Buccaneers sign Tommy Streeter to practice squad

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have placed wide receiver Russell Shepard on injured reserve. There was no replacement signing on the NFL transaction wire. Shepard injured his foot in Sunday's game after failing to properly execute a handoff on a reverse on a kickoff return, which led to a fumble and a touchdown for the San Francisco 49ers that effectively sealed the game as a loss.

Shepard should be more remembered for his outstanding play on special teams this year, though, having taken a whopping 60% of special teams snaps this year. He's displayed outstanding strength and speed on coverage teams, which may translate to a bigger role on offense once he returns from his foot injury next year.

The Buccaneers also signed wide receiver Tommy Streeter to their practice squad, terminating DT Richard Clebert's contract. Streeter was a sixth-round pick for the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 NFL draft, but spent his first season on injured reserve and didn't make the roster this year. He spent of most of this season with the Bills as a practice squad player. Streeter has the size (6'5", 215 lbs.) and speed to be a very good receiver, but obviously hasn't actually produced on the practice field.

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Frank Gore Deserving of Fifth Pro Bowl Berth

Jim Harbaugh has called Frank Gore a "mystical man."

Most recently, Harbaugh called the 49ers running back a Hall of Famer.

"Yes, I believe so," Harbaugh said Monday in response to a reporter's question. "I truly believe that."

Gore, San Francisco's all-time rushing leader, rushed for 86 more yards in Week 15, pushing him above the 1,000-yard threshold for the seventh time in his nine-year career.

It's clear he hasn't lost a step at age 30, even after Sunday's win at Tampa Bay, where he suffered a late, minor ankle injury.

"Yeah, he was walking good on the plane. Saw him walk up and down the aisle. He looked like he was walking it off pretty good," Harbaugh said. "Came back and said hello. We had a nice chat during the flight... That was enjoyable. It’s kind of become a little tradition to have a nice chat with Frank after we win.”

Gore has made four Pro Bowl appearances. A third straight and five overall could be in order.

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Willis McGahee expects to play this week

Cleveland Browns veteran running back Willis McGahee suffered a concussion in Week 14 against the New England Patriots, and he was ruled out for last week’s game against the Chicago Bears weak run defense after not being able to practice at all. McGahee was never expected to play, but he was fully expected to be back at it for Week 16.

According to the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram’s Scott Petrak, McGahee stated that he expects to play this week against the New York Jets and added that he feels “pretty good”. Although he hasn’t received clearance to practice after being concussed, it looks like he will most likely play this week.

McGahee unfortunately missed out on an opportunity to get something going against arguably the league’s worst run defense (Lance Briggs didn’t play), and he’ll have to go up against arguably the league’s best run defense this week against the Jets. The 32-year-old is averaging a putrid 2.7 yards per carry with just two rushing touchdowns, and his Week 13 performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars was his only legitimately good game this season. The Browns will be hoping that he can play this week and put in a positive effort against a tough Jets run defense, because that’s probably the best they are going to get out of him.

It’s great to hear that McGahee is on track to play, and hopefully he receives clearance soon and does not suffer any setbacks.

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Vince Wilfork vows to return from torn Achilles injury

Speaking for the first time since suffering his season-ending torn right Achilles tendon, Patriots defensive captain Vince Wilfork said earlier this evening he was progressing in his recovery and for anyone who doubts he won't make it back given the nature of the injury, not to mention his age, think again.

‘’I’ll be back. There’s no question in my mind. That’s not even a question,’’ said the massive 32-year year old nose tackle, who suffered the season-ending injury Week 4 against the Falcons. ‘’People can worry about it. But not me. I’ll be back.’’

Wilfork, who was at the Bass Pro Shop at Patriot Place earlier tonight as part of a holiday shopping event for children in need that was hosted by his foundation, along with the Patriots Charitable Foundation and Pats Alumni Club, said he was doing fine, making strides day-to-day, and expected to be out of his walking boot in a week. Naturally, he’s not a fan of having to watch the games from the sidelines.

‘’It’s always frustrating. The only thing I do, the only thing I know how to do is play football. And I can’t do it right now,’’ he said. ‘’But things happen for a reason. The only thing I can do is prepare each day and try and get better with the rehab, and that’s what I’ve been doing. Take it day by day and hopefully, I’ll get healthy soon.’’

Wilfork still taking part, watching film and helping whenever he can to help the team.

‘’Whatever they see fit for what I can do, that’s what I try to do to help. If it’s me coming around to see the guys, or having the guys talk with me, or if it’s watching film with the guys, that’s what I’ll do,’’ he said. ‘’I’m still part of (the team). Sometimes I feel like I’m not because I’m not out there with them, but I’ll stay a part of them. I want these guys to feel the same about me.’’

