30 December 2012

Man jailed in Sean Taylor's murder apologizes

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Former Redskins safety Sean Taylor was murdered five years ago last Nov. 27. He was shot during a botched robbery in his home and died the next day. He was 24.

"I was thinking to myself, it's kind of like winning the lotto to have a guy like Sean Taylor, to be able to say, ‘That's a friend,"' former teammate Clinton Portis said on the anniversary of Taylor's death. "And many people don't get that opportunity."

Authorities arrested five suspects. Four pleaded not guilty and have yet to go to trial. The fifth, Venjah Hunte, pleaded guilty in 2008 to second-degree murder and burglary while armed in exchange for a 29-year sentence that was part of a plea deal. Hunte was also the only defendant among the five to respond to the Washington Times' Nathan Fenno.

In a letter to the paper written last month, Hunte apologized for what happened in Palmetto Bay, Fla., on Nov. 26, 2007.

"To begin, I would like to send my deepest apology to the family of Sean Taylor,” Hunte wrote in a letter to the Times in response to several questions. “I know an apology won't bring him back, but I hope one day they could find it in their hearts to forgive me. …

“My thought or intentions weren't to hurt him or noone [sic] else, let alone murder, it was something I thought would never happen,” Hunte continued. “Even though I didn't pull the trigger I still have to take responsibility for my actions. Period.”

Taylor was shot in his right leg and the bullet hit his femoral artery. He died the next day. Hunte maintains that he wasn't in the house when the gun went off.

“Back then, I was just existing, I wasn't living life at all,” Hunte wrote, “I was just living the fast life, chasing fast money, doing things my way which would be the wrong way in the end.

“In the last five years, I've had to grow up and mature a lot. I no longer think about or want to indulge in the things I used to, it's just not worth it to me anymore. …

“At this point I feel like if I ever want to be back in society, the change starts now,” Hunte wrote, “and that's how I live from now on by surrounding myself with positive things at all times.”


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Ray Lewis Set To Join ESPN In Retirement

ESPN is on the verge of adding Ray Lewis to its talent lineup.

Multiple sources told SI.com the Ravens linebacker is close to signing a multi-year contract with the network. At ESPN, Lewis is expected to have a significant role on the network's Monday Night Countdown program. As with most ESPN NFL talent, Lewis would also be featured on multiple platforms, including ESPN Radio.

No formal announcement from Lewis or the network is expected until the conclusion of the Ravens season. Lewis announced Wednesday that he planned to retire at the end of Baltimore's season. The Ravens host the Colts on Sunday in the AFC WIld Card round.

An ESPN spokesperson declined comment when contacted Thursday morning.

According to multiple sources, Lewis and his representatives from talent agency William Morris Endeavor met during the season with several of the NFL broadcast networks.

One of Lewis' main requirements, according to sources, was flexibility in his schedule so he could attend the games of his son, Ray Lewis III, who will be a freshman running back/defensive back next season at his father's alma mater, the University of Miami. Such scheduling made Lewis an unlikely fit for a full-time role on the Sunday morning shows aired by CBS or Fox where he'd be required to be part of pre-show meetings on either Saturday or early Sunday. There is a possibility Lewis could work for ESPN on some Sundays depending on his travel. Given his star power, it's very likely Lewis would have a role on ESPN's multiple-day coverage of April's NFL draft.

Every network with an NFL contract has a list of players and coaches who would make good broadcasters. Last month, SI.com interviewed executives at CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and The NFL Network to find out who was on their watch lists. Unsurprisingly, Lewis was high on most charts. Some believe he can have a Charles Barkley-like impact in the studio.

"Ray Lewis has an intensity about him and a way of communicating that is very infectious," CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said. "He is a bigger-than-life personality, very articulate and [has] an incredible passion for the game. If Ray Lewis decided to take that same passion and put it into a broadcasting career, I think he would be a terrific studio analyst or I imagine game analyst, too.

Fox Sports Media group executive producer John Entz echoed McManus. "I see Ray as a guy who would be great in the studio because he is so animated and emotive," Entz said. "I think he could fire people up there."

Lewis had 12 Pro Bowl appearances during his 17 seasons and is a two-time winner of the AP Defensive Player of the Year award, including in 2000, the same season he was voted Super Bowl MVP following his team's win over the New York Giants. Most consider him among the NFL's greatest middle linebackers and a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2018.

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Ravens Sign Spencer Adkins

Naples High School graduate and former University of Miami Hurricanes linebacker Spencer Adkins has been signed to a reserve-futures contract by the Baltimore Ravens, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Adkins was waived by the Atlanta Falcons on Aug. 31. Players on reserve-futures contracts can work out with teams beginning in the offseason.

Adkins was a sixth-round draft pick in 2009 by the Falcons, and had 15 tackles in 24 games, most of those on special teams. He started Atlanta's playoff loss to the Giants last year due to an injury. He played in all four preseason games, registering four tackles, including two in the preseason finale against Jacksonville.
At Miami, Adkins dealt with injuries and had 72 tackles including 10 for loss. five sacks and one interception in 31 games.

In his senior year of high school in 2004, Adkins made 11 sacks -- four in one game -- and 19 tackles for a loss. As a junior, he had 80 tackles and 12 sacks. Adkins, who didn't play organized football until high school, was rated as the No. 7 outside linebacker in the nation and No. 87 in the nation, regardless of position, by Rivals.com. Adkins picked Miami over Florida, Florida State, and Georgia.

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Could Sunday also be Ed Reed's last home game with Ravens?

Linebacker Ray Lewis will likely play his last game at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday, but it might be the last home game for Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed as well.

Lewis said Wednesday he will retire at the end of the season and Reed hasn’t commented on future plans. It's possible the Ravens won’t re-sign Reed once his contract expires after this season. If re-signing Reed appeared likely, the Ravens would have made that move by now.

Lewis’ retirement appears to be the start of reshaping this team and bringing in some fresh blood, so to speak. The Ravens are hoping that Lewis and Reed have enough big plays left in them to make a deep run into the postseason. They certainly won’t go down easily.

Lewis has been so great for so long that he has his own coaching tree. Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Mike Smith, Rex Ryan, Jack Del Rio and Chuck Pagano were Ravens assistants who later became NFL coaches during Lewis’ career.

That’s a testament to Lewis and what he brought to this franchise and to the field every Sunday for 17 years.

If Lewis was 1A, then Reed became 1B. They both went to the University of Miami and when you thought of the Ravens defense, those were the two faces that immediately came to mind.

Lewis has the more storied career, but Reed is also headed to the Hall of Fame. He still can make big plays, and he's always made them look easy because of that long, easy stride.

Reed has always been a different type of guy, but once you cut through his reckless style and decisions on the field, he is a good person with a big heart. Few players in the Ravens organization have done as much for the community as Reed.

I expect the Ravens to allow Lewis to do his “Squirrel” introductory dance one last time Sunday, but it would be just as nice if they did something for Reed as well. It’s not too often a city gets to honor two Hall of Famers possibly playing their last home game at the same time.

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Panthers May look to restructure Jon Beason's contract

Looking at the numbers for the Carolina Panthers, and it sure looks like they’re in a much worse situation than the Saints. There simply aren’t a lot of easy escape routes for the Panthers.

I don’t know if former general manager Marty Hurney deserves all the blame or if he was acting on orders from above, but the contracts given to guys like DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith, Jon Beason, James Anderson and Charles Godfrey in recent years have left the Panthers in a real salary-cap mess.

Whoever ends up as the new general manager is going to have his hands tied in a lot of ways, because most of those contracts include so much guaranteed in base salaries and so much pro-rated money that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get out from under some of the team’s biggest contracts by releasing players.

The Panthers would lose cap space if they released Smith, Stewart or Godfrey. They’d basically break even on Anderson.

Beason and Williams could be candidates for release, but only if the Panthers designated them as June 1 cuts and spread their cap hit over two years, instead of one.

The Panthers currently have $136 million committed toward a 2013 salary cap that is expected to be slightly more than $120 million. Let’s look at some guys who could be on the cap bubble.

Beason: The logical scenario for him is a contract restructure to knock his cap figure down. Beason currently has a $9.5 million cap figure and $3.75 million of his $5.25 base salary for this year is guaranteed. Beason also has $12 million in outstanding pro-rated money.

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Reggie Wayne hoping Colts can make his dream come true

INDIANAPOLIS — Reggie Wayne has an emphatic message for his Colts teammates. He’s got bigger plans.

Less than 12 months after taking less money to play for a team in major rebuilding mode and then leading it back to the playoffs as he had promised, Wayne has started concocting all sorts of grand possibilities in his mind.

‘‘If all goes well, if my dreams are correct, I won’t be playing in this [Pro Bowl] game. I have a bigger game to play in and my dreams normally come true,’’ Wayne said with a chuckle after earning his sixth Pro Bowl selection. ‘‘Let’s hope that this one is headed in that direction.’’

Clearly, the Colts needed Wayne’s presence this season and not just because of his skills on the field.

‘Reggie really is the leader of the offense. Everything he does helps us out. He sets a great example for all the young, new guys that are on the team.’

He showed this young, unproven offense what it takes to excel in the NFL, how to stick around a while, and what it means to play this game with purpose and passion. The results have been nothing short of remarkable.

Quarterback Andrew Luck set NFL rookie records for most yards passing and most attempts. He tied the NFL season mark for game-winning fourth-quarter drives, broke Peyton Manning’s franchise rookie mark for completions, set a new Colts record for rushing TDs by a quarterback, and presided over a historic turnaround.

