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Justin Forsett reunites with Gary Kubiak in Denver

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 1: Running back Justin Forsett #29 of the Baltimore Ravens looks on prior to a game against the San Diego Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 1, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

Justin Forsett had his best NFL season in Baltimore in 2014, when Gary Kubiak was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator. Now Forsett and Kubiak are getting together again.

Forsett has been awarded to the Broncos on waivers, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Forsett was waived by the Lions last week.

The 31-year-old Forsett doesn’t look like he has a lot left: He averaged 3.2 yards a carry in three games with the Ravens this year, then went to Detroit, where he averaged 2.9 yards a carry in two games. But perhaps his third team will be the charm this season: In 2014, playing in Kubiak’s offense, Forsett carried 235 times for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns, all career highs.

The Broncos will be Forsett’s seventh NFL team. He has previously played for the Colts, Seahawks, Texans, Jaguars, Ravens and Lions.

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Rex Ryan on Tyrod Taylor: Let’s just let this play out

Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) runs for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders during the second half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) AP

Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor got off to a good start on Sunday against the Raiders by completing 8-of-9 passes for 102 yards in the first quarter, but the next three quarters weren’t so hot.

He was 10-of-26 for 89 yards and turned the ball over twice while the Bills went from being up 15 points to losing by 14 points when time ran out on the game. It also pushed the clock on their playoff chances much closer to zero, which means it is almost time to start looking ahead to the offseason.

A decision on Taylor’s future will be a big part of that offseason. He’s due $27.5 million in guaranteed money if he’s on the team on the fourth day of the 2017 league year, which is a lot of money for a player who hasn’t taken clear steps forward in his second season running the Buffalo offense. Coach Rex Ryan was asked after the game whether Taylor is falling short of where the team wants him to be.

“Look, let’s just let this play out,” Ryan said, via “We feel pretty comfortable with Tyrod. There’s a lot of factors that go into everything. … I’m not going to go into a list of them. You guys can figure it out.”

Injuries to others on the offense are likely on the list that Ryan opted not to share, but it’s hard to pin things on outside factors when you’re deciding about a major investment on a player. That call is on the horizon for the Bills and Taylor’s play isn’t making it easy for them to say yes.

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In the midst of an awful season, Todd Gurley looks in the mirror

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04:  Todd Gurley #30 of the Los Angeles Rams runs with the ball during the first half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Last year, Rams running back Todd Gurley was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year. This year, Gurley is one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments.

Far from building on his impressive first season, Gurley has just 679 yards on 211 carries. Among the 24 NFL running backs with at least 120 carries this season, Gurley’s average of 3.2 yards per carry ranks dead last. There are 34 players in the NFL this year with at least two runs of 20 yards or longer, and Gurley is not one of them.

Asked after Sunday’s loss to the Patriots what’s going wrong with the 4-8 Rams, Gurley said he’ll look at himself, as he thinks all of his teammates will do.

“At the end of the day,” Gurley said, “you just have to look at yourself and say, `We’re not doing a good enough job.’”

Gurley still doesn’t have a 100-yard game this season, and he admits that bad week after bad week gets old.

“It’s hard,” Gurley said. “It’s repetitive, over and over every week. It’s crazy.”

A player with Gurley’s talent just has to go off and have a big game at some point. But that point may not be until 2017.

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AFC playoff picture: Divisional races remain tight outside of the East

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 16:  Defensive tackle Stacy McGee #92 of the Oakland Raiders stops running back Spencer Ware #32 of the Kansas City Chiefs for a loss of two yards in the second quarter on October 16, 2016 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Chiefs won 26-10.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Barring an epic flop, the Patriots are going to win the AFC East for the 14th time in the last 16 seasons.

There isn’t anything close to that much clarity in any of the other divisions in the AFC. The Raiders currently hold the top seed in the conference, but they are just a game up on the Chiefs with a Thursday matchup at Arrowhead Stadium looming as a major factor in deciding the AFC West.

