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Stephen Jones calls out Cowboys’ top defensive players

Stephen Jones AP

Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has taken a lot of heat for the way the Dallas defense is playing, but Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones says the people who should be taking heat are the players.

Jones, the son of owner and General Manager Jerry Jones, told that the players need to be held accountable.

“You turn on the tape and guys we count on week in and week out didn’t show up,” Jones said. “I don’t know what it was, but we didn’t get it done and I’ve got to believe we can do better than that.”

Jones called out several defensive players by name.

“They’ve all got to be better,” Jones said. “Sean Lee has got to be better. Brandon Carr has got to be better. Bruce Carter has got to be better. Jason Hatcher has got to be better. We’ve all got to be better. We’ve got to do a better job when we do have injuries of having better players to get up and be there. It’s an organizational thing. You just have to do better on the defensive side of the ball. If we want to get to where we want to get to we can’t play that type of defense.”

The Cowboys are giving up 426.8 yards a game, worst in the league and on pace to allow the second-most yards in a season in NFL history. Jones wasn’t expecting that.

“Obviously you expect better,” Jones said. “We have to be better. You can’t play defense like that and be last in the league and expect to ultimately get to where we want to get to. Ultimately it’s got to improve. We know there’s circumstances with injuries — no excuses — our defensive line is kind of where it starts. We’ve been beaten up there but that’s part of it and we’ll have to keep churning there. But I fully expect us to play better these last three games on the defensive side of the ball.”

If the Cowboys don’t play better, they’re going to be on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin.

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Marc Trestman “optimistic” Jay Cutler will start on Sunday

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Bears quarterback Josh McCown was named the NFC offensive player of the week on Wednesday, an honor that may serve as the final act of his run as the team’s starting quarterback.

Coach Marc Trestman said, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, that quarterback Jay Cutler has been cleared to practice at full speed and that he will get in a “thorough” workout Wednesday. Trestman will decide about the starter for Week 15 after that workout and announce his decision about the starter on Thursday. Trestman said that he was “optimistic” that Cutler’s injured ankle would come through well enough for him to be that choice.

That’s what Trestman has said he’d do all along. McCown’s play has led some to wonder if that was how things would actually play out, but McCown always referred to himself as a temporary replacement and Trestman said Wednesday that McCown will move back into the backup role without a problem.

“He is all about team. He has very little concern for his personal success. I am sure he’s proud of what he has done,” Trestman said.

Assuming the workout goes well, it looks like Cutler will be retaking the reins for the final three regular season games. The results could wind up with some bearing on whether or not they are the final three games of his Bears career as well.

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RGIII: I expressed my desire to play, but Shanahan shut me down for season

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Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III met the media on Wednesday afternoon for the first time since getting benched by coach Mike Shanahan this week.

Griffin said that his job for the rest of the season is to help Kirk Cousins win games for the Redskins, but made it clear that he would prefer that his job responsibilities still included starting at quarterback.

“I’m sure everybody knows by now that coach decided to shut me down for the rest of the season. We talked, I talked to coach, he talked to me about it. I expressed my desire to play,” Griffin said. ” He explained to me his reasoning. At the end of the day, coach’s decision is what we go with.”

Griffin dodged a question about whether he would want to play for Shanahan again next year in the increasingly unlikely event that Shanahan’s apparent staredown with owner Dan Snyder doesn’t end with a new coach. He did say he “can’t bother” worrying about whether Shanahan’s stated reason for making the move at quarterback, protecting Griffin, was the actual reason, although his demeanor and body language suggested he was bothered.

Snyder declined to comment on his way into the owners meetings on Wednesday and Shanahan is due to address the media shortly.

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Bills activate Jonathan Meeks from injured reserve

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The Bills don’t have much left to play for in 2013, but there’s a chance to evaluate some players for 2014 and they’ll get that chance with rookie safety Jonathan Meeks.

The team announced Tuesday that they have activated Meeks, a fifth-round pick out of Clemson in April, from injured reserve/return. It’s the first week that Meeks is eligible to play after going on the injured reserve list in October.

Meeks was playing only on special teams before getting hurt, but the team could give him a look on defense before the year is out. Jairus Byrd is set for free agency after the season and the team might like to get an idea of what Meeks can offer them in the future.

Linebacker Jamaal Westerman was released to make room for Meeks. Westerman had nine tackles in 12 games for the Bills this year.

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No practice for Wes Welker

NFL: Washington Redskins at Denver Broncos Reuters

The Broncos have a quick turnaround from Sunday to Thursday night this week and it may not be enough time for wide receiver Wes Welker to get healthy enough to be in the lineup.

