NFL U Weekly Matchup Guide: Week 16

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All Canes Radio With Phillip Buchanon

Every Thursday Night joins All Canes Radio to bring the latest news on not only current Hurricane football but also proCane news and exclusive interviews with current and former proCanes live from the Titanic Brewery in Coral Ga Gables. Click here to listen to this week’s show and hear our exclusive interview with former Hurricane great DB and current proCane Phillip Buchanon. Buchanon talks about the glory days at “The U” his time with Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders and how his rehab is going. Buchanon also talks about his latest business ventures and what his type of lady is.

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Reggie Wayne catches love from Colts fans, hopes it's not last time

Minutes after catching the winning, 1-yard touchdown pass on "Thursday Night Football," Reggie Wayne visited the NFL Network set to discuss whether or not it was his last reception at home in an Indianapolis Colts uniform.

"Deep down inside, I hope not," Wayne said as the remaining fans in Lucas Oil Stadium chanted "Reggie! Reggie!" in appreciation. "I've been here 11 years. I don't see myself nowhere else, but I do understand the business of it. ... I'm going to treat it like a business, and after the season is over, we'll see what happens.

"I'm aware that I'm 33 years old, but I feel 23," Wayne added. "I feel great. If this is my last game, it's been a pleasure. These fans have been great to me from Day 1. They treated me like I'm a Hoosier."

Wayne, a five-time Pro Bowl receiver, will be a free agent after the season, and he speculated Wednesday that it's possible he won't be back with the Colts in 2012.

After Thursday night's emotional win -- the Colts' second in a row after an 0-13 start -- Wayne reflected on what it was like to open the 2011 season without quarterback Peyton Manning, who hasn't played because of neck surgery.

"It was pretty rough. On top of that, we had Kerry Collins, who really couldn't get the play out in time," Wayne said, taking a shot at the veteran quarterback the team signed after learning Manning likely would be out for the season.

Collins didn't work out, nor did Manning's most recent backup, Curtis Painter. That left Dan Orlovsky, who hung in through a slow start Thursday to toss the TD pass that beat the Houston Texans, 19-16.

Wayne was asked about his relationship with Orlovsky.

"I just walk past his locker and say, 'Just throw left,' " he said.

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Jimmy Graham on pace to break Kellen Winslow's 31-year-old record for receiving yards

Drew Brees isn't the only player on the New Orleans Saints making NFL history this year. His new favorite target, tight end Jimmy Graham, is within striking distance of some all-time receiving records of his own.

With 1,171 receiving yards this year, Graham is on pace for 1,338, which would be the most by a tight end in NFL history, breaking the mark of 1,290 set by Kellen Winslow in 1980. However, Graham also needs to hold off New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is on pace for 1,304 yards this year.

Graham also has a shot at Tony Gonzalez's NFL record of 102 receptions by a tight end, set in 1994. Graham has 87 catches with two games remaining, putting him on pace for 99.4.

Even though Graham knew he had the opportunity for a breakout year in his second NFL season, he admitted that those numbers and records are mind-blowing.

"Definitely," said Graham, who also has nine touchdown catches this year. "You know, being so young and it happening so quickly, I mean obviously it's been a pretty special year. But the records, I don't even think about 'em. It's honestly, I know we've got a big Monday night game coming up, and I honestly don't even know what my stats are.

"For me, I just move on to the next one, and all I can think about is that fumble (in the first quarter last week at Minnesota)."

That miscue was rare. It was the first lost fumble of Graham's career. But even when he has dropped a pass or run the wrong route in the past, Graham has routinely made up for it with a positive-impact play or two.

Heading into this season, knowing he'd have a chance to be the Saints' full-time starter, Graham said one of his biggest goals was to "make an impact play every game."

When making that list of goals, though, Graham said he never really thought about specific numbers like 100 catches or 1,300 yards.

"One of my biggest goals individually was I remember saying I would love to make it to a Pro Bowl," said Graham, who can already book that ticket to Hawaii by this point. "To me, that kind of summed up what kind of year it must have been, including maybe catches and yards and stuff like that. But for me it really hasn't been a focus. It's just been about being healthy for the next one."

The most remarkable thing about Graham's historical pace is that he is playing for an offense that spreads the ball around to so many different playmakers. In fact, no skill position player has made the Pro Bowl for the Saints since Brees and Coach Sean Payton arrived in 2006 - a fact that is certain to change when Graham gets there this year.

Of course everything Graham has accomplished this year is even more amazing considering he's still relatively new to the game. He played just one year of college football after playing four years of basketball at Miami. Then he caught 31 balls for 356 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie for the Saints last year.

Still, Brees said he's not surprised by the numbers Graham is racking up this year. After all, he witnessed another former basketball player, Antonio Gates, emerge into an instant force at tight end with the San Diego Chargers earlier in the decade.

"I've been around a guy that, in particular, you kind of felt like, 'Hey man, if everything works out the way it's supposed to, this guy can be something special.' I definitely feel that way about Jimmy," Brees said. "I couldn't be happier for a guy for where he's come from and where it all started from him (with a difficult upbringing as a child) and where he's at now and where he still has left to go. You just say, man, it's pretty awesome."

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Winning moment not about Luck for Colts' Reggie Wayne

INDIANAPOLIS _ Reggie Wayne doesn't care about the No.1 draft pick slipping away or what happens next year or anything outside of the moment.

See, the great ones live for the moment.

And today, draft prospects be damned, Indianapolis Colts fans should celebrate Wayne's moment.

Wayne, playing perhaps his last home game as a Colt, went high in the end zone, grabbed Dan Orlovsky's pass and beat the Houston Texans, 19-16, on Thursday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. It might have cost the Colts the No.1 pick in next year's draft _ the whole thing shakes out next weekend _ but as a moment, it was as glorious as any Wayne has produced.

Wayne held his arms wide after the catch, a stadium full of stands chanting his name. Then he went over to Orlovsky and handed him the game-winning football.

"Dan called the plays, executed the plays, and did a great job of putting the ball where I could catch it," Wayne said. "For the last few weeks, I've been seeing Dan at his locker, studying the game plan, sweating, looking like he's got a lot on his mind. I'd walk by and just say, 'Hey, throw left. Throw left. Throw left.' He did that today and I'm glad he listened."

Orlovsky said he thought of Wayne's suggestion/chant as he began the 12-play, 78-yard drive that took 97 seconds to reach pay turf.

"It sounds stupid, but it kind of sat in me," Orlovsky said. "I was in my hotel room thinking about the last home game of the season and the question marks about the future. I thought if it ever got to the point where somebody needed to make a play, I wasn't going to go anywhere but him."

If the Colts had lost the game, they would have secured the No.1 pick in next year's draft and the (Andrew) Luck that comes with it. Instead, they're now tied with the Vikings and Rams. Indianapolis (2-14) will play its final game in Jacksonville on Jan.1, and short of benching Orlovsky and leaving Robert Mathis at home, they'll likely win that one, too.

So the top pick may be gone, but it seemed that Wayne's touchdown catch _ and another deep catch that helped set it up _ brought back the Colts' offensive vibe.

Before the game started, Colts owner Jim Irsay told the NFL Network that if quarterback Peyton Manning is healthy, he'll be playing for the Colts next season. He also disputed some hyperbole that the next Manning (Luck, presumably) is in the draft.

If Manning's back, he'll surely want Wayne, who's up for free agency. Maybe the Manning era isn't over. Maybe this sudden possible loss of Luck could force fate a different direction.

Wayne ranked his touchdown, a rare moment of pizzazz in a drab season, as one of his finest.

And it was, because it was a proud player making the clutch play. It was a defiant jab at those who thought the Colts would cash it in because of the losses and the draft-pick situation and the general national dismissal of the team.

Mathis, another free-agent-to-be, seemed to get things started with a sack/strip of T.J. Yates early on.

Wayne, with eight catches for 106 yards, took the fire of pride to the end.

"It's big, not knowing what my future is going to be," Wayne said. "We wanted to get a win. You can't get anything better than this. We kept fighting, kept fighting. Guys believed in each other. The defense did a great job playing football all day. The offense kept chopping wood."

For most of the game, Orlovsky set the offense up with quality direction, but was forced to settle for four Adam Vinatieri field goals as the payoff.
When Neil Rackers made it 16-12 with 1:56 left, the idea of an Orlovsky game-winning drive seemed a fantasy limited primarily to Orlovsky. Oh, and Wayne.

"When it went down to two minutes, I thought, you know, this is what we do," Wayne said. "This is how we make our money right here."

None other than Manning turned to Orlovsky on the sidelines.

"Two minutes," Manning said to Orlovsky, then told him to work to drive within range with one minute left.

How many times has Manning delivered those 2-minute drives? It's second nature. As if emboldened by Manning, and Wayne's constant "throw left, throw left," Orlovsky went to work.

He hit Pierre Garcon for 11 yards. He hit Jacob Tamme for 10 yards. He found Donald Brown for a couple. Then, with less than a minute, he hit Wayne downfield for 34 yards. A couple penalties, a tipped pass that fell short of a wide-open Tamme and a third penalty made it 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line.

Orlovsky threw left.

"I kind of knew he was going to throw it," Wayne said. "I had to sell out my man. He gave me that look before he snapped the ball. I knew it was coming my way and I had to go up and get it."

As the pass sailed toward Wayne, the lousiest season in years didn't matter.

This was one of those moments.

Wayne's moment. Orlovsky's moment. A stadium full of fans' moment.

Enjoy it. The future holds no guarantees.

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Willis McGahee revitalizes career with Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A change in scenery and eating habits has done wonders for Willis McGahee.

By playing in a run-friendly system, along with reuniting with his former position coach, the Denver Broncos tailback has revitalized his career. McGahee, who even eliminated red meat from his diet to become leaner, is on the cusp of his first 1,000-yard season in four years.

A surprise? Maybe to some.

But not to running backs coach Eric Studesville, who lobbied hard for the Broncos to sign the free agent just before camp.

Sure, McGahee was coming off a pedestrian 380-yard season for Baltimore in 2010, but Studesville saw flashes of the vision, the power and the quick feet that made McGahee a two-time 1,000-yard back when they were paired in Buffalo.

Studesville campaigned vigorously on McGahee' behalf. The Broncos listened and were rewarded.

"I see the same intense competitor that's always been there," said Studesville, whose protégé has 990 yards rushing this season.

At first, McGahee's transition to a new team was slow to take root. Without an offseason to get acclimated to his surroundings and digest an intricate play book, McGahee began the year backing up Knowshon Moreno.

That didn't last long. Moreno pulled a hamstring in a season-opening loss to the Raiders, giving McGahee the opening he needed.
Since then, the job has been all his.

And he's flourished, especially when healthy.

The 30-year-old McGahee has had his share of bumps and bruises. He needed surgery to fix a broken finger on his right hand earlier in the season — keeping him out for a game — and is currently hobbled by a nagging hamstring injury. But he fully intends on playing against his old team, the Bills, in his old stomping grounds, Ralph Wilson Stadium, on Saturday.

The Broncos (8-6) are tantalizingly close to securing their first playoff spot since the 2005 season, with the easiest scenario being simply winning this weekend and again in the finale when they host Kyle Orton and the Kansas City Chiefs.

"There's a sense of urgency. We're trying to get the organization to where it was back in the late '90s," McGahee said, referring to when the team won back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

McGahee needs just 10 yards to join Ricky Watters as the only NFL backs to turn in 1,000-yard seasons with three different teams. What's more, McGahee's six 100-yard games this year are tied for the most in the league.

That should get his name in the running for comeback player of the year, right?

"Nope," he said.

How come?

"You have to be hurt" to get that, he explained. "I never went anywhere. So, I'm not a comeback player."

The burly ninth-year running back was eager to sign with Denver and envisioned lots of carries in coach John Fox's run-oriented offense.
After the team struggled to a 1-4 start under Orton, Tim Tebow took over.

Out went the ball-control offense.

In its place has been the read-option, which better suits Tebow's particular skill set.

Turns out, it suits McGahee pretty well, too. He's thrived in this system, even rushing for 163 yards in Oakland last month, the second-highest output of his career. He also broke off a 60-yard TD scamper in that win over the Raiders, showing he still possessed a quick-strike capability.
"I love this offense," McGahee said.

He also serves as the eyes on the field for Studesville, reporting back to his coach if things are in need of tweaking. That's the kind of relationship they've developed over the years.

"He's a great resource on sideline. What he sees, getting a feel for how defenders are playing him, I've got tremendous trust in that," said Studesville, who filled in as interim head coach for the final four games last season when Josh McDaniels was fired. "He's a very sharp football guy."

He's also rubbing off on the younger backs.

Then again, that's not all that hard. Jeremiah Johnson, a second-year back out of Oregon, idolized McGahee while growing up. Johnson used to watch McGahee's games at the University of Miami each week, and then emulate the moves he just saw.

"This is kind of embarrassing, but I called myself Jeremiah McGahee. He was my guy," Johnson said, laughing. "I nearly cried when he got hurt in the championship game."

Even after suffering a serious knee injury in his final collegiate game against Ohio State, McGahee was still selected in the first round of the 2003 draft by Buffalo. He sat out his first season to rehab and recover.