Big Vince and his teammates put smiles on the faces of quite a few kids, taking them shopping.

“Sometimes we lose sight of how blessed we really are. Until you come to an event like this, when you can put a smile on kid’s faces, it’s priceless. Every year I look forward to this time because I know kids look forward to this time. Every time we come here, we have a ball. That’ what it’s all about. Giving back, especially this time of year. We’ve done if for a long time. I thank my teammates and the Kraft foundation and everyone involved. We made a lot of kids happy today.’’

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Antrel Rolle says this season has been an 'eye-opener' for everyone

Giants safety Antrel Rolle once again put everything in perspective during his weekly appearance Tuesday on WFAN radio.

Asked about the Giants’ stunning 5-9 mark this season, Rolle was blunt and on the mark.

“I think this is something that is an eye-opener,” he said. “It’s an eye-opener to everyone. To myself, to Eli (Manning), to coach (Tom) Coughlin, to management. Some things need to be shaken up. That’s the reality of it.

“This year, obviously, it’s too late. We still have two games to go and we’re going to fight like hell. Come next year, come this off-season, things need to be addressed as far as the overall mindset. I think that’s something that’s extremely needed right now in our locker room.”

Rolle, who said personnel decisions are out of his area of expertise, said the Giants have been very inconsistent this season and need to establish an identity, one of playing hard and being competitive every week, not just some weeks.

“It’s about trying to get the win at all costs,” he said.

Rolle voiced unwavering support for Coughlin and was adamant that there’s no division on the team in the aftermath of his stinging comments following the Giants’ 23-0 shellacking by the Seahawks.

Following the Giants’ humiliating loss, Rolle said some players lacked heart and had no pulse. His thinly-veiled comments were obvious directed at the offense.

“First and foremost, there was never any division coming out of the locker room,” Rolle said. "The media is the media. They have their way of putting a spin on things.

“As professionals, as teammates, we have a way of talking and getting points across without ever getting personal. That’s all it was. There was never anything personal. There was never any separation. We’re still as close as we ever were.”

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Vince Wilfork in spirit of giving to kids

FOXBOROUGH — Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork stood with a red Santa hat and an ear-to-ear smile while sporting a scraggly, pepper-colored beard Tuesday at Bass Pro Shops. The Saint Nicholas look was coincidental, but it was appropriate enough.

He and nearly 40 teammates and Patriots alumni — including Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty, Chandler Jones, Andre Tippett, and Joe Andruzzi — helped children from Massachusetts and Rhode Island homeless shelters in the third annual “Gifts From the Gridiron.”

Players and children were given a $400 allowance to spend on items in the store. The Patriots Charitable Foundation, the Vince Wilfork Foundation, the New England Patriots Alumni Club, and Bass Pro Shops sponsored the event. Each group donated $5,000.

“They can have me running all up over here, it doesn’t matter to me,” Wilfork said after following Amanda Perez, his 11-year-old shopping partner, across the store. “My main job is to make sure this girlie’s happy. And I think so far, so good.”

Perez’s shopping cart was filled with a hat and gloves, gifts for her father. There were also shoes and boots, but her most anticipated item was still on the shelf: a purse.

Wilfork and former teammate Gerard Warren, both Florida natives, approached Patriots owner Robert Kraft about community outreach three years ago and the event was born. It’s become a staple players anticipate each year.

McCourty joked he now knows what it’s like to have a daughter after spending the evening with 8-year-old partner Jalissa. He added that the 6-foot-2-inch, 325-pound Wilfork is like a “big teddy bear” around the kids.

“Since I’ve been here he’s always been heavy into the community,” McCourty said. “I think it’s good, it gets the guys out, the guys have fun on an off day. It brings a real Christmas spirit.”

Defensive end Andre Carter said he is thankful for the opportunity to give his time and said the event is an example of Wilfork’s leadership off the field.

A torn Achilles’ tendon (suffered against the Falcons Sept. 29) has kept Wilfork from suiting up for the Patriots, but he still patrols the sideline and has been acting like an extra coach.

Carter said Wilfork is able to anticipate opponents’ offensive line and backfield sets. Carter noted that just standing near coach Bill Belichick teaches people a lot about the game of football.

“[Wilfork’s] helped everybody from the front side to the back,” Carter said. “I told him he amazes me. This is my 13th year in the NFL and I still learn a lot from him. Whatever happens, life after football, if he decides to be a coach, he’ll be a great coach.”