Lindsay Jones of USA Today reports that Welker did not participate in practice on Tuesday after suffering a concussion against the Titans on Sunday. The league’s concussion protocol dictates a series of tests that Welker must pass before he’ll be cleared to play, something that usually takes more time than the Broncos have at their disposal right now.

The final injury report for the game will come out on Wednesday and we’ll find out Welker’s status for Thursday at that point. As of now, though, questionable seems like a stretch. Luckily for the Broncos they also have Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno and Julius Thomas available to catch passes from Peyton Manning.

Jones also reports that defensive end Derek Wolfe and cornerback Champ Bailey were held out of practice. Wolfe hasn’t played since suffering seizure-like symptoms on the Friday before the Week 13 game with New England and Bailey’s been in and out of the lineup with a foot injury all season.

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Latest concussion lands Brandon Stokley on IR

Buster Skrine, Brandon Stokley AP

Every time the topic of concussions has come up, Brandon Stokley has said he wants to keep playing.

After the most recent of his double-digit career concussions Sunday, the Ravens decided to make the decision for him.

The team announced they were putting the veteran wide receiver on injured reserve, replacing him on the roster with running back Bernard Scott.

In the team’s release, they cited Stokley’s multiple concussions and said they “determined after testing that this would end his season.”

The 37-year-old wideout played in just six games because of a variety of non-head injuries. He caught 13 passes for 115 yards. And with his track record, it might be a surprise if anyone gives him a chance to continue to play.

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Report: Jonathan Stewart believed to have torn MCL

Jonathan Stewart, Lavonte David AP

The Panthers still have legitimate playoff hopes, but they may have to pursue them with only a normal allotment of running backs.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart is believed to have suffered a torn MCL in last night’s loss to the Saints.

Stewart didn’t return after taking a shot to the knee, though the Panthers had entered the point of the game at which running was a luxury they could no longer afford.

If he’s out, the Panthers would again have to go back to just DeAngelo Williams and fullback Mike Tolbert. They’re used to that, as Stewart had only played the last six games, after missing the first half of the season following offseason ankle surgeries.

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Tyrann Mathieu suffers torn ACL and LCL

Tyrann Mathieu AP

You didn’t need to see Cardinals rookie Tyrann Mathieu go down to know it was bad.

Tests have confirmed it’s perhaps worse than it looked.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Mathieu tore both the ACL and the LCL in yesterday’s ugly collision.

Tearing multiple ligaments complicates any recovery, so it might not be as simple as assuming he’ll be well when the Cardinals start back next summer.

Mathieu was blossoming into a playmaker for the Cardinals, justifying the third-round draft pick, as be could play safety and cover slot receivers.

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MRI confirms torn ACL, MCL for Gronkowski

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As expected, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a torn ACL when hit low by Browns safety T.J. Ward on Sunday.

Per a league source, an MRI confirmed the damage.  Gronkowski will miss the rest of the season.  Surgery and rehab will affect his preparation for 2014.

The MRI also shows damage to the MCL.  Surgical repair might not be needed of the MCL.

If so, that provides a bit of a silver lining.  In 2008, Tom Brady tore an ACL and an MCL, and surgical tinkering with the MCL reportedly resulted in an infection.

For Gronkowski, who battled an infection following forearm surgery earlier this year, the prospect of future complications looms over the ACL repair.

“After the third [forearm] surgery, Robbie said, ‘I’m never doing this again,'” his mother said in October, amid questions that his return from forearm and back surgery was taking too long.  “And weeks later, he’s back in for the fourth one.  So he doesn’t want to go back where he was and start all over again.  It wasn’t fun.  It was so discouraging.”

The current situation will be discouraging for Gronkowski, the Patriots, and their fans.  From his return in Week Seven through Week 13, the Patriots had the highest-scoring offense in the NFL.

Without Gronkowski, the task of getting back to the Super Bowl becomes a lot more challenging.

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Sean Lee returns to practice

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Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee was ruled in for Monday night’s game against the Bears by owner Jerry Jones early this week, but he still needed to actually get out on the practice field and show that his hamstring could handle a return to football work.

Lee accomplished part of that on Thursday as he joined the rest of the Cowboys at practice. It’s the first time that Lee’s been able to do that since getting hurt on November 10 and he’ll be ready to go for Monday as long as there aren’t any setbacks.

It also looks like they have a good shot at getting Justin Durant back from his hamstring injury as well. Durant, who has also missed the last two games, was practicing as the Cowboys remained outside despite cold and rainy weather in Dallas. Coach Jason Garrett explained he wanted the team prepared for conditions in Chicago.