Soon after, Studesville arrived in Buffalo as his position coach and launched McGahee's career.

Now, Studesville's helping re-launch McGahee's career in Denver.

"He's got a magnetic personality," Studesville said. "Not only with his personality but his work ethic. He competes at everything — checkers, cards, bowling. Whatever it is, he is going to want to beat you. That's been a positive for our room."

Fox has certainly been sold on McGahee

"We knew he was capable if just given the opportunity," Fox said. "When he got his opportunity, he shined."

Although he turned 30 in October, McGahee insists he's not feeling his age even with all the hits he takes. To keep fresh, McGahee relies on a regimen of ice baths, massages and visits to the chiropractor. He's also overhauled his diet.

"He takes tremendous care of himself," Studesville said. "He's done that ever since I had him in Buffalo. It's one of the things that adds to his longevity.

"He's just a guy you love having around, because of what he brings — competitiveness, personality and the expectation of success."

Notes: The Broncos practiced in an indoor facility after about a foot of snow fell overnight. ... DBs Brian Dawkins (neck) and David Bruton (Achilles) were limited in practice. When asked about Dawkins possibly playing Saturday, Fox said: "A lot of it is just how he feels."

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Packers won't change if Devin Hester can't play

P Tim Masthay on whether the punt team’s game plan would change Sunday if dangerous Bears PR Devin Hester (ankle) doesn’t play: “No, absolutely not. As far as punting goes, we’re not preparing for one particular returner. We’re preparing for the entire punt return unit and keying on the things they do as a whole.”

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proCane tight ends dot the NFL, including the Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - First, there was Rob Chudzinski. Then Jeremy Shockey. Then Kellen Winslow Jr. Then Greg Olsen.

They are four parts of the legacy of tight ends at the University of Miami, a thread of exceptional players similar to Southern Cal tailbacks and Penn State linebackers. The four of them will be together Saturday when the Panthers host Tampa Bay at Bank of America Stadium.

There are no secret handshakes. Just a shared place in a proud program's history that has stretched into the NFL.

"It's a good line," said Shockey, who points out Kevin Everett and Jimmy Graham as other Hurricanes tight ends who have excelled.

While Winslow and the Bucs are struggling through a 4-10 season that includes their current eight-game losing streak, Shockey and Olsen have played significant roles in the development of Chudzinski's aggressive and imaginative scheme as the Panthers offensive coordinator.

Between them, Olsen and Shockey have combined for 77 receptions for 963 yards and seven touchdowns. "If you put our numbers together, we'd be right up there," Olsen said of their statistical standing in a league seemingly dominated by tight ends.

Three of the top seven receivers in the NFL are tight ends, led by Graham's 87 catches with the Saints. The New England duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez has combined to catch 143 passes from Tom Brady for 1,877 yards and 21 touchdowns. Throw in veteran Tony Gonzalez, who has 74 receptions for 826 yards and seven touchdowns in Atlanta, and the impact of the position is obvious.

The Miami connection is in part responsible for the changing role of NFL tight ends. There have been other game-changing tight ends, from John Mackey to Kellen Winslow Sr., and the position has continued to evolve with ties to Coral Gables, Fla. "I went there because I knew I could play right away because Bubba Franks left," said Shockey, who played at 'The U' in 2000 and 2001 when Chudzinski was tight ends coach. "Winslow made his decision to come there when I left. "Chud was one of the best tight end coaches in America.

It was very simple, just a common sense thing. If you watched television you could see us winning national championships. If you were a tight end, it was a school that has tradition." It's part of what sold Olsen on the Hurricanes program. "We had a good run there for a while," said Olsen, who played at Miami 2004 through 2006. "Shockey, Bubba Franks, they were the reason I went to Miami.

They kind of put it on the map for me. A lot of people didn't really know tight end. That was really the only school at the time that was utilizing guys like us and having fun with it. I didn't overlap with Shock but I overlapped with Kellen for a year and I played with Kevin Everette." The Chud Effect A measure of their success can be attributed to the Chudzinski effect. After playing tight end, he coached it from 1994 through 2003 at Miami before moving to the NFL, where he coached Winslow in Cleveland, and Olsen and Shockey here.

It hasn't surprised Winslow to hear Chudzinski's name mentioned as a future head coach in the NFL. "He should be a head coach," Winslow said. "He has the motivational tools to motivate his players. That's the biggest thing as a head coach. "Can you motivate your guys? Can you get your guys going? He definitely can. His offensive mindset is air it out and be creative and have fun.

He will be a head coach real soon." ESPN analyst Merril Hoge has watched how Chudzinski has handled the development of rookie quarterback Cam Newton while gradually expanding an offense that has used a throwback pass to Newton and a fumblerooskie play in recent weeks.

Chudzinski's ingenuity will draw attention from other NFL teams, Hoge said. "You've got to have a guy that's willing to be flexible and learn, and be able to adapt and develop the guy and take advantage of all the things he does, not just a couple things," Hoge said. "I would consider him (as a head coach). He's done a heck of a job. I'm telling you, that offense is - they can be a little spotty.

I know in the second half they hit some bumps in the road. But gosh, they're a dangerous offense." Part of the success comes from being able to put Shockey and Olsen on the field together. "Most teams have the pass catcher and have the run blocker.

That makes it easy," Olsen said. "(Defenses) put their best cover guy on this guy and their worst cover guy on the guy who doesn't usually go out on routes. "For us, we've been able to alternate. Matchup-wise and formation-wise, we can put people in some difficult positions. Chud has done a really good job with it. It's just going to continue to evolve the longer we do it. It's been a lot of fun."

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Colin McCarthy contributing for Titans

It’s rare that an early read of a draft class matches up to the grade down the road.

But the Titans' rookie class of defenders is scoring very high. The 33 starts for Titans rookie defenders are the most in the NFL. Denver ranks second with 32.

Coach Mike Munchak and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray have not hesitated to rely on kids after a lengthy Jeff Fisher era where the coach was often reluctant to use an unproven player.

Part of it is that Tennessee didn't have the healthy, established and productive veterans who needed to be displaced to get rookies into the lineup.

Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy (five starts) benefited from a groin injury to Barrett Ruud, and now McCarthy looks to be a fixture going forward. Akeem Ayers (14 starts) was a second-round pick the team intended to start from the beginning. Jurrell Casey (13 starts) is a run-stuffing defensive tackle and Karl Klug (one start) is working as a nickel rusher on an interior where the team was thin.

With two games remaining, the group will surpass the franchise high since the Oilers became the Titans in 1999. In 2002, rookies started 33 games on defense, with safety Tank Williams accounting for 16.

Ayers is in line to become just the third defender in the “Titans era” to start every game as a rookie, joining Williams and defensive end Jevon Kearse (1999).

Two seventh-round defenders from the 2011 draft are also well-regarded.

Defensive tackle Zach Clayton has shown some promise. And while cornerback Tommie Campbell is coming off a terrible game where he got benched for special teams penalties, he’s got great speed and is a raw player the Titans think can be molded into a significant contributor.

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Kenny Phillips says team will experience 'something special' against Jets

It started with an answer to a question about the pass rush well in front of Kenny Phillips.

“We haven’t gotten sacks in a while but we still have a great pass rush and they’re ready to get after it,” the Giants’ safety said today after practice. “I like our matchups, I like our chances and I think we’ll be successful this week.”

For the rest of the session with reporters, Phillips made it clear he’s got a very good feeling about the Giants’ chances against the Jets and for the rest of the season.

“A player talking up his own team?” you ask. “What’s the big deal? Happens all the time. For Antrel Rolle, it’s a weekly ritual.”

Well, yeah, but it’s rare to see Phillips speak so confidently. That’s why his words carry weight. Well, that and the fact the last time he puffed out his chest was before the game against the New England Patriots — a game, if you can recall that far back, the Giants won.

Like yours truly, Rolle and a few others, Phillips has seen some giddy-up in the Giants’ gait this week. And he likes it.

“I’m not really that guy,” he said of his being such a public boaster. “I just watched the way we practiced this week, I listened to the guys, I just feel like we’re ready. I really think so.”

He continued, “Like the morale, you would think after losing five of the last six that guys would be down, but you can tell guys are really buying into it, buying in to the defense and into the whole Giants organization. Practice has been crazy. Guys have been running around, just having fun. And I think that’s something we have to get back to — having fun — and that’s what we’re doing. I’m really positive, I feel positive about this week.”
The next reply from Phillips hammered it home: “I mean, it’s going to be something special this week.”

Funny, because Santonio Holmes said similar things on Wednesday when he said the Giants’ secondary misses a lot of tackles and can be beat over the top.

Asked if those comments are “disrespectful,” Phillips replied, “Yeah you could say that. I think it’s very disrespectful, But at the same time, he’s entitled to his opinion. We feel a certain way, we’re not going to put it in the media or whatever but we’ll have it in the back of our heads when we’re out there playing. And he knows that.”

Phillips isn't surprised by the chatter that began in Florham Park and was volleyed back by the Giants on Wednesday.

"That's just the Jets," he said. "They talk a lot; we don't. That's all it is."

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Rob Chudzinski's playbook has no limits

Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has a bag full of tricks and he’s not afraid to use them—even if it means borrowing a play from a kids’ movie.

With Cam Newton under center, Chudzinski is finding fun new ways to use the talented rookie’s athleticism to his advantage.

The latest twist was borrowing a hidden-ball trick very loosely adapted from a play called “the annexation of Puerto Rico” from the 1994 movie the Little Giants to help the Panthers beat the Texans 28-13. The play resulted in a 7-yard touchdown run by fullback Richie Brockel and landed the Panthers on highlight reels across the country.

And it had the Texans chasing an empty-handed Newton, who sold the play perfectly.

“Cam’s ability to run and throw, it just adds another dimension,” coach Ron Rivera said. “It has been kind of neat to see the different things we’ve been able to do with him over the course of the season and show he’s an integral part of what we are and what we’re going to become.

It’s not the first time Chudzinski has ventured into a gadget play to ignite the offense—and probably won’t be the last.

Two weeks against Tampa bay he called for a throwback pass from receiver Legedu Naanee — who originally went to Boise State to play quarterback — to Newton that resulted in a big gain and nearly another touchdown before he was dragged down at the 2-yard line.

Chudzinski has also experimented with using running back DeAngelo Williams in the Wildcat and also had another college quarterback, Armanti Edwards, throw a pass to Steve Smith on Sunday.

Chudzinski declined interviews through the team’s public relations department, saying he was too busy preparing for Tampa Bay on a short week.

But Rivera said the play is another example of Chudzinski’s creative nature, which is just a small part of the reason he brought him to Carolina after landing the Panthers head coaching gig.

“You can sit there and wonder what else can you guys do,” Rivera said. “I think it’s about knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are for each of your players… But we’re not here to get fans excited about (trick plays); we want to get them excited about the fact we can win football games.”

The Panthers didn’t run many trick plays early in the season.

That’s because Chudzinski didn’t have a great grasp on his new roster due to the NFL lockout-shortened offseason.

Chudzinksi’s play call Sunday is sure to become an instant classic on highlight films.

The Panthers ran the play in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against Texans while leading 14-0 and faced with a second-and-6 at the Texans 7.

The Texans were keying on Newton, who entered the game with 13 rushing touchdowns, and bit hard when he took the snap and did a spin move as he rolled out to the right side. What they didn’t see was Newton stick the ball between Brockel’s legs after he’d lined up just a few feet behind the right guard.

“When we put that play in, I never thought in a million years that that play was going to work, let alone get a touchdown,” receiver Brandon LaFell said.

LaFell said the team walked through the play in practice, but had never run it against a live defense.

“It’s one of those plays where if the timing is right and you call it at the right time it’s about as good as it gets,” Rivera said.

While thrilled with how the play worked out, Rivera was more pleased that the Panthers (5-9) were finally able to close out a game against a playoff team.

The fourth quarter has been brutal this season for the Panthers as they’ve lost six games in which they’ve either led or been tied. The Panthers have now won three of their last four games, but this was their first win against a team with a winning record.

“It’s very nice, more so for our players to understand that we have that kind of ability in the locker room and we have guys who can step up and make plays when they have to,” Rivera said.

Wide receiver Steve Smith said every win is important for the Panthers as they look to next season.

“Some people may say that we aren’t playing for anything, what’s the point, but we are playing for the next three Sunday’s and then the first Sunday in September,” Smith said. “Hopefully, if you keep working hard enough, you’ll be on that final roster in September. That’s what you are playing for, future employment.”

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John Salmons cleared for full action

John Salmons (quad) practiced at half-speed on Thursday and according to head coach Paul Westphal, the Kings forward participated in offensive and defensive drills.

Head coach Paul Westphal said "It was good to have him back and he’s cleared for full action." Salmons thinks he should be ready for Monday's home opener vs. the Lakers, although make sure he's at full-speed over the weekend before locking him into your Week 1 lineups.

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Reggie Wayne Says Thursday Could Be His Last Home Game With Colts

Peyton Manning isn’t the only longtime Colt who’s likely to leave Indianapolis next year. One of Manning’s favorite receivers, Reggie Wayne, said today that he thinks he may be leaving the Colts as well.

Asked by a reporter whether Thursday night against the Texans will be his last home game with the Colts, Wayne said that’s entirely possible.