Jones, who was draped in a cream-colored scarf while shopping, said Wilfork is also active in the film room.

He said his football knowledge is invaluable, particularly for younger players. And his presence has made him a “role model” for Jones.

Perez, who gave Wilfork a hug while calling him “sweet” and “very kind,” shared the feeling.

“When I first met them, I didn’t know who he was,” she said. “But like, he’s the best. I love the Patriots.”

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Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson ranks No. 1 on Forbes list of top-grossing actors

Dwayne Johnson took the No. 1 spot in the Forbes list of top-grossing actors in 2013, while his "Fast & Furious 6" co-stars Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker made the top six, the magazine said on Monday.

The Rock, as Johnson is known since his wrestling career, bested "Iron Man 3" star Robert Downey Jr. by starring in four films in 2013, including "G.I. Joe: Retaliation", that collectively brought in $1.3 billion at the global box office.

"Iron Man 3" is the highest-grossing movie so far in 2013 with $1.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales.

Forbes makes the list by compiling how many dollars each star's movies brought in at the box office worldwide this year. It does not reflect actors' individual earnings.

The sixth installment of the highly profitable street-car racing "Fast and Furious" franchise earned $789 million at the box office, and the deep-voiced Diesel added the $98 million from the third movie in his "Riddick" series to come in fourth on the Forbes list.

"Fast & Furious 6" alone pushed Walker into sixth place. The 40-year-old actor, who died last month in a fiery car crash, was filming the seventh installment of the franchise and Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp, has not yet said how the film will work around his death.

Comedic actor Steve Carell ranked third on the list thanks to the success of the animated film "Despicable Me 2" in which he voices the evil mastermind Gru.
Actress Sandra Bullock came in at No. 5 with two big wins at the box office: the critically acclaimed outerspace thriller "Gravity" and the female cop comedy "The Heat."

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Chudzinskis welcome fourth child, third boy

Sheila and Rob Chudzinski celebrated the birth of their fourth child Monday morning, a boy.

The team did not release the new child's name, but he is the Chudzinski's third boy.

Congratulations to all, who are doing well, according to the team.

To prove there is one thing that can change a coach's schedule, Chudzinski canceled his normal noon news conference Monday for a 4 p.m. conference call.

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Sentencing set in Florida for Sean Taylor slaying

SeanTaylor copy
A Jan. 23 sentencing date has been set for a Florida man convicted of murder in the 2007 shooting death of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor during a botched burglary at the player's home.

A Miami jury last month convicted 23-year-old Eric Rivera Jr. of second-degree murder and armed burglary. Rivera faces a maximum of life in prison but could get less.

In a recorded statement to investigators, Rivera confessed in detail to plotting the burglary with others and shooting Taylor when the Pro Bowl safety surprised the group with a machete. But on the witness stand, Rivera claimed police coerced a false confession and blamed the shooting on someone else.

Four others were charged. One has pleaded guilty, and the others will stand trial later.

Taylor also starred at the University of Miami.

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Rolle rips ‘pathetic’ Giants

Amid the losing in this sorry season it was a case of United We Stand for the Giants. But not any longer.

The “playing for pride’’ theme apparently did not make its way into the hearts and minds of those who get paid to play offense for the Giants, as the whole bunch of them — starting with ringleader Eli Manning, who threw a career-high five interceptions — was so dismal in Sunday’s 23-0 loss to the Seahawks that Tom Coughlin called the performance “pathetic.’’ Can there be a more harsh indictment?

Well, yes, and safety Antrel Rolle was the one to deliver the verbal forearm shiver to those on the other side of the ball.

“If you don’t have passion about this game you don’t need to be out there on the field,” Rolle said, adding, “Sometimes out there it looked like we didn’t have a pulse.’’

And yes, Rolle made it clear he wasn’t talking about his defensive unit.

“You all saw the game,’’ Rolle said. “I don’t have to say anything. This is not about pointing fingers, it’s not about tit for tat, but it is what it is. If you saw the same you know exactly what you saw.’’

Rolle never named names but apparently the criticism touched a nerve with tight end Brandon Myers, who took to Twitter a few hours after the game to write: “If ppl on this team wanna take shots at me and say I have no passion they are mistaken. I give everything I have each and every week.’’

Myers later tweeted, “My emotions got the best of me.”

It is going to be a long final two weeks for the Giants, who officially will have their first losing season since 2004.

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DeQuan Jones Scores Big

Mo Charlo scored 22 points and Brandon Heath added 18 as the Reno Bighorns held off the Bakersfield Jam for a 103-96 win on Sunday at the Reno Events Center.