Neither of the other divisions have a team with even that slim a lead heading into the final four weeks of the season. The Ravens and Steelers are both 7-5 with a Christmas Day game on the schedule while the Texans’ three-game losing streak leaves them with a 6-6 record. The Titans have the same mark and the Colts made it a three-way dance by beating the Jets on Monday night.

In other words, there’s a lot to sort out in the AFC.

1. Raiders (10-2): More late heroics have Oakland on top, but it will be fleeting if they can’t win in Kansas City.

2. Patriots (10-2): The Patriots could end Week 14 with both a division title and a first-round bye.

3. Ravens (7-5): Four home wins in the last five weeks have righted the ship in Baltimore, but they’re closing out the year by going on the road three of the next four weeks.

4. Texans (6-6): Houston will be hosting the Super Bowl, but the Texans need to find themselves in a hurry if they’re going to have any shot of playing in it.

5. Chiefs (9-3): A win on Thursday gives them a big tiebreaker advantage with a season sweep of the Raiders.

6. Broncos (8-4): They survived in Jacksonville and will be in the playoffs if they win out, although that’s a big if with the Titans, Patriots, Raiders and Chiefs left on the schedule.

7. Dolphins (7-5): Their winning streak and their time in playoff position ended in Baltimore, so Miami will need some help from others to climb the ladder again.

8. Steelers (7-5): Three straight double-digit wins have the arrow pointed up for Pittsburgh.

9. Colts (6-6): After beating the Jets, they’re in position to make a run at the division crown.

10. Titans (6-6): A bye week offered some rest for Tennessee ahead of their final playoff push.

11. Bills (6-6): Blowing a 15-point lead in the final 24 minutes might have been the last gasp for Buffalo’s playoff aspirations.

12. Chargers (5-7): It was a long shot before they lost a home game to the Bucs.

13. Bengals (4-7-1): They looked better on Sunday than they have in weeks, but that has more to do with draft positioning than the playoff race at this point.

14. Jets (3-9): They were mathematically eliminated on Monday night.

15: Jaguars (2-10): When your quarterback calls the year “the biggest nightmare possible,” there’s not much left to say.

16: Browns (0-12): Four chances left to avoid a winless season in Cleveland.

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Woody Johnson under consideration for U.K. ambassadorship

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: New York Jets owner Woody Johnson talks on the sidelines before the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on September 15, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Michael Adamucci/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the NFL continues to expand its presence in England, it may have an owner there on a full-time basis.

The New York Post reports that Jets owner Woody Johnson is under consideration for the position of ambassador to the United Kingdom. Johnson, who supported President-Elect Donald Trump, is a “leading contender” for the position, according to the report.

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney served as ambassador to Ireland from 2009 through 2012. He was appointed to the position by President Barack Obama.

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Mike Zimmer returns to Vikings, is expected to travel with team

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 18:  Head coach Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings looks on against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on August 18, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Vikings haven’t gotten much good news lately. They got some on Monday.

“Mike Zimmer has returned to his coaching duties and is expected to travel with the team to Jacksonville for this weekend’s game,” G.M. Rick Spielman announced.

The phrase “travel with the team” implies he’ll be flying from Minneapolis to Jacksonville. The phrase “is expected to” implies that plans could change.

Zimmer, who had emergency surgery on Wednesday to repair a detached retina, will need clearance to fly in a pressurized cabin. Otherwise, the Vikings would have to find another way to get Zimmer to Florida.

The 6-6 Vikings remain alive for the wild-card berth. They have a longer shot to win the NFC North; they’ll need to run the table and hope the Lions lose three of their final four games.

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NFC playoff picture: Buccaneers making a move

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 04:   Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks to pass under pressure from  Kyle Emanuel #51 of the San Diego Chargers during the second half of a game at Qualcomm Stadium on December 4, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

If the playoffs started today, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be in. How many people saw that coming?