“Well, it could,” Wayne said, in comments distributed by the team. “I am well aware of that and I’ve come to the conclusion that in every athlete’s career they are going to be faced with this decision at some point in time, whether it is a long career or a short career.”

Wayne has been with the Colts for his entire 11-year NFL career, and he hasn’t missed a game since his rookie year. He’s been a staple of the Colts’ offense, but we’ve all seen this year that the Colts have to make massive changes, and with the 33-year-old Wayne becoming a free agent after the season, he’s likely to go elsewhere as the Colts begin a youth movement.

If Wayne is done in Indianapolis, he says he’ll miss the local fans.

“I truly appreciate them,” Wayne said. “They come out with the Reggie signs, and no matter what the situation is they are always there cheering and it could be a little tough. Everybody said it would be a little emotional for me.”

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Clinton Portis on love and lust

During a late afternoon appearance with Dan LeBatard, Portis broke out a Dolla Bill moment for the first time in years, talked about his stripper pole, and answered a question from LeBatard’s dad about the first time he fell in love.

“The first time I fell in love, I don’t think it was love, you know,” Portis said. “I don’t even know how to answer that. I don’t know if it was love. I think it was lust. I was lusting, because as soon as I got to college, it was quickly over. I think I really fell in love for the first time when I got to college to a great woman, and it was a wonderful feeling. I think you really realize when you’re in love how good it feels.”

LeBatard then wisely realized that he should have asked about the first time Portis experienced lust.

“If he would have asked me about the excitement, I would have told him, the first time I had that excitement going on, I knew then, I was addicted,” Portis said. “Hey, the first time I was excited about a woman, I knew right then, I had a serious addiction. It was gonna be hard to change that from that point on.”

These are words Portis has explained before. Here’s how he described Mike Shanahan’s hiring.

“My initial reaction, if we go back to the relationship, was don’t fall in love again,” he said. “Stay lustful. Enjoy the moment for however long it lasts.”

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Pagano said Lewis "didn't miss a beat"

A month-long layoff caused by the turf toe injury on his right foot didn’t prevent Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis from leading the defense in tackles with 10 in Sunday night’s 34-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

That performance was enough to persuade defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to speak glowingly of the 12-time Pro Bowler’s play.

“Excellent. He didn’t miss a beat,” Pagano said Wednesday. “He had a huge impact like he always does. He didn’t miss a beat.”

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Willis McGahee on brink of 1,000-yard season

Broncos running back Willis McGahee needs only 10 yards rushing Saturday at Buffalo for the fourth 1,000-yard season of his NFL career. His opportunity will come against the Bills, the team that made him a first-round pick in the 2003 draft.

McGahee was asked Wednesday what his memories of Buffalo are. "Got drafted there," he said. "It was a good time in my life. I was happy."
The Broncos will be happy if McGahee's sore hamstring continues to feel better. McGahee was limited in Tuesday's practice but was a full participant in Wednesday's practice.

McGahee's emergence as the Broncos' top tailback has fueled their recent run. The Broncos are 4-1 in games when McGahee has had at least 20 carries. Two of the team's biggest losses were Oct. 30 against Detroit (when McGahee didn't play after hand surgery) and Sunday against New England (when he had only two carries in the second half because of the hamstring problem.

"I treat it the same way I have in the past," McGahee said. "If I can get it going, I get it going. If I can't, I can't do nothing about it."

McGahee hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2007 with the Ravens. He rushed for a career-high 1,247 yards in 2005 with the Bills.

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Jon Vilma: Saints aggressive, not dirty

The New Orleans Saints’ defense has faced some nasty allegations lately.

First, the Tennessee Titans called safety Roman Harper a “dirty’’ player. Then, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson said the Saints were intentionally going after his injured ankle in Sunday’s game.

There’s one man who is the unquestioned leader of the New Orleans defense. That’s middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and he had plenty to say on the topic.

"We're an aggressive defense, we've always been an aggressive defense,’’ Vilma said. “I'd rather be labeled that than (not aggressive). We don't do anything intentionally or maliciously.’’

I’ll side with Vilma on this one. I don’t think the Saints are different than most defenses. Part of the job description is to be aggressive. Yeah, there are times when lines can become blurred. But Vilma’s right. Being aggressive is definitely better than the alternative.

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Packers prepare for Devin Hester (again)

Green Bay -- They meet again. Last year, Tim Masthay neutralized Chicago Bears' returner extraordinare Devin Hester in the regular-season finale and NFC Championship. Masthay established favorable field position in two must wins. Now, for the Bears to have a chance at an upset on Christmas Day, Hester will likely have to play a big role. Chicago is decimated by injuries on offense and may start journeyman Josh McCown.

Masthay, fresh off a 71-yard punt at Kansas City, squares off against the man leading the NFL in punt-return average (18.5).

"We’ve had pretty solid production but Devin Hester’s a remarkable returner," special teams coach Shawn Slocum said. "We’ll have our hands full. We’ve got a lot of experience playing him. Let’s do it."

A year ago, Masthay's ability to knife punts through the cold and wind was critical. After Hester's 62-yard punt return for a score helped Chicago edge Green Bay in the teams' first meeting a year ago, he was shut down in the two rematches.

Masthay pinned nine of his 16 punts inside the 20. In the Week 17 win that got Green Bay into the playoffs, Masthay had punts downed at the Bears' 3- and 2-yard line. And in the NFC title game, Hester mustered only 5.3 yards per return. His 58-yarder forced Chicago to start at its own 29-yard line with 3:07 to go, Green Bay clinging to a one-score lead. The Packers eventually held on and reached the Super Bowl.

Of course, with all this attention toward Hester, the Bears may do this again. A trick play -- nullified by a holding call -- completely took the Packers off guard earlier this season.

Overall, Slocum says he's not concerned about the risks in kicking away from Hester. Be it trick plays or a low net. With the Bears' offense struggling mightily to score points -- they have two touchdowns the last three games -- Hester remains their one wild card. Teams continue to try to kick away from him, though he's still done damage on his 24 punt returns this season.

"I’m more concerned with wins or losses over net punt," Slocum said. "One of the formulas for Chicago to be successful is having impact returns from Devin Hester. We’ve got to do a good job managing that part of the game."

Masthay has the 29th most punts in the league. Still, this will be a familiar scene for him -- facing the Bears in December at Lambeau Field. With home-field advantage on the line, he'll probably be a factor again. At Kansas City, three of Masthay's five punts landed inside the 20.

"I thought he was outstanding, His production was huge: 71-yard punt, downed, no return opportunity, kicked it over the returner’s head," Slocum said. "He kicked well under pressure on that first punt that they had the penalty on; outstanding punt, 51 yards, out of bounds.

"He’s doing the same thing. He’s a very diligent worker. I think his technique is such that it allows him to punt in bad weather. In terms of wind, he normally manages it pretty well."

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Time to rest Ray Lewis

Before reading any further, let's make sure we're clear on this point: The Ravens and Steelers are better teams when Ray Lewis is in the middle of Baltimore's defense and Ben Roethlisberger is quarterbacking Pittsburgh.

But the Ravens and Steelers have a better chance at making serious playoff runs if their star players are healthy.

That's why Lewis and Roethlisberger need to take a seat for the next two weeks. It's obvious that Lewis is still bothered by a toe injury and Roethlisberger is limited by a high-ankle sprain. Until the playoffs start, Lewis needs to go back to being a coach on the sideline (where TV cameras can get the usual 100 shots of him) and Roethlisberger needs to be propping that leg up on a couch in a luxury box.

This isn't to diminish the significance of the final two weeks of the regular season. Although the Ravens and Steelers secured playoff spots last weekend, there is still a lot riding on the remaining games. Another loss by the Ravens (10-4) or Steelers (10-4) could cost them the AFC North title and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

This is why it's not an easy decision to rest Lewis and Roethlisberger. It is, however, the smart one. Getting home field in the playoffs is a major advantage. The Ravens and Steelers are a combined 13-1 at home this season. But they have to look at the big picture. Is it really an advantage to be playing at Heinz Field if Roethlisberger can't hit WR Mike Wallace 15 yards downfield? How many would prefer seeing a healthy Roethlisberger playing a postseason game in Denver?

While keeping Lewis and Roethlisberger on the sideline is the best decision, there are no guarantees that it would work. There's a chance that Lewis still will feel pain in his toe after two weeks and Roethlisberger still won't be able to plant that left leg by the time the postseason begins. But this is a chance that both teams need to take.

Pittsburgh could be contemplating that decision right now. On Tuesday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wouldn't commit to Roethlisberger as his starting quarterback Saturday against the Rams.

Asked Monday night if this is an injury that would improve with rest, Roethlisberger said, "I don't know. I'm not a doctor. I'm sure any injury gets better when you rest."

What is certain is that the injuries won't improve by allowing Roethlisberger and Lewis to continue to play. Roethlisberger couldn't follow through on his throws because of the ankle injury, which was the main reason why he was 4-of-14 on passes beyond 15 yards. There were times when he appeared to hop to escape pressure in the pocket.

It was just as painful to watch Lewis play a notch below his usual level in his first game back since Nov. 13. He missed a tackle on San Diego's Mike Tolbert in the second half and struggled in pass coverage, which hasn't been a strength of his for a couple of seasons.

This isn't to put all of the blame for the West Coast losses on these players. Pittsburgh wouldn't have scored a touchdown against the 49ers with Charlie Batch at quarterback, and Baltimore would have gotten lit up by the Chargers if Dannell Ellerbe had been playing inside linebacker.

This just shows that Lewis and Roethlisberger are hurting. They're hurting their teams, and themselves even more. Roethlisberger walked around the locker room after the 49ers loss with what looked like a pound of ice wrapped around his ankle. Lewis spoke to reporters after the Chargers loss with his right foot in a small garbage can filled with ice.

Of course, neither would acknowledge the extent of his injury. "For me personally, I think I came out really healthy, and I’m very excited," Lewis said.

Asked to put a percentage on the health of the toe, Lewis said, “I’m definitely 95 to 100 percent, and I’m not even worried about it.”

The same goes for Roethlisberger, who was asked how his ankle felt compared to the Thursday night game against the Browns. "It hurts," he said. "We'll leave it at that."

The hard part might not be the decision itself. It could be following through with the decision. Neither Roethlisberger nor Lewis wants to sit out games. They're leaders. They don't want to let their teammates down. The Steelers couldn't pull Roethlisberger late in the fourth quarter Monday night even when it was apparent they had lost the game. The Ravens haven't been able to get Lewis off the field on passing situations for the past couple of seasons.

What the teams have to sell these players on is the playoff picture. There is a scenario in which the Steelers could get caught up in an offensive shootout with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The only way Pittsburgh wins that one is with a healthy Roethlisberger. There is a scenario where the Ravens have to shut down top-notch running games from Houston or Denver. Baltimore's best chance at success is with a healthy Lewis.

Roethlisberger and Lewis will want to suit up because each plays with his heart. But for the next two weeks, it's about being smart.

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Willis McGahee handles full work load at practice

Broncos running back Willis McGahee increased his work load to full participation at practice today, just three days after tweaking his hamstring in a loss Sunday to the Patriots.

That McGahee was able to handle the full work load in practice is a good sign as McGahee closes in on his first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2007. McGahee currently has 990 rushing yards, and he could break the 1,000-yard mark on Saturday at Buffalo against the team that drafted him in the first round in 2003.

McGahee played three full seasons for the Bills after sitting out his rookie year while recovering from a major knee injury suffered in his final college game.

McGahee has dealt with several injuries this year, including a broken hand, a sprained ankle and two minor hamstring injuries, but has missed only one full game.

Should McGahee pick up 10 rushing yards in the next two games, he will be the first Bronco to rush for 1,000 yards since Tatum Bell did it in 2006.

"He has been the perfect fit for us," offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said after practice today. "He's been the guy to grind it out for us, and he's exactly what you're looking for."

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Texans make curious decision to sit Andre Johnson against the Colts

Andre Johnson needs to play as soon as he is ready to go so that he will be at or near top speed for the playoffs.

So imagine my surprise that he will not play tomorrow night in Indianapolis, despite his being healthy and ready to go.

It’s an interesting decision Gary Kubiak made to hold Johnson out of the game. While I disagree with it, I can accept that he has a different opinion. But his explanation confused me.

“I would love for Andre to get some playing time before we head into (playoffs),” Kubiak said. “He’s very close to coming back out here with his teammates, but, obviously, with the quick turnaround, it’s not very smart. We’ll get him some time to rest over the weekend.”

Huh? Quick turnaround? From what, exactly?

Johnson didn’t play in Sunday’s game, so he isn’t under a quick turnaround.

I wasn’t there when Kubiak said this, so I don’t get the context and don’t know if a follow-up question was asked, but it sounds like off reasoning. Maybe Kubiak was talking about the turnaround from Johnson’s workout on Tuesday. If so, then I would question whether he should have been put through a strenuous workout only two days before a game.

Typically, on Fridays, NFL teams have little more than a walk-through practice.

“I feel alright,” Johnson said. “Coach Kubiak has the final say. I’d like to play, but we’re going to do what’s best for the team and whatever we feel is best for me.”