Indy’s rookies also combined for 3,108 yards rushing and receiving, the most of any team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, according to STATS LLC.

And at age 34, Wayne gave no indication he was slowing down. The New Orleans native hauled in 106 receptions for 1,355 yards — the second-best marks of his career — and tied Marvin Harrison for the franchise’s most 1,000-yard seasons (eight). He moved into the top 10 on the NFL’s reception list (968), the top 15 in yards receiving (13,063), and broke the NFL record for most consecutive games with three or more catches (64), all while putting football into perspective for these rookies.

‘‘Reggie really is the leader of the offense,’’ Luck said. ‘‘Everything he does helps us out. He sets a great example for all the young, new guys that are on the team — myself included — and he is a lot of fun to throw the ball to.’’

When it comes to work, though, Wayne is all business.

During the first week of training camp, he hung around after practice in the blazing sun to catch balls from the Jugs machine. He started by himself. Each day, though, the crowd increased and within days, seemingly every receiver on the team was waiting behind one of the NFL’s top receivers.

That didn’t change when the Colts returned to their team complex.

‘‘You know his professionalism, I think that’s big especially with the young group on that side of the ball,’’ safety Antoine Bethea said when asked what Wayne’s most important contribution has been. ‘‘Just showing them how to be a professional, how to be a pro . . . You see him in the weight room, but you’d never know anything is wrong with him because he’s out there every day on the practice field and you can count on him every Sunday.’’

But it almost didn’t work out.

Two days before Indy’s miserable 2-14 season ended in 2011 and about to become an unrestricted free agent, Wayne packed up his locker, took down his nameplate, and spoke somberly to reporters as if his career in Indy was about to end.

The Colts did send many of Wayne’s longtime teammates — including Manning, running back Joseph Addai, and tight end Dallas Clark — packing in March. Some signed free agent contracts with other teams, and most figured that with Indianapolis going young and trying to shed big-dollar contracts, Wayne would go somewhere else, too.

That’s when new coach Chuck Pagano, who befriended Wayne when the two were at the University of Miami, made a personal request.

‘‘Basically I told him, I said I don’t want to do this without you,’’ Pagano said. ‘‘I said, ‘If we’re going to get this thing done and move forward and get back to the winning ways that this organization and certainly our fans in the community are used to, we need you back. I want to do this with you. We all want you back.’ ’’

After reflecting on Pagano’s words, Wayne turned down more money from other teams and re-signed with the Colts for three years and $17.5 million so he could help the franchise reestablish itself as a Super Bowl contender.

‘‘This is the journey that all teams want to take,’’ Wayne said. ‘‘This is the approach that we wanted. We wanted to give ourselves a chance.’’

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Andre Johnson looks to build on best season

HOUSTON -- Houston's Andre Johnson heard the whispers he'd lost a step and that he'd never again be an elite receiver as he struggled through the worst season of his career in 2011.

He didn't let it get him down.

Johnson used it as motivation, and bounced back from last year's 492-yard season with a career-high 1,598 yards receiving this season.

Now he's looking to do more as the Texans prepare for Saturday's playoff game against the Bengals.

His performance this season has left him with Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history with at least three seasons with 1,500 yards receiving. He also reached the mark in 2008 and 2009.

Johnson has 112 catches this season for his fourth career 100-catch year and his most since finishing with 115 catches in 2008. He was recently selected to his sixth Pro Bowl and has more than 11,000 yards receiving in his career.

Coach Gary Kubiak calls Johnson's season "amazing", and loves the way he leads the Texans by example with his hard work and positive attitude.

"I've been fortunate to be around some special players, but I really count my blessings with this one," Kubiak said. "He's a heck of a player, but a great kid, too."
Johnson has had success against Cincinnati, and is averaging 122.7 yards receiving in his past three games against the Bengals.

He's disappointed that the team has struggled recently, losing three of its past four games. But he believes they'll turn things around on Saturday.

"We just haven't been playing football the way that we know how to play it," Johnson said. "We just have to get back to what we have done earlier during the season. Find that same kind of focus and everybody just lock into what they're doing and just go play football the way we know how to play it."

Johnson got off to a slow start this season after being hampered by minor injuries in training camp. But he has been on a roll in the past seven games, piling up 1,001 yards. Johnson has six 100-yard games this season, including a career-best 273 yards receiving in a win over the Jaguars.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis doesn't believe it's possible to shut down Johnson, but they do hope to limit his catches.

"He's a fine, fine player and I don't know about shutting (him) down and if you can ... do that because as we know, it's a two-pronged attack there with both the running game and the throwing game that comes off of it," Lewis said. "You really have to play really sound, sound defensive football in order to do that."

Johnson has a lot of respect for the Bengals, and knows Houston will have to play much better than it has been to win on Saturday.

"(They) might be the most talented defense we probably have faced," Johnson said. "They've been playing good football, a lot of good players on the back end, so it'll be a big challenge for us."

Johnson, who is the longest-tenured Texan, waited eight seasons before finally making the playoffs for the first time last season. His second trip will be very similar to the first with Houston hosting Cincinnati in a wild-card game for the second straight season.

"It's not new," Johnson said. "Last year it was new to us. This time it's not new. It's crazy that we're in the same place we were in last year, playing the same team. It'll be big. And we'll be ready to go."

One player it will be new to is quarterback Matt Schaub, who missed last year's playoff run with an injured foot. Much of the blame for Houston's recent slump has been directed at Schaub.

"That's just part of it," Johnson said. "When the team is not playing well, the quarterback is going to take most of the criticism. It's all about how you respond. We have another game Saturday, so however he goes out and plays Saturday that's what people will talk about."

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Ray Lewis' $100-125 Million Impact on the Growth of Baltimore Ravens Franchise Value

Emotions will run high at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday as Ray Lewis will in all likelihood be playing his last home game with a team whose tenure in Baltimore mirrors his own.

From 1996 to the present, Mr. Lewis has been the undisputed team leader.

The Baltimore Ravens, established in 1996 who arrived into town from Cleveland, have reached the NFL playoffs in 9 of 13 seasons since (and including) 2000 when they won the Super Bowl.  5 of those appearances have occurred consecutively dating back to 2008 and the arrival of Coach John Harbaugh.
From 2000 (the Ravens Super Bowl winning year) through the present, the Lewis-led Baltimore defense finished among the league’s Top 4 defenses 7 of 13 years…and only 3 times finished outside of the Top 10.

In short, Ray Lewis’ energetic play and inspirational demeanor is unquestioned, and he is a large reason for the team’s defensive success over the years.
But how much of the franchise’s $1.16 billion estimated worth (as of Forbes’ 2012 valuation estimates) is he responsible for?

Let’s account for inflation so we can compare apples to apples.  Multiplying the 1997 estimated nominal franchise value ($329 million) by a factor of approximately 1.433 (the ratio of the 2012 and 1997 CPIs) implies that the 1997 franchise value measured in current 2012 dollars was roughly $470 million.  This yields a $690 million disparity between the 2012 and 1997 franchise values.

How much of that additional $690 million can be attributed to Ray Lewis?

First, we must account for the financial consequences associated with a team that receives a new stadium.  As the time series data on the team’s revenues from the late 1990s and early 2000s shows, revenues realized a larger spike once the team started playing at M&T Bank Stadium than even after their World Championship.

For example, team revenue for 1998 (the first year of the new stadium) was $120 million…or an increase of 64% over the $73 million earned in 1997.  Conversely, team revenues for the 2000 championship season were $139 million…or an increase of 13% over the $123 million earned in 1999.  Throughout the 2000s, there were no one-year percentage increases in revenue that even approached the 64% increase generated from the new stadium effect.

In short, without a relatively new stadium, the Ravens would be more apt to have a franchise value in the $800-900 million range.  Thus, a new stadium in my estimation explains between one-third to one-half of the $690 million boost in franchise value experienced during Lewis’ tenure.

Second, we must account for the team’s success.  To appreciate the importance of success, consider that the Cleveland Browns play in a newer stadium (1999) but their franchise value is roughly $200 million less than the Ravens despite having a larger TV market than Baltimore.

Explanation?  The Browns have only reached the playoffs once since 1999 (2002), and this drives their value down relative to markets (like Baltimore) that regularly win.

But how much of the credit for that consistent success goes to Ray Lewis compared to his teammates’ collective efforts or the Harbaugh coaching regime?  Coach Harbaugh has already reached the postseason more times in 5 seasons (5) than Brian Billick accomplished (4) in 9 seasons.  In short, not all of the team’s successes can be tied 100% to Ray Lewis.  He played a major role, but there have been and still are many other role players.

Third, the historic brand appeal of the franchise has helped keep the Ravens franchise value among the NFL’s top third.  A brand appeal built upon a rich football history dating back to 1953 in Baltimore that eventually featured such historic names as Unitas, Ameche, and Berry.  A brand appeal that was yearning for an outlet in the years after the old Colts drove out of town in 1984 to Indianapolis.  Teams with newer stadiums (e.g. Detroit, Cincinnati, Arizona) don’t have the same historic brand appeal as football in Baltimore due to lack of historical success.

At the end of the day, it is my assessment that Ray Lewis’ financial influence upon the growth of the Ravens’ franchise value during his 17-year tenure likely lies near $100-125 million of the $690 million increase observed from 1997 to the present.

As large as this is, Lewis’ impact on the franchise and city still pales in comparison to what Peyton Manning did for Indianapolis.
The difference between Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning?

