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NFL’s touchback experiment may continue in 2017

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The NFL began an experiment in 2016, pushing the starting line following a kickoff from the 20- to 25-yard line as part of a stated effort to increase the number of touchbacks and decrease the number of player injuries.

Its experiment may continue.

At next week’s league owner meetings, the NFL Competition Committee will present the option to extend the one-year experiment to at least a two-year one. The committee was “pleased” with the 2016 results, said Dean Blandino, senior vice president of officiating.

“Touchbacks were up,” Blandino said in a media conference call Thursday. “The lowest rate of return in NFL history at 39.3 percent. We’re proposing that for another year to get another year’s worth of data and then evaluate that after the 2017 season.”

A second season will help determine if the 2016 touchback figures were a fluke. That possibility seems unlikely, considering each season provides a fairly amply sample size for kickoffs; there were more than 2,600 last year, not including onside kicks.

If the results repeat, the temporary rule may become a permanent one. This benefits offenses. The average starting position following a kickoff was the 24.8-yard line last season, a notable jump from 21.7 in 2015.

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With Decker’s status uncertain, Jets try out a bunch of receivers


Maybe because they’re uncertain about the status of Eric Decker — and along those lines, Devin Smith — or maybe just because teams are always looking, the Jets worked out a bunch of wide receivers on Tuesday.

It was reportedd earlier Tuesday that the Jets had quarterback-turned-wide receiver Terrelle Pryor and Corey Washington in for a workout. That workout also included wide receivers Josh Lenz, DaVaris Daniels, Titus Davis and Daniel Brown, none of whom have ever played in an NFL game.

Quarterback Bryn Renner, who spent the offseason and preseason with the Ravens, was also on the Jets’ tryout list and could have been there to throw to the receivers.

Pryor’s workout was previously scheduled; Washington tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he won’t be signing with the Jets. Jets Coach Todd Bowles said Tuesday that the team won’t know if Eric Decker can play this week until later in the week after Decker sprained his knee in Monday night’s win.

Smith, a second-round pick, suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung early in training camp and didn’t return to practice until the week of the season opener. He’s been inactive for both games as the Jets play it safe — and slow — with his recovery.

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Packers hope extra rest benefits Adams, Lacy


The Packers are dealing with ankle injuries to two of their top playmakers, but not playing until next Monday night could help the team have running back Eddie Lacy and Davante Adams available against the Chiefs.

On Monday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the team won’t practice again until Thursday because of the extra day, and only when he sees Adams and Lacy try to give it a go will he know more about their status for the next game. That’s an indication the team doesn’t believe either suffered a serious injury, as was reported Monday by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

“I think any time you have ankle injuries, particularly with the perimeter players, until they get out there and hit the practice field, we really won’t know,” McCarthy said.

Adams returned to the game vs. the Seahawks Sunday night but Lacy was injured in the first half and missed the remainder of the game.

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Decker leaves game with knee injury, will have MRI


The Jets had a really good night in Indianapolis, but wide receiver Eric Decker left the game in the second half with what the team is calling a knee injury.

Decker caught eight passes for 97 yards and the game’s first touchdown as the Jets had their way with the banged-up secondary of the Colts.

Decker was taken to the locker room in the fourth quarter. After the game, Jets coach Todd Bowles said Decker will have an MRI on Tuesday.

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T.Y. Hilton limps off, but Colts finally score

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A bad night for the Colts got worse with a little over 11 minutes left when wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was slow getting up after a catch-and-run and limped to the sideline.

Hilton injured his knee in the third quarter of the season opener and was officially listed as questionable by the team leading up to Monday night’s game vs. the Jets. He only practiced once last week.

The Colts previously lost tight end Dwyane Allen (ankle) and cornerback Vontae Davis (concussion) to injuries from which they won’t return to this game.

Their first points — and first positive moment since the first quarter, really — came two plays after Hilton limped off when Andrew Luck threw a touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief to cut the Jets’ lead to 10-7. Luck has turned the ball over three times, twice on interceptions.

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Cowboys will take a look at veteran quarterbacks

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With Tony Romo out due to a broken clavicle, the Cowboys will explore veteran options at quarterback.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said during halftime of the Colts-Jets Monday Night Football broadcast that Josh Johnson, Christian Ponder and Matt Flynn are among the names expected to work out for the Cowboys this week. That meshes with a similar report by ESPN’s Ed Werder.