No, you shouldn’t rush Johnson back. It would be worse for him to be hurt and have to miss a playoff game than to play it at about 80 percent of his standard when he is in top football game shape.

But he has a better chance of getting into top football game shape if he plays parts of two regular-season games than if he plays in only one. Johnson could have at least gotten a few snaps in on Thursday to get the juices flowing. Perhaps you let him sit the second half so he doesn’t have to go through a shutdown where his hamstring could tighten up on him.

Then he gets 10 days to prepare for the next week against Tennessee. In that one, you let him play even more snaps, and into the second half. That seems smarter to me than holding him out of this game.

Of course, all of this is moot if Johnson wasn’t at 100 percent on Sunday or Monday (but I am told by someone who knows, that he was good to go). Why wasn’t the thinking to give him a solid practice-type workout on one of those days and not on Tuesday, with the idea that he would then be able to get enough rest to play on Thursday?

As is, it is possible that Johnson will step into a playoff game having played only 2 3/4 games in the previous three months. If you saw his return against Jacksonville (two catches for 22 yards), you know he didn’t come back playing anywhere near his norm.

“He played too much,” Kubiak said at the time. “Dang it, I had him in there too many plays. He got tired on me. He took a step forward. It’s going to take a few weeks for him to get back to himself, but for the progress he’s made to play (against the Jaguars) and come out of the game okay, I feel good about that. I just wish I would’ve had 10 or 12 less snaps than I did. I think I left him out there too long.”

That is probably what we can expect from Johnson when he returns. A player not in football shape who has to play limited snaps. It would have been good for that limited game to have been tomorrow, more snaps the next week against the Titans, then (hopefully) full speed for the playoffs.
I’m still riding my preseason prediction of an AFC championship game. But I would feel a heck of a lot better about it if Johnson were on the field tomorrow night.

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Antrel Rolle says team is flashing energy in practice

After the disappointing loss to the Washington Redskins in which they showed little fire at times, the Giants seemed to be motivated during today’s practice. During the portion open to the media (individual drills only), the players and coaches were energetic and encouraging of one another.

It apparently continued for the entire session.

“Everyone was flying around. The energy level was top-notch,” safety Antrel Rolle said.

“That’s something that we need to have day in and day out and not let it fade away no matter what the circumstances are.”

Rolle indicated there was a new message being spread this week.

“Just more energy and everybody hold everyone else more accountable,” he said.

“If you need to pick another guy up a little bit, pick him up. If you need to critique him a little bit, that’s fine, go and critique him. But we need to as a collective effort and that’s something (Coughlin has) been putting a lot of emphasis on this week.”

 In a development that should please Rolle, who said everyone needs to practice, RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) put in limited time today after Coughlin indicated he wouldn’t work at all.

Bradshaw had been practicing only one day per week as he manages a stress fracture in his foot.

Also likely pleasing Rolle was DE Justin Tuck’s practicing and not being listed on the injury report.

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Coach Fewell: I'm not restricting Antrel

While Giants safety Antrel Rolle has talked in back-to-back weeks about wanting to be a ball hawk and not being able to play the role that he envisioned himself playing with the team, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is saying to not point the finger at him.

"I'm not restricting what he can do," Fewell said on Wednesday. "I would be more than happy for him to get a lot of interceptions. I think I said that last week. Hopefully Saturday he can get a lot of interceptions for us."

In the last two weeks, Rolle has made it clear that he wants to be able to play a more traditional free safety role with the Giants and get back to trying to be a ball hawk. With injuries to the Giants, he's play more in the slot this season and has not been playing the deep ball as much.

"Personally I am extremely frustrated being that I am not able to do what I came here to do which is go get the ball," Rolle told WFAN on Monday.

Rolle signed a five-year, $37-million deal with the Giants before the 2010 season. In his five seasons with Arizona, Rolle had 12 interceptions, including four in his final year with Arizona. With the Giants, Rolle has just two interceptions in 30 games, with one interception in each of his two years. The safety envisions himself being more of a threat to opposing quarterbacks than he's being right now.

"I'm a ball hawk, man," Rolle said on Dec. 14. "That is what I do, that is what I love to do. This is my second year in this defense and I understand it like the back of my hand. Unfortunately, with injuries [to teammates] and things of that nature, I haven't been able to do what I want to do. And even when I am back there [in coverage], I don't get the opportunities that a lot of other safeties get for whatever reason."

Though Fewell is deflecting the blame for Rolle's frustration the defensive coordinator said that looking back on it, he could have helped out rookie Prince Amukamara more during Sunday's loss to Washington. The Redskins picked on the rookie in the game, victimizing him for a touchdown and two other big plays.

Fewell called it a tough coverage, advanced coverage and a rookie mistake for Amukamara on Sunday when talking of his problems.

"We could have helped him a little bit more. Hindsight is 20/20," Fewell said. "So you're asking me from my hindsight. Did we work on the coverage? Yeah, we worked on the coverage. He knew how to execute the coverage and knew what to expect within the coverage. Would I do it to him again? Hindsight is 20/20. Yeah, I would try to get him into a different coverage obviously."

There will be no rollover effect from Sunday's benching in the second half for the rookie.

"Well play him," Fewell said. "He'll play this week. No doubt. I think he's up to the challenge."

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Report: Ryan Braun’s positive test a result of medication, not PEDs

You’ve seen it before. A big-name athlete tests positive for a performance enhancing drug, refutes the test to no avail and gets hit with public scrutiny, and often a suspension.

But the announcement of Ryan Braun’s positive test for a banned substance on Dec. 10 and the recently-named National League MVP’s vehement denial led some Brewers fans to speculate that perhaps the positive result had come from something else. Like, say for instance, medication for a “private” ailment.

Well, it appears there might just be something to that.

TMZ reported Monday that Braun tested positive for a “medication he’s taking for a private medical issue — NOT performance enhancing drugs.”
That certainly leaves much to the imagination (scour a few Brewers message boards and you’ll get a few more ideas), but the bigger question is: does it even matter?

Whatever medication Braun took, he is responsible for being aware of its ingredients. And if a banned substance was a component of that medication, he’s no less guilty than female fertility drug connoisseur Manny Ramirez or a human growth hormone user in the eyes of Major League Baseball’s policy.

BALCO founder Victor Conte knows a thing or two about that policy. Here’s what he told San Francisco’s KNBR during a radio interview with Gary and Larry:

“The first thing I hear that they’re saying is it’s an extremely high level, the highest that’s ever been recorded. Are they talking about in baseball or are they talking about in general? ... I’m not sure about that, but this is a double-whammy for him. Unless there’s some chain-of-custody issue, other technical problem during the collection and transport process, he’s basically dead in the water. ... I believe he’s going to serve the 50-game suspension.”

But even if Braun cannot avoid a 50-game ban, could the identity of the substance save his MVP award? And should it?

Until the league completes its investigation, Braun can continue to claim innocence all he wants — and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers can continue to support him ‘100 percent’. But even with this latest development, things don’t look good for the Hebrew Hammer.

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Dedrick Epps signed to practice squad

The Jets have signed TE Dedrick Epps to the practice squad. He was originally drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 draft by the Chargers. He has previously spent time with both Miami and Indianapolis.

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Rookie Matt Bosher is booming his punts

FLOWERY BRANCH –  Falcons coach Mike Smith has been pleased with the progress of rookie punter Matt Bosher. (BTW, he wasn’t too happy with the blocked punt vs. Jax, but that wasn’t on Bosher).

“He’s really helped us in the field position battle,” Smith said. “When you win the field position battle, it usually leads to good things. It also can lead to winning the time of possession battle.”

Bosher, a sixth-round pick from Miami, got off to a bumpy start but has come on over the past six games. During those games, he’s averaged 45.9, 45.4., 33, 50.4, 50.5 and 40.8 yards. His season averages are a respectable 42.1 yards gross and 38.5 yards net.

“The special teams players have been getting down field and helping out on my punts by forcing a lot of fair catches and making tackles so my net average is good,” Bosher said.

Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong likes to utilize specialty punts in order to enhance the coverage. Bosher had to learn a lot about directional punting.

“If you can get a guy pinned down in the corner with most of your team over there covering him, he doesn’t have anywhere to run,” Bosher said. “We are just trying to give our coverage guys the best chance to make the best play.”

Bosher battled through his early season problems, averaging less than 40 yards per punt over his first five games. He credited Armstrong, long snapper Joe Zelenka and kicker Matt Bryant with helping him through that rough stretch.

“They kept me mentally strong and allowed me to find a groove and I started to play to my potential,” Bosher said.

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Clinton Portis on Tim Tebow

Having transcribed more Clinton Portis radio interviews than possibly any living human, I was thrilled to learn that the former Redskins star would be on both Mike & Mike and Colin Cowherd’s program during a Tuesday trip to Bristol. Portis made headlines virtually every Tuesday in D.C., and this would be like a nostalgic trip to free blog traffic land.

Except this was a different Portis, one who wore a fancy suit for his interviews and spoke carefully and didn’t mention a single word about 53 men’s packages. Guess nothing stays the same.

If there was one highlight, it was Portis twice predicting that the Houston Texans would face the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. And that was that.

But just in case you’re curious, here’s Portis’s thoughts about whether the Tim Tebow phenomenon is sustainable.

“I think anything is possible,” he told Cowherd. “You know, it’s the NFL. Like you said, Willis [McGahee] is having a great year out in Denver, Tebow [is] managing that team. With the defense playing the way they are, all he has to do is manage the game, and don’t turn it over, don’t put the Broncos in a bad situation

“And it’s working for him. How is it working? I have no clue, but so far it’s working. And it’s only a matter of time before becoming exposed will hurt you. Maybe they were exposed playing the Patriots. If you cause a turnover or if you hit Tebow before he gets started, that’s yet to see.”

Then Cowherd asked Portis if Tebow could sustain the sort of hits he’s been taking for a seven-or-eight-year career.

“Well, we really haven’t seen anyone do it, [but] Tebow is a different specimen and it’s possible,” Portis said. (Really, I’m transcribing this accurately.) “You’re gonna get beat up...[but] it’s up to Tebow how long his body can hold up, how long can he take it, how long can this work before someone exposes it.”

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Devin Hester struggling through injury

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears return man Devin Hester said Tuesday he is hurting emotionally as well as physically in dealing with the limitations of a sprained ankle he first injured six weeks ago and tweaked again last week.

"It's very hard not being able to be yourself," said the Bears receiver and record-setting return specialist. "That's the hardest part."

Hester, appearing Tuesday night with teammate Earl Bennett and Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson and Ryan Grant at a Nike-sponsored touch football event featuring more than 100 local high school athletes at Soldier Field, has seen his play diminish as of late.

Since hurting his ankle against the Eagles on Nov. 7, he has had just four receptions for 47 yards, not catching a pass in four games. In the Bears loss to Seattle on Sunday, Bennett took over returning punts in the third quarter.

Hester said the injury, along with assorted bumps and bruises, have affected his entire game, including his judgment.

"Because you can't give it that burst like you want to," he said. "Any fast guy, if you have a sprained ankle, it just eliminates what you can do. It's like a quarterback with two broken fingers ...

"It shows a little bit, let's put it that way, it shows a little bit. I don't feel like myself but at the same time this is the NFL and you have to fight through things like that."

Hester said he never considered not playing against the Seahawks or Sunday in Green Bay.

"If I can walk, I'm going to go, let's put it that way," he said. "I might not be able to run but if I can walk, I can go out and at least try my best."

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Calais Campbell to get $30M over 5 years?

Mike Jurecki of XTRA Phoenix suspects that Calais Campbell's new deal with the Cardinals will be worth roughly $30 million over five years.
Jurecki guesses that the deal will include $10-12 million guaranteed. In July, the Redskins gave DE Stephen Bowen $27.5M over five years with $12.5M in guarantees. Bowen and Campbell play similar positions, although Campbell has been more effective, particularly as a pass rusher. He's also only 25.

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Ray Lewis practicing for Ravens

The Ravens appear to have gotten out of Sunday's loss to the San Diego Chargers with no new injury concerns.

During their afternoon practice today, only defensive end Cory Redding and kicker Billy Cundiff were not present. Redding has been dealing with an ankle injury, but he was able to play Sunday. Cundiff is still doing with a sore left calf muscle. Cundiff hasn't practiced much the past two weeks.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said yesterday that the team will have to look seriously at Cundiff's condition during the week.

Meanwhile, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who made his return Sunday after missing four consecutive games with a toe injury, was participating. Cornerback Lardarius Webb also was out there, a good sign for his availability this weekend against the Cleveland Browns.    

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Willis McGahee practicing for Broncos

Practicing today for the Broncos are running back Willis McGahee, who missed the second quarter and was limited in the second half against New England with a hamstring injury, and safety David Bruton, who did not practice or play last week because of an Achilles injury.

The Broncos can clinch the AFC West title Saturday in Buffalo by beating the Bills, combined with an Oakland loss to Kansas City. The Broncos could also secure at least a wild card spot with a win and losses by the Jets, Bengals and Titans.

There is no scenario in which the Broncos (8-6) could secure a postseason berth this weekend if they lose to Buffalo. In that case, the division title and wild card spots would be determined on Jan. 1, when the Broncos host Kansas City.