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Reggie Wayne emerges as undisputed team leader

He wore orange gloves that day. He was on a mission. His coach, Chuck Pagano, had been hospitalized days earlier for treatment of life-threatening leukemia. Reggie Wayne was determined to seize the moment, the game, in those orange gloves.

Again and again they flicked out, sudden as a snake's strike. Wayne's is a distinctive style; the Indianapolis Colts wide receiver hides his hands until the final fraction of a second lest they betray to the defender the football's arrival and location.

The defender much of that memorable early October afternoon was Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, a future Pro Football Hall of Fame member, and he frequently had double-team help.

No matter. Nothing mattered. Those orange gloves, representative of leukemia awareness, stabbed five passes for 64 yards on the 80-yard touchdown drive that won the game 30-27 with 35 seconds to play.

Where do you go when the air is so thick with tension even the home crowd can't spit? On third-and-9, Andrew Luck went to Wayne for 15 yards. On third-and-12, to Wayne for 15 more. On first-and-goal, one last time, Luck to Wayne, who snatched the football with three defenders converging, twisted, stretched and extended it across the goal line for the 4-yard game-winner.

The sellout crowd of 67,020 gasped, roared, then chanted: "Reggie, Reggie, Reggie, Reggie."

Wayne caught 13 passes for 212 yards. The game ball went to the hospital, to Pagano. The "mojo" the now-in-remission coach likes to talk about, to the Colts. That day began the 10-3 run that has delivered an 11-5 season.

"Big moments, he controls them," Luck said of Wayne. "He's going to make the catch. He's going to make the play. He's going to get the first down, the touchdown, whatever you need."

At 34, Wayne has had one of the finest of his 12 much-decorated seasons: 106 catches, 1,355 receiving yards, five touchdowns and a sixth Pro Bowl trip, but the numbers, pretty as they are, scarcely hint at his impact, his value.

"He is the heart and soul and leader of the offense," Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "Andrew will take that torch one day, but right now it's definitely Reggie's."

Happy homecoming
It almost didn't happen.

Wayne's contract expired after the Colts 2-14 2011 season. He received no indication of interest from the team, so he packed his gear and the mementoes of 11 mostly gilded seasons and shipped them home to Miami.

It wasn't until Jan. 25, the day Pagano was hired and Wayne called to congratulate his old friend from the University of Miami, that the Colts made an appeal.
"First thing Chuck tells me," Wayne recalled, "he says, 'Thanks, Reg, but you know what? I can't do it without you.' "

There were other offers come March and that opening night of free agency, and they were more lucrative. Wayne said he walked away from millions. He followed his heart. He came home.

Wayne signed a three-year, $17.5 million contract. He pronounced himself a "Colt for life" and went straight to work.

As the seasons have progressed and the hits and mileage on Wayne's legs accumulated, he has begun the rigorous days of his offseason earlier each year.
They began at 5:30 a.m. last summer, but he was up at 4:30 for the 40-minute drive to the UM.

"When you're rolling over and snoring, I'm out there on the field," said Wayne, who goes back to 1997 with Pagano, when Wayne was a Miami player and Pagano a Hurricanes assistant coach. "When you wake up and get ready to work out, I'm back home, taking my nap or playing with my kids."

When Luck and Colts wide receivers Donnie Avery and Griff Whalen visited Miami in July to work on routes and timing, Wayne didn't deviate. His teammates arrived about 8 a.m.

"By the time they got there, I had finished my personal workout," Wayne said.

Don't think that went unnoticed. That's where to plumb the depth and value of Wayne's most vital contributions.

Ask the heart and soul of the defense about the heart and soul of the offense. Ask 10th-year outside linebacker Robert Mathis.

"He's more a show-you guy than a tell-you guy," said Mathis, who is cut from the same timber. "He's, 'Follow me. I'll show you.'

"He's that guy."

The Colts have followed, particularly the five rookies who have played so critical a role on offense: Luck, tight end Dwayne Allen, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Coby Fleener and running back Vick Ballard.

Or don’t ask. Observe. Watch him do all those things. Watch him block safeties and 250-pound SAM linebackers along the line of scrimmage in the most productive Colts running game since 2007.

It’s a new dimension for him, one he accepted readily. He calls himself the Colts’ honorary fullback.

"It's every day, whether it's catching balls before practice or catching balls after practice," Allen said. "I watch Reggie. I just want to work as hard as him."

Wayne answers the questions. He feels the eyes. He knows this young and star-kissed team needs more than Pro Bowl playmaking.

He knows he has become and must conduct himself as -- he struggles for the term -- "a cornerstone."

"You hear that, but this is the first time I'm actually experiencing it," he said. "I know I've got a million eyes on me. I've got to show them, this is what it is. I got to go full speed.

"And I think that's what's kind of fueled a little bit of this year. I've got to lead the way."

Setting the agenda, loudly
Wayne is a warm and engaging teammate. He is fun, and he is funny.

But there is a taciturn aspect. He is comfortable alone and at ease in silence. While he commands the receivers meeting room, he does so quietly.

"He likes to sit by himself," said Hilton, Wayne's relentless interrogator. "He'll be in back. I'll be in front."

Leading the way has come naturally enough. Wayne has done the same things the same way he has for a dozen years, for most all his football life.

The talking, and on occasion the shouting, have been another matter. When it has been necessary for the Colts to raise their level, Wayne has raised his voice.

"He's talked more this year than he had in all the 11 previous years and it's helped our team in every way," Mathis said.

"At halftime (of the Green Bay game), he kind of jumped the whole team for not being up to the challenge.

"We responded."

How could they not?

Wayne caught six passes for 104 yards during the first half that day but the Colts trailed 21-3. He shouted. He cajoled. He challenged. Then he caught seven more passes for another 108 yards over the final 30 minutes.

His teammates followed his voice and his lead. They came back that afternoon and they have continually come back this season.

"The best time here was winning the Super Bowl (following the 2006 season)," Wayne said. "That's it. But at the same time, this year is right up there with it.

"Guys have just been a team, locked in, enjoying each other. This has been the happiest locker room of my 12 years here. It's been fun, man. These young guys, they keep me laughing."

The Colts journey to Baltimore on Sunday for the wildest of wild card games: from 2-14 to 11-5.

Ask Wayne's young teammates if they would be there without him.

"No," said Hilton.

"No," said Allen.

"Absolutely not," said Luck, who paused, then added, "I guess I don't know, but everything in me says no."

The Colts play for their season Sunday. Wayne's hands will flicker and strike, and if necessary, he will raise his voice.

Luck calls him the "bell cow."

Arians calls him the "pied piper."

Pagano calls him a "pillar guy."

The home crowd calls him, "Reggie, Reggie, Reggie . . . "

You consider his eminent career and this so splendid season on so many levels. They're all right.

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Ray Lewis' retirement will save Ravens $4.35 million in salary-cap space

The salary-cap impact of Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis' pending retirement will amount to a net savings of $4.35 million for this year, an important bit of savings considering the AFC North champions' free agency needs.

Due a $5.4 million base salary in 2013, Lewis was scheduled for a salary-cap figure of $7.3 million.

The Ravens save the $5.4 million by virtue of Lewis' exit from the roster, but will still have to account for his $1.9 million in prorated bonus for 2013 and $650,000 and $400,000 in 2014 and 2015 for a total of $2.95 million in total dead money.

Lewis was signed to a seven-year, $42.5 million contract extension that included $16.5 million in total guaranteed money, including a signing bonus of $6.25 million.

The Ravens are expected to face a tight salary-cap situation even with Lewis' departure because they are expected to have to use the franchise tag to retain quarterback Joe Flacco, barring an advancement in contract discussions that hit an impasse in August with talks tabled until after the season.

The outlook for free safety Ed Reed is murky, too.

Reed could be expensive to retain after making $7.2 million this year in the final year of his contract.

Reed hasn't hired a new agent to represent him after a contract extension was broached last year. The Ravens haven't held talks with Reed this year, but he's expected to hire an agent after the season.

If the future Hall of Fame defender heads elsewhere, expect the potential suitors to include the New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts and others.
Reed will also contemplate retirement depending on how the Ravens fare in the postseason.

The Ravens will be challenged to replace a trio of key defensive free agents: outside linebacker Paul Kruger, who recorded a career-high nine sacks and will be sought after by teams looking for a situational pass rusher; cornerback Cary Williams, who intercepted a career-high four passes to go with 75 tackles and 17 pass deflections; and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.

Ellerbe is expected to field a strong market for his services as one of the top inside linebackers available if he hits free agency. He'll be an important player for the Ravens to try to retain following Lewis' retirement.

Despite dealing with a broken thumb, a sprained thumb, a left foot injury and a sprained right ankle that limited him to 13 games and seven starts, Ellerbe recorded a career-high 89 tackles to rank second on the team. He also emerged as the Ravens' top inside blitzer with 4 1/2 sacks.

Although the Ravens made a $10.5 million commitment to Jameel McClain last spring, he's recovering from a spinal cord contusion. While McClain had 79 tackles this season in 13 starts, he had no sacks or forced fumbles.

While Flacco is the No. 1 priority for the Ravens' offseason financially, they'll have other business to conduct to try to upgrade a defense that has improved over the past six games to finish the season ranked 17th in the NFL.