DeQuan Jones had 17 points for the Bighorns and Mickell Gladness finished with a double-double. The Bighorns shot 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc and 73 percent from the charity stripe.

Bakersfield's Dennis Schroder had a team-high 21 points and seven assists. Rudy Gobert tallied 14 rebounds, giving the Jam the advantage on the boards (46-36).

Although there were 13 lead changes throughout, Reno led for the majority of the game. The teams were tied at 7:16 in the fourth quarter, but the Bighorns pulled away from the Jam with a 6-0 run.

The win was Reno’s second of the weekend against Bakersfield, following a 105-98 tilt on Saturday.

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Orioles trying to trade Danny Valencia

Jen Royle of the Boston Herald reports that the Orioles are exploring options to trade Danny Valencia.

It makes sense to try to sell high on Valencia after he batted a surprising .304/.335/.553 with eight homers in 51 games for the Orioles last season. There's no word on who might be interested, but the Marlins would make a lot of sense since they're looking for a third baseman and Valencia grew up just outside Miami.

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Gaby Sanchez Won't Be Full-Time 1B For Pirates

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Joe Starkey speculates Pittsburgh Pirates 1B Gaby Sanchez will not open the season as a full-time first baseman, given his inability to hit right-handed pitching.

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Jemile Weeks Opens Up About Being Traded, Baltimore Orioles Future

Former Oakland Athletic Jemile Weeks recently sat down to talk about his upcoming community event, Christmas on the Boulevard, which takes place Dec. 21 in Eatonville, Fla. Afterward, he took some time to discuss being traded to the Baltimore Orioles.

The A's traded Weeks and minor-league catcher David Freitas for closer Jim Johnson on Dec. 3.

In Johnson, Oakland maintains a stout bullpen and efficiently replaces Grant Balfour. The Orioles meanwhile are thought to have made the move to shed Johnson's $10 million-plus contract.

In talking about the trade, Weeks provided some insight into what it's like as a player—hearing the news, the process and more.

Here is a player's perspective, courtesy of Weeks.

Weeks hit .303 his rookie year. But in 2012 his batting average dropped to .221. The A's sent him down near the end of the season, and then he spent the majority of 2013 in Triple-A.

Oakland has several options at second base.

Eric Sogard and Alberto Callaspo finished 2013 as platoon starters, and the A's signed Nick Punto shortly after the season ended. Additionally, Jed Lowrie, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Andy Parrino are options.

Weeks played games at shortstop and in center field with the Sacramento River Cats last season. But the experience likely was intended to get himself back to the majors quicker, rather than increase his trade value.

Weeks is an East Coast resident, so when he found out, it was about 11:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 2. The first call came from A's assistant general manager David Forst. Orioles general manager Dan Duquette called 15 minutes later.

Interestingly, Weeks said the conversation did not involve his role.

[The Orioles] basically told me they were happy to have me, that they look forward to...everything that they have for me, but right now to just go ahead and enjoy the opportunity and we’ll be talking later. So I really haven’t gotten into the logistics of my role yet.

So at this point it's unclear whether Weeks will compete for second base or report to Triple-A. Although it should be assumed that he will at least report to spring training with an opportunity to prove himself in Baltimore.

On if he had heard his own name in trade rumors:

I didn’t really know that I would even be in the position to be traded at this point. I heard certain things about being traded but I wasn’t really up to date on what team I might possibly go to. It all caught me by surprise when they called me

Everyone handles change differently. But the one constant? It fills the affected individual with emotion. Some get angry. Some wonder if they've done anything wrong. Others look forward to the opportunity.

Weeks took it in stride:

"It all caught me by surprise. It was just a feeling of excitement and somewhat surreal for me because it’s a blessing I think, that I didn’t see coming."

He continued, saying that at first he had no words. Instead, he simply reminded himself to be thankful for the opportunity to play in Baltimore.

While we hold professional athletes to a high standard and tack on superstar status, at the end of the day, they're still human. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the first call Weeks made—when he finally found the words—was to his mom and dad.

Like most major life changes, there can be pros and cons. Weeks leaves the team that drafted him, the first and only team he has played for. On the other hand, he now gets a fresh start.

One of the major benefits for Weeks is playing closer to home. His family resides near Orlando, Fla., just a two-hour flight to Baltimore. Best of all, spring training will be held in Sarasota, Fla., a two-hour drive for his family. And if Weeks should find himself in Triple-A (Norfolk, Va.) at any point, it's still closer than Oakland.