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Andre Johnson expected to play in Week 17

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle expects Andre Johnson (hamstring, out) to play in Week 17 against the Titans.

It sounds like it'd be a tuneup kind of appearance, getting Johnson "ready for his first playoff appearance." Johnson insists he could play in Week 16 if the Texans allowed him, but they're shutting him down for one more week.

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Vilma says health is 'good enough' to play

When asked how he's feeling health-wise, LB Jonathan Vilma said the best answer is simply, “good enough.” Vilma played vs. the Vikings despite being questionable for the game with an ailing knee. Vilma has missed four games this season with his knee injury.

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Reggie Wayne won't phone it in for Colts

Reggie Wayne's 72nd career touchdown catch was neither his most spectacular nor his most important. There's a chance it could even be his last for the Indianapolis Colts, depending on how the offseason shakes out.

But Wayne, the 11-year receiver out of the University of Miami, preferred to call his 18-yard reception of a Dan Orlovsky pass that gave the Colts the lead for keeps in their first win of the season "routine."

"Just ran what we call a corner route and I'm just glad Dan looked my way and gave me the opportunity to make a play," Wayne said. "He threw a pretty good ball and the rest was just catching it."

The third-quarter touchdown put the Colts on top 10-6 en route to a 27-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Indy (1-13) will be back at Lucas Oil Stadium again on Thursday night to host the Houston Texans (10-4). And while the Colts have been tabbed almost a touchdown-underdog, they at least won't carry the specter of a winless season on their shoulder pads.

"It was good for us to go out here and win," said Wayne, one of several veteran players in the final year of a contract as the Colts decide whether to reload with the possible return of Peyton Manning or rebuild through the draft. It was great to win at home.

"Hopefully, it's contagious. Hopefully, we can win these next two games which are divisional opponents and go out have some good thoughts at the end of the year and look back on this and hopefully be better next year."

Until Wayne's touchdown catch — and, for that matter, throughout a shaky fourth quarter — it looked like the Colts might be adding to a bank of bad memories. The offense was stagnant and a fumble gave the Titans the halftime lead and momentum.

But good defense and a penalty on a punt return gave the Colts field position, and they managed to drive 43 yards in seven plays, the last a pass to the left corner of the end zone that Wayne hauled in while tip-toeing the chalk.

"He ran a great route and I just threw it to a spot where he could make a play on it and he made a great play — which he continues to do," said Orlovsky. "Every time he walks by my locker during the week he says, 'throw left' and I'm finding it is pretty easy to do."

It hasn't been a great season for Wayne or the Colts. The only quarterback he ever had worked with in the NFL was Manning, and he's been through three this year — Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and now Orlovsky.

A string of seven 1,000-yard seasons is in jeopardy (he has 59 catches for 781 yards and three touchdowns with two games to go). Only Marvin Harrison (eight), Tim Brown (nine) and Jerry Rice (11) have more in NFL history.

That's why a man with 846 career receptions for 11,529 yards — all second in franchise history to Harrison — isn't that impressed by a single score.
"Snaps are down, passing opportunities are cut down," he said. "I faced reality a long time ago that individual goals are probably not going to be reached. But it's not about that. We have to have the mentality to win these last three games."

That would certainly change the offseason strategy, with both Minnesota and St. Louis sitting at two wins, ready to snatch the No. 1 pick from the Colts.

But as they've said for weeks now, the opportunity to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck never has been a goal.

Sunday's win proved that players like Wayne haven't packed it in, said coach Jim Caldwell.

"It certainly has a lot to do with the veteran players that hung in there together. It certainly has to do with the type of men that we also have in our organization, they are men of character and integrity. They are not a bunch of guys that complain a whole lot and things of that nature."

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Dockett, Calais Campbell Lead Holiday Cheer

They spend the season anchoring the defensive line, but Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell took turns as Christmas pillars for needy children Monday and Tuesday.

Holding their annual events – Dockett’s “Happy Holidays With Nine-O” and Campbell’s “Shop With a Jock” – is about, in technical terms, the two NFL stars putting up their own money so kids will get a new toy or two they might not have otherwise received.

It always reaches a far deeper level for each player, however.

“It’s always been in my heart that once I was able to give back that I would,” Dockett said. “I have been blessed to make it this far in my career. This is just a small part of it, I do a lot in the offseason for kids, trying to help the next generation out and maybe motivate other guys in the NFL and NBA to get out and do things for the kids, especially once that aren’t privileged.

“This is one of my best times of the year. We have fun.”

Both players had teammate support. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald showed up at both places, serving as a cashier at the Toys R Us (Dockett, who was bagging on Fitzgerald’s aisle, joked that the two of them would have worked the jobs permanently had the lockout lasted).

The defensive line was well-represented, with David Carter, Dan Williams, Vonnie Holliday, Ricky Lumpkin, Ronald Talley and Nick Eason all made appearances, along with others like Paris Lenon, Stephen Williams and Anthony Sherman.

“The holidays are giving back,” Eason said. “All NFL players, we are all blessed in our own lives, and it obviously comes with financial stability. It’s important for us to give back, to give our time and let people know we have a lot more going on than just playing football on the field.”

Eason had his giving-back moment at Campbell’s evening. One kid wanted to get a Wii video game system, cost well above the $100 limit. Eason picked up the difference.  

Dockett gave a shopping spree to 100 needy kids from south Phoenix. Campbell gave a night to remember for 50 homeless children from the UMOM New Day Center.

“I love the kids, and seeing their faces,” Campbell said. “I’m in a position to give back, and they are at an important time in anyone’s life.”

The players spent the time helping the kids choose their gifts – watching Fitzgerald at Wal-Mart shepherd three tween girls through their picks was a sight – and doled out advice on working hard and staying positive.

“To see these kids and their smiles when they walk through the door, to give them a high five and get toys for Christmas, that’s what it is all about,” Holliday said. “To be a player and a Cardinal, to give back, that’s what it’s all about.”

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Jon Vilma flipped channel after Roethlisberger INTs

LB Jonathan Vilma said he watched the Niners-Steelers game Monday night because of the playoff implications. Vilma said after he saw Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger throw his second INT that he changed the channel to watch "Sherlock Holmes" saying he was bad luck. The Niners won, keeping the Saints as the NFC third seed.

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Clinton Portis picks the Eagles to win the NFC East

Former NFL running back Clinton Portis made the media rounds on Tuesday, either to get his name in circulation for a late-season signing or to lay the foundation for a post-football media career.

After spending most of the day at ESPN, Portis made the trip from Bristol, Connecticut to Stamford for an on-set visit with Russ Thaler of NBC SportsTalk.

Somewhat surprisingly, Portis picked the Eagles to continue their late-season push to the playoffs and win the NFC East.

Crazy as it sounds, the Eagles need only to win their final two games (at Cowboys, vs. Redskins), see the Giants lose to the Jets on Christmas Eve and then the Giants beat the Cowboys on New Year’s Day.

So Portis may be right.  The other playoff teams in the NFC will hope he’s wrong, because the Eagles could end up being the toughest out in the entire field.

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Antrel Rolle: 'Washington made me put my foot in my mouth'

Giants safety Antrel Rolle won’t be making any more predictions about how many times the Giants would beat opponents if they faced off 100 times.

He passed on such a question today in regards to the Jets, who the Giants face Saturday with both teams desperately fighting for a playoff berth.

“I really think I’m done answering that question,” Rolle said with a laugh Monday during his regular weekly spot on WFAN radio. “Washington made me put my foot in my mouth on that question, and I think I still have it in there.”

Rolle said after the Redskins beat the Giants in Week 1 that Big Blue would beat them 95 times out of 100. Then last week, he changed that to 99 out of 100.

Of course, Washington won both games, sweeping the Giants for the first time since 1999. And Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman said today that Rolle’s comments motivated them and made them feel “disrespected.”

“Definitely. I mean, how can you take that comment any other way?” Grossman said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I mean, 99 out of 100 times they are going to beat us? And we beat them two in a row this year? I’m not going to the casino with him anytime soon.”

Rolle said the Giants did not take Washington lightly, especially after the season-opening loss. But he said he would not take back his “99” comment if he had the opportunity.

“The Redskins were the better team than the Giants for the 2011 season,” Rolle said. “That’s not going to take away anything what I feel about the organization. But actions definitely speak louder than words. And they were a better team for 2011 and that’s what it is.”

But despite that, he said the Giants remain a confident bunch with the Jets and Cowboys remaining on the schedule. He reminded listeners: They play best when the odds are against them.

“There’s going to be fight come tomorrow at practice. There’s going to be fight come Saturday at the game,” Rolle said. “We know what we have on the line. And unfortunately we made this extremely hard on ourselves. But as the record shows, we play a lot better when our backs are truly up against the wall. Right now it’s either win or go home.”

He added that the game on Christmas Eve could determine which New York team does — or doesn’t — head to the playoffs.

“It’s a huge game. The loser’s finished. And we’re definitely trying not to be in that category,” Rolle said. “So we’ll have to pump ourselves up and do whatever it takes and make sure we’re on the same page, try to make sure we have everyone on board, that’s coaches and players included. We got to make a run for this thing.”

Rolle also isn’t pleased with the New York media, saying reporters took his comments after the loss to the Redskins and made it sound as if he was calling out Justin Tuck (or possibly Ahmad Bradshaw) for missing practices during the week but still playing on gameday.

“First of all, my comments weren’t directed to anyone in particular,” he said. “And I know the media — as always — was trying to pinpoint one of our guys, which is Justin Tuck. So further off I’m going to go by saying this: When I said what I said, I didn’t pinpoint neither guy or name call anyone. I wasn’t speaking about anyone in particular.”

Rolle had said after the loss that his teammates need to hold each other “accountable” and that the Giants need to “push through” injuries to participate in practice so they’re “in sync” with the team on Sunday.

“If you’re injured, so be it,” he said Sunday. “You’re injured. But nicks and bruises? Every one needs to be on the field man.”

Only Tuck (toe injury) and Bradshaw (stress fracture in his foot) missed practices during the week, but played Sunday.

But Rolle insists his rant wasn’t directed at any individual in particular.

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Ryans questions how Shockey focused on national anthem

We already knew Jeremy Shockey was patriotic. Dudes don't get prominent tattoos of sneering bald eagles draped in American flags without loving them some U.S. of A.

Shockey reiterated this stance Sunday, when he called out members of the Texans for not giving proper attention to the national anthem before the Panthers' 28-13 win at Reliant Stadium.

As you can imagine, the Texans were a bit dumbfounded regarding Shockey's comments -- particularly his attention to detail. Shockey said he noticed 10 Houston players not at attention.

"If he's so patriotic, why was he looking at our bench instead of the flag?" Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans said Sunday, according to the Houston Chronicle. "Where did he come up with the number 10? Was he counting? Why was he paying attention to us during the national anthem?"

It was Ryans whom Shockey beat for a 9-yard touchdown during the third quarter, prompting an exuberant celebration by the 31-year-old tight end. Ryans found it ridiculous Shockey could come up with his theories from 50 yards away.

"Of course, our players are patriotic," Ryans said. "We respect the flag and America and our soldiers that are fighting for our freedom."

After his postgame rant, Shockey took to Twitter with a series of patriotic messages, including "GOD bless America" and "Stand tall and proud. It's our duty as citizens to pay tribute to the ones that gave us our freedom."

Seriously though, Shockey was all in on America on Sunday. Makes you wonder if he watched Bill Pullman's speech from "Independence Day" before kickoff.

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Jimmy Graham Needs 120 more Yards To Break NFL Record

The sophomore sensation set another record in his second season with New Orleans, becoming the first tight end in franchise history to record nine touchdowns in a season with an impressive second-quarter endzone grab. He is only 120 yards away from breaking the 31-year old single-season NFL record for yards by a tight end, set by the father of another proCane, Kellen Winsow Sr., with the San Diego Chargers in 1980. Graham, who now ranks fifth in the NFL with 1,171 receiving yards on the season, moved into second place in receptions (87) among all pass-catchers with his seven-catch performance.

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Willis McGahee having a hard time staying injury-free

RB Willis McGahee is an offensive lynchpin but his health is a concern the last six weeks. A hamstring injury knocked him out of one game, limited him in another. A knee injury ended one game, limited him in the next. Now, he's battling another hamstring issue on a short week.

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Cardinals, Calais Campbell working on long-term deal

Cardinals GM Rod Graves hopes to reach a long-term deal with impending free agent DE Calais Campbell "sooner rather than later."

"We've been in negotiations for some time," Graves said. "Not only has Calais performed well on the field, but he's also been superb off the field as a representative of this team." Campbell leads the team with seven sacks, has blocked three field goals, and grades out as an elite run defender in Pro Football Focus' player ratings.

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Rob Chudzinski’s playbook has no limits, borrowing from the Little Giants

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has a bag full of tricks and he’s not afraid to use them — even if it means borrowing a play from a kids’ movie.

With Cam Newton under center, Chudzinski is finding fun news ways to use the talented rookie’s athleticism to his advantage.

The latest twist was borrowing a hidden-ball trick very loosely adapted from a play called “the annexation of Puerto Rico” from the 1994 movie the Little Giants to help the Panthers beat the Texans 28-13. The play resulted in a 7-yard touchdown run by fullback Richie Brockel and landed the Panthers on highlight reels across the country.

