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Panthers defense suddenly can’t stop anyone

Randall Cobb, Thomas Davis AP

It wasn’t that long ago that the Panthers were a team defined by their defense.

But that side of the ball is dragging them down now.

Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review points out the sordid facts about a terrible defense, which has allowed at least 37 points in four of their last five games.

They’ve given up 195 points through seven games, after giving up just 241 all of last season.

“We can’t keep sitting around and waiting on things to happen,” linebacker Thomas Davis said. “As a defense, we’ve got to go out and make things happen. Until we do that, this outcome is going to continue to be like this.”

Quarterbacks in particular are having a field day against their soft secondary,

The last five quarterbacks they’ve played (Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton and Aaron Rodgers) have completed 76.5 percent of their passes (124-of-162 for 1,390 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions), for a passer rating of 116.0.

That’s ridiculous, but somewhat predictable.

The Panthers had an odd cast of defensive backs last year, but they also had Greg Hardy getting 15.0 sacks to make the job of coverage easier. Without that pressure, players are being exposed (notably but not limited to safety Roman Harper and safety-turned-nickel corner Charles Godfrey).

Now, with Hardy awaiting trial on domestic violence charges and on the commissioner’s exempt list — and the money he’s soaking up unavailable to buy reinforcements — the Panthers aren’t stopping anybody.

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Aaron Rodgers says Packers offense is “getting closer”

Carolina Panthers v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

A few weeks ago, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers showed off his spelling ability in order to tell panicky fans that they should relax when it comes to the team’s offense.

That advice has proven sound over the last few weeks and Sunday’s game against the Panthers was no exception. The Packers rolled to a 38-17 win that saw five different players score touchdowns and Rodgers throw just three incompletions while hooking up with nine different receivers over the course of the afternoon. After the game, Rodgers was asked how play like this compares to his 2011 MVP season and showed that his advice about a relaxed response to the offense’s performance isn’t just a reaction to the negative.

“I think we’re getting closer,” Rodgers said, via ESPN Wisconsin. “I’ve been through a lot of games, tough games, wins, losses, solid performances, poor performances. You’ve got to learn from everything. There were stretches in that [2011] season where I was playing really, really well. And we’re kind of in a stretch right now where we’re playing pretty well.”

The Packers have scored 145 points over the last four weeks while winning each game, something that makes “pretty well” a rather understated description of their performance of late. Rodgers may not want to crow about it, but the offense is on a roll in Green Bay and there’s not much reason to think it will stop in New Orleans next weekend.

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Kyle Long sends criticism back at Bears fans

Dolphins Bears Football AP

The Bears have plenty of problems at the moment, as evidenced by their third straight home loss yesterday, this one to the Dolphins.

That loss made for a heated locker room, with wide receiver Brandon Marshall calling out the entire roster.

But Bears guard Kyle Long decided to take out his frustrations on a group of people who had nothing to do with the result, after getting booed as they came off the field at halftime trailing 14-0.

I don’t know if upset is the word I would use,” Long said, via Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com. “As somebody that is blood, sweat and tears in this locker room like the other guys, the coaches, the trainers, the staff and the equipment guys, to be getting booed at home when you’re walking off the field down two possessions is unacceptable — especially when there is not a lot of noise being made on third down [when Miami had the ball], period.”

As Geno Smith could tell you, taking out your frustrations on the paying customers is rarely the best idea.
Long seemed to realize that a moment late, and took to Twitter afterward to try to clarify.
Wasn’t just running around blaming the fans,” he wrote. “I was asked about it and I said what I said. I wish we were making great plays all the time too”
At least Bears tight end Martellus Bennett had a better perspective on it.
“If I go see a bad movie, I boo,” Bennett said. “It’s an entertainment business. We are all entertainers. If you go to a bad show, most people boo. I think they had the right to do that. If I want to boo at fans, I can boo at fans, or whoever it may be. They pay for their tickets, and the show wasn’t up to their liking.
“If I go to a movie, I walk out if I don’t like the movie. Like Transformers 3 — it was terrible. I didn’t stay for the whole film and walked out.”
As another Chicago icon, Roger Ebert might have said, the Bears deserved the thumbs down last night — if not the fingers up.
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49ers center Daniel Kilgore breaks leg, season likely over

Daniel Kilgore AP

Along with being caught on the tracks as the train of football history rolled over them, the 49ers left last night with another injured starter.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, center Daniel Kilgore suffered a fractured left leg, which will likely end his season.

“It was upper ankle,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Looks like it might be a break.”

