Denico Autry fined for his conspicuous pelvic thrust

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The Colts lost to the Chiefs last Saturday. Along the way, Colts linebacker Denico Autry lost more than $13,000.

The NFL has confirmed that Autry was fined $13,369 for unsportsmanlike conduct due to a sack celebration that took the term a little too literally.

Autry thrust his pelvis after taking down Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and referee John Hussey happened to be standing right in front of Autry.

Although the NFL has loosened considerably the restrictions regarding in-game celebrations, pelvic thrusts continue to be a no-no, no matter how many pumps were involved.

Texans re-sign Seantrel Henderson

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Seantrel Henderson signed a one-year contract in Houston last offseason, earned a starting job on the offensive line, and promptly suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week One. This year he’ll be back for what he and the Texans hope is a better season.

Henderson signed a one-year deal to remain in Houston, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.

The report says the deal has a maximum value of $4.5 million, but that likely comes with a structure similar to the contract Henderson signed last year, when he ended up earning just $1.7 million because the Week One injury cost him more than $1.4 million in per-game roster bonuses.

Henderson has played well at times in his NFL career, but injuries have been a major problem, limiting him to a total of just nine games over the last three seasons.

Ravens, John Harbaugh agree to contract extension

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Four weeks after saying they would come to an agreement on a new contract, the Ravens and coach John Harbaugh have done so.

Harbaugh has agreed to terms on a new deal to remain with the Ravens beyond the 2019 season, according to multiple reports.

With only one year remaining on his old contract, Harbaugh could have refused to sign anything now and bet on himself. With another trip to the playoffs next season, Harbaugh could have improved his leverage with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti — or could have shopped himself to other teams as a highly coveted free agent.

But coaches rarely do that, and it appears Harbaugh won’t either. Instead, he’ll return for 2019 on a contract that keeps him tied to the Ravens beyond 2019 as well.

Art Rooney continues “all is well” media tour

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The Steelers are in crisis mode. And the best evidence of it is that owner Art Rooney II is trying very hard to create the impression that the Steelers aren’t in crisis mode.

Beginning more than a week ago by speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rooney has embarked on an extended, and uncharacteristic, local media tour aimed at doing something that the Steelers rarely have to do: Prop up the brand.

Appearing Friday on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh (as part of a multi-station circuit), Rooney disputed the notion that the Steelers currently have a culture problem.

I certainly don’t think we have a culture problem,” Rooney said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We won 13 games [in 2017], so if you have a culture problem, if you have a discipline problem on your team, those kind of teams don’t win 13 games in the National Football League. Those are the facts we have to deal with.”

But that characterization of the facts overlooks one very basic reality: If the Steelers didn’t have a cultural problem, maybe those 13 wins in 2017 would have resulted in postseason success, not an ugly home loss to the Jaguars. The Steelers may indeed be the most talented team, overall, in the NFL; something is keeping them from turning that talent into a seventh Lombardi Trophy.

Rooney prefers, for obvious reason, to not focus on that deficiency.

“The bottom line is when you point to last year and everybody talks about the drama, that was a team that won 13 games,” Rooney said. “The first test for me is the performance on the field. Are we winning games? Do we have a winning culture? I think the record speaks for itself.”

But a winning culture includes winning in the playoffs. Do the Steelers aspire to be the Patriots, or do they aspire to be the Bengals? The problem is that, based on recent seasons, no one is really aspiring to be the Steelers.

That doesn’t matter to Rooney, because his comments weren’t aimed at confronting the truth but holding off a potential fan revolt that eventually could force Rooney to hire a new coach.

“Our fans judge us primarily on wins and losses,” Rooney said. “This team has won pretty consistently under Mike [Tomlin’s] tenure here. When you look at the season, we’re disappointed we didn’t make the playoffs, obviously, but we finished a half-game out of winning our division and were in it down to the last plays of the season.”

It shouldn’t have been that close. The Steelers should have won the division easily. They arguably should be playing this weekend. For a team that has a long history of pursuing championships, the fact that the Patriots and Chiefs will play for a berth in the Super Bowl should be the kind of thing that generates explanations, not excuses.