And it had the Texans chasing an empty-handed Newton, who sold the play perfectly.

“Cam’s ability to run and throw, it just adds another dimension,” coach Ron Rivera said. “It has been kind of neat to see the different things we’ve been able to do with him over the course of the season and show he’s an integral part of what we are and what we’re going to become.

It’s not the first time Chudzinski has ventured into a gadget play to ignite the offense — and probably won’t be the last.

Two weeks against Tampa bay he called for a throwback pass from receiver Legedu Naanee — who originally went to Boise State to play quarterback — to Newton that resulted in a big gain and nearly another touchdown before he was dragged down at the 2-yard line.

Chudzinski has also experimented with using running back DeAngelo Williams in the Wildcat and also had another college quarterback, Armanti Edwards, throw a pass to Steve Smith on Sunday.

Chudzinski declined interviews through the team’s public relations department, saying he was too busy preparing for Tampa Bay on a short week.
But Rivera said the play is another example of Chudzinski’s creative nature, which is just a small part of the reason he brought him to Carolina after landing the Panthers head coaching gig.

“You can sit there and wonder what else can you guys do?” Rivera said. “I think it’s about knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are for each of your players... But we’re not here to get fans excited about (trick plays); we want to get them excited about the fact we can win football games.”

The Panthers didn’t run many trick plays early in the season.

That’s because Chudzinski didn’t have a great grasp on his new roster due to the NFL lockout-shortened offseason.

Chudzinksi’s play call Sunday is sure to become an instant classic on highlight films.

The Panthers ran the play in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against Texans while leading 14-0 and faced with a second-and-6 at the Texans 7-yard line.

The Texans were keying on Newton, who entered the game with 13 rushing touchdowns, and bit hard when he took the snap and did a spin move as he rolled out to the right side. What they didn’t see was Newton stick the ball between Brockel’s legs after he’d lined up just a few feet behind the right guard.

“When we put that play in, I never thought in a million years that that play was going to work, let alone get a touchdown,” receiver Brandon LaFell said.

LaFell said the team walked through the play in practice, but had never run it against a live defense.

“It’s one of those plays where if the timing is right and you call it at the right time it’s about as good as it gets,” Rivera said.

While thrilled with how the play worked out, Rivera was more pleased that the Panthers (5-9) were finally able to close out a game against a playoff team.

The fourth quarter has been brutal this season for the Panthers as they’ve lost six games in which they’ve either led or been tied. The Panthers have now won three of their last four games, but this was their first win against a team with a winning record.

“It’s very nice, more so for our players to understand that we have that kind of ability in the locker room and we have guys who can step up and make plays when they have to,” Rivera said.

Wide receiver Steve Smith said every win is important for the Panthers as they look to next season.

“Some people may say that we aren’t playing for anything, what’s the point, but we are playing for the next three Sunday’s and then the first Sunday in September,” Smith said. “Hopefully, if you keep working hard enough, you’ll be on that final roster in September. That’s what you are playing for, future employment.”

Notes: Rivera said he’s concerned about cornerback Captain Munnerlyn’s right hamstring which forced him to leave in the third quarter. Rivera said it’s not torn but there’s a chance it could keep him out against Tampa Bay. ... Also, defensive end Charles Johnson has a sore back and safety Charles Godfrey injured his left shoulder that has been bothering him.

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Tuck and Rolle on "same page"

Justin Tuck said he spoke with Antrel Rolle and the two are “on the same page” after Rolle made post-game comments about how Giants players need to practice and fight through minor injuries if they can.

Rolle reiterated in his weekly interview with WFAN that he was not pointing fingers at any Giant, especially Tuck, who missed two days of practice last week with a toe injury. Tuck and running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) were the only Giants to miss two days of practice last week before going through a limited practice on Friday and playing on Sunday. Safety Kenny Phillips (knee) was limited all week in practice and played as well.

“If you know ‘Trel, then you know he’s one of those guys who try to light fires under guys,” Tuck said on his weekly interview on WFAN on Monday night. “And if it was directed at me then whatever. But I don’t think it was and I’ve talked to him since.”

“Sometimes in the heat of the moment, I know ‘Trel, he’s a competitor and I know he was frustrated after this loss,” Tuck continued. “So, sometimes you say things and not necessarily knowing what the ramifications are gonna be. I talked to ‘Trel since and we’re on the same page –- there’s no animosity either way between me and him and I know a lot of people are going to ask that question this week.”

Rolle reiterated on Monday that his comments were made to describe what the Giants' mentality as a team needs to be if they want to win these last two games and make the playoffs.

“My comments weren’t directly to anybody in particular,” Rolle said on WFAN. “And I know the media as always are trying to pinpoint one of our guys, which was Justin Tuck. I didn’t pinpoint and neither did I name-call anyone. If we are going to make the run that we need to make, we need to have everyone on board, whether it is nicks or bruises, we have to learn how to push through it. I am saying it from a mental aspect.”

“If you can push yourself through little things like that, then you can push yourself through other things,” he added. “Then the media is trying to come and say well Tuck didn’t practice [last] week. In my eyes, Tuck played a positive game from me seeing what I can see on the field.”

Head coach Tom Coughlin said there is a legitimate reason if a Giant is not practicing during the week.

“I do know this: every player that is medically cleared to practice practices and every player that is not medically cleared to practice does not,” Coughlin said. “It is all a matter of whether or not the player comes out the medical room with a tag that says he is out for the day or limited.”

“Of course, this time of the year, there is a lot of that,” Coughlin continued. “I am sure there is frustration there and I am not sure that is the mechanism in which you express your frustration.”

Speaking about the team overall, Rolle wants every Giant to give the team everything they got in these next two games.

“Legitimate injuries are legitimate injuries,” Rolle said. “I am not saying be Superman. But I am saying if you can give us a little bit more, give us a little bit more. It all starts in practice. We need everyone on board if they can be on board.”

Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said Rolle’s comments were taken in the right manner.

“I always believe in what Antrel Rolle says,” Kiwanuka said. “He’s usually pretty spot on. He’s not necessarily calling out individuals, but as a team, if you can be out there on the practice field, then you need to be out there.”

“Whenever you have a certain number of people [not practicing], regardless of what point in the season you’re at, it’s not good for the team,” Kiwanuka added. “I agree. You can’t really judge somebody else’s injury. Everybody who’s been in the league understands that. If you can’t go, you can’t go. But we just need everybody to push as hard as they can so that we can have everybody out pulling the line in.”

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proCanes Extend TD Streak to 4 Regular Season Weeks

Reggie Wayne started a new streak last week by scoring 56-yard TD (his 1st TD since Week 1) finishing the game with 5 receptions for 122 yards and Jimmy Graham added 2 TDs to go along with his team leading 84 yards on 5 receptions for the New Orleans Saints in their victory over the NY Giants in Week 13 of the 2011 NFL Season.

This Week there were FOUR proCane TDs. The day was started off by Jeremy Shockey and was capped by a Reggie Wayne TD.

To see the old full 149 week streak click here.

Week 15 2011:
Reggie Wayne - 1 TD - Indianapolis Colts
Jimmy Graham - 1 TDs - New Orleans Saints
Jeremy Shockey - 1 TD - Carolina Panthers
Santana Moss - 1 TD - Washington Redksins
Frank Gore - 1 TD - San Francisco 49ers

Week 14 2011:
Vince Wilfork - 1 TD - New England Patriots
Jeremy Shockey - 1 TD - Carolina Panthers
Greg Olsen - 1 TD - Carolina Panthers
Santana Moss - 1 TD - Washington Redksins
Frank Gore - 1 TD - San Francisco

Week 13 2011:
Willis McGahee - 1 TD - Denver Broncos

Week 12 2011:
Reggie Wayne - 1 TD - Indianapolis Colts
Jimmy Graham - 2 TDs - New Orleans Saints

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Ryan Braun: Medication NOT Steriods to Blame for Dirty Banned Substance Test

Ryan Braun's positive test for banned substances was caused by medication he's taking for a private medical issue -- NOT performance enhancing drugs ... this according to sources directly connected with Major League Baseball.

We're told the reigning National League MVP is adamant he has not taken drugs or steroids of any kind.

One source simply told us ... "The medication contained banned substances resulting in the positive test."  We're also told prior to taking the dirty test, Braun had always tested negative for banned substances.

The nature of Braun's medical ailment is unclear.

It's also unclear if the Milwaukee Brewers star knew the substances were in his medication before he took it -- though it seems highly unlikely.

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Vince Wilfork: 'Yeah, I Tebowed'

Near the end of the Patriots' victory over the Broncos today, after the Patriots stopped the Broncos one last time, Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork dropped to one knee and performed Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow's signature move.

"Yeah, I Tebowed," Wilfork said. "Absolutely. Everybody in the world was hearing about this guy, and he's a very good athlete. I said it last week, he's a winner. You look at his whole resume, and he knows how to win. Every time you speak to a team, or to little kids, about winning, I'm pretty sure his name is going to come up. So, however he do it, he do it."

"I'm pretty sure I won't be the last one [to Tebow], and I wasn't the first one."

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Willis McGahee injures hamstring

DENVER — Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee suffered a left hamstring injury during Sunday’s loss to New England.

McGahee stretched out on the sideline for most of the second quarter and through halftime and returned for the third quarter, but departed after only two carries. Coach John Fox said after the game no players were injured seriously. But the team will have a quicker than normal turnaround for the Buffalo game, which will be played Saturday on Christmas Eve.

McGahee was off to a huge start against the Patriots, running for 70 yards on seven carries. But he's endured a string of nagging ailments of late. He had a left hamstring injury previously that hampered him badly in a win over the Jets on Nov. 17.

He then missed the final series of the Dec. 4 game at Minnesota with a knee issue and didn't appear to be at full speed against Chicago the following week.

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Antrel Rolle calls out injured teammates for missing practice

Antrel Rolle is tired of looking over at the sidelines during practice and seeing far too many of his teammates.

Some of them need to toughen up, the safety said, and start fighting through their injuries to get back on the field.

Rolle didn’t call out any of his teammates by name after the Giants’ 23-10 loss to the Redskins on Sunday, but it wasn’t hard to find his intended target. Only two players barely practiced last week and still played on Sunday: RB Ahmad Bradshaw and DE Justin Tuck.

“I’m not calling anyone out. It’s not about individuals,” Rolle said. “What I’m saying is this – and quote me on this – if you’re going to play Sunday . . . granted, some injuries you can’t practice through, I understand that. But little nicks and bruises? If you can push through it, push through it because your team needs you.”

There were nine players on the Giants’ injury report last week and five of them didn’t play in the game. LB Spencer Paysinger and S Kenny Phillips practiced every day on a limited basis. Only Bradshaw and Tuck sat out Wednesday and Thursday before a limited practice on Friday.

Rolle only mentioned either player once – when he said Tuck “had a pretty positive game” and “went out there and fought each and every play.” Rolle instead kept his attack broad and insisted, “I don’t even know who doesn’t practice half of the time.”

Still, he was clearly questioning someone’s toughness, and indicated more needed to be done to get those injured players back on the field.

“If you’re going to go out here and play the game on Sunday, you need to be out there with your men throughout the week,” Rolle said. “I’ve been nicked up all year long. A lot of other people have been nicked up all year long. We go out there and we’re fighting.

“I don’t know. I ain’t the coach, man. I’m not trying to be the coach and I’m not trying to say what he should do or shouldn’t do. But I feel as teammates we need to hold each other more accountable. If you’re going to be in the battle come Sunday, let’s be in the battle throughout the week. That’s only going to make us better.”

Tuck didn’t have a strong reaction either way to Rolle’s rant. He even admitted that “when I was young I used to look at some of the older guys when they missed practice, and kind of give them a little look like, ‘They should probably be out here.’ ”

“I don’t know,” Tuck added. “The one thing I understand is no one knows your body better than you do. I would hope — and I do believe that — everyone on this football team, when they’re able to go out and help this football team, they do it.

“I always say that it’s easy to be tough when you’re doing it with somebody else’s body.”

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So, how’s Broncos rookie tackle Orlando Franklin doing? Just fine, coach says

Broncos rookie right offensive tackle Orlando Franklin has started every game and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said he has been impressed with the progress made by the 6-foot-7, 330-pounder out of the University of Miami.

“He’s gotten better,” McCoy said this week. “Similar to the two young guys, Zane (Beadles) and J.D. (Walton), last year – each week he’s gotten better. With any football player, the more experience you have, the better you’ll be.

“Early on, Orlando made some mistakes and he learned from it. He stayed positive and Dave (offensive line coach Dave Magazu) has done a great job with him, cleaned some things up.”
Franklin is learning the pro game, McCoy said.

“It’s different than college football,” McCoy explained. “No doubt about it, the speed (of pass rushers) coming off that edge, the techniques you need … he’s learned our system. There are certain things you’re going to learn from week to week. That comes with experience, but he’s done a nice job.”

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Frank Gore on health: ‘I feel good. I’m good.’

On Sunday, running back Frank Gore had just 10 carries against the Cardinals.

On Monday, Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said Gore wasn’t 100 percent healthy.

