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De’Anthony Thomas garners AFC special teams player of the week honors

De'Anthony Thomas AP

In a game his team desperately needed, Chiefs rookie punt returner De’Anthony Thomas gave Kansas City a lead it would not relinquish.

Thomas’ 81-yard first-quarter punt return touchdown Sunday helped spark the Chiefs’ 31-13 victory over Oakland and helped earn him AFC special teams player of the week honors from the NFL. The league announced the award on Wednesday.

On the score, Thomas caught the ball around the numbers nearest the Kansas City sideline. He made one cut, burst through an alley near the boundary and sprinted clear. Thomas was never touched en route to his first regular-season return touchdown, a testament to his speed and some outstanding blocking, with safety Daniel Sorensen and wide receiver Junior Hemingway among those doing their jobs very well. Thomas punctuated the score by flipping into the endzone, and oh, to be 21 years old and of world-class fitness.

With the win, the Chiefs (8-6) stayed within a game of the final wild-card spot in the AFC. They now face another must-win game at 9-5 Pittsburgh on Sunday.

And if the Steelers were very, very careful kicking to Thomas  . . . well, they couldn’t be blamed.

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PFT Live: Golden Tate, Cowboys talk with Clarence Hill, Coaching hot seat

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Getty Images

The Lions and Cowboys are each trying to sew up playoff spots and division titles in the final two weeks of the season and we’ll be talking about both teams on Wednesday’s edition of PFT Live.

Lions wide receiver Golden Tate will join Mike Florio to discuss the team’s push for the postseason and what he thinks needs to happen in the next two weeks to ensure that the team plays at least 17 games this season. They’ll also talk about Tate’s overall feelings about his first season in Detroit and whether he’d like a shot at his former team come the postseason.

Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram will also be a guest on the show. The status of running back DeMarco Murray after surgery on a broken bone in his left hand earlier this week will be a main topic of conversation during Hill’s visit to the program.

Florio will take his weekly look at the coaching hot seat as well, including how much heat Monday night’s loss added under Bears coach Marc Trestman.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Chandler Catanzaro kicks way to NFC special teams honors

Arizona Cardinals v St Louis Rams Getty Images

The Cardinals were forced to improvise at quarterback last Thursday against the Rams when Drew Stanton went down with a knee injury.

Ryan Lindley was summoned from the bench for his first action of the year against a good St. Louis defense on the road, but the Cardinals were able to navigate their way to a victory despite the obstacle to their offense. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro was a big reason why.

Catanzaro hit field goals from 23, 44, 46 and 51 yards without missing any tries to provide all the scoring for the Cardinals in a 12-6 win that kept them in first place in the NFC West heading into this weekend’s game against the Seahawks.

Catanzaro, who signed with the Cards as an undrafted free agent, beat out veteran Jay Feely for the job over the summer and started his career with a record 16 straight made field goals before he missed. He’s 26-of-30 overall on the year.

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Glover Quin named NFC defensive player of the week

Quin AP

There’s more to the Lions Defense than Ndamukong Suh.

And Glover Quin is finally getting a little recognition for his role in it.

The veteran safety was named NFC defensive player of the week, after his interception helped seal last week’s win over the Vikings.

He has six picks this year, which is tied for the league lead. He’s had an interception in each of the last three games, as the Lions continue a playoff push.

Last week’s against the Vikings came when his team was trailing 14-0, and helped propel them to their only touchdown of the day.

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Aqib Talib named AFC’s defensive player of the week

Talib Getty Images

After Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos loaded up on the defensive side of the ball.  One of the new arrivals has been named the top defensive player of the week in the conference.

Cornerback Aqib Talib, whose fourth-quarter interception of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers sealed a victory in San Diego, has been named the AFC’s top defensive player for Week 14.  It’s Talib’s first such honor in more than four years, and he’s the first Broncos to win the award since the guy he replaced, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, did it in Week Eight of the 2013 season.

Talib, along with linebacker DeMarcus Ware and safety T.J. Ward, joined the team in March, with the goal of helping the Broncos get back to February — and to win it this time around.  To make that happen, Talib and company will have to beat his most recent former team, the Patriots.

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Eagles want to keep linebacker Brandon Graham

Brandon Graham, Cary Williams AP

Brandon Graham might be about to make his first start this season for the Eagles.

But it might also be his first of many.

