Jimmy Graham comes alive late

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who had only an 8-yard catch at halftime, came alive late in the Week 4 loss at Dallas. With the Cowboys playing a prevent defense, Graham hauled in seven second-half passes to finish with eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.

Graham's 13-yard score with 9:49 left in the game was his third touchdown this season. He drew a game-high 11 targets but also lost a fumble.

Graham plays the Buccaneers in Week 5.

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GIF: Frank Gore makes 55 yard touchdown reception

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Reggie Wayne goes for 7-119-1 in victory

Reggie Wayne caught seven passes for 119 yards and one touchdown in the Colts' Week 4 win over the Titans.

Wayne was targeted eight times on the day and dominated a third-quarter drive that ended in a 28-yard touchdown for Wayne on a back-shoudler throw that beat CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson. The 35-year-old is on pace for 1,228 yards and four touchdowns on 92 catches. With the Colts turning up their offense in recent weeks, it's sustainable. Wayne is a back-end WR3.

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Devin Hester catches 36-yard TD in Week 4 loss

Devin Hester caught five passes for 70 yards and one touchdown in the Falcons' Week 4 loss to the Vikings.

Working as the clear No. 3 receiver with Harry Douglas (foot) sidelined, Hester saw seven targets. Hester turned a dump off pass into a 36-yard score when he broke two tackles on the way to the end zone. He actually looks decent on offense after struggling with it in Chicago. After four games, Hester is on pace for a 48-784-4 receiving line.

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Reggie Wayne making his mark in the record books

Reggie Wayne added milestones for his career Sunday, footballs for his basket at home.

All in another day's work for the Indianapolis Colts' 14th-year receiving wonder.

Wayne had seven catches for 119 yards – both game-highs – in the 41-17 victory over Tennessee, strengthening his status in the NFL record books.

He's now seventh in career receptions (1,029), 10th in receiving yardage (13,873) and extending his record of consecutive games with at least three catches (75). He's caught one pass in 123 straight.

Of course, by now Wayne has made it clear he's playing more for the enjoyment of the game, especially in light of last year's season-ending knee injury.
But he'll take two balls – one for catching a touchdown, another as an honor from his team – home to the pile of inflated leather he's accumulating.

Toys for the kids, he calls them.

"They're going to go in there at some point and say, 'Let's play catch,'" he said, smiling. "A lot of times I look at (the ball) and be like, 'Damn, this is my 30th touchdown ball.' But if they want to play with it, they can play with it."

Wayne played like a kid Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, dancing around defenders, never more so than in the third-quarter drive that sealed the game. If his 21-yard catch wasn't good enough, his 17-yarder on third down was. Two plays later, he outsmarted cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, pivoting to the left as he extended the ball to the pylon.

No matter that this was his 81st career touchdown; it was his first since the injury.

"A long time coming," he said.

Wayne remains one of the most confident players in this league, but he also realizes the realities of life. He doesn't have the speed he possessed as a first-round draft pick out of Miami in 2001. His body still has days when it requires an ice bath and a massage. But the challenge of overcoming the obstacles is part of the game's pleasure.

"There's quite a few things that are undefeated in this world; we know Mother Nature is one of them," Wayne said as his 36th birthday looms Nov. 17. "You're not going to win that battle.

"I do understand where I'm at right now, (and) I do understand I'm getting up there in age. That just goes to show you I'm going to have to watch more film, have to know my opponent a little better just to find ways to get open."

Having hands of gold helps. It's likely Wayne leads the NFL in that category, too, and listening to him frame a defensive back is worth all the money he's paid.
"He's not looking back at the ball, he's playing (my) hands," Wayne said of how defenders are taught. "I want to wait as long as I possibly can to stick my hands out there."

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck didn't know what else to say about No. 87.

"Open up one of y'all's tape recorders (and) replay the same things I say about him every week," he said. "He's a pro. He makes plays. He shows up in third down. He shows up in the red zone. Obviously, his hands are incredible. He's a phenomenal football player."

Luck finished by calling Wayne "a technician."

"For that reason I think he's an incredible role model for any young kid, any rookie," he said. "How do you work on your cuts? How do you work on body control? He sees coverage extremely well. He knows what (is) zone (defense), man (defense), where the blitz is coming from. He understands football."

"I won't say I haven't skipped a beat," Wayne said of his recovery. "I wish I was a lot faster; I wish I was a lot (of) everything. But this is what I have, and I'm going to play the hand I'm dealt.

"I have a pretty solid poker face, and I'm going to play; I'm not going to fold. I'm going to give everything I've got, and I think everybody in this locker room has some trust in me as far as going out there and delivering."

That why Pagano handed him a game ball. At this rate, more are on the way. The basket at home probably isn't large enough.

