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Whether “nicked” or “tweaked,” Cam Newton seems to be fine

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Last week’s toe problem was “not that big a deal,” and the Panthers seem just as nonchalant about the ankle problem quarterback Cam Newton developed.

After Sunday’s win over the Saints, Newton said his ankle was “nicked,” and coach Ron Rivera used equally non-medical language to describe it.

“It was tweaked, and he feels pretty good today,” Rivera said Monday, via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “He came in and got some pretty good treatment today. He rolled it and he’s out here walking around.”

Newton had his ankle re-taped during the Saints game, and may have been a bit limited in his mobility, rushing just four times for 6 yards. He was also off in the passing game, at least until his last-minute, game-winning drive.

“You got to be smart and judicious and make sure the situation calls for it, and [offensive coordinator] Mike [Shula] was very smart about it, very careful about it and unfortunately we missed some things is probably the biggest thing,” Rivera said. “We missed some throws. He had some guys open and he knew it and he threw them a little high but again as I said yesterday, when we ended him to come through he did.”

Keeping Newton well has been a challenge this year, as the right side of the Panthers offensive line has been a persistent liability. But the combination of Newton’s own size and strength, and Shula’s ability to call a game to keep him out of peril, they’ve gotten him through this far.

Getting him well and earning a bye (which they can do with a win Sunday at Atlanta or a Saints loss) will help that much more.

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Saints win and in, Cardinals need a win and Saints loss

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The 49ers became the third NFC team to clinch a playoff berth on Monday night, joining the Seahawks and Panthers. Three playoff spots remain.

One of those three will go to the winner of Sunday’s Eagles-Cowboys game and another will go to the winner of Sunday’s Packers-Bears game. The final playoff spot will go to either the Saints or the Cardinals.

The Saints have the much easier path to the playoffs: If they win at home against the Buccaneers on Sunday, the Saints are in the playoffs. Even if the Saints lose to the Buccaneers, they’ll go to the playoffs if the Cardinals lose to the 49ers.

The Cardinals’ playoff hopes come down to beating the 49ers and hoping the Bucs can upset the Saints. The Cardinals and Saints are both 10-5, and the Saints own the head-to-head tiebreaker from beating the Cardinals in Week Three, so the Cardinals only make the playoffs if they finish with a better record than the Saints.

Arizona has had a surprisingly strong season and may finish at 11-5, far better than almost anyone predicted. But that probably won’t be good enough to make the playoffs.

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Shanahan “sure” his situation will be resolved quickly

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As the Redskins close in on a season that could still secure the first overall pick . . . for the Rams . . . the head coach expects to know sooner than later whether he’ll still be the head coach.

Asked by reporters on Monday whether his job status will be resolved quickly after the season ends, coach Mike Shanahan said, “I’m sure it will, but you’ll have to ask Dan [Snyder] to make sure.  I can’t answer that.”

Well, he did answer that.  And his answer suggests that the answer will be Shanahan gets paid $7 million to not coach the Redskins in 2014.

Then again, there’s a chance (in theory) that Snyder quickly will tell Shanahan that the owner wants to sign Shanahan to an extension.  Because Snyder hasn’t said anything since the situation plunged into dysfunction 16 days ago, there’s no way to know for sure what Snyder wants.

Shanahan wants to stay.  Supposedly.

“I’ve told you from day one, I love these guys,” Shanahan said.  “We’ve been working extremely hard to put this thing together.  We’ve had a couple of bumps, which we all know, with the salary cap, but I’m looking forward to building this football team.  But like I said, it’s a situation that I’ll get the chance to sit down with Dan at the end of the season and we’ll go from there.”

With Shanahan entering the final year of his contract, the fact that he’s gotten no indication from Snyder that Snyder wants to keep Shanahan isn’t a good sign, if he truly wants to stay.  The fact that there have been no leaks regarding the next must-have coach for Snyder nevertheless raises the possibility that he could offer Shanahan a new deal — if for no reason other than to call Shanahan’s possible bluff.

Either way, Shanahan likely will find out where he stands fairly fairly soon after the season.  And then the rest of us will.

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Antoine Winfield isn’t coming back to Seahawks

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When Walter Thurmond was suspended for four games last month, there was word that the Seahawks had reached out to cornerback Antoine Winfield to gauge his interest in returning to the game.