According to Geoff Mosher of, the Eagles have opened contract discussions with the outside linebacker, in hopes of keeping him out of free agency.

That’s a mild surprise based on Graham’s own performance, as it’s taken him some time to find a niche for the Eagles. For a guy they traded up to take 13th overall in the 2010 first round, Graham has 17.0 career sacks. But 5.5 of them have come this year, and he’s expected to start if Trent Cole (broken hand) isn’t able to this week.

Cole’s also getting older (32) and more expensive, with a base salary of $10 million next year.

Graham has 12 starts in five seasons, and was slowed by a knee injury as a rookie that took him a year to get over.

It’s consistent with the Eagles’ philosophy to lock up ascending players before they get to free agency, but Graham could also have more of a market than seemed possible earlier this year.

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Jeremy Hill named AFC offensive player of the week

Jeremy Hill, Donte Whitner AP

Jeremy Hill didn’t get nearly as much attention as the other rookie making his first start last week.

But he came away with more of the meaningful stuff.

The Bengals rookie running back was named AFC offensive player of the week after he helped his team thrash the Browns.

Though he’s been a regular contributor all year, Hill started for the first time when Giovani Bernard was healthy, and had 25 carries for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the 30-0 pasting of Johnny Manziel’s team.

Hill is up to 877 yards and eight touchdowns on the season, and his powerful style has helped the Bengals hand onto first place in the tight AFC North.

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Dez Bryant named NFC offensive player of the week

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

It’s no surprise that Dez Bryant would get noticed for his three-touchdown outburst against the Eagles Sunday.

What’s surprising is how long it’s been since a Cowboys wideout has had that kind of outburst in December.

Bryant was named NFC offensive player of the week for his evisceration of the Eagles, which included six catches for 114 yards.

According to the league, he’s the first Cowboys wideout to win the award since Michael Irvin.

That’s a lot of bad December football in between, but Bryant’s performance might help changes some of the team’s recent problems getting to the postseason.

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Nearly 500 NFL employees surrender emails, phone records

Mueller AP

As the Robert Mueller investigation continues, some additional details regarding the process have emerged.

According to the Associated Press, nearly 500 employees have surrendered phone and email records to the former FBI director, who is investigating among other things whether someone at the league office received a copy of the Ray Rice elevator video before it was published by TMZ on September 8.

The league commissioned the investigation after the AP reported that an anonymous member of law enforcement had sent the video to the league office, and that the anonymous member of law enforcement had received a voice message from a female voice acknowledging receipt of the video.

Per the report, Mueller’s team focused on calls made from the NFL offices to a New Jersey area code.  Investigators actually called some numbers to identify who received the calls.

The latest report suggests that Mueller is looking only at whether the video was received by the league office before September 8.  If that’s the focus, it’s too narrow; Mueller also should be investigating the league’s failure to ask Rice for the video, whether truthful testimony was provided by league office in connection with the Ray Rice appeal, and whether the league needed to actually see the video in order to know what it showed.

If there was a cover up, it potentially was far more expansive than the simple question of whether someone received a video from an unnamed member of law enforcement.  Whether Mueller looks beyond that issue will help reveal just how independent his investigation is.

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Aaron Rodgers is glad the Packers don’t leak like the Bears

Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler AP

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler don’t have much in common.

But despite their divisional rivalry, Rodgers said he’s upset about what Cutler has been through in recent weeks.

Speaking specifically about Cutler being the victim of an unnamed source (who later named himself) ripping him to an NFL Network reporter, Rodgers told another NFL Network reporter that kind of treatment is unfair.

Rodgers told Mike Silver that he was “baffled” by the account of Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer taking veiled shots then unveiling himself, and that he “would have a major problem” with such a situation.

Of course, they haven’t had such situations often under General Manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, at least that we’ve heard much about.

“I think there’s a way of doing things when you have issues, and it’s keeping it in-house,” Rodgers said. “We talk about that with our group a lot, and Mike always talks about, usually on Mondays or Wednesdays, ‘Here’s some of the media topics [that we’ll be asked].’ It gives guys a chance, if there are any questions or anything we need to talk about, to get it out there.

“The great thing about our team is that we’ve always had really open lines of communication. You know, we’ve had a couple of guys over the years be those unnamed sources, but thankfully Mike and Ted have weeded those guys out. So we’re not worried about these guys ripping on people and going out and doing things. Because if something happens like that, we address it directly.”

