Devin Hester gave a referee a shoulder massage

Just two weeks after #FistBumpGate, Atlanta’s Devin Hester decided to give referee John Parry a shoulder massage before the opening kickoff of the Saints-Falcons game Sunday. If Hester’s trying to butter up the officials, though, it didn’t work. The Falcons were called for holding on their first offensive play of the game.

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Jason Fox played well as Dolphins' starting right tackle

Jason Fox had two offers on the table this offseason when he decided to pick the Miami Dolphins over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Outside of being in the same city where he starred as a four-year starter at the University of Miami, Fox picked the Dolphins because he felt he'd get a fair opportunity to prove what he could do as an NFL player.

It took Fox roughly five months but that opportunity finally came in Sunday's 37-35 win over the Vikings.

Fox, who the Lions selected in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft, started his fourth NFL game against Minnesota, replacing an injured Dallas Thomas, and held his own against an aggressive Vikings defense.

Fox allowed three quarterback hurries in his 86 snaps, and graded out as the Dolphins' top performing offensive lineman. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor singled his performance out when reviewing the Vikings game, which featured Ryan Tannehill throwing for a season-high 396 yards and four touchdowns.

"You have guys like Jason Fox [who] hasn't played a whole lot for us. He goes out there, and I thought he did a pretty good job. I'm sure he can tell you there were some plays, especially early, where he thought he could have done better, but I thought Minnesota pressured us a lot," Lazor said. "For him to get thrown out there for his first start for us with that kind of defense coming at us I thought was really good."

The question everyone will be asking is whether Fox keeps the starting right tackle spot for this Sunday's season finale against the Jets, continuing as the replacement for Thomas, who was sidelined by a left foot injury he suffered against the Patriots.

Fox, who signed a one-year deal worth $795,000, has no desire to create any waves.

"I played as hard as I could. I just went out and did the best I could," Fox said. "What the coaches have to say about it they'll say about it. I played hard, and so did the rest of our offense."

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Andre Johnson reaches 1,000-catch milestone

Case Keenum received the shotgun snap, took one small step back and fired a pass out to his left. The nose of the football hit between the 8 and 0 on Andre Johnson’s Texans jersey.

Johnson caught the ball three yards behind the line of scrimmage, sprinted ahead and fought off a charging Terrell Suggs for a 4-yard gain in the second quarter.
A routine play. A special play. A milestone play.

It was Johnson’s 1,000th career catch, making him the 10th player in NFL history – and second fastest – to reach that milestone.

“It puts you in an elite group,” Johnson said. “I tell people I never thought I would be in this situation.”

It took Johnson 168 games to reach the milestone. Indianapolis’ Marvin Harrison reached the mark in 167 games. Johnson missed last week’s game at Indianapolis with a concussion, but he reached the milestone at NRG Stadium.

“It was just special to do it here because we have fans that have been riding with us for a long time, and I’ve been here to experience a lot of the things that have went on with this organization,” said Johnson, the Texans’ No. 3 overall pick 2003. “It was just fun to do it here.”

Johnson finished Sunday with six catches for 65 yards. He has 1,002 receptions, moving into ninth place on the all-time list.

“This guy is a hall of fame wide receiver,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “I just have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He’s one of the best leaders in our locker room and he does it by example, which I really respect.”

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Will Lamar Miller Play In The Season Finale?

Lamar Miller had a season-high 150 all-purpose yards against the Vikings, but the Dolphins' second-year starter wasn't on the field for the final two offensive series. Miller limped off the field late in the fourth and never returned. But Lazor insinuated that rookie tailback Damien Williams finished the game because he's the team's best third down back.

Williams did provide some sensational blocks and produced a 3-yard touchdown catch that tied the game 35-35.

"I wouldn't call it an injury but just the wear and tear of a game," Lazor said of Miller's status.

Miller is 79 yards away from becoming the Dolphins' first tailback to rush for 1,000 yards since Reggie Bush did it in 2011.

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NFL head of officials: Tough to say if Jimmy Graham scored TD

Did Saints tight end Jimmy Graham score early in the fourth quarter on Sunday against the Falcons?

It sure likes it in this still image below:

On Monday, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino weighed in.