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VIDEO: Reggie Wayne scores first TD of the season

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49ers go back to what works: Feeding Frank Gore

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The real Frank Gore is back, and with him, the real San Francisco 49ers offense.

A week after a baffling game plan in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals that resulted in just six rushes for 10 yards for Gore, the 49ers looked like themselves again, with an offense powered by their 31-year-old running back.

San Francisco might have invested big in the passing game, with a massive contract extension for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a trade to acquire veteran receiver Stevie Johnson from Buffalo, and the addition of veteran Brandon Lloyd to join Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, but it is clear that Gore remains the heart of the 49ers' offense, and they aren't going to win much without him.

Even Sunday, it took until the 49ers' second possession to get back to Gore. On that drive, the second play went to Gore, who ripped off a 15-yard run, just a preview of the type of day that was to come. By the time the 49ers closed out their 26-21 win against the Philadelphia Eagles, Gore had 119 rushing yards on 24 carries — about 5 yards per attempt — and another 55 receiving yards, all of them on perhaps the wildest touchdown catch of his career.

No, Gore certainly wasn't the intended target for Kaepernick after the quarterback scrambled to his left and rolled way out of the pocket. Gore, over on the right side of the field, was so far out of the play that coach Jim Harbaugh had lost sight of him. Harbaugh had no idea what Kaepernick saw as the quarterback heaved the ball across his body for a throw that covered about 30 horizontal yards.

But there was Gore, wide open, and then sprinting past the Eagles secondary for his first touchdown of the year.

"He broke the tackle and got into the end zone," Kaepernick said. "Putting the ball in 21's hands is a good thing."

That might be the truest thing Kaepernick has said all season.

Yet for the 49ers to be successful, it won't be because of Gore's clutch catches, it will be through his tough running, just as it has been so often over the past eight years.

"That was our mindset, just getting him back on the ball and getting him touches, making sure we controlled the line of scrimmage," Boldin said.

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Warren Sapp dresses like a pirate to redecorate Bucs fan's house and sell beer

Budweiser saw a man loading a case of Bud Light into his car, and took it as a sign of him being “up for whatever happens next.”

Of course, it could have been a sign that he was down for saving a few dollars by not buying Sam Adams, but that’s not important. Since this man – Alex – happens to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan and is clearly up for whatever, Budweiser decided to makeover his entire house and backyard into a pirate ship.

They also dressed Warren Sapp like a pirate.

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Greg Olsen has two-catch game in Week 4 loss

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen had his worst outing of the season during a 38-10 loss Week 4 at Baltimore. Olsen was held to two catches for 30 yards -- both season-lows.

Olsen was targeted five times and held without a touchdown for the second time in three games. The Panthers are back in action Week 5 vs. Chicago.

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Andre Johnson climbs NFL charts again

With his first catch of the game, Andre Johnson made NFL history again.

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a 13-yard completion to Johnson on the first offensive play against the Buffalo Bills. The catch moved Johnson up to 12th place for most receptions in NFL history (944), surpassing Derrick Mason. Johnson was previously tied with Mason on the all-time list.

The Texans All-Pro wide receiver has also recorded a catch in  122 consecutive games.

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Lamar Miller lays claim to Dolphins' starting RB job

LONDON —Anyone expecting Knowshon Moreno to get healthy and immediately take over as the Miami Dolphins starting tailback might want to put those thoughts on pause.

The way Lamar Miller has been playing this season — which includes a 64-yard and two-touchdown rushing performance in Sunday's 38-14 win over the Oakland Raiders — the former University of Miami standout might be proving he's a legitimate NFL starter.

After four games Miller is averaging 5.7 yards on his 49 carries. He produced his first 100-yard rushing performance in last week's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. And this week Miller had his first multiple touchdown performance, scoring on a 9-yard run, and a 1-yard run against the Raiders.

"I think I did pretty good. Obviously I fumbled the ball in a critical situation, and you can't have that," Lamar Miller said, referring to a goal line fumble in the third quarter. "The offensive line did a good job. I just tried to use my speed and tried to break tackles to get positive yards.

"I give all the credit to the offensive line," said Miller, who has also caught 12 passes for 53 yards this season. "I've been trying to use my abilities to get positive yards."

But Miller hasn't been Miami's only productive back the past two weeks.

Daniel Thomas remains the Dolphins' third down back, handling the passing game workload in Bill Lazor's offense. It's a role he held last year, and regained two weeks ago when he was re-signed by the team.

Thomas had 35 rushing yards on five carries, and caught one pass for 25 yards.

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Allen Hurns goes 5-68 against Chargers

Allen Hurns secured 5-of-6 targets for 68 yards in the Jaguars' Week 4 loss to the Chargers.