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DeQuan Jones posterizes Chris Bosh

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John Salmons On Hot Streak

John Salmons, SG/SF, Sacramento Kings (19.1 percent owned): It would have been difficult for Salmons not to improve upon the disaster that was his 2011-12 season, when he posted a career-low 3-point percentage and the worst per-minute numbers he has had since he broke out for the Kings in 2006-2007. But he has stepped in and performed admirably in Tyreke Evans' absence, scoring in double figures in four of the past six games. He is averaging 13.9 points on 51.4 percent shooting from the floor and 82.4 percent from the stripe with 4.7 assists, 1.6 3-pointers and 1.0 steals per game over the past 15 days. He has decreased his attempts on long 2-pointers and increased his attempts at the rim, which are positive signs in the field goal percentage department. Evans is expected to return sometime during the Kings' next homestand, but there's enough ambiguity there and overall instability surrounding this team that it's worth it to ride Salmons while he's hot.

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Warren Sapp weighs in on Ray Lewis' pending retirement

A longtime friend and former teammate of middle linebacker Ray Lewis, Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders opined that perhaps the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is retiring from football because he feels his teammates aren't matching his commitment to the game.

Sanders didn't say he was speaking with any inside knowledge from Lewis, though.

"I don’t believe it, I really don’t," Sanders said today on NFL Network. "Ray Lewis could have come to this conclusion if his body isn’t responding as it once did. We all know that he’s been hampered with injuries over the last several years, although he feels like his play is still above standard. I believe it is as well. But when you look around the locker room, Ray is a perfectionist. He’s looking for reality, should I stay around? He’s already made his mark in professional sports, he will go down in history as arguably the best linebacker to ever play this game.

"But when he looks amongst the locker room and doesn’t see the intangibles to win a championship, that will provoke someone to say, 'This is it for me because I can’t continue to put my body through these rigorous training schedules for naught.' That’s probably the conclusion he came to for that reason. I don’t think it has anything to do with his level of play but what’s inside that locker room."

In his remarks today announcing his retirement, Lewis didn't cite that as a reason for his pending retirement after this season.

Although it appears remote that Lewis will pull a Brett Favre and come back or change his mind, Sanders broached the possibility that the defensive icon could have second thoughts. 

“Yes, it depends on how close they get," Sanders said. "If you get there to the championship game and you’re right there on the front door, and you realize we could have had this; just one step away, a couple of intangibles inside the locker room, maybe the guys that were injured, [Lardarius] Webb at the cornerback position, a healthy [Terrell] Suggs and a healthy Ray Lewis, a healthy Ed Reed and a formidable offensive coordinator, he could say I could do this again because we’re almost there. But if they’re not close, then I can see Ray Lewis saying this is a wrap, this is it.”

As far as playing with Lewis, Sanders said it was always an experience where Lewis provided motivation in the locker room.

“When I played with the Ravens, as a defensive player and a 37-year old savvy veteran, you didn’t want to let Ray Lewis down, no matter the situation," Sanders said. "I don’t care if it was practice, you didn’t want to let him down. You wanted to win at all costs and that’s the same thing that these guys will respond to Ray Lewis by him saying this is my last go around."

Former NFL defensive tackle Warren Sapp also weighed in on Lewis' upcoming retirement.

Like Lewis, Sapp is a fellow University of Miami football alum and he recalled the start of Lewis' career for the Hurricanes.

“You can’t say football without Ray Lewis," Sapp said on NFL Network. "He’s deciding that this will be the last one so we’ve all enjoyed it. I was standing there at the University of Miami the first time he walked in a huddle as a 17-year old kid from Polk County, Lakeland, Florida and stuttered the huddle, if you can believe that. He stuttered it out of his mouth. I was like, ‘What? Ray, if you’re going to stand in front of this huddle, you have to call it.’ He went out and had 20 tackles and an interception at Colorado, and the rest is history.”

Sapp said he's never seen a better middle linebacker than Lewis.

“He provides a comfort that you can’t outrun him, you’re not going over the top of him, you’re not going to go through him," Sapp said. "As a rock in the middle of a defense, there is nothing more sane for a defensive tackle like myself to line up and know he’s behind him. If you’re lucky enough to get past me, he’s right there. OK, now what’s next?"

Sapp said this was a fitting time for Lewis to walk away.

“There comes a time when you’ve nurtured and you’ve raised your young ones, as we like to call them in the NFL, and now it’s time for your young ones to carry you," Sapp said. "That’s what they’re thinking is let’s take our great lion to the throne because he’s taught us the way. He’s shown us how to be professionals on and off the field, how to commit yourself to your career, and more than that be a shining example of how to do it day in and day out.”

Sapp said he expects the Ravens to be inspired by Lewis' announcement heading into Sunday's AFC wild-card playoff game against an Indianapolis Colts squad fired up by the emotional return of coach Chuck Pagano after undergoing chemotherapy to battle leukemia. 

“I don’t think it does anything but add to what they’ve already tried to get done, and that’s to win a championship," Sapp said. "When you talk about your captain, your leader, your emotional everything saying this is my last ride, I wouldn’t find a better middle linebacker to take that last ride with. He’s always gotten them up ready to play. Now it’s the last stand and I’d love to be in that bunker with him."

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Ray Lewis among top five defenders ever

The Baltimore Ravens are losing more than leadership after the season with the retirement of Ray Lewis.

They are losing one of the five best defensive players I have had the fortune to cover. As you might know, I started covering the NFL in 1972. Because of that, I was able to catch the end of Dick Butkus' career. He retired in 1973, and I marveled at how he roamed the field and made violent tackles.

Every time I watched Lewis, he reminded me of Butkus. Because Lewis was faster, maybe he should be ranked ahead of Butkus among the greatest defensive players ever, but out of respect to NFL history, I rank Butkus ahead of Lewis. Remember, I still go with Jim Brown as the best pure NFL football player I've ever seen.

So here are John Clayton’s top five defensive players:

1. Lawrence Taylor: He changed the game. He was so good at rushing the quarterback, Bill Parcells put him as a 3-4 linebacker and just let him rush. When you watch games, most of the time your eyes angle toward the quarterback. During the L.T. days, you ended up watching him. He was that good.

2. Reggie White: He was unblockable. White is considered the greatest unrestricted free agent in NFL history. Once he went to Green Bay, the Packers returned to their status as a legacy franchise. I can't tell you how many times I'd see White get angry at some cheap-shot block and then decide to line up in front of offender and embarrass him with a "hump" move.

3. "Mean" Joe Greene: Chuck Noll built perhaps the greatest football dynasty around Mean Joe. As a rookie, Greene was a little like Ndamukong Suh. Not only was he was difficult to block, he also lived up to his nickname. Veterans told him he didn't have to take the cheap shots, so Greene dominated cleanly and professionally.

4. Dick Butkus: NFL Films and the Sabol family captured his greatest on tape every week. Growing up, I looked forward to NFL Films' weekly highlights show in order to see the best of Butkus. Had he played now, he would be on the "SportsCenter" highlights every Sunday night.

5. Ray Lewis: I still remember a Ravens training camp at which I had to ask Lewis about his tackling style. Lewis always seemed to explode as he neared a ball carrier. I asked him whether my observation was valid.

Lewis smiled and noted that he was a wrestler in high school and much of that explosion came from his wrestling techniques. Could you imagine going against Lewis on a wrestling mat?

The 2000 Ravens defense was the third-best I've seen, ranking behind the 1970s Steelers' Steel Curtain and the 1985 Chicago Bears, and Lewis was the leader. What was amazing is how his presence has been able to help Baltimore maintain its defensive toughness for so long.

Lewis was Butkus-tough, but he was the perfect middle linebacker because of his range. When the Ravens eventually switched to a 3-4 defense, Lewis told me why their 3-4 was so different. Normally, 3-4 defensive coaches like bigger players. They like 260-pound outside linebackers who are tall. They like stout inside linebackers to stuff and run and ward off blockers.

The Ravens' 3-4 was always different because Lewis could run and tackle from sideline to sideline. He made sure the rest of the starting linebacker corps could also run, which allowed them to use lighter, more agile defenders.

One of the highlights of my tour of training camps this year was seeing Lewis at his lightest. To regain some of his speed and quickness, Lewis spent the offseason riding a bike. He rode as much as 80 miles a day.

It allowed him to come to camp more than 20 pounds lighter than the previous season.

Lewis will be missed next season, but I will be looking forward to the Pro Football Hall of Fame vote for him in five years. He will be inducted on the first ballot. He's earned it.

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Marcus Forston earns practice honor

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Defensive linemen Jake Bequette and Marcus Forston were among four Patriots named practice players of the week for Sunday's win over the Dolphins.

It's the fourth time each player has been honored this season, tying them with quarterback Ryan Mallett (who was also honored this week) for second place behind defensive end Justin Francis (five awards).

Forston has spent most of the season on the practice squad, and after defensive tackle Ron Brace was waived on Saturday, he would seemingly be the next man up if the Patriots decide they need another interior defensive lineman.

Receiver Jeremy Ebert, who returned to the practice squad in late November, earned his first black practice jersey of the season. Ebert was a seventh-round pick of New England in 2012.

The practice player of the week goes to the players whom the coaching staff feels best prepared the team in the days leading up to a victory.

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Ray Lewis: “This will be my last ride”

One of the greatest players in NFL history is preparing to hang it up after the playoffs.

Ray Lewis, the Ravens linebacker and future Pro Football Hall of Famer, said today that he plans to retire following this season. The Ravens open the playoffs on Sunday against the Colts, in what will likely be Lewis’s last game in Baltimore.

“This will be my last ride,” Lewis said.

The Ravens’ first-round pick in the 1996 NFL draft, Lewis has been chosen to 13 Pro Bowls, is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and was the Super Bowl XXXV Most Valuable Player.