Playing in the AL East also means a couple of series against Tampa Bay, too.

Being on the West Coast, it’s very limited how much contact you have with your family. I have a pretty close-knit family, so to be on the East Coast, time frames work out better, distance works out better and the fact they can catch every game whether it be a flight or a drive to Tampa makes a world of difference for us.
The Orioles also play the Milwaukee Brewers in May, so Weeks may get an opportunity to play against his brother, Rickie.

While he gets to see his real family more often, it's difficult leaving the family he made in Oakland.

"[The hardest part is] leaving past relationships with teammates and coaches, as well as getting acquainted with new people, making new relationships and building new relationships," he said.

On a funny note, Weeks joked that moving to Baltimore (and this interview) may get him one step closer to meeting former Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis. Both men went to Miami—or as its alumni and Weeks referred to it, "the U."

In Weeks' first season with the Athletics, he garnered consideration for Rookie of the Year. The next year his batting average fell 80 points. Oakland sent him down to Triple-A, where he remained for much of the rest of his career in the Bay Area.

Fans wanted to know: What happened?

It was definitely more mental than physical. I feel like the physical nature, what I do, is all the same. The speed factor was there. Playing hard was there. Effort was there. The rest was just trying to fit a certain role and you have your ups and downs, and in 2013, I felt like I found myself again. [Now I'm] able to go back and do what I want to do and [I'm] just one year out from a bad season. And now this season going forward, I can progress on being myself again, so I think we can get back to some fun things.

Now he has a new team, and with it, renewed hope of playing in the big leagues soon. But how does he plan to get back there?

"It’s going back to the basics," Weeks said.

Weeks said 2011 was his "purest form of baseball" and described it as a "crash course." In 2012, it was less about just playing baseball and more about fitting into a scheme. His plan is to not worry about schemes or roles and to focus on being himself and playing his game.

Added Weeks: "I think it all made me a better player all around, regardless of what the results were."

One of those relationships Weeks will miss most is the one he had with the fans. It was clear the support he felt stuck with him:

"I just want to say that as far as the fanbase, through my ups and downs, they didn’t waver too much. There’s no real way to repay them back one by one."

Though he may play for a new team on the other side of the country, he hopes to be able to make a return to Oakland, if not just for charity works.

Moving forward, I want everybody to know as far as the fanbase in Oakland, that there’s a lot of charity in my heart that I’m trying to give out. Don’t be surprised if in the future we bring it back to the Bay Area, regardless of my situation.

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Devin Hester Doesn't Break Record, But Key To Bears' Victory

Devin Hester might not have set the record for touchdown returns, but Hester had three kickoff returns for 105 yards and a 21-yard punt return that set up the Bears’ go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

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Frank Gore goes over 1,000-yard mark

TAMPA, Fla. – Running back Frank Gore on Sunday eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the seventh time in his nine-year NFL career.

Gore had a 5-yard carry with 11 minutes in the game on his 19th carry against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to give him an even 1,000 yards for the season. He went comfortably over the mark with a 12-yard rush two plays later.

Gore, a third-round draft pick, rushed for 608 yards as a rookie behind starter Kevan Barlow. The only other time since he became a starter in 2006 that Gore did not break the 1,000-yard mark was in 2010. Gore rushed for 853 yards in 11 games that season before sustaining a season-ending fractured hip.

Gore came into Sunday’s game just 69 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark. He had 220 attempts for 931 yards (4.2 average) with eight touchdowns in the 49ers’ first 13 games.

Gore’s previous 1,000-yard seasons
2006: 312 carries, 1,695 yards (5.4 avg), 8 TDs
2012: 258 carries, 1,214 yards (4.7 avg), 8 TDs
2011: 282 carries, 1,211 yards (4.3 avg), 8 TDs
2009: 229 carries, 1,120 yards (4.9 avg), 10 TDs
2007: 260 carries, 1,102 yards (4.2 avg), 5 TDs
2008: 240 carries, 1,036 yards (4.3 avg), 6 TDs

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Bryant McKinnie has helped stabilize Dolphins O-line

DAVIE, Fla. — Miami Dolphins left tackle Bryant McKinnie says he wishes he knew years ago what he knows now about physical maintenance.

"I was just going out there and just playing and not knowing to get massages and get in ice tubs and things like that," McKinnie told USA TODAY Sports this week. "You learn as you get older you've got to take care of your body."

McKinnie always has possessed immense physical talent. But he long has struggled with his weight, which memorably ballooned so much the Minnesota Vikings cut him during training camp in 2011, and gained a reputation for trying to do just enough to keep his job.