“We want to practice here, outside. The weather has been good to us, going off to play in some of these northern cities where the weather is bad. A couple of weeks ago against the Giants, we got some bad weather down here in the days leading up to that,” Garrett said, via the team’s website. “We thought that was a positive, just to get out and practice in it. And it sounds like the weather is not going to be great here the next couple of days, so we’ll certainly embrace that opportunity.”

Cornerback Morris Claiborne and wide receiver Dwayne Harris, also suffering from hamstring injuries, remained out for the Cowboys.

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Reggie Bush limited to light work with no cutting at Lions practice

Reggie Bush AP

Lions running back Reggie Bush got benched on a muddy day in Pittsburgh earlier this season, leading to a dispute between Bush and coach Jim Schwartz about whether or not Bush was a mudder.

Bush insists he loves the slop and he’d like to see it in Philadelphia when the Lions travel to face the Eagles this weekend.

“I actually welcome it and I love playing in the bad weather conditions,” Bush said, via “I feel like it’s an advantage for the running backs because the defenders, safeties and the linebackers don’t know which way we are going. Anytime we can make a move and get them off balance, especially in bad weather and in mud, that’s a win for the running back.”

The weather may not be the biggest issue for Bush this week, however. Bush missed practice on Wednesday because of a calf injury. Tim Twentyman of the team’s website reports that Bush was back on the field Thursday, but wasn’t wearing a helmet and was doing only “very light” work during the session. Bush wasn’t doing any cutting, so people will be keeping an eye on his injury reports for the next few days while Bush focuses on the weather.

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Jason Campbell cleared to practice for Browns

Jason Campbell AP

The Browns are a step closer to having something resembling an actual NFL quarterback on the field Sunday.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, quarterback Jason Campbell has been cleared to practice today after his concussion two weeks ago.

While that’s still a step short of the necessary clearance from an independent neurologist, it’s at least a positive sign the Browns might not have to start trick-shot artist Alex Tanney or the just-signed Caleb Hanie this week.

Of course, the possibility of making Browns fans update that list of starting quarterbacks since 1999 does have a twisted bit of anticipation about it.

Brandon Weeden has not yet been cleared to practice after his concussion, and since these things move in stages, makes it unlikely he’d be ready for Sunday’s game.

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Patriots bring Austin Collie back for another shot

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The Patriots are giving the Austin Collie experiment another chance.

The team announced they had re-signed the veteran wide receiver today for his second stint with the team this year. He was released in November after spending five weeks with the team, playing three games.

The 28-year-old wideout had a minor knee injury during his previous stay with the Patriots, during which he caught three passes. Of course, he had a major knee along with numerous concussions with the Colts, which led to the end of his run there.

Collie has bounced around through a series of workouts this year, with a number of teams willing to take a look. So far, the Patriots have been the only ones to put him back in a game.

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Matt Cassel to get another chance to start for Vikings

Matt Cassel AP

The weekly quarterback question has been answered in Minnesota, and it’s the old guy again.

Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel told Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he’d be starting this week against the Ravens.

Cassel was perfectly acceptable in Sunday’s win against the Bears, and has played in all three of their wins this season.

The fact that there are only three wins kind of makes the question of a week-to-week starter kind of a moot one, since it ought to be somebody else next year.

But it’s becoming clear they’re not comfortable running Josh Freeman out there again, which only adds to the importance of finding a new one this offseason.

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Bills release Tashard Choice

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Bills running back C.J, Spiller said last week that he thought he was getting back to his old self and then backed that up by running for 149 yards in a loss to the Falcons.

That seems to have made the Bills feel okay with having fewer veteran options behind him on the roster. The team announced Wednesday that running back Tashard Choice has been released.

Choice had 35 carries for 126 yards in 12 games this season and has played in 30 games for the Bills over the past three seasons as a reserve in the backfield. The 2008 Cowboys fourth-round pick has also played for the Redskins during his NFL career.

The team hasn’t announced an addition to the roster, but it probably won’t be a running back. The team already has Ronnie Wingo on the active roster behind Spiller and Fred Jackson, which is likely enough depth at that spot if everyone is healthy enough to play the rest of the way.

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Vernon Davis sees a “statement game” coming

Davis Getty Images

The last two times the Seahawks and the 49ers have met, Seattle has made a very strong statement.  San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis sees Sunday as his team’s chance to return the favor.

“Any time you play a team and you lose, the next opportunity you get to play them again, it’s definitely a statement game,” Davis said Tuesday, via Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury News.

The goal apparently will be to make a statement quickly.

“We have to go into this game playing hard, playing fast,” Davis said.  “We want to make some noise right away.  That’s going to be the challenge for us.”

Mustering a healthy dose of hatred will be a challenge for neither team.

“It might be the most intense game this season, because those guys don’t like us, and we don’t like them,” Davis said.