Then there’s the question of whether and to what extent Tomlin will be held more accountable for the team’s failure to get over the top. The organization ties too much its identity to a 50-year history of coaching continuity. But without a healthy fear of potentially getting fired, maybe coaches don’t coach as well as they could. Maybe, but for very different reasons, the same kind of complacency that crept into Green Bay has taken root in Pittsburgh.

Maybe that’s why neither team has been back to the Super Bowl in nearly a decade.

Next Bengals coach reportedly wants Bill Callahan

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Washington may need a new offensive line coach.

Incoming Bengals coach Zac Taylor reportedly wants to hire Bill Callahan. Washington can block the move, even if Taylor would be offering a promotion to offensive coordinator.

Callahan coached Taylor at Nebraska, which explains the connection. Callahan also served as head coach of the Raiders after Jon Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay in early 2002.

Washington will keep coach Jay Gruden for the 2019 season, and it recently was announced that defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will return, after the team considered various others to serve in that role, including Todd Bowles and Gregg Williams.

Minkah Fitzpatrick wants to know what position he’ll play

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The Dolphins used rookie defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick at three different positions in 2018. He’d like to narrow that to one in 2019, and he’d like to know fairly soon which one it will be.

Via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Fitzpatrick said late in the 2018 season that he’d like to have an answer by January or February. And Fitzpatrick has a practical reason for knowing the answer.

“I lost 10 pounds playing cornerback because I moved faster, chasing guys around,” Fitzpatrick told Jackson. “If I’m playing safety, maybe eight to 10 pounds more [is better] so I have a little extra thud.”

Fitzpatrick made those comments before a major

thud happened in Miami, in the form of a coaching change. With Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores expected to take over, he’ll likely be the one to decide where Fitzpatrick plays: Safety, slot corner, or boundary corner.

Saints designing plays for Michael Thomas may give Rams trouble, again

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When the Saints met the Rams in the regular season, New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas had 211 receiving yards, helping his team put up 45 points in a win. The Rams need to stop that from happening again.

But it won’t be easy. Saints coach Sean Payton has a knack for using his play design to get Thomas in one-on-one coverage. As noted by Matt Bowen of ESPN on NFL Matchup, in last week’s game against the Eagles, the Saints’ play design used Ted Ginn as a deep threat and Drew Brees looking first to a shallow cross, to give Thomas a favorable matchup in the middle of the field.

“Ted Ginn, he can fly down the field, so if you’re a safety, you have to clear out, you have to gain depth to create space in the middle of the field,” Bowen said. “Look at Drew Brees, how he manipulates the coverage here. Where do his eyes go? Underneath to the shallow cross, look what happens. Underneath defender, he vacates his zone. When you vacate the zone in the middle of the field, that’s what Drew Brees wants. Now Michael Thomas can run the deep-in cut, high percentage throw.”

Thomas caught an incredible 85 percent of the passes thrown his way during the regular season, and he kept it going last week against the Eagles: Brees was 12-for-16 for 171 yards when throwing to Thomas, compared to just 16-for-22 for 130 yards when throwing to all his other receivers. Thomas is the receiver the Rams will need to stop, but the Saints’ play design doesn’t make that easy.

It’s Saturday, so catch up on PFT Live, #PFTPM

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Championship week resulted in plenty of hours of audio content from this specific media outlet, with PFT Live churning out 15 hours and #PFTPM adding another four.

If you missed, any, some, or all of it, here’s your chance to catch up.

And it’s easy. Just go to anywhere podcasts are available, and download PFT Live and/or #PFTPM. While you’re at it, subscribe to either or both podcasts. While you’re at it, review and rate either or both podcasts.

The week that was included four PFT Live shows with Chris Simms, one with Dan Katz a/k/a Big Cat, one with Peter King a/k/a Peter King, and #PFTPM interviews of Jets coach Adam Gase, Packers coach Matt LaFleur, Rams running back C.J. Anderson, Seahawks running back Chris Carson, and Lions receiver Kenny Golladay.