The Baltimore Ravens put a weight bonus in McKinnie's contract when they re-signed him for two years in May, only to unload him in October for a late-round conditional draft pick. He's 34 now and says he's trying to be more diligent to make sure his body doesn't break down.

"I get (massages) once a week," McKinnie said. "I get adjustments and I get stretched and all that stuff."

The Dolphins deleted the second year of McKinnie's contract after acquiring him, meaning he can become a free agent in March. He has helped stabilize a line that was struggling even before losing two starters to a bullying scandal, but Miami surely will eye upgrades in the offseason.

Asked how much longer he wants to play, McKinnie said "just three more" seasons. That'd give him 15 years in the NFL — reaching his goal of playing as long as former teammate Matt Birk, who retired after they won a Super Bowl together with the Ravens in February.

"I don't mind staying here," said McKinnie, who starred at the University of Miami and still makes his offseason home in the area. "I'm not worried about getting another place or anything like that. I'm home. I can sleep in my own bed. As long as we're injury-free, I'll be good."

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Death, taxes and Frank Gore

TAMPA - Death, taxes and 1,000 rushing yards for Frank Gore. The 49ers' running back surpassed that plateau for the third consecutive season and the seventh time in his career Sunday as he took big gouges out of the Tampa defense early and late and finished with 86 yards.

The only seasons that Gore, 30, failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark were during his rookie year when he was the backup to Kevan Barlow and in 2010 when he suffered a broken hip in Week 12.

"Once again, I feel like he is one of the most underrated running backs in the NFL," quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. "He does everything for our offense. He runs the ball. If we ask him to block, he does it. If we ask him to catch a pass, he does it. What he mans to this team and what he contributes really can't be quantified."

Gore entered Sunday's game nursing an ankle injury and needing 69 yards to reach 1,000 yards for the season. He seemed to tweak the injury late in the game but remained on the field. He had 33 yards on the team's game-clinching, 17-play drive in the fourth quarter.

"It's all timing for us, perfect timing," Gore said after the game. "Everybody is getting healthy, and like I said, the fourth quarter, that's when you want to be good. ... We're showing people that we're taking steps."

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Antrel Rolle having best season yet with Giants?

Despite two Pro Bowl seasons and a consistently strong resume, Giants safety Antrel Rolle may individually be topping anything he's done in the past. Some might say (this guy included) that this is the veteran's best season to date.

Rolle, who turns 31 next week, isn't going to argue. He's especially proud of what he's been able to do on the field, in the huddle and in the locker room.

“This is definitely up there as one of my best seasons. I’m not just speaking of interceptions and sacks,” he said. “I think overall performances, as far as what I’ve been asked to do for this defense, how I’ve been able to … more so grab a hold of others, pretty much get a lot of us on the same page at the same time. This is definitely up there as my best or second-best season.”

Statistically, this is already Rolle’s most productive season. His two sacks are a career high. His five interceptions are tied for a career high. His 10 passes defended are tied for a career high. His 77 tackles have him on pace for another 90-plus season.

But what has really stood out to his teammates and coaches is what he means to the team. Rolle is an unquestioned leader. He demands the respect of his teammates, not only for his play, but for his attitude. He helped the team stay together despite an awful 0-6 start.
“Everything I think he thinks of and does is truly in the best interest of our team. As I like to say, when he was elected captain, he’s shown true ownership of this team,” said coach Tom Coughlin.

“He certainly has [grown into the leadership role] in terms of the recognition on the part of his teammates. That’s why I would say that is how he was elected captain [this year].”

Rolle came to the Giants in 2010 after a Pro Bowl season in Arizona. He earned the honor again his first season with the Giants. That year he finished with 100 tackles and one interception. Pro Football Focus rated him in the bottom half of their safety ratings each of his first three seasons in New York. He's 20th out of 87 safeties this season.

Most of the players in the locker room seem to think this has been his best season with the Giants. Coughlin isn’t going to argue with that assessment either.
“I like to think in a body of work it is. He certainly has some impressive numbers. He’s been there and he’s a tough guy," Coughlin said. “He refuses under any circumstance not to be in there. So I think I would say, yeah. In the time that he’s been here, this is a good season.”

Whether or not the rest of the NFL notices is another story. Right now, Rolle is third among strong safeties in the Pro Bowl voting. Chicago’s Major Wright and Troy Polamalu are right on his heels despite down seasons. The top three strong safeties get selected to the Pro Bowl.

It’s not something Rolle concerns himself with, even with the Giants in the midst of a down season and having already been eliminated from the playoffs. Rolle had no idea where he stood in the Pro Bowl voting until I informed him of the most recent results.