A far more intense third installment could be pending, if the two teams meet in the playoffs for the first time ever.  But while a team that plays in Seattle every year should, in theory, be the best equipped to pull a postseason upset, the Niners have been blown out the last two times they’ve played there.

That makes Sunday’s game no less intense, which should prompt Davis to choose better protection for a certain area that was grabbed during the team’s most recent game.  Davis said Tuesday that he has “just a few abrasions left” in that place.

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Owen Daniels won’t play this week

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The Texans will be trying to avoid their 11th straight loss when they head to Jacksonville on Thursday night and they won’t be getting tight end Owen Daniels back in the lineup to help them do it.

This is the first week that Daniels is eligible to play after being placed on injured reserve/return because of a fractured leg. Daniels has resumed practicing, but it seems the abbreviated week of work before facing Jacksonville isn’t enough to get him into game shape after coach Gary Kubiak announced that Daniels wouldn’t play this week.

“O.D. did work on the field — not with the team but on his own — and had a really good day,” Kubiak said, via the Houston Chronicle. “Obviously, he’s not going to play this week. But he made a lot of progress, so we’ll see where we’re at heading into the weekend.”

Daniels’ injury was one of a string of developments that coincided with the quick and complete destruction of the Texans’ chances to compete this season. Daniels is signed through next season, when he’ll likely be surrounded by a lot of new faces as Houston heads toward an offseason of change.

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Jerry Jones says Sean Lee will play on Monday night

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The Cowboys are getting their best linebacker back for Week 14.

That’s the word from owner Jerry Jones, who said during a radio appearance on KRLD Tuesday that Sean Lee will return to the lineup on Monday night. Lee has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, but the plan is for him to face the Bears as the Cowboys try to remain in first place in the NFC East.

The Cowboys defense played well enough for the Cowboys to win both games without Lee, but life is obviously easier when he’s in the lineup. Jones didn’t say whether linebacker Justin Durant, who has also missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, would return, but he did intimate that Kyle Wilber may not just hand the job back to Durant.

“He was just so impressive and he’s come such a long way. He really might have him placed in a place where he can excel. He’s always had a lot of natural ability,” Jones said, via “He’s going to be a big factor for us on defense. But I wouldn’t want to say who’s actually the starter.”

There will be no such issue with Lee. If he’s healthy, he’s starting and the Cowboys are better for it.

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Ratliff calls Cowboys matchup “just another game”

Jay Ratliff AP

The artist formerly known as Jay Ratliff said he’s not getting in any back-and-forth with his old team this week.

Now going by Jeremiah Ratliff, he made his Bears debut last week and had an assisted tackle, which is more than the Cowboys got out of him before his ugly departure this season.

It’s just another game. It’s just football,” Ratliff said, via Michael Wright of “I don’t get caught up in all that silly rivalry stuff or some payback. The thing is we’re here to win, and we’re going to give every effort to do that.”

Of course, his old team has been uncharacteristically quiet about his departure (which is likely setting the stage for legal action) as well.

Ratliff signed with the Bears in November, and made his debut against the Vikings, playing 23 snaps. They’re hoping he can continue to do more, to try to shore up the league’s worst run defense.

“I thought he played well,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We had him at 20-something snaps. We stayed true to that. I heard him come off a couple of times and say, ‘Let me stay in my rhythm.’ He felt he was mixing it up in there. So we felt pretty good that he’ll be able to play much longer this week.”

He’ll certainly be motivated, which the Cowboys would likely contend that he was not while there.

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Giants aren’t planning to shut down Pierre-Paul

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Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul missed the team’s Week 13 victory over the Redskins because of a shoulder injury that’s caused him problems for several weeks.

Pierre-Paul was able to fight through the injury to make a crucial interception in a victory over the Packers, but he was completely ineffective against the Cowboys after spending the week making promises about making Dallas shed blood during their visit to the Meadowlands. With the shoulder not doing any better last week and the Giants’ playoff chances increasingly remote, coach Tom Coughlin was asked if the team might officially shut Pierre-Paul down after two weeks where it’s looked like he’s unofficially packed it in for the season.

“I don’t think so,” Coughlin said, via the Newark Star-Ledger. “I don’t think it [the injury] is in that position. We really don’t know what his status will be this week until we get a little bit closer to Wednesday. He has been treated and rested and hopefully there’s going to be some progress made.”

Like most of the Giants’ star players, Pierre-Paul’s had a miserable season. It started with him slowed by recovery from back surgery and then he hurt his shoulder just as he was talking about feeling back to normal near the middle of the season. He’ll be in the final year of his contract in 2014 and he’ll need to show a lot more than he did this season in order to get the big extension that seemed a sure thing when Pierre-Paul was tearing things up during the 2011 season.

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