Of course, there’s the small matter of chickens and eggs here.

First, Rodgers has avoided the need for having coaches rip him, because he’s been a lot better at his job than Cutler has. The first step in avoiding anonymous criticism is being above it.

And that level of play has helped breed a stable workplace atmosphere in Green Bay, and when teams win there are usually less reasons for the boat to either rock or leak.

That’s not to say he or they are perfect, they’re just better at managing problems than their neighbors to the south.

Rodgers has aired out teammates on the sideline and on the field before too, but because he wins more often, it gets described as “fiery” while Cutler can bark at offensive linemen and be called “immature.”

But in addition to being a much better quarterback, Rodgers apparently works for an organization better at weeding out moles, which helps everyone except those who trade in information.

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Tim Couch: There’s no commitment, no loyalty in Cleveland

Ravens v Browns Getty Images

Tim Couch may be the most disappointing of all the Browns’ disappointing quarterbacks in the last 15 years. But Couch says it’s time to look at the franchise, not at the quarterbacks, as the reason for their continued failure.

Couch, the 1999 first overall draft pick who spent five seasons in Cleveland and never even reached a passer rating of 80 in any of them, said that the Browns need to find a coach and a quarterback who can work together, then stick with them through good times and bad.

“It’s been a long 15 years of watching the same thing repeat itself over and over. The biggest that frustrates me is the lack of commitment and loyalty to let a coach see it out and a quarterback play it out,” Couch told ESPN.

Couch agrees with Bernie Kosar, the former Browns quarterback who says the front office has created a culture in which there’s never a quarterback the franchise can get behind completely.

“I thought everything he said was right,” Couch said. “This is just repeating the same process of the last 15 years, like Bernie said. Whether it was me, Kelly [Holcomb] or on and on and on, the finger keeps being pointed at the quarterback. It’s the team. Build a team and then worry about the quarterback.”

It may be too late for that now: The Browns are wedded to Johnny Manziel for the last two games of this season and as their Week One starter in 2015 as well. Now they just have to hope Manziel proves to be the kind of quarterback who earns loyalty from the franchise.

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Fritz Pollard Alliance lists preferred minority candidates for 2015

Austin AP

With the annual hiring cycle looming, the Fritz Pollard Alliance has published an annual list of candidates for consideration by NFL teams compelled, due to a history of not giving fair consideration to minority candidates, to interview at least one minority candidate for every head-coaching vacancy.

Via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin (pictured) has a spot on the nine-person list.

“We’d be very disappointed if he doesn’t [get an interview],” Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten told Birkett.  “That’s something that we look very hard at, who’s getting the interviews.”

Other candidates on the list include Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, Packers assistant head coach Winston Moss, and former 49ers coach Mike Singletary.

A recent report from NFL Media pegged Singletary, who currently is out of football, as a potential candidate for NFL head-coaching jobs.  Which in light of Singletary’s experience with the 49ers and the fact that he’s currently out of football seems to be a very major stretch, to say the least.  Others on the list whose candidacies for head-coaching jobs would be hard to justify in the current hiring cycle are Fewell, Frazier, Horton, and Moss.

But Austin, Bowles, Hamilton, and Jackson merit serious consideration, based currently on merit.  As Bowles said earlier this season on PFT Live, when your team is doing well, you’re a good coach.  When it’s not doing well, you’re a bad coach.  For the folks who hire football coaches — and who in turn must defend those decisions to a fan base of paying customers — recent success becomes critical to the perception that the coach can get the job done.

While many dispute the fairness or effectiveness of the Rooney Rule, it serves an important function by forcing teams to conduct a genuine search.  Far too often, owners enter the hiring process knowing who they want to hire.  Tapping the brakes becomes conducive to a more inclusive process that can lead to multiple other viable candidates, regardless of race or ethnicity.

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Chris Conte: I’d rather play in the NFL and die 10-15 years earlier

Buffalo Bills v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Bears safety Chris Conte has suffered a back injury, two concussions, a shoulder injury and an eye injury this season. And he says he’s OK with that.

Conte told WBBM in Chicago that playing football means so much to him that he’s willing to do it even if it’s bad for his long-term health.