“As far as the Pro Bowl, it is what it is. I play for myself, I play for my team, I play for my organization,” Rolle said. “As long as they see my work, that really is the only thing that matters to me.”

It hasn’t been an easy season. Twice (vs. Philadelphia and Dallas) Rolle's been asked to serve as an emergency fill-in at slot cornerback. It's been well documented how it turned out against the Cowboys. It wasn't pretty.

But Rolle didn’t make excuses. He also didn’t boast about how he was successful the first time. The Eagles’ Jason Avant finished with three catches for 33 yards on seven targets in that contest, matched mostly against Rolle.

This is what the Giants have come to expect – reliability, accountability and productivity. Rolle has never missed a game since joining the Giants as a free agent in 2010. He’s never finished with less than 90 tackles. He hasn't complained about his recent ever-changing role or the increase in responsibilities.
And at 30 years old, he might have had his best season yet.

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Bryant McKinnie, Miami Dolphins’ focus: Beat out the Baltimore Ravens

When Bryant McKinnie got to his phone after the Dolphins' wild win over Pittsburgh Sunday, there was a text message from an old friend awaiting him.

Ravens running back Ray Rice, who as of two months ago was McKinnie's teammate, had an urgent question.

"Did you win?" Rice asked.

McKinnie's response: "Yes, we won. We'll make it hard for y'all. As long as I'm still here, I'm going to make it hard."

Has he ever.

The race for the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot is now essentially down to two teams. And it's put the massive left tackle squarely between the team he helped make a champion a year ago and the team he hopes will win the next one.

McKinnie played a large role in the Ravens' Super Bowl run last year. Before the playoffs began, the year-long backup was inserted into the starting lineup and helped shore up a once-leaky offensive line.

The Ravens allowed just six sacks in four postseason games, giving Joe Flacco ample time to throw.

Now, either by causation or coincidence, the same thing has happened in Miami. The Dolphins' pass protection was a train wreck through the season's first six games, allowing a league-high 26 sacks.

That prompted Jeff Ireland to send a late-round pick to Baltimore for McKinnie, who has started every game since.

And while McKinnie hasn't been great, he's been good enough to help at least slow the pass-rushing tidal wave. In the seven games since the trade, the Dolphins have surrendered 22 quarterback sacks -- still not great, but a 27 percent improvement over what they were without him.

"He's picked up the system well, number one. He's fit into the locker room well, number two, and he’s made a good contribution on the field," said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. "He's done a good job."

"I haven't got the full concept of each play," countered McKinnie, who has allowed four sacks in his seven games as a Dolphin. "I know general enough. I basically know who I need to block."

He's blocked well enough to help the Dolphins (7-6) win four of their last six games and become a coin flip to make their first postseason since 2008. But if they do so, it'll come at the expense of the Ravens, who have the same record but are ahead in tiebreakers.

That has led to a lot of Sunday scoreboard watching and -- in the case of Rice -- texting. McKinnie knows his old team has a tougher remaining schedule -- the Ravens play three division leaders to finish the season -- and stated the obvious this week: "I would like to make it over them."

Still, he insists there are no hard feelings toward a team that benched and then ultimately traded him.

The way he explains it, McKinnie wanted to be traded to the Dolphins after his demotion, and the Ravens accommodated his request.

"[Ravens] general manager [Ozzie Newsome] came to me and said, 'I understand where you want to go. Bare with me for two weeks and we'll try to get this thing done and make it happen,'" McKinnie recalled this week.

There were other teams interested in McKinnie, but he only wanted to go to Miami, the town where he attended college and where he lives in the offseason.
McKinnie added: "The conversation that we had, it was like, 'I was a trooper last year. I hung in here, helped us get a Super Bowl. Can you at least respect my wish?' And [Newsome] was professional about it. It happened."

Now that he's finally here in his 12th NFL season, McKinnie doesn't want to leave. While some questioned if he could handle the Miami nightlife if the infamous night owl lived here full-time, McKinnie has stayed out of trouble as a Dolphin.

His contract expires at the end of this season, and while he hasn't yet had any talks with the front office about a new deal, he hopes one happens.
Another playoff push would strengthen his case.

"There's another notch that you have, and you have to turn it up when you get to the end and to the playoffs," McKinnie said. "Once I get in the playoffs, I look at it as, 'I don't know if we're going to win or lose, so I'm going to give it everything I've got. And if we win, I'll give you everything I've got again because you never know when it's going to be over.'"