Winfield was with the Seahawks in training camp and retired before the start of the season in what might have been a twist on quitting before you get fired. He was reportedly open to returning in the right situation, which might have sparked another try now that Brandon Browner’s officially been suspended.

According to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports, that’s not going to happen. Winfield has decided to stay retired rather than try to fire things up at this point in the season and the Seahawks really wouldn’t need him as anything more than an insurance policy at this point.

Thurmond’s suspension is up after this week’s game against the Cardinals while Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane have done a good job while both Thurmond and Browner have been out of the lineup. That should make Browner’s absence much easier to swallow and leave the Seahawks in the same strong position heading into the playoffs that they were before the suspension was put in place.

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Flacco practiced on Wednesday, in limited fashion

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It’s been a strange week for Joe Flacco, and for those trying to keep up with his status.

It started on Monday night, when Flacco took a helmet from Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy to the lower leg.  After the game, Flacco said his knee felt “strong.”  (Or possibly “quite strong.”)

Then, ESPN reported that he wouldn’t need an MRI.  Then, we reported that Flacco would take it easy for a few days.

Then, the team announced that Flacco had been fitted with a knee brace, and that he’d be limited in practice.  Then, the team said on its online injury report that Flacco didn’t practice.  Then, ESPN reported that Flacco had an MRI after all, and that he has a mild MCL sprain.

The Ravens advise PFT that Flacco did indeed practice on Wednesday, on a limited basis.  According to the team, its website inadvertently listed Flacco as not practicing.

More importantly, there’s no reason to believe Flacco won’t play.  He’ll apparently play with a brace, and he should consider himself lucky to not have a more serious knee injury.  But Flacco most likely will play against the Patriots, which will help the Ravens as they attempt to extend their current winning streak to five after a 4-6 start.

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Stevie Johnson not expected to play this week

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Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson found out last Saturday that his mother died unexpectedly, but he stayed with his team in Jacksonville and played in their victory over the Jaguars on Sunday.

It doesn’t look like the team is going to have him on hand for this week’s game against the Dolphins, though. Johnson has gone to California to be with family and coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday that the team is not expecting him to be in the lineup when they try to spoil the Dolphins’ playoff dreams.

“I don’t believe that he will be available for our game on Sunday and I think it’s important we realize this tragedy, and our thoughts and our prayers are with Stevie and his family,” Marrone said, via the Buffalo News.

The Bills have played without Johnson two other times this season, going 1-1 in his absence. The loss came with Thad Lewis making his first start of the season in place of an injured E.J. Manuel, something Lewis will be doing for the fourth time against the Dolphins this weekend.

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Wes Welker remains out at Broncos practice

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The chances of wide receiver Wes Welker missing a second straight game for the Broncos because of a concussion appear to be good after Welker missed another practice on Wednesday.

Welker has not been cleared to return to work after suffering a concussion against the Titans in Week 14 and would still need to pass a series of tests between now and Sunday before he’d be given the green light to play against the Texans.

Welker has suffered a pair of concussions in a short period of time, which has led some to wonder if the Broncos might shut Welker down for the remainder of the regular season and focus on getting him healthy for the playoffs. The Broncos still have some work to do to clinch the AFC West and the first seed in the conference, but they may not need Welker to get that work done as the schedule brings them the Texans and Raiders in the next two weeks.

Joan Niesen of the Denver Post reports that the only other Broncos to miss practice were cornerback Kayvon Webster, who has a broken thumb, and defensive end Derek Wolfe, who has been out since suffering seizure-like symptoms late last month.

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Texans place Ben Tate on injured reserve

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We’ve reached that point in the season when it no longer makes sense for teams that are out of the playoffs to wait around for injured players or expose them to further injury in hopes of squeezing out another win.

The Texans are such a team and they made the call to shut down running back Ben Tate on Wednesday. The team announced that he has been placed on injured reserve because of a rib injury that’s bothered him for several weeks. Tate cracked four ribs in Week Eight and has since cracked a fifth, which led to the decision to sit him for the rest of the year.

Tate has 771 yards on 181 carries and has scored four touchdowns this year. He’s set to become a free agent after the season, so last Sunday’s game against the Colts may turn out to be his final game as a member of the Texans.

Dennis Johnson will likely get the start against the Broncos this week with Deji Karim in reserve.