Lewis’s decision is no surprise: At age 37, he has already played far longer than most NFL linebackers, and this season has been a disappointment, with a torn triceps muscle causing him to miss 10 games. Lewis also said on ProFootballTalk Live in October that he wants to step away from the game in time to watch his son play at the University of Miami next season, and there’s already speculation that he’ll line up a post-NFL job at ESPN.

So while players sometimes change their minds about retirement, this doesn’t seem like a rash decision for Lewis. These playoffs will probably be the last opportunity for football fans to see one of the best linebackers ever to play the game.

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GM: I felt for Devin Hester

Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said Tuesday he doesn't expect Devin Hester to follow through with talk of retirement, although Emery understands Hester's emotions after the firing of coach Lovie Smith.

After Smith was fired Monday, the 30-year-old Hester said he didn't know if he wanted to play again and had his "workers comp" papers in his pocket.

"Devin didn't come by," Emery said during a news conference. "I saw the comments. I felt for Devin. Again, I take all that in context of these guys had played a long time ... Devin came in as a draft pick with Lovie. I certainly understand the emotion. There will be a time when his emotions clear.

"Devin has come into my office and we've talked before. My door is always open, and if he wants to do that, we can have the conversation. If he doesn't, I'm open to that, too. Obviously, Devin is under contract, so if he sent his retirement papers in, I would know. But I don't anticipate that. I think he's a great competitor. I think that was an emotional situation that evoked an emotional response, and I certainly understand that."

Hester said it wasn't just Monday's news that had him thinking of retiring.

"I don't even know if I want to play again," Hester said. "That's been something on my mind for two years.

"It's not (much fun for me anymore). I've got my workers comp papers in my pocket. We'll see how I feel. I'm going to go home and talk to my wife and talk to my family and see where we go from there. I got two beautiful kids, man, two boys. A lot of stress has been on my mind lately."

Hester said he's been stressed by what's transpired on the field. After establishing himself as one of the greatest returners in NFL history, Hester tried to make the transition to impact receiver, but that never happened. He had 57 catches in 2009, but that's gone down each subsequent season, and he had 23 this season.

"Not being able to showcase my talents the way I want them to be able to be showcased, it's stressful," Hester said.

He was asked whether a change of scenery would help.

"Who knows? If it's the right place ... if not, I feel like I've done enough in the league to where I established myself (as) one of the elite players to ever play the game," he said. "God blessed me with seven years. The average years of an NFL player is about three. I made some accomplishments on my own, some goals I reached, some other goals I felt I could have achieved."

Brian Urlacher has been one of Smith's most vocal supporters and said he was shocked at the news. But Urlacher cautioned that some players would say things they didn't necessarily mean.

"We're all mad right now," Urlacher said Monday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "We lost our head coach, they fired him, and we're all mad. We're going to say some things that we don't mean."

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Cory Nelms Signed By Raiders

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — The Oakland Raiders have signed six players from their practice squad to reserve/future contracts.

The Raiders announced Wednesday deals with guard Jason Foster, linebacker Jerrell Harris, defensive back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, wide receiver Travionte Session, tight end Mickey Shuler and tackle Jason Slowey.

Oakland had signed the two other players on their practice squad last week, defensive lineman Brandon Bair and defensive back Cory Nelms. Nelms was activated to the active roster in Week 17 for Oakland’s final game of the 2012 season.

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Another look at Devin Hester's future

In the hours after the Chicago Bears fired coach Lovie Smith, it was fair to expect anger and even empty threats from a group of players who had grown close to him over the years. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, for one, freely acknowledged that "we're going to say things that we don't mean."

So I didn't make much of kick returner/receiver Devin Hester's claim that he was considering retirement. Neither did Bears general manager Phil Emery, who said Tuesday that he doesn't anticipate Hester walking away. "That was an emotional situation that evoked an emotional response," said Emery, who added: "There will be a time when his emotions clear."

It's worth pointing out, however, that Hester has now said on multiple occasions that Smith's firing isn't the catalyst for his current mindset. He implied that his failure to emerge as a consistent receiver -- or perhaps the failure of the Bears to cultivate those skills -- has taken the fun out of playing for him.

Hester said Monday that retirement has "been something on my mind for two years" and added: "Not being able to showcase my talents the way I want them to be able to be showcased, it's stressful."

Tuesday, Hester tweeted: "Let me make myself clear the reason why I feel like retiring has nothing to do with Lovie Smith Getting fired. … It's hard to play this game when you're not happy or having fun At what you love to do in life."

Football is a business above all else, and we should note that Hester is entering the final year of a contract that calls for him to earn about $2.1 million in 2013. We could be cynical and suggest Hester could be setting himself up to be lured back via a contract extension by a new coach who wants to maintain a Hall of Fame presence as a returner, if nothing else.

I don't know if that's the case. There have certainly been instances of established 30-year-old players walking away from the game for health, passion or other reasons. And if Hester's feelings truly are unrelated to Smith's departure, then this issue runs deeper than reactive emotion. Maybe Devin Hester just doesn't like playing football anymore. He has earned more than $20 million in his NFL career. Most players want to squeeze every last dollar and year out of their careers, but Hester might not be wired that way.

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Jonathan Vilma upset with anonymous Saint's ripjob

An anonymous New Orleans Saints player told The Times-Picayune on Tuesday that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo should be fired. And that was one of the nicer things the player said about Spagnuolo.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is not amused. He's upset with the player and the newspaper for running the story. Vilma called the anonymous source strategy "B.S" on Twitter, then told the newspaper why.

"I'm bothered you reported it," Vilma said. "We're not the Jets, who run to the media for everything."

Vilma was asked if the player's comments about Spagnuolo's poor coaching and rough management style were wrong.

"That's not the question or the point," Vilma said. "If he's man enough to tell you, he should be man enough to put his name on it. And you should do the same."
A lot to digest here. A few thoughts:

1. Vilma not speaking to the accuracy of the statements says volumes about Spagnuolo. Here's what the anonymous player said about why no displeasure had surfaced until now.

"Trust me, all the guys were being politically correct this season when answering questions (this season)," the player said. "It's bad."

2. You have to respect Vilma's strong stance on the matter. He's not only upset with the player but the journalistic practices. A lot of people within the media agree with Vilma when it comes to anonymous sources.

3. It's comical that Vilma says, "We're not the Jets," and everyone knows exactly what he means.

4. Perhaps this is cynical, but we can't help but think Vilma's reaction was in part to let everyone know he wasn't the anonymous player.

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Santana Moss shows what’s old can be new again

It really wasn’t a demotion. Coach Mike Shanahan made that clear to Santana Moss during the offseason while explaining how Moss’s role would change in the Washington Redskins’ revamped receiving corps. The Redskins still needed Moss, Shanahan assured him, just in a different way.

“When a guy has been as successful as Santana, and worked as hard as he has to help your football team, it can be difficult when you say, ‘We’re going to try something else now,’ ” Shanahan said. “But knowing Santana, I expected it to work out fine. I think you could say it has.”

That’s for sure.

Formerly Washington’s longtime No. 1 receiver, Moss thrived (how else would you describe leading a playoff-bound team in touchdown receptions?) in his first season as a key reserve. Moss’s efficiency as primarily a third-down specialist — he also finished tied for second in first-down catches — is a big reason the Redskins’ offense is among the NFL’s best. In his 12th season in the league, Moss, 33, was still good enough to help Washington win just its second NFC East title in the past 21 years. On Sunday, the team will host Seattle in its first playoff game at FedEx Field since the 1999 season.

There are many reasons for the Redskins’ resurgence. But no list would be complete without including Moss’s efforts. And the selflessness Moss displayed in accepting his change in status was no less important than his consistent production in games. The team’s most important player definitely appreciates Moss’s decision to put the Redskins first.

“With what he’s done over his career . . . it’s just awesome as a quarterback to have that guy in the huddle with you,” said Robert Griffin III, the rookie quarterback chiefly responsible for Washington’s worst-to-first turnaround in the division. “He’s taken his role and perfected it.”

Moss’s body indicated the time for a change had come.

Because of overuse, Moss wore down physically in 2011. In the second half of Washington’s 5-11 season, Moss rarely broke free from coverage. And the guy responsible for running Moss into the ground knew what he was doing was wrong.

“I needed to protect him,” Shanahan said. “I wanted to rest him so he’d have his legs. But I couldn’t.”

That’s because Moss was, by far, the best receiver in an otherwise mediocre bunch. Moss was a deep threat who also could turn short- and mid-range receptions into big plays — when he wasn’t exhausted, that is. The situation was clear: The Redskins needed to get better, deeper and younger at wideout.

Under Shanahan’s direction in free agency, the Redskins signed Pierre Garcon, 26, who became the team’s new top player at the position, and added Josh Morgan, 27, to potentially fill the No. 2 job. Also, Shanahan figured he could expect more from second-year players Leonard Hankerson, 23, and Aldrick Robinson, 24.

Shanahan was right about the entire group. Everyone contributed, especially during Washington’s season-closing, seven-game winning streak.

“Having the core we have this year helped me to be able to step back and stay fresh,” said Moss, who played in every game but started only once.

All the changes, however, meant Moss had to reinvent himself to find a spot on the field. And in a league in which 30 is usually considered over the hill, players are rarely given an opportunity to age gracefully . Fortunately for Moss, he had two Shanahans in his corner.

Just like his father, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan believed Moss could still run precise routes and possessed the speed to get behind defensive backs. But the Shanahans had to reduce Moss’s workload and put him in favorable matchups. That led Moss to the slot.

The transition went well. Defensive coordinators usually assign their third-best cornerbacks to cover slot receivers. Even with all the mileage on Moss’s legs — he’s fourth on the Redskins’ career list with 7,299 receiving yards — he’s still better than most backup cornerbacks.