“This was very difficult,” Blandino said on NFL Network (via PFT). “We really struggled with this one because it's so close. ... Where is the ball in relation to the goal line? You really can't tell exactly where that ball is in relation to the goal line."

(Again, the still image above appears tells a different story.)

"The ruling on the field is it did not break the plane," Blandino continued. "Do you see indisputable evidence that it did break the plane? We even had a closeup look that the network gave us and it just wasn't clear cut, it wasn't obvious that the ball broke the plane, so the ruling on the field stood. ... Had they ruled touchdown, there was no evidence to overturn. Basically, the ruling on the field would have stood either way,”

The Saints are now out of the playoffs but it has nothing to do with a Graham touchdown that wasn't. And everything to do with all the losses leading up to Sunday.

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Frank Gore: 'Weird knowing' 49ers contract almost up

Frank Gore knows the end might be near in San Francisco.

Set to become a free agent this spring, the veteran 49ers running back is prepared to suit up elsewhere in 2015.

"I've been here 10 years, and it could be last two games here this year," Gore said, per the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's weird knowing that I won't be under contract any more. But I've been in the league long enough to understand it's a business."

While the possibility remains that the 31-year-old Gore could re-sign with the team, we don't expect that to happen. The Niners appear ready to hand the starting job over to rookie Carlos Hyde, their second-round pick who has looked good in spurts this autumn.

One of the rare examples of a runner signing two contract extensions with the team that drafted him, Gore is bound to find a new home. He might not be featured-back material going forward, but he can still bruise defenses with his hard-charging, tackle-breaking gallops.

With Marshawn Lynch also likely to move on from Seattle, we're in for an interesting offseason with more than a few big-name backs hitting the open market.

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'Air Vince' Wilfork shows he's got the ups to join Patriots FG block party

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Nothing like a 6-foot-2, 325-pound nose tackle making like Michael Jordan to save a game with a blocked field goal.

Vince Wilfork became the fourth Patriots player this year to block a field goal, and the second one to save a potential game-winning kick by the Jets’ Nick Folk.
“Blocking a field goal by Air Vince, we’ve got to do those things,” Devin McCourty said.

On Sept. 14, Chandler Jones got the block party going with a block of Vikings kick toward the end of the first half. He returned it for a touchdown. On Oct. 16 at Gillette Stadium, Chris Jones preserved a 27-25 win with a last-second bat down. Against the Dolphins, it was Jamie Collins doing the honors on the game’s first drive, leading to a Kyle Arrington scoop and score.

Sunday, it was Wilfork’s turn. With 5:21 left, Wilfork moved over to his right, jumped up and got his right hand up high enough to block Folk’s 52-yard attempt.

“I just filled a soft A-gap, making sure that I was legal, not covering up the center and at the same time, being able to get vertical in that lane,” Wilfork said. “I felt that I had a good shot of getting some penetration, so it worked out well. That is just one of the plays that (we had) opportunities on. I had a good opportunity to make a play and I did for the team. It was nothing special that I did. I just penetrated a little bit and got my hands up and got a piece of it. I’m glad it helped my team win a ball game. That is what it is all about, the wins, and we walk away with another one.”

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Santana Moss fined $22,050 for tirade

ASHBURN, Va. -- The play cost the Washington Redskins seven points and a lot of momentum. It cost a lot more for receiver Santana Moss.

The NFL fined Moss $22,050 for his tirade at halftime of the Redskins' 24-13 loss to the New York Giants. Moss was upset, as were teammates and coaches, after officials overturned an apparent touchdown at the halftime gun by quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Griffin had dived for a touchdown, but after watching it on replay, officials ruled that he had lost the ball before crossing the goal line. Therefore, he had to regain possession through the play. But when he fumbled as he hit the ground in the end zone, they ruled it a touchback for New York. Moss shouted at officials as they left the field amid a cluster of Redskins and was ejected.

"I regret it but I don't take nothing back," Moss said about the tirade after the game.

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Frank Gore on 49ers: 'If they want to bring me back, they will'

Frank Gore is 31 years old and in his 10th NFL season, all played with the San Francisco 49ers. Earlier this season, Gore became the 29th player ever to rush for at least 10,000 yards in his career. Of that 29, Gore has the seventh-highest yards per carry. Along with Curtis Martin, Gore is one of only two players on that list drafted outside the first two rounds, and one of only six not drafted in the first round. Suffice to say, he has had a terrific career in San Francisco and has exceeded all reasonable expectations from when he was drafted.