On Thursday, Gore wasn’t on the injury report, a full participant in the first full practice of the week.

Today, Gore spoke to the media for the first time this week to answer the question of … what’s going on here?

Before Gore spoke, offensive coordinator Greg Roman did his best to not shed any light on why Gore had such a modest workload against Arizona.
“Now, wait a second, a couple weeks ago you guys were complaining that we were running it too much,” Roman said. “Now you’ve flipped the switch, huh? Every week it’s different, the strategies are what they are. I’m not going to get into strategy.

Was Roman told Gore wasn’t available for his typical number of carries?

“All conversations are kept internal,” he said.

So, there you have it.

Here’s the highlights from Gore’s Q&A:

Q: Why didn’t you have more than 10 carries last week?
FG: Because that’s the game plan. Me and Kendall were in and out of the game and I guess that’s how the game was called.

Q: After the very first play of the game, you left the field and went and sat down. Were you injured?
FG: No, I just had to get my mind right. I was good. I was good, man. I kind of landed funny and I had to shake that.

Q: Arm?
FG: Yeah, my arm. Yeah.

Q: Is sharing the carries with Kendall designed to keep you fresh for the playoffs?
FG: I feel that any back in this league who, at this time of the year, can share carries here and there can remain fresh. Last week, the game was called, different personnel. And Kendall’s personnel got called pretty much. I’m fine, man.

Q: How much do you really have to focus on the run game to be successful in the red zone?
FG: We have to focus on everything. It’s not just the run game. We’ve got to score touchdowns, whether it’s running or throwing the ball, we’ve got to do both. We’ve got get better in the red zone.

Q: On Monday, Jim Harbaugh said that ‘Frank’s not 100 percent.’ Are you 100 percent good?
FG: I feel good. I’m good. Everybody in the league gets nicks and bruises here and there. It’s the 15th week. NFL football is a physical sport. I’m good enough to go out there and try to get my team a win. Do the best I can.

Q: Do you agree with the philosophy of resting the workhorse back so he is fresher towards the end of the season?
FG: Well, right now we’re just trying to do whatever it takes to be successful. When that time comes and it’s the playoffs, we’ll try to whatever it takes. If it’s that, and my coach wants to do that, I can’t do nothing but go by what he says. Right now, Monday night, we’ve got a good team coming in the Bay Area and we want to go out there and get a win.

Q: It doesn’t sound as if you think you need to be rested.
FG: I’m good. Like I said, whatever my coach wants. If he wants me out there, I’m out there. If he wants me and Kendall to go, I’ve got to do what he says.

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IRS says Santana Moss owes $258,000

It’s a good thing Redskins receiver Santana Moss signed a three-year, $15 million contract at the beginning of this year that guaranteed him $6 million. The Internal Revenue Service has made it known that it wants some of that money.

That’s because, according to the Detroit News, the IRS claims Moss owes the agency more than $258,000. The bad news for Moss (besides the fact you don’t EVER want to be on the bad side of the IRS), is that there’s been a tax lien for $258,017 taken out on his property from taxes not paid in 2006 (he also owns this mansion in Lighthouse Point, Fla., apparently bought for $5.2 million).

While Moss has been simply OK this year (37 catches, 453 yards, three touchdowns), he hasn’t always been wise with his money. In June, we told you about a bingo and entertainment operation in Dothan, Ala.,  that ensnared a number of NFL players, including Moss, who invested money into the project. The plans for the center had been shuttled because the developer pleaded guilty to 10 counts of corruption.

As Yahoo’s Jason Cole reported at the time: “I know four players with $7 million in this thing,” said a source closely connected to some of the athletes. “They keep getting told, ‘It’s going to re-open,’ then it gets pushed back again and again. This is a bad situation for a lot of these players.”

Yet, it sounds like Moss has other things to which he must attend first. Like getting the IRS (and the lien it’s placed on his property) off his back as soon as possible.

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Kellen Winslow missing out on hefty bonus

Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE Kellen Winslow will not receive a $4.45 million bonus in his contract because he did not meet the criteria that activates the bonus. Winslow had to record at least 80 receptions in each season from 2009 through 2011 and needed to make the Pro Bowl each season. Winslow caught 77 passes in 2009, 66 passes in 2010 and currently has 58 receptions this season.

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Reggie Wayne's streak in trouble

The only number that matters in a lost season: one.

One win, perhaps today against the visiting Tennessee Titans, would keep the Indianapolis Colts from joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only 0-16 teams in NFL history.

On a personal level, here's another number with meaning: 252.

That's Reggie Wayne's target over the final three games -- 84 yards per game -- to tack up an eighth consecutive season with at least 1,000 receiving yards. That would tie Marvin Harrison's club record. In NFL history, only Jerry Rice (11) and Tim Brown (nine) had longer streaks.

Asked if the coaching staff realized he needed a boost to keep his streak alive, Wayne smiled.

"You might want to ask them that," he said. "Ask my offensive coordinator that. Tell my quarterback that and maybe they can help me out a little bit. I feel like I can get the remaining yards this game. But who am I? I'm no genie."

Wayne, 33, is in the final year of his contract, and his 11-year career with the Colts has been about being available and productive:

His 142 straight regular-season starts and 163 consecutive games played are the longest streaks among active receivers.

He's had a catch in 93 straight games, second to Harrison's club-record 190.

The string of 1,000-yard seasons, though, is in serious jeopardy. The absence of Peyton Manning and resulting revolving door and inconsistency at quarterback too often has rendered the passing game impotent.

Overall, the Colts have run the fewest offensive plays in the NFL (759) and the offense has suffered the highest percentage of three-and-outs (48-of-150, 32 percent). They are also last in time of possession (25:20).

Individually, Wayne has suffered with 56 receptions, 748 yards and two touchdowns.

"Snaps are down, passing opportunities are cut down," he said. "I faced reality a long time ago -- weeks ago, months ago -- that individual goals are probably not going to be reached. Right now, it's not even about that. We've got to go in with the mentality to win these last three games."
But, wouldn't 1,000 yards be nice?

"It would be great," Wayne said. "But if not, it was a good run. They say all records are made to be broken. All streaks are made to come to an end at some point. Just keep truckin', keep playin'. "

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Jimmy Graham goes for 70 yards, touchdown

Jimmy Graham caught seven balls for 70 yards and a touchdown as the Saints stomped out the Vikings in Week 15.

If Graham's back was a problem last week, you wouldn't have known it against the Vikings. Graham resumed his role as the least guardable offensive skill player on the field, getting open at will and easily boxing out S Jamarca Sanford on his early one-yard score. Graham was wide open for another would-be touchdown on a Drew Brees end-zone pass, but Brees played nice and let blocking specialist John Gilmore score the TD. Graham should light up the Falcons in Week 16, mostly because that's just what he does.

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Jon Vilma's knee experiencing swelling

Sean Payton said LB Jonathan Vilma's knee has experienced more swelling than the Saints would have thought this week, making Vilma questionable for Sunday's game in Minnesota. "That being said he’s taken the practice snaps," Payton said. "I listed him as questionable. He was limited and we just want to be certain.”

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Frank Gore, 49ers focused on strong finish

Frank Gore and the San Francisco 49ers are hoping for a strong finish to the regular season, beginning with Monday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 49ers have lost two of three since a 9-1 start, and Gore has gone five consecutive games with 88 yards rushing or fewer after stringing together a franchise-record five straight games of 100 yards or more on the ground.

But Gore and his team see Monday's game as a platform to regain momentum and resume the resurgence that has pushed the 49ers into the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.

''It's a blessing the situation I'm in and the team's in, and everybody wants to win these last three games,'' Gore said Saturday. ''We know that Pittsburgh's a good team that's been playing together a while and is coming in here with a great defense. We just have to go out there Monday night against a tough defense and play 49ers ball, the kind of ball that got us here and this far.''

Gore has played a key role in San Francisco's first winning season and NFC West championship since 2002. He ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,054 yards rushing, recording his team-record fifth 1,000-yard season in six years while becoming the franchise's career leading career rusher two weeks ago.

But opponents have been stacking the line of scrimmage more to stop him, an approach that has become more effective since mid-November. That has caused problems for a struggling San Francisco offense that has been held below 234 yards twice in the past three games.

Next up is Pittsburgh, which features the same 3-4 defensive scheme that gave the 49ers fits in recent losses to Baltimore and Arizona. The Steelers rank second in the NFL in total defense and sixth in rushing defense, and they're likely to follow the blueprint for stopping San Francisco's offense established recently by the Ravens and Cardinals.

''Frank can be productive against anybody,'' 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. ''I think we've seen that. But the running game is a fixture of 11 people doing their job. All 11 people have to do their job to be successful.''

Gore has been hampered by ankle and knee injuries, and the 49ers have had to consider balancing his playing time with keeping their workhorse fresh.

Gore's 37-yard touchdown run last week gave San Francisco a 19-7 lead early in the third quarter. But Gore carried the ball just twice more the rest of the game and San Francisco managed just 41 yards of offense over the final 27 minutes while Arizona rallied to end the 49ers' five-game winning streak between the two NFC West rivals.

The 49ers settled for field goals in all three of their red zone opportunities and were just 3 of 17 on third-down conversion attempts, continuing their season-long problems in both areas.

''There's certain situations where we have to get better, and we're going to get there,'' Gore said. ''We just have to start scoring more points when we have the opportunity. We've had a good week of practice and feel good. We're going to go out there and enjoy this game.''

The 49ers might be without Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis for the second consecutive week. Willis missed practice again Saturday and is listed as questionable to play against the Steelers.

Left tackle Joe Staley, who suffered a concussion last week, returned to practice in a limited fashion after sitting out Thursday and Friday. He's also listed as questionable.

Coach Jim Harbaugh has been pleased this week with how his team reacted to a recent stretch of adversity that included injuries and offensive ineptitude. He's eager to see how the 49ers respond Monday.

''I feel good about where we are right now,'' Harbaugh said Saturday. ''This is what we prepare for. Look forward to going out there and putting it on the line. That's what these guys do: They go put it on the line. That's the pressure. That's the excitement of it.''

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Sam Shields gets his swagger back in second half of season

Go ahead and throw the ball at Sam Shields.

He’s fine with it.

So is Joe Whitt. So is Dom Capers.

Early in the season, that wasn’t the case. The Green Bay Packers’ second-year cornerback hardly resembled the standout rookie from a year ago. His technique looked unrefined, and he was giving up yards and points.

Whitt, his position coach, and Capers, his defensive coordinator, weren’t getting the kind of production they expected.

At the midway point of the season, teams were completing passes against Shields at a rate of 61 percent, according to STATS. And when they did, they were getting an average of 15.3 yards per play. He was responsible for two touchdowns in the first eight games.

Why was Shields struggling after such a promising rookie season?

“Who knows?” Capers said. “I didn’t see anything to indicate those kinds of things in training camp or anything. Sometimes, it’s matchups, who you’re going against and just kind of working your way into where you’ve got a good feel for what you’ve got to get done.”

If it seems like Shields’ game has turned around of late, that’s because it has. In the last five games, teams haven’t had anywhere near the kind of success working against Shields they did in the first half of the season. He has allowed just eight completions over the last five games, and the percentage of times targeted that he has allowed a completion during that stretch has dropped to 47 percent, according to STATS. Those eight completions have averaged 13.6 yards. However, he has allowed two more touchdowns, one on Nov. 20 against Tampa Bay and one two weeks ago against the New York Giants.

“He’s playing better,” said Whitt, who coaches the Packers’ cornerbacks. “He started off slow this year, and some of that was on me. I did a poor job of getting him prepared. But he’s done a nice job of playing these past couple of weeks, of leveraging routes and playing stuff that a lot of people don’t see, but just playing solid football. His technique has really tightened up.”

That was on display with game-changing plays in each of the last two games. In Sunday’s blowout of Oakland, Shields broke up a deep post for Darrius Heyward-Bey on a third-down play late in the first quarter. Playing man coverage on the outside, Shields played his outside leverage perfectly. When quarterback Carson Palmer delivered a strike 21 yards down field, Shields slid inside, stuck his right hand in and knocked the ball away. At that point, it was a 14-0 game, and a completion would have gotten the Raiders close to scoring position.

Earlier in the season, he might not have made that play.

“I think it was more just stuff technique-wise,” Shields said. “I think I’ve played well throughout the season but the last couple of games, it was more of the technique things that I needed to work on.”

Shields ended the game against the Raiders with his third interception of the season.

The previous week, the Giants tried a home-run play in the fourth quarter. From their 13-yard line, quarterback Eli Manning threw one up for Hakeem Nicks on a go route down the right sideline. Shields ran with him stride for stride and 30 yards down the field, knocked the ball away with his left hand. The Giants, who trailed by one point at the time, never got that drive going and were forced to punt.

Later in that game, Shields gave up the game-tying touchdown, a 2-yard fade to Nicks, with 58 seconds left, but Whitt didn’t completely fault Shields for that play. The Giants are known for throwing fades to the back pylon of the end zone — Nicks caught one of those on Charles Woodson earlier in the game — so Shields was playing for the same type of throw but instead Manning threw to Nicks’ back shoulder.

As for the touchdown he allowed against the Buccaneers — a 9-yard slant to Mike Williams — Whitt said that was a play Shields will learn from. One of the Packers’ rules in that coverage is take away the slant before the fade.