There’s another reason to subscribe now. A storm of Super Bowl-week interviews is coming soon, from our far-for-professional-than-we-deserve set in Atlanta.

Former Bills offensive lineman Joe O’Donnell dies at 77

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Former Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Joe O’Donnell, who played in the AFL, NFL, and eventually the WFL, has died. He was 77.

Via Mark Gaughn of the Buffalo News, O’Donnell played in 91 games with the Bills from 1964 through 1971, helping the team to AFL titles in 1964 and 1965.

O’Donnell chose the Bills over Vince Lombardi’s Packers, even though the Packers drafted O’Donnell 10 rounds lower (13) than the Bills did (three). He played right tackle early in his career, slid to right guard for the 1965 AFL championship game, and remained there.

“He and Jack Kemp were the two leaders on our team,” former Bills teammate Marlin Briscoe told BuffaloBills.com. “He also helped me and encouraged me.”

Traded to the then-St. Louis Cardinals in 1972 (after the AFL-NFL merger), O’Donnell opted to retire in lieu of playing for the Cardinals. He unretired in 1974 to play for Birmingham of the WFL, winning a championship in the inaugural season of the short-lived alternative to the NFL.

We extend our condolences to O’Donnell’s family, friends, and former teammates.

Eagles pay Nick Foles the $1 million he missed in playing time

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The Eagles are doing right by Nick Foles. For now.

Foles barely missed a $1 million payment for participating in 33 percent of the team’s offensive snaps during the 2018 regular season. According to Field Yates of ESPN.com, the Eagles have paid Foles the extra $1 million in the form of a signing bonus.

None of this apparently changes the looming ping-pong game that could result in the Eagles taking an aggressive approach to Foles’ potential trip to the open market. It starts with the Eagles potentially exercising a $20 million option for 2019. It continues with Foles paying $2 million to buy out of the option. It concludes with the Eagles potentially applying the franchise tag to Foles for 2019, presumably with an eye toward trading him.

So maybe the extra $1 million, which as a practical matter cuts his buyout from $2 million to $1 million, is the pillow, with the punch to come when the Eagles take full advantage of their right to keep Foles from cashing in as a free agent. Thus, before praising the Eagles for taking care of Foles, let’s wait and see whether they play hardball with him at a time when he arguably has earned the ability to walk away unfettered.

Report: “Zero chance” Brian Flores jilts Dolphins

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A year ago, it wouldn’t have been necessary to report that an assistant coach reportedly pegged to become another team’s head coach would follow through with it. The world changed after Josh McDaniels didn’t.

This year, another Patriots assistant coach reportedly will become another team’s head coach when New England’s season ends. And it’s now being reported that the reported move will indeed happen.

Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post reports that a “zero point percent zero” chance exists that New England linebackers coach Brian Flores will tell the Dolphins “thanks but no thanks” after this Sunday or two Sundays later.

The article focuses on the fact that Flores wants the job and will take the job, contrasting him with McDaniels and, before that, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who used his supposed introductory press conference as head coach of the Jets to quit the job.

But there’s another side to this story that can’t completely be overlooked, especially if past performance is being used to potentially predict future behavior. Regardless of whether Flores fully intends to leave the Patriots and sign a contract with the Dolphins, the Dolphins have the same ability that Flores does to walk away.

Would Dolphins owner Stephen Ross do that? Considering that Ross once pursued then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh for employment without first firing Tony Sparano, telling Flores that an unofficial, incomplete arrangement will remain that way occupies a much lower spot on the antisocial behavior meter.

And with Jim’s brother John still not signed to an extension in Baltimore, all it takes is one phone call from Ross to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti (or vice-versa) to ignite (or reignite) talks aimed at making John Harbaugh the next coach of the Dolphins.

Rams may have the best run-blocking offensive line ever

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For much of this season, Rams running back Todd Gurley was touted as an MVP candidate, as he racked up 100-yard games and scored more than one rushing touchdown per game. But then a funny thing happened at the end of the season: Gurley missed two games. And the Rams didn’t miss him at all.