With yesterday’s win over the Chargers, the Bucs now have a 7-5 record and a half-game lead over Washington in the wild card race. Tampa Bay also has a good chance at catching Atlanta in the NFC South, although the 7-5 Falcons currently have the tiebreaker advantage.

Here’s how the whole NFC looks with four games to go:

1. Cowboys (11-1): With a three-game lead in the NFC East, Dallas has already clinched at least a wild card and appears poised to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

2. Seahawks (8-3-1): The NFC West race is all but over.

3. Lions (8-4): Detroit has a two-game lead in the division with four to play.

4. Falcons (7-5): Atlanta is in danger of losing what looked like a comfortable division lead.

5. Giants (8-4): Sunday’s loss probably ruined any hope the Giants had of winning the division.

6. Buccaneers (7-5): Keep winning and they’re in the playoffs.

7. Washington (6-5-1): That tie game in London is starting to loom large.

8. Vikings (6-6): Currently owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay.

9. Packers (6-6): If they win out they only need the Lions to lose once between now and the Week 17 finale.

10. Cardinals (5-6-1): Sunday’s win is probably too little, too late.

11. Saints (5-7): Losing to the Lions at home sealed their fate.

12. Eagles (5-7): Both the offense and the defense have declined significantly since a promising start.

13. Panthers (4-8): A blowout loss to Seattle ended the reigning NFC champions’ hopes.

14. Rams (4-8): Yet another non-winning season for Jeff Fisher.

15. Bears (3-9): At least they’re better than the 49ers.

16. 49ers (1-11): At least they’re better than the Browns.

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Sickness, Saints didn’t slow down Matthew Stafford

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 04: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions reacts during the first half of a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Lions have made a habit out of playing nailbiters this season, but they went the other way against the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday.

Their defense held the Saints to 13 points and Matthew Stafford threw a pair of touchdown passes, including a 66-yarder to wide receiver Golden Tate that allowed them to breathe more comfortably in a 28-13 victory. It was a big day overall for Stafford, who hit on 16-of-17 passes to open the game and ended up 30-of-42 for 341 yards.

All of that came on a day when Stafford was feeling less than 100 percent. Tate revealed that Stafford showed up feeling sick on Sunday, “but just found a way.” Stafford downplayed any effect of the sickness, which coach Jim Caldwell said he didn’t even know about until after the game.

“He got rolling,” Caldwell said, via “Things you know — he had two touchdown passes, whatever his percentages were, he earned a [111.3 quarterback] rating. But he does much more than that for us. This was a team that blitzed us quite a bit. Getting us into the right protections, giving us a chance to try to get some big plays as a result of pressures, getting runs, taking us out of bad runs, getting us into better run situations. He does a lot of those things, but not only that, just in terms of leadership on the field, he does a tremendous job. He seems to just get better and better every week.”

The Lions hold a two-game lead in the NFC North and Stafford’s been a big reason for that as he turns in perhaps the best season of his career. The Bears will get the next crack at slowing him down, but there’s been little evidence that either defenses or bacteria can find the right formula this year.

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Raiders will earn home field over Patriots if both finish 14-2

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates in the stands after scoring on an interception of Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers in the second quarter of their NFL game on November 27, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

We’ve reached the point in the season when fans are starting to look at playoff tiebreakers, and the tiebreaker scenarios feature some good news for Raiders fans.

If the Raiders and Patriots both win out to finish the season 14-2, the Raiders will be the No. 1 seed in the AFC and have home-field advantage in the playoffs, thanks to a better record against common opponents.

Under that scenario, the first tiebreaker would be head-to-head, but that wouldn’t apply because the Raiders and Patriots don’t play each other this season. The second tiebreaker would be conference record, where both teams would be 11-1. The third tiebreaker would be record in common games, and that’s where the Raiders have the advantage.