“I’d rather have the experience of playing in the NFL and die 10 to 15 years earlier than not play in the NFL and have a long life,” he said. “I don’t really look toward my life after football. I’ll figure things out when I get there. As long as I outlive my parents.”

Conte’s point of view actually isn’t much different from that of people in all walks of life who say they’d rather enjoy the years they have than delay death as long as possible. Some people enjoy skiing, some people enjoy rock climbing, some people enjoy eating junk food. All of those things have health risks, but if a consenting adult chooses to accept the risk, who’s to tell him he shouldn’t?

But what Conte may not realize is that the risks associated with playing in the NFL are more about quality of life in old age than about taking years off life. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “On average, NFL players are actually living longer than the average American male.”

What Conte and all NFL players should weigh is the risk of injuries suffered on the football field affecting them later in life. Conte probably will live to be a senior citizen, and he will probably want to be not just alive but healthy when he’s 60, 70 or 80. Conte says in his 20s that the enjoyment he gets out of playing football makes the risk worth it. I hope he says the same when he’s in his 80s.

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Cowboys throw support behind Brandon Carr

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Cowboys gave up a 21-point lead before beating the Eagles last Sunday night and one of the biggest plays during Philly’s comeback was a pass to Jeremy Maclin that turned into a 72-yard gain because cornerback Brandon Carr gambled on making a play on the ball and missed.

It wasn’t the first time that Carr’s man turned in a big play in the passing game this season, a habit that’s out of line with the size of Carr’s paycheck and has led to criticism of the cornerback over the course of the year. It also led to questions for coach Jason Garrett about giving more time to Sterling Moore or Tyler Patmon in the final weeks of the season. Garrett said he thinks Carr would like to have the Maclin play back and that he’s generally pleased with Carr’s efforts.

“He’s done a really nice job in coverage. I think he’s tackling better, and I think he’s showing up more as a physical guy just like the rest of our defense,” Garrett said, via the team’s website. “We’ve got to do a better job of preventing some of those big plays.”

Owner Jerry Jones also had some thoughts on Carr’s play. Jones said the corner is “fighting through the challenges” of playing a tough position while adding that he thinks more pressure up front would lead to more plays in the secondary. It’s a hard point to argue, but it’s also hard to see the Cowboys Defense morphing into something very different at this point in the season. That means there will continue to be pressure on Carr to make more plays when the ball is coming his way, something that could happen often when Andrew Luck and the Colts arrive in Dallas this Sunday.

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Harbaugh to Raiders makes plenty of sense

Harbaugh Getty Images

As the 49ers and coach Jim Harbaugh move toward a divorce deemed inevitable and that no one from either party is telling the media (publicly or privately) isn’t, the question becomes Harbaugh’s next destination.

Some think he could be headed to Michigan, which could be accomplished without any special dispensation from the 49ers, since the 49ers aren’t inclined to try to keep him from leaving for a college job — and since the 49ers believe that, legally, they may not be able to do so.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News takes a great look at the possibility Harbaugh will head up the Bay from Santa Clara to Oakland.  Kawakami raises all points and covers all bases, creating the unmistakable impression that, yes, Harbaugh would be inclined to take on yet another California fixer-upper.

Kawakami also articulates a thought that has been making the rounds as Harbaugh’s time with the 49ers has moved toward its conclusion — Harbaugh possibly would want to bring in former 49ers personnel exec Tom Gamble as the General Manager.

Kawakami suggests trade compensation in that way some reporters sometimes do, by not actually reporting it but suggesting it in a way that suggests to the trained eye that the reporter’s speculation is rooted in at least a kernel of truth:  a fourth-round draft pick.

Not enough?  Hey, if Harbaugh was worth a pair of third-round picks after coming off three straight NFC title games that included one Super Bowl appearance, his value necessarily has diminished after the team’s performance in 2014.  And since Harbaugh has the ability to blow up a potential trade by saying to the 49ers, “I’ll see you Monday,” the 49ers can’t afford to be greedy, if as it appears the organization is ready to move on by moving Harbaugh out.

While being traded for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8 million is great for massaging and ego and building an unwarranted mystique, it’s not good for creating a consistent contender.  Harbaugh won’t be interested in being traded to a team that ends up being hamstrung by the trade compensation, even if the ultimate package creates the impression that he was traded for a day-old loaf of sourdough bread.  Harbaugh will want to win right away in Oakland; the less the Raiders give up to get him, the easier that will be.

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