But his contract is up at the end of the season, and he knows some people will say he's finished because he's too old. "I know they're going to say that," Gore told "Starting with my seventh year, they started saying that: I can't do it. I can't do it. I can't do it. I've prepared myself for that. That's why this year, I'm upset that I really didn't show the world that I'm still Frank Gore."

Gore's 3.9 yards per carry this season is the worst of his career, and his longest run of the season is only 28 yards. His 14.6 carries per game are his fewest since his rookie year, as are his 57.4 yards per game.

He's on pace to finish with less than 1,000 rushing yards in a season during which he played all 16 games for the first time in his career. The only years Gore has failed to run for 1,000 yards were his rookie season, when he split carries with Kevan Barlow, and in 2010, when Gore played only 11 games due to various injuries.
This year, Gore is on pace for only 233 carries, which would be his fewest ever in a full season.

As for the reason he hasn't gotten quite as many oppportunities to run the ball this year as in years past, Gore said game situations -- too many three-and-outs, getting behind on the scoreboard -- have dictated a different offensive flow for the 49ers than what we're used to seeing. "I know coach G-Ro [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] -- he loves to run the ball. This year, has just been totally different. As an offense, we never got into a zone, you know what I mean? That's probably the reason."

Gore made it clear that he would like to return to San Francisco, but if it's not in the cards, he still wants to keep playing. "If they want to bring me back, they will. They'll come to me in a respectful way. We'll sit down, see what they want me to do. See what my role is and if I like it, I'll sign. If I don't, I'll try to see what other teams think of me."

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Travis Benjamin gets defensive

Travis Benjamin was years away from becoming a member of the University of Miami program, but he remembers the play.

Ohio State led Miami, 14-7, in the National Championship game in 2003. Miami stopped an Ohio State third quarter drive when Sean Taylor intercepted a pass and ran it out of the end zone. Running back Maurice Clarett kept the drive alive when he chased Taylor down, ripped the ball away and regained possession for the Buckeyes. They kicked a field goal and eventually won the game in overtime.

A title was not on the line Sunday, but Benjamin went to his inner Clarett to perform a similar spectacular play against the Carolina Panthers, keeping the Browns hopes alive in a game they eventually lost, 17-13.,AAAAQBxUNqE~,xKBGzTdiYSSRqIKPsPdkNW3W_DNtPBTa

Play it again: On first-and-10 from the 20, quarterback Brian Hoyer's deep pass was intended for wide receiver Travis Benjamin but cornerback Josh Norman made a spectacular leaping catch for the interception. Norman quickly got up and sprinted free for a big return, but Benjamin trailed him, stripped the ball and recovered the fumble. The Browns went from a huge turnover to a first down on one play thanks to Benjamin.

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Saints needed more than they got from Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees wasn't good enough when it mattered most.

Neither was Jimmy Graham. And neither was the New Orleans Saints' offensive line.

The Saints' offense hasn't been their biggest problem throughout this entire wayward season. But it needed to be the solution, led by franchise players such as Brees and Graham. Instead, they came up small Sunday in the biggest game of the season to date -- a 30-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons that eliminated them from playoff contention.

The Saints (6-9) had a total of 78 yards in the first half against a Falcons defense that came into the game ranked 32nd in the NFL in yards allowed.

Then they rallied, only to turn the ball over three times in the fourth quarter, including a controversial fumble by Graham and a killer interception by Brees with 2:35 remaining and the Saints trailing by just six points.

"It's about as bad a feeling as you could ever have as a quarterback," Brees flatly admitted when asked about that pick, which followed a disturbing season-long trend.

Brees has been very good at times this season. He's still on pace for nearly 5,000 yards and a 69.6 completion percentage -- good for seventh in NFL history. But those game-killing turnovers have crept up time and again, usually when he's trying to force things in close games.

"Yeah, that's been frustrating and disappointing," said Brees, who now has 14 interceptions and three lost fumbles, including one on a sack on the final play Sunday that was returned 86 yards for an exclamation-point touchdown by the Falcons.