The Raiders and Patriots have a total of five games against four common opponents on their schedule: They each play the Texans, Ravens, Bills and Broncos, with the Patriots playing the Bills twice and the Raiders playing the Broncos twice. If both teams win out, the Raiders will be 5-0 in those five games against common opponents, while the Patriots will be 4-1.

The Patriots’ loss came against the Bills when Tom Brady was suspended, Jimmy Garoppolo was injured and rookie Jacoby Brissett was the starting quarterback. That game could turn out to be the reason the Patriots are leaving New England and going to the Black Hole for the AFC Championship Game.

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Odell Beckham on officiating: It’s us against the world

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 04:  Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants looks on from the sidelines in the second half during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on December 4, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham avoided any major sideline blowups during Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, but there were plenty of moments when Beckham could be seen gesturing toward officials in hopes of getting a call in his direction.

Beckham didn’t get the flags he was looking for from referee Terry McAulay’s crew, leading him to say after the game that the group shouldn’t work any more games involving the Giants. McAulay was the ref for Beckham’s battle with Josh Norman last year and other members of the crew worked the game against the Redskins earlier this season that started with a warning for both players.

“It’s us against the world, in a sense,” Beckham said, via “You can’t sit there and rely on refs, obviously. Obviously, that is not the case; you can’t sit there and rely on them, if anybody watched the game [on Sunday]. It’s not that I’m sitting here saying the refs are the reason we lost the game, but there is plenty of calls in the game and anybody can go watch the film. Anybody. Anybody can see exactly what is going on.”

Beckham took particular issue with an offensive pass interference call in the first quarter that backed the Giants up against their end zone. Beckham said it was a “horrible call” and that the official who threw the flag told Beckham to get out of his face when Beckham went for an explanation.

Left tackle Ereck Flowers was called for holding in the end zone a couple of plays later to give Pittsburgh their first points of the night and things wouldn’t get much better for the Giants in a 24-14 loss. One of the few places where they did fare better than Pittsburgh was on penalties. The Giants were penalized just four times overall while the Steelers were flagged 12 times for 115 yards before the day was through.

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Cam Newton: Rivera benched me because I didn’t have a tie

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 04:  Quarterback Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers on the sidelines against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on December 4, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said after Sunday night’s loss in Seattle that he was benched for the first series because he didn’t wear a tie while traveling, which coach Ron Rivera requires of every player.

“It came down to a dress code matter,” Newton said. “I didn’t follow dress code and coach told me I wasn’t going to start. I stand by his decision. His position he’s in, I follow it.”

The Panthers played at Oakland last week and did not travel home, choosing instead to practice on the West Coast for the week before the game at Seattle. Newton said he ordinarily has proper attire for traveling, but he sent his traveling clothes off when the team shipped its gear from Oakland to Seattle and found himself without anything to wear that would conform to Rivera’s dress code.

“We’ve been in California for a week and we shipped our clothes off, so that was the big no-no. But we didn’t lose this game because I didn’t have a tie,” Newton said.

Does it make sense to bench the starting quarterback because he didn’t have his clothes due to a travel mishap? Newton said he understood Rivera’s position, although his explanation of it was hard to follow.

“If coach didn’t feel like I was dressed appropriately then I wasn’t,” Newton said. “When you’re 6-foot-5, trying to get a shirt, I was away from home for a week, I didn’t pack a shirt. There were a lot of ties I was given but I can’t wear a tie with this. Meaning, I have a tank top on – we discussed it internally, me and coach, we got on the same page. I felt as if I wore a similar outfit like this before and nothing was done but he said he has rules in place and we have to abide by them. No person is better than the next person and it is what it is.”

What it is, is one of the most bizarre coaching decisions in the history of the NFL. The league’s reigning Most Valuable Player was benched over his clothing.

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NFL morning after: Two-point play could change two seasons

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 4: Eric Berry #29 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 4, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

One of the most fun things that can happen on an NFL Sunday is seeing something you’ve never seen before. And did we ever see that yesterday in Atlanta.