C.J. Anderson, who had been cut three times in the previous 10 months and assumed his season was over, showed up off the street and promptly played even better than Gurley: Anderson ran for 167 yards and a touchdown in his first game as a Ram, 132 yards and a touchdown in his second game as a Ram, and 123 yards and two touchdowns while sharing time with Gurley in the Rams’ playoff opener.

The reason the Rams could lose Gurley and get even better with a guy who’d been cut three times in 10 months is the offensive line. It might be the best run-blocking offensive line ever.

If that sounds like hyperbole, consider the Football Outsiders stat Adjusted Line Yards, which takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line. The stat magnifies plays when the running back gets tackled for a loss, as that’s usually the result of a blocking breakdown. And the stat treats any gain longer than 10 yards as if it were only a 10-yard gain, as anything beyond 10 yards usually isn’t the result of an offensive lineman’s block. By Adjusted Line Yards, the 2018 Rams set a new NFL record, with 5.49 adjusted line yards per carry.

Whether it’s Anderson stepping in from off the street and averaging 7.0 yards per carry, Gurley averaging 4.9 yards per carry, or Gurley’s backup Malcolm Brown averaging 4.9 yards per carry before he was injured late in the season, the Rams can run effectively with anyone carrying the ball. Enjoy watching Andrew Whitworth, Rob Havenstein, Rodger Saffold, Austin Blythe and John Sullivan block on Sunday. You may never see a better run-blocking offensive line.

Marshawn Lynch says he’ll play in 2019 “if it works out”

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Marshawn Lynch will be a free agent in two months, meaning he doesn’t have a team. The place he wants to play, his hometown of Oakland, might not have a team, either. But that doesn’t mean Lynch is sure to retire.

Lynch said on Real Time with Bill Maher that he’s open to playing in 2019, under the right circumstances.

“If it works out that way then I will,” Lynch said.

The 32-year-old Lynch played well enough before getting hurt in 2018 that he’s likely to have some offers if he wants to play again. But Lynch previously said he only wanted to play in Oakland, and that opportunity may not be available. So it remains to be seen whether it will work out, or whether Beast Mode has played his last NFL game.

Justin Houston’s presence could swing Chiefs-Patriots rematch to Kansas City

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When the Chiefs and Patriots met in the regular season, the Chiefs were without their best pass rusher, Justin Houston. When they meet on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, Houston will be back.

That could make a very big difference. Houston has seven sacks in his last five games, including two sacks in the playoff win over the Colts last weekend, and he’ll be eager to get to Tom Brady on Sunday.

“It’s difficult any time you play them – whether it’s here or there – because they’re smart,” Houston said. “They have a coach on the field [Brady]. He sees everything. He’s been playing for a while, so there’s nothing you can throw at him that he hasn’t seen. To give us the best chance of winning we have to keep him off the field and keep our offense on the field.”

Houston believes he can get to Brady if the Chiefs can force third-and-long situations.

“If it’s third-and-short, the ball’s coming out fast,” he said. “If you put him in third-and-long situations, then he has to hold the ball a little longer. Hopefully it will give us a little time to get there.”

If Houston can have another two-sack game, that would go a long way toward sending the Chiefs to the Super Bowl.

Cameron Brate undergoes hip surgery

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Bucs tight end Cameron Brate will spend the next few months rehabbing after undergoing hip surgery, Jenna Laine of ESPN reports.

Brate played most of the season with a torn labrum in his hip. The arthroscopic surgery included the removal of bone fragments.

He could begin working his way back during organized team activities with hopes of his return for the minicamp in June.

Brate caught 30 passes for 289 receiving yards and six touchdowns this season.

Before the Bucs fired him, coach Dirk Koetter said Brate played hurt “the whole year.” Koetter, though, didn’t specify the injury.

“He hasn’t been healthy from day one,” Koetter said. “He’s done an unbelievable job of fighting through it. He’s another guy that if you knew the amount of rehab Cam does on a weekly basis just to be able to play, it’s pretty remarkable that he’s out there playing at all.”