"We could very easily look back and say there were many, many games where we had chances in the end, and we were not able to capitalize," Brees said. "And I'd say in every season, the difference between you being a 12-4, 11-5 team and a team that's just middle of the pack, 8-8, is just so fine. It's that fine line, 'Did you win some of those close games or did you lose them?'

"Fortunately, in the past, I feel like we've won a lot of those games. Unfortunately, this year we have not."

The Saints' sluggish start was just as disturbing as the finish Sunday.

New Orleans was gifted a quick 7-0 lead when Jalen Saunders returned the opening kickoff 99 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram. But then the offense started sleepwalking for the better part of three quarters.

As coach Sean Payton pointed out afterward, that was especially disappointing, as the Saints' defense stepped up and played fairly well.

"We thought it was going to be a high-scoring matchup, but it ended up being different, and we weren't able to make enough plays on offense," Payton said.

Brees wound up sacked a stunning five times by a Falcons defense that had also ranked last in the NFL in sacks heading into Sunday. That was a season-high for both teams.

The Saints' run game went nowhere all day (15 carries for 45 yards by the running backs). Brees couldn't connect with Graham, whose performance was every bit as disappointing.

Graham, who did not appear in the locker room for interviews, caught just one pass for three yards through three quarters, despite being targeted five times. And his fumble -- even if it did occur after he crossed the goal line -- was still a fumble.

We are used to seeing Graham look like a man among boys and outmuscle defenders for tough catches (as he did on his too-little, too-late touchdown in the fourth quarter).

It's hard to say whether Graham's early-season shoulder injury is still bugging him, given he was still playing at a high level for a while after he got hurt. But the Saints need more from him than what they've gotten over the past month.

Brees, who turns 36 next month, was asked if getting older makes him wonder if he's running out of chances to win more Super Bowls.

"Well, I think that's stating the obvious. I'm not getting younger -- none of us are," Brees said. "But I'm not thinking about anything other than the opportunity that's right before you from season to season. I feel like all of the pieces are in place here to do that."

That statement seems a bit optimistic after the way this season just unfolded. But for the Saints to have any chance of that coming true, they'll need to rely most on Brees and Graham to be their two biggest game-changing weapons.

They'll need more than what they got Sunday.

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Eight enough for Canton? Frank Gore poised to join elite company

If Sunday marks the end of the Frank Gore era with the 49ers, it appears it will finish fittingly: With the franchise’s rushing leader posting another 1,000-yard season.

After his turn-back-the-clock 158-yard performance in a 38-35 overtime loss to San Diego on Saturday, Gore needs just 38 yards in the regular-season finale against Arizona on Sunday to collect the eighth 1,000-yard season of his 10-year career.

If he hits 1,000, he will join exclusive company. Only 10 running backs in NFL history have had eight 1,000-yard seasons. Among those running backs, seven are in the Hall of Fame and the other three – Jerome Bettis, LaDainian Tomlinson and still-active Steven Jackson – could eventually be enshrined in Canton.

Bettis has been a Hall-of-Fame finalist every year since he became eligible for induction in 2011; Tomlinson, a shoo-in, retired in 2011 and isn’t eligible and Jackson ranks 16th all-time in rushing.

Gore needs 39 yards Sunday to pass Warrick Dunn and join Jackson in the NFL’s top-20 in career rushing. Of the NFL’s top 20, 13 are in the Hall of Fame. The seven not in Canton: Tomlinson (5th), Bettis (6th), Edgerrin James (11th), Fred Taylor (15th), Jackson (16th), Corey Dillon (18th) and Dunn (20th).

Hall of a Group
Running backs with eight 1,000-yard seasons:
11: *Emmitt Smith
10: *Curtis Martin; *Walter Payton; *Barry Sanders
8: Jerome Bettis; *Eric Dickerson; *Tony Dorsett; Steven Jackson; Thurman Thomas; *LaDainian Tomlinson.

* Hall of Fame

NFL Career Rushing

With a productive season in 2015, Gore can move into the top 15 on the all-time list:
10. Marshall Faulk, 12,279
11. Edgerrin James, 12,246
12. Marcus Allen, 12,243
13. Franco Harris, 12,120
14. Thurman Thomas, 12,074
15. Fred Taylor, 11,695
16. Steven Jackson, 11,388
17. John Riggins, 11,352
18. Corey Dillon, 11,241
19. O.J. Simpson, 11,236
20. Warrick Dunn, 10,967
21. Frank Gore, 10,929

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Washington puts Brandon Meriweather on IR

Brandon Meriweather has been dealing with a toe injury that’s kept him inactive the last three weeks, and now it’s going to keep him out for the year.