For the first time in NFL history, a defensive two-point conversion proved to be the game-winning score in a one-point game. I love the new two-point conversion rule, which allows the defense to score two points by running back a blocked extra point or offensive turnover, but when it passed last season, I figured it was something we might wait a decade to see decide a game.

Instead, yesterday in Atlanta it did decide the game. And it may have changed the course of both teams’ seasons.

When the Falcons scored a touchdown to take a 28-27 lead over the Chiefs with less than five minutes remaining, it appeared that they had taken control. They then lined up to go for two, and that was the right decision, as it gave them a chance to take a lead big enough that a field goal wouldn’t beat them. But Chiefs safety Eric Berry stepped in front of Matt Ryan’s pass, intercepted it and raced all the way to the end zone, giving the Chiefs the 29-28 margin they would win by.

That was the first time a team has ever won by a point on a defensive two-point conversion. Add in the blocked extra point return that gave the Broncos a 25-23 win over the Saints earlier this season, and we’ve now had two games changed by that seemingly relatively minor rules change.

In the case of Chiefs-Falcons, it could easily change both teams’ seasons as well. Both teams are locked in close, competitive playoff races, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll look back at the end of the season and say that one two-point play was the reason the Falcons missed the playoffs, or the reason the Chiefs won the AFC West and earned a bye week rather than just getting into the playoffs as a wild card.

The whole point of the new extra point rule was to make extra points competitive football plays again, and part of a competitive football play is that the defense has an opportunity to score. Adopting that rule was a great move by the NFL, and it made for a great ending in Atlanta on Sunday.

Here are my other thoughts from yesterday’s action in the NFL:

Jeff Fisher gets a new contract? Really? The news that broke Sunday morning that Rams coach Jeff Fisher has signed a contract extension is baffling to me. Shouldn’t a coach have to win to get a new contract? Yesterday’s 26-10 loss to the Patriots clinched Fisher his seventh consecutive non-winning season. His last winning season was with the 2008 Titans. And shouldn’t a coach have to show progress to get a new contract? Fisher’s record in his first season as the Rams’ coach was 7-8-1, and he still hasn’t improved upon that in five years on the job. It’s shocking that Rams owner Stan Kroenke is OK with this.

‘Member the Wentz Wagon? Early in the season, Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz was the toast of the NFL, with even President Obama and Vice President Biden singing his praises. Lately he’s been a mess: Yesterday he had about the least-impressive 308-yard game you could imagine, needing 60 passes to get there and throwing three interceptions, with more potential interceptions dropped. Don’t get me wrong, it’s way too early to say Wentz won’t be a good NFL quarterback. But it was also way too early to proclaim him a future star when he was being showered with praise a couple months ago.

There’s a major downside to NFL Sunday Ticket. I’ve had DirecTV for 13 years, and as long as DirecTV has a monopoly on the NFL Sunday Ticket package, I’ll keep it. Having Sunday Ticket revolutionizes your experience as an NFL fan. But there is a major down side to the service: DirecTV’s signal is dependent on good weather. Yesterday in Chicago, where I live, my signal was out for most of the day because of some light snow. I was far from the only one; many fans posted on social media that their DirecTV went out because of snow in their area. Sports fans are so accustomed to technology improving our fan experience in ways we never could have imagined a few decades ago that it sometimes feels like a rude awakening to realize that there are, in fact, limitations to this technology.

Colin Kaepernick had one of the worst games in NFL history. In a loss to the Bears yesterday, Kaepernick was benched in the fourth quarter for Blaine Gabbert — but not before he got sacked five times, while managing just four passing yards. With that stat line, Kaepernick became the first quarterback in NFL history to get sacked five times while gaining fewer than five passing yards. It was a horrendous performance, and for those trying to excuse Kaepernick by blaming the snow, I’ll point out that Bears quarterback Matt Barkley turned in a good game in the same weather. Kaepernick was very, very bad, on a day that started with reports that he was looking to strike it rich in free agency after the season.