“Once again that comes from, I’ve got to do a better job of making him understand no matter what happens, we want the ball to go to a certain place,” Whitt said.

If anyone needed a year in the Packers’ offseason program, it was Shields. He went undrafted out of the University of Miami because he had played only one college season as a cornerback. Previously, the speedster played receiver. But the lockout robbed Whitt of the opportunity to mold a young, but raw player.

“That’s one of the things I was really looking forward to, but we didn’t get it, and I’m not going to make any excuses,” Whitt said. “But he played high-level football toward the end of last year, and I think he’s right on pace to hopefully do it again.”

Still, his slip in play was surprising, especially considering the way Shields ended last season. He played his best game of the year against Chicago in the NFC championship game, when he had a sack, a forced fumble and two interceptions, including one with 37 seconds left that clinched the Super Bowl berth.

“What he did in the Chicago game, the way he played, the confidence and the swagger he played with in that game, was unmatched,” Whitt said. “So, hopefully that’s where we can get him back to.”

Whitt said he threw too much at Shields too soon this season.

“He’s still a second-year corner, and I tried to treat him a little more like a guy who’s been at the position longer,” Whitt said. “That’s on me. I dialed it back a little bit, and it’s made a difference.”

Despite Shields’ improvement, the Packers remain stuck near the bottom of the league in passing defense. For the ninth straight week, they rank 31st out of 32 teams in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. But with Shields’ play improving, Tramon Williams seemingly over his early-season shoulder injury and Woodson still able to create turnovers, Capers and Whitt don’t seem as concerned about their pass defense as they were halfway through the season.

“I feel good about my three, I really do,” Whitt said. “I know everybody’s talking about yards, and I don’t really care about that. I care about points. Let’s get the points down. Let’s get turnovers. Let’s play high-level defense. People are going to get yards on us because they’re throwing it so much. Let’s just not give up explosive plays anymore, and hopefully we’ve got that corrected.”

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Antrel Rolle: Giants are 10 times better than we showed today

After earning their biggest win of the season last week against the Cowboys, the Giants laid an egg today against the Redskins. But Giants defensive back Antrel Rolle says the real Giants are the ones you saw last week, not the ones on the field this week.

“Washington, they’re not a bad team at all. But we are 10 times better than what we showed out there on the field today,” Rolle said, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.

The truth is, as former Giants coach Bill Parcells used to say, the Giants are what their record says they are. And the record says the Giants are a .500 team. Maybe they’re not all that much better than they showed today against the Redskins.

The good news for the Giants is that they still control their playoff destiny: Win their last two games, and they win the NFC East. But in order to win their last two games, the Giants are going to need to be about 10 times better than they were today.

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Texans' anthem etiquette irks Jeremy Shockey

To a man, the Houston Texans credited the 5-9 Carolina Panthers with outplaying them in every aspect of the game Sunday afternoon. But flamboyant tight end Jeremy Shockey still felt the need to kick a playoff-bound team when it was down.

So Shockey accused the Texans of disrespecting the "Star Spangled Banner" before their 28-13 loss at Reliant Stadium. He even credited it with some extra motivation for the upset.

"Personally myself, I was pretty upset they weren't showing respect to America during the National Anthem," Shockey said after the game. "There were about 10 (Texan) players who didn't put their arm across their chest. A couple of guys saw that. This is America.

"I haven't seen it anywhere else in the NFL, but I don't know how you forget something like that."

Shockey's charge came so far out of left field that it could barely fit into Reliant, even on a day when the roof was closed. Reporters aren't typically watching players during the National Anthem so it's hard to say that he is completely wrong. But players are often bouncing on their feet during the National Anthem, pumping themselves up for the game.

As long as everyone is standing for the song, no one keeps score of who is holding their arm across their chest.

Except apparently Jeremy Shockey. Forget being a tight end who has often failed to live up to the potential that made him the 14th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. Shockey is the head of the American Patriot Police. Self anointed.

He obviously wasn't in Reliant for the Sept. 11 opener when the Texans put on a moving, flag-filled pregame ceremony that involved several players. DeMeco Ryans lead the Texans out onto the field, waving a gigantic American flag that day.

It's absurd to call Houston's NFL franchise unpatriotic. On the very day that Shockey made his charges, the Texans surprised the widow of a Marine with a halftime presentation that let her know she'd be receiving a new mortgage-free, custom-built home through Operation FINALLY HOME. Sara Wood and her 5-year-old son Landon will be moving into the new house.

Wood's husband, Marine staff sergeant Scott Wood, was killed in the line of duty.

Shockey wasn't interested in that though. Instead, he says he saw disrespect from the Texans toward the country that he loves.

Whether Shockey was really mad about the National Anthem or the crushing hit Ryans delivered to him, separating him from the football on one memorable play, is a matter for debate. For Shockey made sure to point out that he also beat Ryans on a touchdown catch, while pretending not to know the linebacker's name.

"It was simple play," Shockey said of the touchdown, "And I guess, what his name — Ryans, DeMarco Ryans, what's his name? — DeMeco Ryans couldn't make a play and it was an easy touchdown."

Hey, no one's ever employed Jeremy Shockey for his brain. He's got his eyes on you during the National Anthem though. And he's like Santa Claus. He's making a list.

Beware, NFL. Beware.

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Chris Myers helps key little-known Texans line

At the core of the Houston Texans’ steady, methodical play this season in the face of a ridiculous injury list has been the offensive line.

Right tackle Eric Winston is a talker with a profile, but the rest of the group seems to revel in a degree of obscurity, no one more than center Chris Myers.

“I think he goes unnoticed for the kind of player he is,” Titans coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Mike Munchak said. “He understands the system, understands what he’s supposed to do and he goes out and does it. It’s not about how big and tall he is or what his measurables are. He’s efficient, and he’s successful the way he does his job.”

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. says Myers is the second-best center in the NFL this season, behind only Nick Mangold of the Jets.

“Myers is a great technician,” Williamson said. “He’s got great movement skills. He plays the game with excellent leverage. He’s the linchpin of the best offensive line in the NFL.”

Myers was pleased to learn of Munchak’s compliment, but he clearly isn’t concerned with what people outside of team headquarters think of him, the line or the Texans.

In that regard, he’s an old-school offensive lineman. He trained under five-time Pro Bowler Tom Nalen in Denver and is perfectly happy operating quietly in the background, allowing his play to do most of his talking and pleased if his running back is getting attention.

“It just comes with the territory of being an offensive lineman,” he said. “When you get to the higher level, once you become successful in the league you learn those accolades will come when warranted.”

They should be warranted this season, with the Texans winning the AFC South despite a slew of injuries to key players.

Myers was originally a sixth-round pick by Denver in 2005, 200th overall out of Miami. He spent the first month of his first season on the practice squad, then backed up Nalen and played special teams.

The Texans traded a sixth-round pick in 2007 to get Myers after coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith moved to Houston from jobs with the Broncos. Myers became a torch-bearer for both the sort of locker room culture and offensive line scheme the Texans wanted to establish. Houston has started him in every game.

There is less noise than there used to be about the Texans' zone-blocking scheme, a philosophy that features backside cuts that put defensive linemen on the ground. A lot of defenders hate it, and many say it puts their knees at risk. But it’s a legal technique that plenty of teams use, just not, perhaps, with the regularity and proficiency of the Texans.

It’s a scheme that serves to spring one-cut-and-go backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate, and syncs up perfectly with the Texans’ play-action and bootleg passing attack.

“You put them all together and they are pretty darn good at what they do,” Munchak said. “The five of them together, they’ve got it going. They’ve been doing the same thing now since [offensive line coach Alex] Gibbs went in there [in 2008]. They kept the same concept, they stuck with the same system and they’ve gotten good at it.”

There is a psychological aspect to the scheme as well.

“I can’t lie, it definitely plays into the defense’s mind,” Myers said. “When you’re pounding and pounding on guys throughout the game and you keep cutting them on the backside, they can play the cuts for a long time, but at a certain point either they are going to forget about it or get tired of having to play off of it. Once you kind of grind on them, it ends up playing out in the fourth quarter.”

Left tackle Duane Brown, left guard Wade Smith, Myers, right guard Mike Brisiel and Winston make up what has been one of the league’s best and most reliable lines this season. Brisiel just finished playing in the win at Cincinnati on a broken leg and had surgery, so Antoine Caldwell will step in for a stretch.

When the line and offense are playing well, the Texans’ attack can be a beautiful operation.

“So much about the way we run the ball is tied to coordination, there is a real rhythm to this offense,” Smith said.

“To the degree that you can get five guys and in a lot of cases six guys with the tight end and then seven with the fullback on the same page and execute that coordinated effort, that’s where you start to get the big runs and the cutbacks and you start to see the success in the system. They’ve got that coordination, they’ve got that rhythm together, and I think that’s why you see us running the ball effectively.”

As the Texans make their first venture into the playoffs, there will be talk of the line’s solid play, but far more focus on the league’s top defense, Foster, receiver Andre Johnson and rookie quarterback T.J. Yates.

Myers will have a great vantage point on it all, watching and working.

“Obviously his position is a natural position of leadership on the line,” Smith said. “He’s done a nice job of keeping our guys coordinated and he’s playing at a high level at this point.

“More often than not it’s a position where people don’t talk a lot, so maybe people don’t recognize how important or how strong a leadership position the offensive line commands within a team, but it’s significantly important. That’s where games are won and lost, up front.”

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Kings John Salmons wants NBAers to dress

John Salmons went to the drawing board -- literally.

The Sacramento Kings guard made good use of his time off during the NBA lockout, and folks will get a good look at his efforts after his first preseason game Tuesday. Salmons co-created a collection with his longtime tailor, Sherman Brown. The two are gearing up for a fall 2012 release, but Salmons says his postgame getup will tease what's to come.

We talked with Salmons, who also serves as the line's creative director, about his new line, his style icon and which players rock the best off-court style.

Did this line grow out of being stuck in the NBA lockout?
"Actually I started this over a year ago. I met my partner, Sherman Brown, when I was playing for Chicago a couple years ago and we became good friends and he talked about fashion a lot. He's a tailor by trade. He made me some clothes, and we both had a passion and we decided to move forward with it. It just so happens over the lockout that it gave me more time to be able to deal with the brand to try to make some key decisions, being around and being able to put my fingerprints on the brand."

You're 6-foot-6. How difficult is it for a guy like yourself to be and feel fashionable?
"It's a challenge. A lot of people, they can order online and they can just find their size. For me, I have to try everything on. If I go shopping in the store, I have to try every pant on, every shirt on, every jacket on, because I don't know if it's going to fit or not. Everything is pretty much hit or miss."

Who's your style icon?
"Growing up, Ralph Lauren. That's who I looked up to. Growing up, we always wanted Polo stuff. That was our goal to try and scrape up enough money to be able to buy some Polo stuff."

Does having your own brand up the ante now for postgame dressing?
"That's what I do on a regular basis, anyway! I love to get dressed. Part of our mission statement is to teach men how to dress. We want to be able to inspire people to dress, to dress like us. That's our whole role: to build the culture, build the brand, have a following."

"What is this season's compressed schedule going to mean for you?"
"It's pretty intense. It's definitely going to be an adjustment period, but everybody has to deal with the same thing. It just comes down to what team can come together fastest and learn to play well. Hopefully we, the Sacramento Kings, can come together and jell quickly and try to get a jump on everybody else."

Who's winning off the court? Aside from you, the best-dressed guy in the league is …
"I know a lot of guys have stylists, and I don't have anything against hiring stylists or anything against stylists. People need stylists, but I feel like if you rely on a stylist, I don't really consider you a great dresser. Your stylist is the real dresser behind you. So, guys who I've played with who I know they go to the stores, they pick out their clothes, is a guy like Jannero Pargo, who is a pretty good dresser. Bobby Jackson, I played with him in Sacramento -- he's actually an assistant coach with Sacramento now -- he's a pretty good dresser. Same with Keyon Dooling."

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Jon Jay talks about Pujols leaving to Anaheim

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Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal Traded

Padres acquired 1B/OF Yonder Alonso, RHPs Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger and C Yasmani Grandal from the Reds for RHP Mat Latos.

Alonso, the seventh overall selection in the 2008 draft, excelled in his time in the majors last season, batting .330/.398/.545 in 88 at-bats. His minor league numbers were more good than great, so he’s probably not a future All-Star. However, he projects as a nice regular at first base and the Padres will have him under control for six years. What that means for fellow top prospect Anthony Rizzo still has to be figured out. Alonso could be stashed in left field at some point or maybe he gets traded again. For now, he’ll probably start at first, with Rizzo returning to Triple-A.

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Ryan Braun's failed drug test not 'intentional,' spokesman says

Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun will "ultimately be exonerated" of suspicion that he used banned performance enhancing drugs during this past season, the left fielder's spokesman said Sunday.

Braun, the National League's 2011 "Most Valuable Player," faces a possible 50-game suspension after a urine sample tested positive for a high level of testosterone caused by a synthetic substance, according to an ESPN report.

Braun's spokesman denied any "intentional violation" of Major League Baseball rules in a statement given to CNN Sunday.

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