“The guy has made play after play after play for us,” said tight end Chris Cooley, Moss’s teammate since the 2005 season. “He’s at a point where, okay, maybe he isn’t the No. 1 [receiver]. And maybe he isn’t the two. But that doesn’t mean he still can’t be Santana Moss. It doesn’t mean he still can’t be a baller.”

That was pretty much Moss’s thinking entering the season. Moss accepted that the Shanahans brought in Garcon to fill the role Moss took pride in having for seven years. Moss knew he’d have to compete with Morgan, Hankerson and Robinson for catches.

So Moss made sure he was prepared. He dropped 15 pounds, brushed up on the playbook and worked as much as he could with the Redskins’ new quarterback. There’s nothing like a sound plan for building success. “At the end of the day, the role changed but the player hasn’t,” Moss said.

Moss’s days at the top of Washington’s depth chart are over, but that’s okay. He fit it just fine with the Redskins’ new crew, and proved he’s still a playmaker for the hottest team in the NFC. Not bad for an old-timer.

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Antrel Rolle apologizes for Giants falling short

Antrel Rolle is sorry.

That's the message the Giants safety had as he punctuated the 2012 season with his final weekly appearance on WFAN Wednesday. Rolle was asked for his parting thoughts on the season that ended Sunday with a 9-7 record but no playoff berth, and he took a repentant posture in answering the question.

"My final message would be . . . to apologize for a letdown," Rolle said. "We try to go out there and give it our all when we can. Unfortunately we came up a little bit short this year. It's something that pretty much caught all of us by surprise."

The mood of the 2012 Giants was so unpredictable that Rolle said he didn't even know whether the team would come out to play hard against the Eagles in the regular-season finale on Sunday. They wound up beating the Eagles, 42-7, after losing back-to-back games by a combined score of 67-14 against the Falcons and Ravens.

"To be honest, I really didn't know what to expect," Rolle said. "I was hoping for that kind of outcome, that kind of heart, that kind of sense of urgency going into our final game of the season. But to be honest with you, was I confident? No, I wasn't too confident because I didn't know what to expect.

"Inconsistent," Rolle added. "That sums up every angle you can look at."

Next year, though, Rolle doesn't plan on needing to apologize.

"Come the 2013 season all I can do is do my part, be as [good of a] player as I can be and try the best I can to make sure the team is on the same page and that, more important, that we're hunting," he said. "That we're going to hunt from the first preseason game all the way to the Super Bowl if God [willing] we make it there. Just try to be a better overall team on a more consistent basis week in and week out and we'll see where everything else takes us from there."

Notes & quotes: Safety Stevie Brown was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his interception against the Eagles. He's the first Giants safety and the team's first defensive back to win the award twice in the same season since cornerback Jason Sehorn in 1997 . . . Wide receiver Victor Cruz, on WFAN, said that negotiations on a long-term contract were "tabled" several weeks ago, but he expects them to resume now that the season is over. "You never know, it's all negotiations, but I feel positive that I'm going to be in New York for a very long time," he said. Cruz also said that he thinks the Redskins are the team to beat in the playoffs this year. In late November he said that he thought the Redskins were "a couple pieces away" from being playoff contenders.

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Jason Fox ready to take the next step in development with injury woes behind him

The Lions snapped the football 1,160 times on offense this season. Reserve tackle Jason Fox wasn't on the field for any of them.

In fact, Fox was only active for one game this season, when Jeff Backus' iron-man streak ended on Thanksgiving Day vs. Houston because of a hamstring injury. In that game, Fox played the reserve tackle role and was on the field for six plays on special teams.

It's hard to imagine a player who played a grand total of six plays on special teams this season taking a giant leap forward in his development, but strangely, Fox did.

A former fourth-round pick of the Lions in the 2010 NFL Draft, Fox's professional career has been plagued by injuries from the start.

Whether it was a lingering knee issue as a rookie left over from his college days at Miami, or a broken foot that ended last season, he had to prove to both coaches and management that he could stay healthy.

"That's been his No. 1 thing his whole career is being able to have extended periods of being healthy," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said of Fox.

"I think he's made a lot of strides that way obviously because he's still been on the field for us and seems to have put those things in the past. He's always been a smart player. He's a little bit more physically developed. (I) think he's a good, young player. He's got a bright future ahead of him."

The key part there was having the injuries "in his past."

There's never been a doubt that Fox has talent. When Backus missed time with a thumb injury during training camp, Fox filled and played well. He's a big tackle (6-6, 315) and a good athlete. He moves well and has good feet.

With the injuries now behind him, Fox thinks he's ready to compete for a starting job.

He might get that chance, too, with starting right tackle Gosder Cherilus being an unrestricted free agent and Backus, who's entering the final year of his two-year extension, turning 36 in September.

Fox is a restricted free agent this offseason, but now that he's proven he can stay healthy, it's likely the Detroit Lions extend a tender offer to him.

"Absolutely that's the goal," Fox said of competing for a starting spot next season.

"That's something that every athlete works for and I'm no different. I'm a very competitive guy, no matter what it is.

"I've had some injury struggles in the past to stay healthy but that's behind me know and this offseason I'm looking forward to becoming bigger, faster and stronger and a better football player."

For the first offseason as a Lion, Jason Fox won't be rehabbing or resting an injuring over the next few months. He said Monday that injuries limited him the past two offseasons from taking the next step as a player.

"If you have a knee issue you're worried about getting healthy instead of getting your leg as strong as possible," Fox said.

"But like I said, that stuff is in the past and we're moving forward. This offseason is just (about) becoming the best player that I can be."

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VIDEO: John Salmons 23 Points Full Highlights

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VIDEO: Dequan Jones Interview

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Devastated Devin Hester considering retirement

Record-setting Chicago Bears wide receiver and returner Devin Hester was devastated by the news Monday morning that Lovie Smith was fired as coach, and said he is contemplating retirement from the game.

Hester, who blamed media and fans for Smith’s removal after nine seasons, was visibly crushed by the news as he cleaned out his locker at Halas Hall following a brief team meeting in which Smith addressed his players.

“We already knew what the news was,” Hester said. “Just hearing it from him. The media, the false fans, you all got what you all wanted. Majority of you all wanted him out. As players, we wanted him in. I guess the false fans outruled us. I thought he was a great coach, probably one of the best coaches I have ever been around. He brought me in.”

Hester, 30, said he is going to return home and isn’t interested in tracking a coaching search general manager Phil Emery has already launched.

“I don’t even know if I want to play again, man,” Hester said. “You know, that’s been on my mind for two years now.

“It’s not (as much fun anymore). It ain’t. So, I have my workers’ comp papers in my pocket. See how I feel, go home and talk to my wife, my family. See where we go from there. I’ve got two beautiful kids, man, young. Two boys. A lot of stress has been on my mind lately.”

Asked to clarify the workers’ comp issue, Hester said, he is “not (injured) physically, but mentally. I have had injuries here or there. That is part of football. Who walks away from this game without being injured.”

The Bears missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six years after winning their season finale at Detroit 26-24 on Sunday to finish 10-6. But when the Minnesota Vikings toppled the Green Bay Packers 37-34 in the late afternoon game, the Bears were knocked out of the postseason, a journey that perhaps could have saved Smith’s job.

Hester struggled as a return man this season and had his role reduced on offense. He was pressing to break a big return and while that didn’t happen, the Bears still enjoyed among the best average starting field position in the NFL because of the threat of Hester on kickoff returns.

He averaged 25.9 yards on kickoff returns and 8.3 yards on punts while making 23 receptions for 242 yards and one touchdown.

“Not being able to showcase my talent the way I want it to be showcased, stressful,” Hester said. “I feel like I have done enough in the league where I established myself to be one of the elite players ever to play the game. God blessed me for seven years. The average years of an NFL player is about three. I made some accomplishments on my own, some goals I reached. Some more goals are out there I still felt I could achieve.”

Hester said he would consider playing elsewhere and joining Smith on another team, but that “at the same time, I am a Bear for life. This is where I was born and raised from the start of football.”

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Texans place Darryl Sharpton on injured reserve

The Texans are down a linebacker for their playoff game against the Bengals.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that Darryl Sharpton is done for the season as a result of a hip injury. Sharpton was injured in Sunday’s loss to the Colts, an injury that coach Gary Kubiak said left him concerned after the game.

The Texans have a fair amount of practice at playing without Sharpton this season. He started the year on the PUP list because of a quad injury that ended his 2011 season and made his debut in Week 11 against the Jaguars. He started five of the final seven games at inside linebacker, providing the Texans with help they needed after Brian Cushing was lost for the season.

Tim Dobbins, the likeliest replacement next to Bradie James, hurt his shoulder against the Colts and the Texans have still more injury concerns at linebacker. Outside linebacker Brooks Reed is battling a groin injury and did not play against the Colts. Kubiak said if Reed can walk, “he’s going to play.”

McClain reports that the Texans have brought back linebacker Mister Alexander to take Sharpton’s spot on the roster. That’s Mr. Mister Alexander to you, though.

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Demarcus Van Dyke had major shoulder surgery

Steelers CB Demarcus Van Dyke required reconstructive surgery on his shoulder after his Week 14 injury.
Signed just after the start of the season after being waived by Oakland, Van Dyke appeared in nine games with Pittsburgh as primarily a special teamer and deep-reserve corner. He's scheduled for exclusive rights free agency and will compete for a roster spot in 2013 training camp if tendered by the club.