The Fort Worth-Star Telegram reported that the workout will take place Tuesday and will also include McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Brandon Weeden replaced Romo Sunday and is the quarterback for now. The Cowboys kept Romo and Weeden as their only active roster quarterbacks but have two on the practice squad, Jameill Showers and Kellen Moore.

Romo doesn’t plan to have surgery and is expected to be out for eight weeks.

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Already short on corners, Colts lose Davis to concussion

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Already down three of their top four cornerbacks, the Colts lost the fourth in the second quarter Monday night when Vontae Davis was taken out of the game and back to the locker room to be examined for a possible concussion.

The team announced in the second half Davis had a concussion and won’t return.

Davis appeared to go helmet-to-helmet to with Jets running back Bilal Powell with a little less than four minutes left in the second quarter while dropping Powell for a short gain on a screen pass. He was escorted back to the locker room just before the two-minute warning, so he’s at least done for the first half.

The Colts already had injured cornerbacks Greg Toler and Darius Butler on the inactive list for the game due to injury and last week had to place D’Joun Smith on injured-reserve/designated for return.

Colts tight Dwayne Allen also left the game with an ankle injury and won’t return.

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Mathis playing for first time in 20 months


A long road for Robert Mathis finally lands him back in a Colts uniform tonight.

Mathis suffered a torn Achilles while working out on his own during a four-game suspension last year. His presence for the Colts’ Monday night game vs. the Jets marks his first game since Jan. 11, 2014, in a playoff loss to the Patriots.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that Mathis needed to have 10 surgical procedures over the last year to prevent infections and ensure that his Achilles healed correctly. While it’s understandable that the Colts played it safe with Mathis through camp and held him out last week, he’s had no known setbacks or complications over the last several weeks.

A fifth-round pick in 2003 who’s played his entire career with the Colts, Mathis has 111 career sacks. His career-best 19.5 sacks led the NFL in 2013.

Even if he’s not the same player at 34 and off a year-plus absence, the Colts think he can get to opposing quarterbacks and boost a defense that hopes to be playing with a lead and coming after the passer more than it’s not.

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Hilton, Cromartie both active for Monday Night Football


The official inactive lists are out for Monday night’s Jets-Colts game, and the Jets will have cornerback Antonio Cromartie available.

Cromartie injured his knee in last week’s win over the Browns, but further testing revealed no major damage. Cromartie, a 10-year vet, has never missed a game in his career due to injury. The Jets listed him as questionable on their final injury report.

Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was originally feared to be out for a couple of weeks, but the Colts got him back for practice on Saturday and will have him in the lineup.

The game will also mark the return of Colts pass rusher Robert Mathis, who missed all of last season with a torn Achilles. Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2013.

As expected, the Colts will be without injured starting cornerback Greg Toler. Also inactive for the Colts are Darius Butler, Jonathan Newsome, Denzelle Good, Zach Kerr, Nate Irving, and T.Y. McGill.

Inactive for the Jets are Geno Smith, Devin Smith, Lorenzo Mauldin, Jarvis Harrison, Ben Ijalana, Deon Simon and Darrin Walls.

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Source: Romo won’t have surgery, will miss 8 weeks


Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo won’t have surgery on his fractured left clavicle and will miss about eight weeks, a source told PFT Monday.

Romo broke the same bone in the sixth game of 2010, and he appeared to know immediately he’d done it again in the third quarter in Philadelphia Sunday. The early estimate on his absence in 2010 was 6-8 weeks, but he missed the rest of the season.

The 2-0 Cowboys have their bye week in October, so the eight-week timetable gives Romo a chance to return for the team’s final six or seven games. The Cowboys play at the Dolphins on Nov. 22 and host the Panthers four days later on Thanksgiving, so those are the games circled for now as potential comeback dates.

Brandon Weeden is the Cowboys’ quarterback for now. Weeden completed all seven passes he threw after replacing Romo in Philadelphia, including one for a touchdown to Terrance Williams.

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Atkins gives Bengals a scare, is apparently OK

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Geno Atkins gave the Bengals a scare Sunday when team trainers had to attend to Atkins on the field.

The team says it was just a scare; Atkins had the wind knocked out of him, and that’s why he didn’t roll off the pile of very large people at the same time everyone else did.

TV cameras caught Atkins laughing with teammates on the bench just after he was attended to and just before the Chargers punted, so maybe that’s a sign he will be OK. He was taken out of the game just past the two-minute warning, so it seems likely he’ll be on the field in the second half.