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Greg Olsen inspired to help other families after dealing with young son's heart condition

The phone connection isn't as clear as it could be, yet the excitement and joy in Greg Olsen's voice is unmistakable when he is asked about his son TJ.

"He's doing great," Olsen said. "He just turned a year [old] in October. He has two of his surgeries behind him, and he's starting to flourish and lead a pretty normal life."

But life for Greg and his wife, Kara, has been far from normal since TJ and his twin sister, Talbot, were born. Talbot was born healthy, but TJ was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition in which the left side of the heart is unable to pump blood properly.

Before he celebrated that first birthday, TJ Olsen already had undergone two heart surgeries. But he has survived and thrived, and his fight has inspired Olsen to donate money for families with similarly-afflicted children.

"As a family, [TJ's condition] snapped us into what's really important," said Olsen, a former Wayne Hills star who is a standout tight end for the Carolina Panthers, who host the Jets on Sunday. "This situation with TJ was about as bad as it could be for us as parents and as a family.

"I think it frames [a different] perspective on everything in your life," Olsen added. "The little things like dealing with injuries and dealing with nagging stuff, it's all trivial and minor compared to the stuff that we've been through."

What helped the Olsens get through it was the fact they were able to hire a live-in nurse for five months between TJ's first and second surgeries, to help monitor him and provide round-the-clock care.

"It's a little overwhelming for a family," Olsen said. "We were able to bring in a nurse who specializes in newborns. … We always had an extra set of hands."
The Olsens, who also have an older son, Tate, believe that extra care helped TJ make rapid progress. And that made them wonder what it's like for families who don't have an NFL player's salary to help pay for things.

"That was really the inspiration behind starting the program," said Olsen, referring to the HEARTest Yard Fund, now part of Olsen's foundation, Receptions For Research (receptionsforresearch.org).

In June, Olsen's foundation donated $289,325 to the Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, N.C., and fundraising efforts are ongoing. Olsen said the money raised will be administered through the hospital to help families in need.

Dr. Benjamin Peeler, chief of pediatric and adult congenital cardiothoracic surgery for Carolinas HealthCare System, said there is a five- to 15-percent mortality rate before the second surgery for babies born with single-ventricle defects such as HLHS.

Peeler said Olsen approached him about two to three months after TJ's first operation about setting up a fund to help families in similar situations.
"I can't say enough about the Olsen family and Kara's family," Peeler said. "They're unbelievable people."

Olsen's foundation first was started to help fund cancer research. His mother, Sue, is a breast cancer survivor. She and his father, Chris Sr., have moved to North Carolina now that the former Wayne Hills football coach and athletic director has retired.

"It's been a treat," Olsen said of having his parents around, noting they usually go out to eat after Panthers home games.

Peeler, TJ's surgeon, said he is progressing well, although he still faces a third surgery at some point to help re-route blood away from the nonfunctioning ventricle. He said TJ is growing rapidly, which is a great sign.

"He's bigger than his twin sister," Peeler marveled. "By all rights, he should be smaller."

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Antrel Rolle: Can't blame coach

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' ninth loss ensured their first losing season since 2004, and may have opened some cracks in the locker room.

After praising the effort he got from his defense and special teams in Sunday's 23-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, coach Tom Coughlin called his offense's performance "pathetic" -- a point of view that appeared to be backed by some Giants players.

"Coach Coughlin can't take any of this blame. I won't allow it," safety Antrel Rolle said. "He can't coach heart. He can't make a player have passion about this game, and that's what we were lacking out there today."

It was then mentioned to Rolle that Coughlin praised the effort of the defense, and he concurred.

"I think the defense came out and played extremely hard," Rolle said.

He then was asked if he was pointing a finger at the offense.

"You all saw the game," Rolle said. "I don't have to say anything. This isn't about pointing fingers, but you saw the game. You know what you saw."
Tight end Brandon Myers was one Giants player who didn't appreciate having his heart questioned, tweeting after the game:

If ppl on this team wanna take shots at me an say I have no passion they are mistaken. I give everything I have each an every week

The Giants generated just 181 yards while being shut out for the second time this season. They had 25 rushing yards on 14 carries, and quarterback Eli Manning threw five interceptions to raise his league-leading total to 25 for the season. They didn't snap the ball in Seattle territory until there was 7:08 left in regulation.

New York was 1 for 10 on third downs, and only one play they ran all day gained 20 yards.

"We didn't block anybody, we didn't make any plays and we didn't create any opportunities for ourselves," Coughlin said. "We're not taking anything away from their defense now -- they're No. 1 in the league for a reason. But there's no excuse for what went on out there today."

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