Kilgore already had a cast on his leg after the game, and needed help getting on the team bus. He was scheduled to fly home with the team.

“It’s always tragic to lose a player,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “I don’t know exactly what it is right now. Hopefully, it’s not something that is season-ending.”

The injury forced them to scramble last night, but help could be on the way.

Third-round draft pick Marcus Martin just finished his first week of practice after a preseason knee injury, and with a bye week coming up, could be in the lineup when they return Nov. 2 against the Rams.

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Broncos couldn’t help getting caught up in the moment

Peyton Manning AP

Because he’s so focused on the process, Peyton Manning’s Broncos teammates knew not to expect a big fuss last night when he broke the league’s all-time touchdown record.

But they also knew what it meant.

You kind of just know you’re part of something big,” Broncos tight end and former Colts teammate Jacob Tamme said, via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com. “You know someday you’re going to reflect on it, think about it, but in the moment he wants to win games and we want to win games. But someday, yes, it’s going to be a good story.”

Even for defensive players, who were about to take the field again, it was hard to ignore.

“I wasn’t really paying attention, I don’t get to see him really, we’re looking at our sheets, talking about what we’re going to do on the next play, things like that,” linebacker Von Miller said. “But we were looking at our stuff, and all of a sudden it was like a concert, all the phones were up all over the stadium, you could feel it. We knew it was going to happen. And you had to watch.”

And those are the guys with ringside seats, so imagine what the fans in the stands felt.

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Jerry Jones thinks Sunday was the best game of Tony Romo’s career

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Last week, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that he thought quarterback Tony Romo was playing the best football of his career and Sunday’s 31-21 win over the Giants gave the owner no reason to turn off his well-worn hyperbole switch.

Romo threw three touchdowns, including a strike to Terrance Williams that saw Romo scramble to avoid the rush before making a pinpoint throw, and completed 17-of-23 passes for 279 yards after taking a painkilling injection before the game to deal with rib and ankle problems. Romo didn’t throw an incompletion in the second half and Jones had more praise for the quarterback after the team’s sixth straight win.

“I’d have to say that may be [the] best game I’ve ever seen Tony Romo play,” Jones said, via ESPNDallas.com. “That was an outstanding game. He was pinpointing the ball, making the kind of plays and protecting the ball.”

If it was the best game of Romo’s career, a big chunk of the credit should go to wide receiver Dez Bryant for helping to make it possible. Bryant caught seven of Romo’s nine second half completions with five of them going for first downs and two setting the Cowboys up just outside the end zone for touchdowns that put the game firmly in Dallas’ pocket.

The commitment to and emergence of the running game this season has taken the pressure off of Romo to do everything for the Cowboys offense. That’s worked out to a balanced, efficient and versatile offensive attack, six straight wins and a more credible stream of hot air than we’ve been used to hearing from Jones in recent years.

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Doug Baldwin: Harvin trade made for an emotional roller coaster

Doug Baldwin, Alec Ogletree AP

Neither Pete Carroll nor Russell Wilson was willing to talk much about the departure of wide receiver Percy Harvin in the wake of Sunday’s loss to the Rams, but one of the players that Harvin reportedly had problems with during his time in Seattle was more willing to speak his mind.

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin admitted that he did have a physical altercation with Harvin earlier this year and suggested the other reports of backstage drama were correct, although he downplayed the significance of the moment as the byproduct of spending so much time together. Baldwin also said that he thought the timing of the trade threw the team off stride regarding their preparation for Sunday.

“Obviously the shock of the transaction and what took place there made for a bit of an emotional roller coaster. When something that drastic happens, right before we get on the bus [to go to the airport for the trip], there is going to be an emotional impact. I felt we handled it to the best of our ability, but I think it might have been a factor in some way,” Baldwin said, via ESPN.com. “There’s obviously a lot of things that went on this week that affected the team in numerous ways. As a competitor, you don’t want to admit those things. But as a human, it is human nature. It took us a little while to get on track. I’m just proud we responded the way we did and fought until the very end.”

The Seahawks outscored the Rams 20-7 in the second half, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the 18-point hole that St. Louis dug for them in the first half. While we can’t be sure, Seattle should avoid the emotional roller coaster this week as they prepare to face the Panthers and halt their losing streak at two games.

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Darnell Dockett teases Raiders fans with sign

Darnell Dockett AP

Though the winless Raiders showed some spark in Sunday’s game vs. Arizona, they couldn’t quite keep up with the NFC West-leading Cardinals, who secured a 24-13 victory in Oakland.

And as the Cardinals took care of business against the Raiders, injured Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett wrote a message visible to Oakland fans facing the Cards’ sldeline.