A healthy Atkins — he clearly wasn’t himself last year, a year off of ACL surgery — can disrupt offenses in a variety of ways and gives the Bengals a chance to be a top-tier defense.

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Texans could be without Duane Brown for multiple weeks

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The Texans plan to play without starting left tackle Duane Brown Sunday, and Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweeted Sunday morning that the team might play without Brown for the next two weeks, too.

The team’s thought process on Brown is that time will best heal the lingering thumb injury he’s battling.

The Texans play the Bucs next week, at the Falcons on Oct. 4 and then play the Colts in a short-week situation on Oct. 8.

Brown was able to play against the Chiefs last weekend despite the injury, but he aggravated it during that game. His likely replacement for Sunday’s game vs. the Panthers is Chris Clark, a veteran of 27 starts over five seasons with the Broncos. The Texans acquired Clark Aug. 31 in a trade to bolster their offensive line depth.

Cameras from HBO’s Hard Knocks took viewers inside the Texans’ trade for Clark during the series. Now, we’ll see if the move made at the cost of a seventh-round pick pays off.

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Report: McCown had no symptoms, thought he’d be cleared


The Browns announced Friday morning that Johnny Manziel will be their starting quarterback for Sunday’s game vs. the Titans because Josh McCown remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Per a report Friday afternoon, McCown showed no symptoms of a concussion all week and was confident he would pass the baseline test he was given Friday morning.

Instead, an independent neurologist administering the test failed McCown in what’s the final step of the process for clearance.

“I won’t go into any details,” Browns coach Mike Pettine told reporters after Friday’s practice. “I just know that he has to go through another series of tests today. I know when you have a setback that it resets the clock. I don’t have anything much beyond that.”

The report meshes with the contents of a tweet by Mike Garafolo of Friday that came just after the news that Manziel would start and indicated that the Browns were surprised that McCown was not cleared.

Whether McCown had a setback or the Browns were just caught off guard by the results of Friday’s test, we don’t know. McCown did not speak to the media all week.

Asked after Friday’s practice if he was disappointed that McCown will not play Sunday, Pettine said, “Anytime you have a player that can’t play, you’re always going to be disappointed. But Johnny has had a good week. It’s not like Josh practiced and we find out late he can’t go. When a guy goes into the protocol, you have to make the assumption that he’s not going to be back and then react to the news when he is. We’re prepared.”

Thursday, Pettine answered a similar question by saying he’s not a doctor but he was “hopeful” McCown would be cleared. Pettine previously he didn’t see “a reason why we wouldn’t play” McCown if he was cleared, but — even without a public explanation — the results of the test ended any debate about who will start Sunday.

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As expected, Julio Jones back at practice


Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is back at practice Friday, as Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Jones would be.

So, Jones will be in the starting lineup Sunday when the Falcons visit the Giants. Quinn said Thursday he had “zero” doubts about the availability of Jones, but the Falcons played it safe in a short-week situation and kept Jones out of practice on both Wednesday and Thursday.

The Falcons have listed Jones as having a hamstring injury on their official participation and injury report. Jones told reporters he sat out Wednesday as a precaution and Thursday because the team decided he needed extra rest.

I’ll be ready to go,” Jones said.

Jones had 141 receiving yards and two touchdowns in last Monday night’s win over the Eagles, and the Giants know he’ll be the focal point of the Falcons’ offense again.

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McCown not cleared; Manziel will start Sunday

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The Browns announced Friday morning that Johnny Manziel will be their starting quarterback for Sunday’s game vs. the Titans.

Browns coach Mike Pettine said Thursday that veteran starter Josh McCown would probably start if he was cleared by doctors Friday, but before the Browns took the practice field Friday the team released a statement saying that McCown remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol and that Manziel will start.

McCown suffered a concussion while trying to dive into the end zone on the team’s first drive of the season opener. Pettine said Thursday he was “hopeful” McCown would be cleared and that “I don’t see, barring anything unforeseen, a reason why we wouldn’t play him.”

A tweet by Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports Friday indicated that the Browns were surprised that McCown was not cleared.

Manziel missed the final two preseason games with the elbow issues but was pressed into duty last week when McCown was forced out. He threw his first career touchdown pass on his first drive but turned the ball over three times in the second half of what became a 31-10 loss to the Jets.

Manziel started two games last December. Austin Davis, signed last week as the team’s third quarterback, will be the backup Sunday after not being active for last week’s game.

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