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Andre Johnson goes over 1,500 yards

With a 39-yard catch from Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson joined elite company.

Johnson became only the second receiver in NFL history to record 1,500 yards and 100 catches in three separate seasons. The first, fittingly since Johnson did it against the Colts, was former Colts receiver Marvin Harrison.

With that catch, Johnson has 104 catches and 1,505 this season. He had 115 catches and 1,575 yards in 2008, and in 2009 he had 101 catches and 1,569 yards.

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Jonathan Vilma ends turbulent season with his best game

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma didn't even let someone finish the question when he was asked Sunday if he couldn't wait for next season after the chaotic 2012 season he endured saying, "God, yes. Yes, very much so."

You would be hard pressed to blame him.

Twice Vilma faced season-long suspensions for his involvement in the alleged Saints bounty program, including accusations of placing $10,000 bounties on Kurt Warner and Brett Favre during the 2009 playoffs. And twice the suspensions were vacated as Vilma played in all 11 games he was eligible to play in after beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury.

Maybe more important, Vilma never missed a paycheck and would have missed out on a year's pay had the NFL's original punishments stood in place.

Vilma wrapped up his season by leading the Saints with eight total tackles in the Saints' 44-38 loss to Carolina on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. His 18-yard interception return for a score off Cam Newton gave the Saints a 14-10 lead in the second quarter. It was the second pick-six of Vilma's career.

Vilma admitted after Sunday's game how much of a toll it took on him to endure the bounty scandal since the league first announced its findings in March.

"It's draining, but it's not an excuse," Vilma said. "You've got a job to do on Sundays. You have to prepare during the week, speaking about myself. That's not an excuse. Yeah, it was draining. You fly right after a game just to go up to D.C. and sit there for hours in hearings and things like that. As far as the rest of the defense, I would hope that it didn't affect the guys. I really tried to make it a point not to make it their issue. It's my issue, mine and Will's. I really hope it didn't affect them on Sundays."

Vilma seemed more upset with the way the defense played against Carolina allowing 44 points and 530 yards of total offense in the loss.

"It was very disappointing to lose the way we lost today," Vilma said. "I'm disappointed in my team the way we lost composure at the end. ... That starts with the leadership. That starts with the captains. I should have found a way to get my team under control. Unfortunately, it cost us. It cost us big. ... Some games we'll play lights out. Other games, we gave up 44 points and Lord knows how many yards."

Vilma was blunt when asked about the 2012 Saints defense setting the mark for the most yards allowed in a single season. "You get what get what you deserve," he said. "When you don't play good defense, that's what happens. Be a man and suck it up."

Age, health and his hefty salary cap figure may play a role into whether the Saints keep Vilma on the roster. Vilma has dealt with a lingering knee injury the past few seasons which is why he started the season on the PUP list. His salary cap figure for 2013 is also around $8.6 million, which could make him a cap casualty if he doesn't take a paycut.

"It's going to be whatever Mickey (Loomis) and Sean (Payton), what they decide," Vilma said about his future with the Saints. "That's management stuff. I don't get into that. I don't look at that. My job is to perform on Sundays. Hopefully I did a good enough job. Hopefully I will be here next year. If not, hopefully I will be somewhere. I don't know how it's going to work out."

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Frank Gore sets franchise record with 51st rushing touchdown

SAN FRANCISCO -- Frank Gore is heading to the playoffs for only the second time in his eight seasons, and he's doing so as the 49ers' all-time leader in rushing touchdowns.

Gore ran for his 51st career touchdown Sunday to cap off a 12-play scoring drive in the 49ers' 27-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Gore didn't hide his excitement over opening the playoffs at Candlestick Park on Jan. 12, stating: "Whoever comes here to the West Coast will see what we do."

Although the 49ers have become more pass-centric with Colin Kaepernick over the season's second half, Gore remains the offense's mainstay. His 20 carries for 68 yards gave him 1,214 yards this season, the second-highest total of his career and a mere 3 yards better than last season's output.

His 2-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run marked his eighth score this season, matching last year's total. It also sent him past Roger Craig and the late Joe Perry on the franchise list for most rushing touchdowns. Gore thanked Craig for his long-standing help and for texting him congratulations on breaking the record.

"When you mention my name with the guys in the past like Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Joe Montana -- it's a blessing," Gore added.

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Kenny Phillips may not return

Around half of the Giants' 2012 roster has a realistic chance of moving on this offseason. General manager Jerry Reese was asked on Monday if he'd put the number around 23 players in total.

“It's a pretty big number, but nothing we can't handle,” Reese said.

The truth is, that number is a touch low.

But Reese and the Giants have been in this position before and by making some tough choices and getting a handful of players to renegotiate cap-friendly deals, the franchise has remained competitive.

This year could be different, though. The Giants have a wave of cheap, young talent (RB Andre Brown, WR Victor Cruz, S Stevie Brown, among others) that will likely enter restricted free agency, and then there's a group of veterans that include DE Osi Umenyiora and S Kenny Phillips who might be too expensive to retain.

“We evaluate everybody,” Reese said. “There's going to be changes. There's changes every year. It's part of the business.”

Phillips: Phillips battled knee problems again this year, but said he showed teams he was healthy by returning for the final game of the season. When asked if he'll be back, though, Phillips didn't seem confident.

“It's hard to say,” said Phillips, who had a brief conversation with Reese on Monday. “I don't know. After they move some people around and make some decisions, there's no telling. Maybe they want me back. Maybe not, but that's up to them.”

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John Harbaugh dodges questions about Ray Lewis

It’s widely believed that linebacker Ray Lewis will return from a torn triceps muscle to play for the Ravens when Baltimore welcomes the Colts back to town for the eighth time.

Coach John Harbaugh won’t be confirming that until he absolutely has to.

“It’s all going to be a game-time decision, as far as anybody knows,” Harbaugh said Monday, via CSNBaltimore.com.  “This is the playoffs, and we’re not taking about injuries.  We’re not talking about activations.  We really don’t care what you or anybody else thinks about that.”

They should care what the league office thinks, but as long as the injury report is complete there’s no further obligation to say anything about player injuries.Though the Ravens previously were fined $20,000 for failing to disclose that safety Ed Reed had a shoulder injury, the consequences for fudging the injury report are a relatively minor cost of doing business — especially when the business entails chasing a championship.

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Colin McCarthy placed on IR

The Tennessee Titans have placed LB Colin McCarthy (concussion) on Injured Reserve. In a corresponding move, the team signed practice squad FB Collin Mooney to their active roster. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

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Guess who thought Ed Reed's fine was excessive

Somebody thinks the $55,000 fine levied on Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed for hitting New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz on Sunday was excessive.
And it's not Reed.

"I think it's pretty steep. It's a pretty hefty fine, but it wasn't my decision," Cruz told reporters Friday. "It wasn't anything I could do about it, but I think that's a pretty hefty fine, to say the least."

Reed delivered a shoulder to Cruz's head as Cruz turned upfield after making a catch. The league deemed that an unnecessary blow to the head and neck area.

Three safeties – Reed, the Atlanta Falcons' Chris Hope and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Will Allen – have been fined for hits on Cruz this season. The fines add up to $92,875.

"I guess dancing a little salsa in the end zone has been prosperous," Cruz said, though it's not like he receives the money. "Nobody likes to see the salsa man get hurt, so I don't know what it is."

Of Reed's fine, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, "Obviously, the system is not perfect."

"The motivation is correct and the idea is right," Harbaugh added. "It's still a work in progress. Like I said before, our guys are doing everything they can. I'm really proud of our guys [with] the way that they've responded to try to play within the rules and respect player safety.

"Sometimes it's easier said than done, but they are doing their best."

Reed was suspended for one game earlier this season for a blow to a defenseless receiver, but won an appeal and had the punishment changed to a $50,000 fine.

Reed and Cruz agreed the hit was legal following Sunday's 33-14 Ravens win. Reed, 34, was hoping to avoid suspension after being flagged for a 15-yard penalty on the play.

"I don't know what is going to come of it. I had the referee whispering into my ear on the second play," Reed said. "All I like to do is play the game. I talked to Troy Aikman before the game about this – him and Joe Buck. They asked me how my game changed. I don't really know what to do with it. I thought it was a decent hit."

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Reggie Wayne stayed, skipping reunion with Texans' Andre Johnson

Considering how things have turned out, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne never gives his decision to re-up with the team that drafted him a second thought.

But that doesn't mean he didn't at least fantasize about a college reunion.

Imagine, Wayne and Andre Johnson, former teammates at the University of Miami, working out of the same huddle instead of once again working off opposing sidelines this afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"It would have been cool," said Wayne, a driving force behind the Colts' dramatic rags-to-riches season. "We joked about it all offseason, man."

Wayne's contract expired at the end of the very forgettable 2-14 season. Free agency loomed, and the Colts had given him no indication he would be part of what appeared to be a very uncertain future.

The dialogue between Wayne and Johnson was constant. So was the topic.

"He asked me, 'What's going on in your camp?' " Wayne said. "I was like, 'Nothing. I have no idea.'

"He joked that it could be like old times. 'I need some help over here.' "

Wayne's response always was the same.

"You know my number."

Wayne admits he had a few solid offers and said he "left a few million dollars on the table" when he accepted the Colts' three-year, $17.5 million offer in mid-March.

He steadfastly refuses to divulge the suitors, but Johnson indicated Wayne had an interest in a relocation to Houston.

"Here was one of the places that he actually wanted to come," Johnson said. "I was hoping that I would get a chance to be able to play with him again. Unfortunately, it didn't go that way."