The Jaguars remain a mess. I feel like I’m flogging a dead horse when I write about the Jaguars, but every week they find a new way to lose and lose ugly. Yesterday they lost to the Broncos even though the Broncos punted a whopping 11 times. Jacksonville’s offense is so incompetent that you can beat them even if you keep giving them the ball because you know it’s just a matter of time before Blake Bortles throws another pick-six. This team is downright awful.

The Lions won comfortably, for once. After trailing in the fourth quarter of their first 11 games, the Lions maintained a lead throughout the fourth quarter in New Orleans yesterday, improving to 8-4 in the process and firmly establishing themselves as the favorites in the NFC North. If the Lions beat the Bears at home next week and the Packers at home in Week 17, they’d clinch the division regardless of any other results the rest of the season.

I liked the individuality on players’ shoes. Most of the time, the league strictly limits personal messages from players. But yesterday, the league let players put individual messages on their shoes. I thought it was great, especially how many players chose to promote charities they’ve worked with and donated money to. I don’t know what horrible thing Roger Goodell imagines will happen if he allows players to do that every week, but I’d like to see the league relax its uniform rules. The league was wise to make extra points and two-point conversions more interesting, and now it would be wise to make the players’ uniforms more interesting.

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Rivera: Newton was benched for one series for dress code violation

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 03:  Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers watches on as Cam Newton #1 walks over to talk during their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium on November 3, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

After Sunday night’s 40-7 loss to the Seahawks, Panthers coach Ron Rivera told reporters that quarterback Cam Newton had been benched for one series for a dress code violation as the team traveled to Seattle.

That one series became one play, and that one play went like a lot of the others did for the Panthers on a disastrous Sunday night. Derek Anderson’s pass on the first play of the game went off the hands of Mike Tolbert and it was intercepted by Seahawks linebacker Mike Morgan, leading to a quick field goal for the Seahawks.

Newton replaced Anderson the next time the Panthers had the ball and played the rest of the game, but that didn’t stop the Panthers from getting run out of the stadium.

Word of Newton’s dress-code violation was reported on the NBC broadcast of the game, then confirmed by Rivera after the game. Rivera said the decision to not start Newton was solely his own, and that he wanted to treat Newton like he would treat every other player on the team.

In his postgame press conference, Newton told reporters he was benched for not wearing a tie to the stadium and said he didn’t have a proper/shirt tie combo to wear as the team traveled to Seattle. The Panthers spent the week in Northern California after playing the Raiders last week.

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Sunday Night wrap-up: Seahawks undress Panthers, no tie this week

Seattle Seahawks' Thomas Rawls (34) leaps over Carolina Panthers' Daryl Worley to score a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) AP

The Seahawks survived this year while their quarterback was ailing.

Now we’ll see if they can survive the loss of the quarterback of their secondary.

By pounding the Panthers 40-7 Sunday (and it wasn’t really that close), the Seahawks staked their claim to the second spot on the NFC playoff ladder, which would mean a bye and a home game in the divisional round.

But with safety Earl Thomas leaving the game with a broken bone in his leg, the Seahawks are going to have to change yet another tire on a moving car. His playmaking in the middle of the field is something that’s going to be hard to replace, for a team that has replaced so many parts this year.

With Russell Wilson playing through a number of injuries early, they were able to stay somewhat afloat. And while their defense isn’t going to be bad all of a sudden, Thomas is the kind of player you can’t just replace easily, if at all.

It wasn’t a deciding factor against the Panthers, who have gone from 15-1 to 4-8. And Seattle’s schedule over the next month (at the Packers and then a lap through the NFC West) gives them a chance to adjust. But the Seahawks are going to miss Thomas in a major way.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. For all the weird stuff Cam Newton has worn, his one-play (or one series) suspension was apparently for a dress code violation.