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E.J. Manuel out this week, Thad Lewis to start against Dolphins

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Well, that escalated quickly.

Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel was thought to be fine after spraining his knee last week, but won’t play this week because of the injury.

Bills coach Doug Marrone said that backup quarterback Thad Lewis would start this week agains the Dolphins, and that Manuel might return to the lineup next week.

Marrone said Monday that Manuel “should be OK,” but in the two days since, the condition apparently became problematic.

Marrone told reporters that Manuel was limited in practice and could throw from the pocket, but wasn’t able to move around well enough to put him out there. While Marrone said Manuel would not play this week, he expressed confidence in his ability to return for the regular season finale.

You’d think that would be a huge boost for the Dolphins’ playoff chances, but Lewis did beat them there in October.

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Victor Cruz may be done for the season

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Although the Giants have made no official decisions about the status of wide receiver Victor Cruz, it’s looking like he may be done for the 2013 season.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said that Cruz “has a knee that will probably prevent him from doing anything” today, and he also has concussion.

There’s already talk in New York that the decision to call up receiver Julian Talley may signal the end for Cruz, and playing it safe with Cruz would make a lot of sense for the Giants. Considering that just five months ago the Giants guaranteed Cruz a total of $15.6 million this year and next, it’s hard to imagine that they would put him on the field for a couple of meaningless games if he’s anything less than 100 percent. It would make a lot more sense for the Giants to get Cruz healthy for next year.

So as bad as the Giants’ passing game has been this season, it may be even worse as they close out the year against Detroit and Washington.

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Broncos add former Jaguars problem Jeremy Mincey

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Defensive end Jeremy Mincey started the year on one of the worst teams in the league, but was cut just as they were getting better.

Now, he’s found his way onto one of the best.

The defensive lineman who was just released by the Jaguars has agreed to terms with the Broncos, according to Jeff Legwold of

The Jaguars left him home from one road trip and deactivated him from another game for violating team rules, including missing meetings. After he returned to the field, they eventually cut the expensive mistake of the previous regime.

Mincey had some success under Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, so the Broncos defensive coordinator may be able to convince him to show up on time for a playoff run. He’s been a productive pass-rusher in the past, and any amount of that the Broncos can find is going to help given their recent struggles in the secondary.

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Pete Carroll: Updates coming Wednesday on Harvin, Browner

Brandon Browner, Riley Cooper AP

The Seahawks played without wide receiver Percy Harvin and cornerback Brandon Browner against the Giants in Week 15, but they didn’t miss them much at all.

Seattle rolled to an easy 23-0 win at the stadium that will host the Super Bowl, which would be the next time the Seahawks will have to play on the road this season if they win home field in the NFC as expected. During his Monday press conference, coach Pete Carroll was asked about whether or not Harvin and Browner would be available to help the team try to lock up home field this weekend. Carroll said that there wouldn’t be any updates until later in the week.

“We’ll find out on Wednesday. [Browner’s] got two days of running here to see how he does and we’ll see what happens. We don’t know,” Carroll said, via the Tacoma News Tribune.

Browner’s suspension appeal is still pending, leaving him available to play as long as his groin is healthy enough to be on the field. Carroll said the condition of his hip has fluctuated, leaving him week-to-week until he can resume a practice schedule.

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Darren McFadden expected to practice on Wednesday

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Raiders running back Darren McFadden is headed toward free agency after this season, but he hasn’t done much to showcase himself for potential suitors.

McFadden has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury and six games overall this season, continuing a trend that has seen him play just 20 of the team’s last 39 games because of a variety of aches and pains. When he has been in the lineup, McFadden has only managed 3.5 yards per carry so the year has been a disappointment all around.

Playing in the final two games of the regular season won’t do much to change that, but, at the very least, it would give McFadden a chance to provide a better final image for the year. It looks like he’ll get a chance as coach Dennis Allen said Monday, via the Contra Costa Times, that he expects the running back to practice Wednesday with designs on playing the next two weeks.

Whether or not McFadden plays, this will likely represent the end of his run in Oakland. Despite several flashes of great ability, tt will be remembered as a disappointment because of his inability to stay on the field.

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Fitzgerald says he’s already passed first test of concussion protocol

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Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald suffered a concussion in the late stages of Sunday’s overtime win over the Tennessee Titans.

Fitzgerald was knocked out of the game while taking a blow attempting to recover an onside kick late in regulation.