One of the reasons Wayne re-signed with the Colts was the arrival of Chuck Pagano as head coach. Pagano was an assistant coach at Miami when Wayne was developing into a first-round draft pick. And it was Pagano who recruited Johnson to "The U."

In retrospect, Wayne and Johnson realize Wayne made the appropriate decision.

"Even as we joke about it now, he tells me, 'You made the right decision,' " Wayne said. "I feel like I did, too. But it's good to think about the 'What ifs?' "

Added Johnson: "He started there, he's had a great career there. I'm just happy he's there playing at a high level even though he's been doing it for 12 seasons."

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Calais Campbell not worried about Pro Bowl, is happy with growth in 2012

There were call for Calais Campbell to make the Pro Bowl, but the defensive end will not be making the trip to Hawaii (at least not yet, but he probably will when half of the Pro Bowlers drop out due to "injury"). Campbell doesn't appear too broken up about being left off of the Pro Bowl squad, though. Instead, he's happy about the way he's played in 2012, continuing to grow and become a better player than even the one who signed a contract extension before the season.

Last year I feel like I was playing at a high level and some good ball but I feel this year I am just a lot more knowledgeable and I feel more comfortable in the game. I get in my stance and feel like I can see what’s going to happen before it actually happens, which of course allows you to have success when you know where the ball is going. Hopefully my game continues to get better and better.

Campbell has 5.5 sacks on the season and seven passes defensed. But the most impressive number is his 63 tackles, which is fantastic for a player who missed three games this season and even more outstanding for a 3-4 defensive end.

For Campbell, it is all about getting better right now. The Pro Bowl can wait. After all, if he keeps improving he'll be a Pro Bowler before long and many, many times over.

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Kenny Phillips calls 2012 a 'long, frustrating season'

Kenny Phillips hopes to play this Sunday against the Eagles. But he also hoped to play against the Ravens, too.

Just like this week, the Giants safety practiced each day leading up to the Ravens game and was listed as questionable with a right knee that has been ailing him since Week 4. But Phillips was inactive for the game.

"I was shocked. I had a great week of practice. The coaches were telling me how well I was doing," Phillips said. "I guess it just came down to, I guess, a numbers game, I’m not sure. Once again, they made the decision, and I just have to deal with it."

A "numbers game" must not have sat well with the former first-round pick and starter.

"Yeah, I was pretty (ticked) off," Phillips said. "But at the end of the day, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll just come to work and practice and work hard and let them make a decision."

Coach Tom Coughlin explained earlier in the week the decision to sit Phillips was based on if they thought he could play at a high enough level, and also filling the necessary roles on special teams -- the numbers Phillips referred to. It was the latest example of what Phillips described as a "long, frustrating year," since he injured his knee against the Eagles in September.

"Going into your last year (of your contract), you want to go out there, make a big splash, and just play as well as you can," Phillips said. "Especially coming off the Super Bowl. You feel good about your chances of repeating, get hurt early and then... Like I said, it’s been real frustrating. You’re on the field, and you’re off the field; you can play this week, you can’t play this week. It’s just been a long season, I’ll put it like that."

Phillips said he has been dealing with both an MCL sprain and a PCL injury. He was vague on the specifics other than to say, "I had some things, I’ll leave it like that." He said he won't need offseason surgery -- "that's one of the biggest things I was trying to avoid," he said -- but aspects of his rehab and return to the field have frustrated him.

Phillips wound up sitting out six games, through the bye, before re-injuring the knee in his return against the Packers. He played in a very limited role the following week against the Redskins but has not returned to the field since. Phillips repeated what he said earlier in the season, that he wished more rest was part of the initial rehab.

"There's a lot of things I would change, but like I said, a lot of it is out of my control," Phillips said. "I just have to listen to what the trainers say and the doctors say. Even though they’re not perfect, they’re humans also. So they’re capable of making mistakes, and I understand that. So, I'd definitely do a lot of things over, I think they’ll say the same thing. It is what it is now."

He added: "We had a few guys on the team with PCL injuries; it’s new for our team just trying to figure out how to handle them. And they're all different, none of them are the same. It’s hard to say sit out or rest or you're OK, or maybe run this week. It was just one of those processes with all of us. It probably hurt me the most, to be honest with you."

Stevie Brown stepped in ably as a starter in Phillips' absence, recording seven interceptions, and Will Hill has allowed the Giants to still be able to use their three-safety package. But Phillips' absence has been tangible.

"When you don’t have your playmakers on the field, it’s going to show," Phillips said. "I feel like I've played a big part on this defense. I don’t want to say it's a drop-off because Will Hill played great, Stevie played great. But you're just used to playing with a certain group, chemistry is built, morale. Your play feeds off each other. I think it’s a difference."

Phillips' five-year rookie contract is up after this season. He admits the possibility of this being his last game with the Giants has "crossed my mind" -- but his main focus is being able to play this week. Phillips hasn't asked his agent if there have been contract talks with the Giants yet, but he is confident in his NFL future, despite the frustration of injuries in a contract year.

"Whether it be with the Giants or someone else, I feel that what I've showed over my career, I feel like I will be able to play football somewhere," Phillips said.
Would he prefer to stay with the Giants? Phillips grinned and laughed.

"I'm just trying to get back on the field," he said.

When it was pointed out to him that's a different answer than players usually give, Phillips repeated, "I'm just trying to get back on the field."

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Bronco's Moreno starring, but McGahee on way back

With the way Knowshon Moreno has morphed back into a legitimate starting running back for the Denver Broncos over the last month, it has almost been forgotten that the Broncos are preparing for the return of Willis McGahee.

The Broncos placed McGahee on short-term injured reserve in late November after he suffered a torn MCL on Nov. 18. McGahee will be eligible to return to practice next week, though he cannot return to the active roster until the third week of January – just in time for the AFC Championship Game, should the Broncos make it that far.

"All indications are [McGahee's rehab] is on schedule and he's getting better every day," Broncos coach John Fox told reporters Friday. "He won't be ready here anytime real soon but we'll evaluate that as we get going and finish up the regular season."

Moreno's performance has taken some of the pressure off the Broncos and McGahee to rush his return. Moreno, a former first-round pick who was a healthy scratch for eight games this season, was elevated to starter after McGahee's injury and has rushed for 466 yards and two touchdowns in the Broncos' last five games.

Moreno had a pair of 100-yard games in Weeks 13 and 14 after recording only two 100-yard games in his first three years in the NFL. He has had at least 20 carries in all five of his starts.

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Titans must improve LB depth because of McCarthy's durability issues

Prior to the start of the season, few Titans had arrows pointing higher than MLB Colin McCarthy, who was named a defensive captain after a superb rookie campaign in which he demonstrated a keen sense for being around the football and a real knack for making big plays in big moments.

Fast-forward nearly four months, and we hear McCarthy is back to square one, forced to again dispel the knock on him coming out of the University of Miami: A player with immense upside, but also an injury track record that couldn’t be ignored.

After missing his fourth consecutive game because of a concussion and eighth overall this season (McCarthy has also dealt with various lower-body ailments), we hear the Titans likely will be forced to seek reinforcements at middle linebacker in the offseason. To be clear: the club still loves McCarthy’s potential and thinks he has star qualities. However, his replacements this season, aging veterans Will Witherspoon and Tim Shaw, are nothing more than situatonal players and strong special-teams contributors on their best days, we hear.

The good news is that the other two-thirds of Tennessee’s linebacking corps, fellow second-year player Akeem Ayers and rookie Zach Brown, have provided encouraging signs that they are building blocks for the future. Unfortunately, McCarthy might not again fall under that category until he can consistently stay out of the training room and get back to being a dynamic player in the middle of the Titans’ defense.

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VIDEO: Assist of the Night - John Salmons

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Darius Rice Scores 11 For D-LeagueTexas Legends

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - The Texas Legends (8-5) fell to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (4-10) 107-97.

The Legends went into halftime up 51-47 but gave up 34 points and the lead in the third quarter. Texas was led by Christian Eyenga and Sean Singletary both with 22 points. Jared Cunningham tallied 18 points while Sean Williams and Darius Rice added 12 and 11 respectively.

The Mad Ants’ Orlando Johnson had a game high 24 points while Ron Howard added 23. Luke Harangody, newly acquired by Fort Wayne from the Canton Charge, boasted the game’s only double-double with 19 points and 18 rebounds.

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Can Weeks claim starting second-base job?

Where do you see Jemile Weeks at the start of next season? Will he work hard enough on his game to be a starter and be more consistent in doing so? -- Mike P., Danville, Ky.

There's no questioning Weeks' work ethic. It's obviously there, and the slip in his performance last season seems to derive from a few early-season tweaks in his game he's now having a hard time reversing. Recall Weeks' rookie campaign and he wasn't really trying to do too much, other than put the ball in play. This year, he hit a couple of home runs in the early goings and, as a result, maybe began swinging a little bigger and putting the ball in the air. That resulted in far too many fly-ball outs, and his numbers obviously dipped.

That being said, if Weeks proves he's made the adjustments necessary to earn an everyday job in the big leagues this spring, he has a decent shot at getting one -- though it'll take a weak showing from Scott Sizemore for that to happen. Sizemore is clearly viewed as the top second-base option at the moment, but he, too, has plenty to prove, having not seen Major League action in a year after undergoing knee surgery last spring. With that in mind, Sizemore will also have to assure the A's that his knee is no longer of concern. Should he fare well in camp, I expect him to start at second base, with Weeks back in Triple-A waiting for the phone to ring again.

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