Davis needs to realize that the problems run far deeper than a head coach who made the best batch of chicken salad he possibly could, given a list of ingredients that includes wasted draft picks and overpriced free agents whom no one else wanted.

So go ahead, Mark, and pursue Jon Gruden.  Hell, try to hire Tom Flores or John Madden.  Maybe Art Shell would come back for a third tour of duty.  Without major changes to the football operations and a dramatic infusion of talent, it won’t matter.

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Jake Locker expected to practice on Wednesday

Jake Locker AP

The Titans kept quarterback Jake Locker on the bench in Week Four because of a right wrist injury, which left Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger to do the quarterbacking in a lopsided loss to the Colts.

It doesn’t look like the absence will be an extended one. On Monday, coach Ken Whisenhunt said that he expects Locker will practice on Wednesday and that the quarterback was “very close” to playing against Indianapolis.

“My only concern was if he got hit … during the game that it would bother him and then he’d lose his effectiveness,” Whisenhunt said, via the Tennessean. “We just wanted to make sure he’s past that hurdle. He didn’t throw today. I think he’ll continue with treatment. He was very close Sunday … I would anticipate he’ll practice Wednesday.”

Whisenhunt added that he hoped the time off might get Locker back to his form from the season opener. Locker played well in the Titans’ only win of the season, but followed it up with a pair of poor performances before he was injured.

With home games against the Browns and Jaguars on tap, the Titans have a chance to even up their record in the next two weeks. That won’t happen if they keep getting subpar play from the quarterback position and Locker probably won’t get too many more shots at providing it if things don’t click soon.

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Marc Trestman tiptoes around Brandon Marshall

Marshall AP

That ugly interception thrown on Sunday by Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was the fault of receiver Brandon Marshall.  Unless it wasn’t.

After Sunday’s 21-point home loss to the Packers, Chicago coach Marc Trestman pinned the blame on Brandon for running the wrong route, a hook-and-go instead of an 18-yard button hook.  On Monday, Trestman changed his tune.

You can’t put it on any one person,” Trestman said, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Trestman said that Marshall and Cutler have the ability to change routes before the snap with hand signals.  On the play in question, Cutler and Marshall had what Trestman called a “communication error.”

While Cutler claims that the error would have happened even if Marshall’s bum ankle had allowed him to practice last week, it’s hard not to think that Marshall’s absence from practice on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday played a role in the failure of the quarterback and receiver to communicate properly on Sunday.

The reduced practice time or the ankle injury, or both, are affecting Marshall’s production.  Per Finley, Marshall has been targeted only 12 times in the last two games, catching only three passes for 25 yards.

At some point, Marshall should perhaps take a week off from practice — and from a game.  The scheduled Sunday off doesn’t come until November 2.

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Mike McCoy not happy with state of Chargers run game

Donald Brown AP

Injuries have left the Chargers without Danny Woodhead for the rest of the season and Ryan Mathews for several weeks, but their absences haven’t stopped the Chargers from winning games.

They have helped keep the Chargers from having a decent run game, however. Donald Brown has carried the ball 41 times for 81 yards over the last two weeks and coach Mike McCoy says the team can’t keep relying on quarterback Philip Rivers alone to move the ball.

“The big thing is the running game. It’s nowhere where it needs to be,” McCoy said, via the Associated Press. “There’s no excuses about it. We’re not running it well enough. We’re not blocking well enough. Whatever we’re running isn’t working. We’ve got to figure out as coaches and players how to get it done. You want to have balance in any game. You want to win time of possession. And that helps with a running game. You want to gain 4 yards a carry, grind it out, and when you throw it the way we’re throwing the football right now, we’re going to minimize the number of possessions a team gets. We’re moving the ball. We just need to do it more efficiently.”

In addition to the injuries at running back, the Chargers have lost center Nick Hardwick for the season and that hasn’t helped matters. This may not be the best week for a turnaround as the Jets’ stout run defense will be on the other side of the field. So will their considerably less stout pass defense, though, and that may allow the Chargers to win a fourth straight game even without a big contribution from the ground game.

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Packers assuming Teddy Bridgewater will be on the field

Teddy Bridgewater, Dwight Lowery AP

The Packers have a short turnaround to prepare for the Vikings on Thursday night.

So they’re not going to waste much time game-planning as if Christian Ponder might play.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he’s working with the assumption that rookie Teddy Bridgewater will be back, after leaving with a sprained ankle last week.

I would think he’s going to play,” McCarthy said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “My family taped the game for me, so when I got home last night I watched the TV copy. I thought he played well, and watched the game on the coaches’ copy this morning and was told he feels pretty good. The tests were negative. We’ll plan for Bridgewater.”

All the tests on the Vikings quarterback were negative, but he was held out of practice Monday.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

DeAndre Hopkins, Corey Graham, Da'Norris Searcy AP

Bills RB Fred Jackson said he stands behind coach Doug Marrone’s decision to bench QB EJ Manuel.

The Dolphins are still looking for consistency.

Said Patriots DT Vince Wilfork of Monday’s loss to the Chiefs, “We took one on the chin. They beat us like we stole something.”

Jets FB Tommy Bohanon broke his clavicle on Sunday.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco was sharp on third down against the Panthers.

Said Bengals QB Andy Dalton of RB Rex Burkhead, “He can get tough yardage, but he also has some wiggle to him and can make guys miss. It will be fun to see him out there and see what he can do to help us.”

The upcoming schedule should present the Browns with chances to win some games.

LB James Harrison played 29 snaps in his return to the Steelers defense.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien wasn’t thrilled with WR DeAndre Hopkins’s touchdown celebration.

Colts S Sergio Brown will have to step up with LaRon Landry suspended.

WR Ace Sanders is ready to return to the Jaguars after his suspension.

Local television ratings for the Titans are moving in the wrong direction.

The Chiefs took care of their half of a big two days in Kansas City sports.

Bill Williamson of ESPN.com thinks former Raiders coach Dennis Allen has better days ahead of him in the NFL.

Five lessons the Chargers learned in their game against Jacksonville.

How will the Cowboys set up their secondary with CB Morris Claiborne out for the season?

The Giants think extra rest will make life easier for them against the Falcons.

Sunday wasn’t a great day for Eagles CB Cary Williams.

Redskins LB Brian Orakpo hasn’t lived up to the franchise tag in the season’s first month.

Dialing back blitzes didn’t help the Bears defense against Green Bay.

The Lions have found some confidence in their kicking game.

The Packers aren’t happy with their run defense.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer likes Jerick McKinnon as a change of pace back for the time being.

The Falcons run defense failed at all three levels on Sunday.

CB Josh Norman will be in the Panthers starting lineup this week.

Is it time to panic about the Saints?

Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy had a sack and a deflected pass while playing with a cast on his broken left hand.

Cardinals defenders have Broncos QB Peyton Manning on their minds this week.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders if Rams coach Jeff Fisher has come to his senses regarding QB Austin Davis.

Delay of game penalties remain a problem for the 49ers.

Seahawks CB Tharold Simon is a couple of weeks away from returning.

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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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