Fitzgerald’s father, Larry Fitzgerald Sr., indicated his son was feeling better already on Monday and “is going to be okay.” It’s a sentiment the younger Fitzgerald echoed during an interview with Jim Gray of Westwood One during the Monday night radio broadcast.

“Today I went in and saw an independent neurologist,” Fitzgerald said. “He put me through a screening test, a baseline test, that I took in the spring time. They wanted to see if my scores were on the same level as my scores when I was fully functioning in the offseason. Those tests came back positive. I was right where I needed to be. Tomorrow I will see another neurologist to get another independent look.”

“At that point it’s just about how I feel going through the week. But right now I’m feeling good.”

Fitzgerald said he remembers watching the football bounce toward him and then being helped up by the team’s training staff. He said he was a “little out of it” and went through testing on the sidelines. He said he wanted to return to the game but the trainers said it would be in his best interest to sit the rest of the game out.

“You don’t want to let your teammates down,” Fitzgerald said. “You work so hard with those guys. They depend on you. I depend on them. Being a captain, I definitely have to go out there and fight with them. That’s my mentality and it always will be.”

The Cardinals face two massive games to close out the regular season in their hopes to crash through the backdoor into the playoffs. Arizona will head to Seattle this week and conclude the season at home with the San Francisco 49ers next week. The Cardinals likely need to win both games to give themselves a good chance to make the postseason. Having Fitzgerald available would be a key component to bolster their chances the next two games.

“I’m going to get some rest today, get some rest tomorrow and get ready for a big game against Seattle next week,” he said.

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Cam Newton’s injured toe “not that big a deal”

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Just before halftime of Carolina’s 30-20 victory over the Jets on Sunday, quarterback Cam Newton came up with a little bit of a limp after Jets defensive tackle (and occasional running back) Sheldon Richardson tackled him at the end of a scramble.

Newton headed to the locker room before the half officially ended and was the last Panthers player back on the field before the start of the second half, but went on to play the rest of the game without incident. Coach Ron Rivera said Monday that Newton injured his toe on Richardson’s tackle, but that the injury was “not that big a deal.”

“The reason we took him off early was because we had to cut the tape off and let them double-check and make sure everything was fine,” Rivera said, via Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. “Everything came out OK.”

Rivera said Newton’s mobility was not impacted by the injury and his early departure in the second half was the only outward sign of concern about the quarterback’s condition during the game. Based on that, Newton should be good to go for next Sunday’s showdown with the Saints for the top spot in the NFC South.

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Dolphins not talking about Incognito’s status

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By all accounts and appearances, the Dolphins must make a decision today regarding guard Richie Incognito.  If they’ve made one, they’re not saying what it is.

During a Monday press conference following a thrilling win over the Patriots that gives Miami full control over their ability to qualify for the playoffs, coach Joe Phlbin declined to comment on Incognito’s status.

Incognito has been suspended for six weeks.  For the first two weeks, he wasn’t paid.  For the last four weeks, he has been paid.

Most believe that the Dolphins will pay Incognito for the final two games of the regular season but not bring him back to the team.  Incognito, however, must agree to that approach.  Incognito could choose to tell the Dolphins, “Bring me back or cut me loose,” which then would allow him to join another team.

Paid suspensions supposedly disappeared in 2006, thanks to a revised labor deal aimed at preventing teams from sending a player home with pay.  Although Incognito has agreed to be suspended with pay, the Dolphins have been able to stash Incognito for two weeks longer than the maximum allowable team-imposed suspension.  Now, by dangling another $470,000, they can keep him from joining another playoff contender for the homestretch.

While Incognito probably has concerns about forcing the issue given the NFL’s overriding ability to suspend him separately under the personal-conduct policy, at some point Incognito needs to take a stand.  Whether with the Dolphins or another team, he has a chance to do something he has never before done in nine NFL seasons.

Play in a playoff game and chase an NFL championship.

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Carson Palmer dealing with high ankle sprain

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Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer came into Sunday’s game with a right elbow injury that has limited him in practice the last couple of weeks and he left it with another part of his body aching as well.

Palmer was hit low by Titans defensive end Kamerion Wimbley early in the game, drawing a flag for roughing the passer and forcing Palmer to get a hurried tape job on his left ankle when he returned to the bench. Palmer never came out of the 37-34 overtime victory, but coach Bruce Arians said after the game that the quarterback had suffered a high ankle sprain that impacted the Cardinals’ offensive approach.