It’s the latest strange turn in a strange year for the reigning MVP, who hasn’t had much of a chance to succeed this season with all the injuries in front of him.

But his wardrobe is ostensibly something he can control, and he apparently didn’t. Stay tuned, in a season gone wrong, this could become messy.

You don’t just bench a starting quarterback without creating ripples, and how Newton handles the post-game (which hasn’t always been a strength) is going to be as important or more than the result of any one game in a lost season.

2. The Seahawks have plenty of issues of their own, and even the temporary loss of running back Thomas Rawls to be checked for a concussion underscored one of their biggest.

After Marshawn Lynch retired, they have struggled to run consistently.

Granted, their own problems on the offensive line contribute to that, but they haven’t been able to keep a healthy back on the field. And with quarterback Wilson’s injury issues keeping him from contributing to the run game early this year, the Seahawks are constantly adjusting on offense.

If Rawls can stay on the field they ought to be OK. His 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers were a reflection of the opponent as well as his own game (the Panthers rolled over shortly after the half). But if Rawls misses time for any reason down the stretch, it’s going to be hard for the Seahawks offense, which depends on somebody being able to move the ball on the ground.

3. The Panthers are clearly broken at the moment, but assuming theirs is an untalented roster would be a mistake also.

There’s still plenty of young talent there, beginning with Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, which is a pretty good place for any team to start.

But the Panthers are going to have to do business a little differently this offseason. They never spent the money they saved when they pulled the franchise tag from cornerback Josh Norman. It was earmarked for defensive tackle Kawann Short’s new deal, but that never got done, leading to perhaps their next tag battle.

There’s cap room to spend, but General Manager Dave Gettleman’s going to need to spend it to justify a decision that clearly backfired in the short term. To not backfill with some solid starters would be to waste a group of veteran players (Thomas Davis, Ryan Kalil, Greg Olsen) who are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginnings.

4. It’s hard to read too much into a blowout, but it does feel like the Seahawks are starting to figure out what to do with tight end Jimmy Graham.

Because of injuries and the transition coming from New Orleans, it’s taken some time for both sides to adjust, but he’s beginning to become a more consistent factor.

5. The Panthers need offensive line help in the worst way, and could justify addressing it with their looming Top 10 draft pick.

But they also need to restock their defensive end position the way Gettleman loaded up on defensive tackles in 2013, when he doubled up on Star Lotuleleli and Short with his first- and second-rounders.

Honestly, the Panthers haven’t reloaded or rebounded from Greg Hardy’s departure in 2014. Charles Johnson has been a very good player for a very long time, but he’s declining and couldn’t run because of a hamstring injury. Their leading sacker was inactive (Mario Addison) and they’re filling in with a bunch of guys.

They need impact rushers, and they need them in bulk if they want to get back to the level of the Seahawks defense, or their own standard.

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Julius Peppers moves into Top 5 on NFL career sack list

Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler is sacked by Green Bay Packers' Julius Peppers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer) AP

Packers linebacker Julius Peppers will turn 37 next month, but he’s still adding to his Hall of Fame résumé.

Peppers sacked Brock Osweiler in today’s win over the Texans, giving him 142.5 sacks in his career. That moves him ahead of Michael Strahan and gives Peppers sole possession of the fifth-most sacks in the NFL since the league began keeping sacks as an official statistic in 1982.

Everyone ahead of Peppers on the all-time list is in the Hall of Fame: Bruce Smith is first with 200 sacks, Reggie White is second with 198, Kevin Greene is third with 160 and Chris Doleman is fourth with 150.5.

Peppers isn’t getting quite as much playing time this year as he did last year: In 2015 he was in on about two-thirds of the Packers’ defensive snaps, while in 2016 he’s playing about half of the Packers’ defensive snaps. But despite the reduction in playing time, Peppers has 6.5 sacks this season. He’s still a big part of the Green Bay defense, and he isn’t giving any indication that he’ll have to retire any time soon.

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