Via a photo posted on Twitter by Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ website, Dockett wrote “WORST TEAM IN NFL 0-6” on a white dry-erase board.

In a devilish touch, the “0” had a smiley face in it.

After the game, Dockett, via his verified Twitter account, explained his message this way: “Raiders fans threw coins and ice at us, called us every name in the book. That’s what made me write the sign.”

In any event, the Cardinals got out with a win, improving their record to 5-1. The Raiders, on the other hand, are already approaching the doorstep of a 12th straight season without a postseason bid.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Oakland has picked up its play after an embarrassing Week Four defeat in London. Still, the Raiders opened seven-point underdogs for next Sunday’s game in Cleveland. They are assured of being underdogs in the bulk of their final 10 games of the season, with the Dec. 21 home matchup with Buffalo perhaps their best chance at being favored.

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Daniel Kilgore carted off with leg injury, won’t return

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The 49ers weren’t deep on the offensive line to begin with.

Now they’re about to get even thinner.

Center Daniel Kilgore is being carted off after getting his leg rolled on, and trainers immediately brought out the air cast.

That’s usually a sign of a broken leg.

He was replaced by rookie Dillon Farrell.

The 49ers were already without guard Mike Iupati, and right tackle Anthony Davis just got back this week.

Kilgore’s a promising young player, who took over for veteran Jonathan Goodwin. But now it looks like the 49ers are going to be without him for a bit.

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Brandon Marshall called out everyone, not just Cutler

Marshall AP

After Sunday’s third home loss in three home games, the Bears came a little unglued.  The situation was particularly stressful for receiver Brandon Marshall, who saw the Bears soundly beaten by the Dolphins, the team that traded Marshall to Chicago in 2012.

After the game, Marshall told reporters — multiple times — that the team’s 3-4 record is unacceptable.  Before Marshall spoke to reporters, things got heated in the locker room, with Marshall yelling loudly during a rant that was heard in the hallway outside.

A report from ESPN.com indicates that Marshall called out quarterback Jay Cutler during the diatribe.  And that’s true, primarily because Marshall called out everyone for having a lack of heart.

The Bears currently have a troubling lack of wins, with only three in seven games.  Meanwhile, the Packers and Lions are running away with the division, leaving the Bears in the dust with the Vikings.

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Report: Kyle Fuller suffers broken hand, hip pointer in loss

Kyle Fuller AP

One of the NFL’s top defensive rookies is reportedly on the mend with two injuries suffered in defeat on Sunday.

Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller sustained a broken hand and a hip pointer in Chicago’s 27-14 loss to Miami, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported Sunday evening. Veteran Sherrick McManis filled in for Fuller on Sunday.

The 22-year-old Fuller stepped into a bigger role when long-time Bears standout Charles Tillman suffered a season-ending injury in Week Two, and the first-round pick from Virginia Tech quickly proved ready to play. Fuller has intercepted three passes this season, notching 33 tackles.

The Bears (3-4) play at New England next Sunday.

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Peyton Manning ties TD record, as Broncos off to hot start

San Francisco 49ers v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Peyton Manning looks like he wants to hurry up and get this record thing over with.

After a review, Manning’s second touchdown of the night was upheld, allowing Wes Welker to be the trivia answer for scoring the touchdown which tied Brett Favre’s all-time record.

Manning’s playing sharper than normal — even for him — completing 7-of-7 for 111 yards and two touchdowns.

And it’s not even the second quarter, which means John Fox can’t possibly take his foot off the gas.

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Manning feared he couldn’t coexist with Harbaugh

Manning Getty Images

So why didn’t the 49ers’ evaluation of quarterback Peyton Manning become a full-blown pursuit and ultimate acquisition of Peyton Manning?

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Manning ultimately chose not to make the 49ers a finalist for his services.  Apart from Manning preferring to stay in the AFC, the wind and precipitation at Candlestick Park (where Manning would have played for two years) were factors.  Another factor was the potential for friction between Manning and coach Jim Harbaugh.  According to the source, Manning feared that it would be difficult for a pair of ultra-competitive men to coexist.

In Denver, Manning enjoys a high degree of autonomy on of the offensive side of the ball, especially since coach John Fox worked as a defensive coordinator.  In San Francisco, Manning and Harbaugh each would have wanted to run the offense.  And they each would have been willing to argue aggressively in support of their ideas and preferences.

Seth Wickersham of ESPN The Magazine recently repeated a story that had made the rounds in 2012 regarding the interactions of Harbaugh and Manning.