“He’ll be pretty sore tomorrow … that took a lot of our game plan, a lot of our play-action passes from us,” Arians said, via “He’s a tough customer. He wasn’t coming out of there.”

Palmer finished the day 20-of-30 for 231 yards and a touchdown and didn’t throw an interception for the fourth time in the last five games, so the injury wasn’t too big a stumbling block for him on the day. We’ll find out this week how Palmer’s ankle fared once the tape came off and whether he’ll be in the lineup when the team goes to Seattle in Week 16.

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Wade Phillips: This season is “obviously a nightmare”

Wade Phillips AP

Texans interim head coach Wade Phillips didn’t pull any punches when asked what this season has been like.

“Well, it’s obviously a nightmare,” Phillips said on a conference call with Indianapolis reporters. “It’s been so many games and so close, and just not being able to make the one or two plays. It’s not like we’re getting beat by 20 points every game, so it’s been very frustrating.”

Phillips is right, to a point: The Texans’ last seven losses have all been by seven points or fewer. Of course, one of Houston’s two wins came on a field goal as time expired, and the other was in overtime. So while you can say that the Texans have been only one or two plays away from winning any of their last seven games, you can also say the Texans are only a couple plays away from being 0-13.

Still, Phillips says it’s frustrating because the Texans are losing a lot of games they think they can win.

“You feel like you can win, but we haven’t,” Phillips said.

Some would say the best thing for the future of the franchise would be to lose their last three games and earn the first pick in the draft. But Phillips doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s pride and people are playing for their jobs and coaching for their jobs, obviously,” Phillips said.

Phillips is coaching for an opportunity to keep his job, and to get the “interim” removed from his title. He’d like to think he’s the man to keep the Texans’ 2014 season from being a repeat nightmare.

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Geno Smith: I was playing like a robot

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Jets quarterback Geno Smith turned in his best performance since October in last Sunday’s 37-27 victory over the Raiders and he’s crediting it to acting more like a human being.

During the week leading up to the game against the Raiders, a game that came a week after Smith was benched against the Dolphins, Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg made loosening up a priority for the rookie quarterback. Mornhinweg felt Smith had become too focused on doing everything fundamentally correct and thinking too much instead of letting his instincts come through on the field. Smith agreed with that assessment.

“I was playing like a robot. Everything is not ideal on the field. Sometimes you’ve got to improvise,” Smith said, via the New York Times. “I think I kind of got into this zone where I just tried to be way too perfect. And that’s almost impossible to do at any level, especially as a rookie. There were times where I was so caught up in running the play and executing it to perfection that I didn’t allow my natural ability to take over.”

There was more improvisation from Smith against the Raiders as he ran five times for 50 yards and a touchdown, but the proof of a real change will come over the final three weeks because we’ve seen flashes of good from Smith followed by flashes of bad more than once this season. Playing the Panthers on the road this week will give us a better idea about the permanence of the non-robotic Smith.

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Justin Tuck: I don’t want to be embarrassed this weekend

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Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said that he’s happy that the schedule is sending the Seahawks to MetLife Stadium this week because he’s never played there before and he thinks it will be good to get the lay of the land in the event the Seahawks are playing there again in early February.

As the quarterback of the team with the best record in the NFC, Wilson’s got every reason to think that a Super Bowl trip could be in his future. Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said that he couldn’t blame Wilson for feeling that way, although he doesn’t plan to be a welcoming host just because the Giants will have been on vacation for a month by the time the Super Bowl rolls around.

Tuck wants to put up a good fight against the Seahawks so that the Giants can avoid being the sixth team to lose to the Seahawks by at least 20 points this season.

“The last thing you want to be is embarrassed,” Tuck said, via the New York Daily News. “This is a team if you’re not ready to play, they will embarrass you — and laugh about it. That’s point blank. I ain’t in the business of being embarrassed. I’m in the business of going out there and putting on a great show for our fans and helping us win football games.”

The Giants are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Chargers last week in a game that saw them show very little spark while getting run off the field. Tuck will need to hope that protecting their home field sparks a bit more pride from his mates because a repeat of the same effort this time around would leave the Seahawks in stitches as they make their way back across the country.

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