Washingnton announced that the veteran safety was being placed on injured reserve.

They filled his roster spot with linebacker Steve Beauharnais, promoting him from the practice squad.

Meriweather’s about to turn 31, and will be a free agent this offseason, and the toe injury won’t help his market.

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Michael Phelps gets support from 'close friend' Ray Lewis in court appearance

BALTIMORE – When the Ray Lewis statue was unveiled outside M&T Bank Stadium in September, Olympic swimming star Michael Phelps was there to salute his friend and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker.

Friday, Lewis was in the courtroom in a show of support for Phelps as he entered a guilty plea to driving under the influence and was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation.

Lewis sat in a wooden bench row with Phelps’ mother, Debbie. Lewis gave her a kiss on the cheek before the proceeding as Phelps sat in the row in front of them, awaiting his turn In Baltimore City District Court.

Lewis was not available afterward, but during his statue unveiling earlier this year, he singled out Phelps in the crowd.

“A warrior from every level, I love you to death Michael Phelps,” Lewis said.

Outside the courthouse Friday, Phelps’ attorney, Steve Allen, thanked Lewis for coming.

“Mr. Lewis and Mr. Phelps are very close friends,” said Allen.

“Mr. Phelps appreciated the support of Mr. Lewis by being here today. They speak frequently, and it really speaks highly of Ray Lewis that he would come here in support of his close friend.”

In 2001, Lewis pleaded guilty to a reduced, misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice and was placed on 12 months probation. The charge stemmed from two stabbing deaths outside an Atlanta night club following the Super Bowl. Lewis was originally charged with two counts of murder, but those charges were dropped.

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Frank Gore takes advantage of matchup

Going against a defense that was strong against the pass but weak against the run, the 49ers clearly made running back Frank Gore a bigger part of their game plan Week 16 against San Diego, giving him eight carries on the team's first three drives. He finished with 26 for 158 yards, both season highs.

Of course, the increased workload may have had something to do with the absence of backup Carlos Hyde, who had been cutting into Gore's carries in recent weeks, with moderate effectiveness. Hyde is sidelined for an unspecified amount of time with an ankle injury.

Gore's performance may have earned him a bigger workload Week 17 against Arizona regardless. The Cardinals defense is kind of the opposite of the Chargers, though. It's much more effective against the run than the pass.

If nothing else, you at least have some hope for Gore making a relevant contribution in Week 17, but because the matchup isn't as favorable, he's still probably a sit in typical 12-team leagues.

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Chase Ford goes 1-22 against Dolphins

Vikings TE Chase Ford caught 1-of-2 targets for 22 yards in Sunday's Week 16 loss to the Dolphins.

Starting in place of injured Kyle Rudolph, Ford shared tight end duties with blocker Rhett Ellison, who finished with 47 yards on two receptions. Rudolph seems unlikely to be ready for the Vikings' season finale against the Bears.

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John Salmons selling $4.9M Main Line home

The holidays are usually a slow time for real estate, but it seems to be a busy time for professional athletes.

Just this month, both Roy Halladay and Jonathan Papelbon put their homes on the market. And now former Sixers player John Salmons has listed his Main Line mansion for $4.9 million.

Salmons, who currently plays for the New Orleans Pelicans, purchased the 10,400-square-foot Bryn Mawr home with his wife, Taniesha, in October 2007 for $4.495 million. The couple just welcomed their fourth child last month.

The Philly-born forward got his start in the NBA while playing on the Sixers from 2002 to 2006.

Some highlights in Salmons’ pricey pad include a full gym, sauna and spa, a theater, an elevator, and a wine cellar. 

The master suite includes his and hers walk-in closets, and his and hers private bathrooms. There are six bedrooms and seven full bathrooms.
The massive home has a gated entrance with a private courtyard. It sits on one-and-a-half acres.

Salmons’ house isn’t too far from the Bryn Mawr digs of former Sixers coach Larry Brown, whose sale is reportedly pending. The estate, dubbed Linden Hall, had been on the market for as much as $7.85 million.

Click to view Salmons’ home

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