“Harbaugh and Manning were throwing the ball, so it goes, when the coach couldn’t help but remark that his passes had more mustard on them than the still-rehabbing future Hall of Famer’s did,” Wickersham wrote. “You can guess how that went over.”

In the end, Manning decided not to go over to the 49ers.  Eventually, the finalists were the Broncos, Titans, and Cardinals.  Other teams that wanted a seat at the table didn’t get one, including the Seahawks and the Chiefs.

The official story from the 49ers is that they weren’t pursuing Manning at all.

“There’s a perception out there and it’s an erroneous perception that we were flirting with Peyton Manning,” coach Jim Harbaugh said in May 2012, more than two months after Manning picked the Broncos.  “I keep hearing it over and over.  It’s silly and it’s untrue. It’s phony.  Even the perception that we were pursuing.  We were evaluating.  I’ve said all along that Alex Smith has been our quarterback.  There’s no scenario, other than Alex choosing to sign with another team, that we would consider him not as our quarterback.”

Of course, there was another scenario in which the 49ers would consider Alex Smith not their quarterback.  It unfolded during the 2012 season after Smith suffered a concussion and Colin Kaepernick emerged.  The 49ers then traded Smith to the Chiefs.

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Judge Jones is expected to rule this week on Goodell testimony in Rice appeal

Goodell Getty Images

Commissioner Roger Goodell has said former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones will decide whether Goodell will be testifying at the Ray Rice appeal hearing.  Specifically, Judge Jones is expected to make that decision soon.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Judge Jones has informed the NFL and the NFL Players Association that she will be resolving the dispute on whether Goodell will testify this week.  The league and the union have submitted written arguments in support of their competing positions.

The NFL contends that Rice, who was suspended for two games in July, received an indefinite ban because his version of the events consisted starkly with the elevator video that was published on September 8.  Goodell appears to be a highly material witness regarding the story Rice told, especially since Rice told it directly to Goodell — and since Goodell made the decision that Rice had essentially lied.

The NFL has offered, we’re told, to make executive V.P. Adolpho Birch and general counsel Jeff Pash available to testify.  The union and Rice still want to question Goodell.

It seems obvious that Goodell should be required to testify.  Beyond the direct relevance of his testimony to the outcome of the appeal, Goodell’s reluctance to testify creates the impression that the NFL has something to hide.

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Cardinals hold Raiders at bay, move to 5-1

Arizona Cardinals v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The Cardinals just keep stacking up victories.

Led by 160 combined rushing-receiving yards by tailback Andre Ellington and two TD passes from quarterback Carson Palmer, the Cardinals pulled away to a 24-13 win at Oakland on Sunday afternoon.

The victory moves the Cardinals to 5-1 and gives them a one-game edge on San Francisco (4-2), which plays tonight at Denver. Arizona is two games ahead of suddenly struggling Seattle (3-3) and three games up on St. Louis (2-4). The Cardinals host Philadelphia (5-1) in an important NFC game next Sunday.

With the loss, meanwhile, the Raiders are the NFL’s last winless team at 0-6.

Reserve running back Stepfan Taylor scored a pair of touchdowns for the Cardinals, who never trailed. Taylor’s two-yard TD catch gave the Cardinals a 7-0 first-quarter lead, and Arizona would extend the edge to 14-0 when Palmer (22-of-31, 253 yards, two TDs, one pick) connected with wideout Michael Floyd on a 33-yard second-quarter score.

The Raiders would put in a run, drawing to within 14-13 on Sebastian Janikowski’s 53-yard field goal with 7:17 left in the third quarter. But Arizona bounced right back with an eight-play, 80-yard drive ending in Taylor’s four-yard TD run. Ellington was the standout on the drive, racking up 56 combined yards. The second-year tailback finished with 88 yards rushing on 24 carries and led the Cards with six catches for 72 yards.

The Cardinals — 9-of-15 on third downs in victory — would clinch the game with a 12-play, 50-yard drive taking nearly seven minutes and ending in rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro’s 41-yard field goal with 29 seconds left in the contest. Catanzaro has not missed in 15 field goal tries this season.

Quarterback Derek Carr completed 16-of-28 passes for 173 yards for Oakland, which was outgained 365-220. Tailback Darren McFadden (14 carries, 48 yards) tallied the Raiders’ lone TD on a one-yard score in the second quarter. Safety Charles Woodson’s 58th regular-season interception in his 17-year NFL career was another highlight for Oakland.

The Raiders play at 3-3 Cleveland next Sunday. Three of their next four contests are on the road, with the lone home game against Denver.

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