Undrafted rookie Hurns got wide open against the Chargers' secondary for a first-half gain of 44 yards. There was nobody even in his area, but Hurns fell down and could not quite crawl into the end zone. So Toby Gerhart executed the goal-line score a few plays later. Due to Marqise Lee and Cecil Shorts' hamstring injuries, the arrow is pointing up on Hurns' playing time and usage. Through four games, he's on pace for 48 catches, 1,016 yards, and 12 touchdowns. There's an obvious regression alert on his yardage and scores. Hurns will be a dicey WR3 when the Jaguars take on the Steelers' weak defense in Week 5.

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Andre Johnson not concerned with missing out on milestone

Andre Johnson finished one reception away. Well, sort of.

The veteran Texans wide receiver briefly tied longtime Indianapolis wideout Marvin Harrison as the fastest player in NFL history to reach 950 career catches.
But Johnson’s 950th reception – a five-yard catch with 1 minute, 53 seconds left in the third quarter – was erased due to a pass-interference penalty on left tackle Duane Brown.

Johnson finished the Texans’ 23-17 victory against the Buffalo Bills with a team-high 71 yards on six catches (seven targets), falling one short of Harrison’s mark.

“If it was meant to happen (Sunday), it would have happened. … Just to be mentioned with that group of wide receivers is a humbling experience,” Johnson said at NRG Stadium. “You’ll never understand it or really realize what you’re able to accomplish until you’re finished playing a game. I think that’s when I really look back on it.”

The lifetime Texan briefly left the game but returned during the fourth quarter.

“I’m fine. I think I was more scared than anything,” Johnson said. “I went on the sideline, got it checked and everything is fine. … They taped it back up and I was back out there.”

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The Brewers are considering moving Ryan Braun to first base

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Thursday that he has spoken to general manager Doug Melvin about the possibility of Ryan Braun moving to first base”

“I think he’s a good defender in the outfield, learning a new position that he picked up pretty fast. I think he’ll continue to get better in right. We haven’t approached (Braun) about it. It’s just kind of what the needs are. We have (Gerardo) Parra here now and we need to figure out what to do with him for next year.”

The talks aren’t serious yet, but the fact is that the Brewers have four outfielders — Khris Davis, Carlos Gomez, Gerardo Parra and Braun — and three of them are better than Braun. And, of course, Mark Reynolds is not a long-term solution at first base.

Braun, of course, would need to bounce back on offense in order to be worth his contract at first base. He has hit a poor-for-him .269/.323/.457 this year, with 19 homers and 81 RBI. That won’t cut it long-term in an outfield corner for a guy who makes what he makes, and certainly won’t play efficiently at first base.

Braun battled a serious hand injury all year. Milwaukee had better hope that was the problem. And not something else. Like, say, a big falloff by virtue of playing clean.

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Ryan Braun: To Undergo Thumb Surgery After Season

Braun will undergo a minimally-invasive surgical procedure on his thumb Thursday morning in Los Angeles, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Braun, who is in Sunday's lineup against the Cubs for the Brewers' season finale, has been playing with an ongoing nerve issue with his right thumb for most of the season, with his offensive production especially weakened in the second half (.228/.295/.379 over 254 plate appearances). The outfielder's greatest difficulty has come with gripping the bat, a problem he expects the procedure to fully resolve. Braun will turn 31 in November and believes he can return to the level of superstar-caliber play he delivered over his previous seven seasons, but there's plenty of reason to be pessimistic. His slugging percentage already noticed a steep dip in 2013 while he played amid an ongoing investigation for his involvement with the Biogenesis clinic, and the track record of players regaining power after the age of 30 is not promising.

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With 200th game, Indianapolis Colts' Reggie Wayne joins exclusive club

INDIANAPOLIS - Peyton Manning. John Unitas. Come Sunday afternoon, Reggie Wayne makes it a threesome.

"That's good company," the Indianapolis Colts veteran wide receiver said. "It's exciting, man.

"Hopefully after it's over with, get a W …  and I can celebrate in style."

The topic of discussion was Wayne being on the verge of reaching yet another milestone on an NFL journey that began in 2001. 

He’ll make his 200th regular-season appearance Sunday against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The only Colts players who have played more are Manning (208) and Unitas (206).

"It means that I've played a lot of games," Wayne replied when asked the significance of reaching 200. "You want to get 200 more. You want to play as much as you can. It's a credit to my strength coaches just to keep me healthy, giving me the right workouts to keep my body right.

"Hopefully the 200th game will be the best one yet."

Wayne would have put No. 200 behind him in 2013, but his pursuit was put on hold when he suffered a season-ending knee injury Oct. 20 against Denver. It snapped a streak of 189 consecutive appearances, which was the NFL's longest active streak among receivers.

Being there, Wayne insisted, always has been paramount.

"Absolutely. I really feel like being able to answer that bell each week, that's what it's all about," he said. "Getting the respect from my teammates, knowing that I’ll be there.

"That's bigger than touchdowns. That's bigger than catches. That's bigger than yards. At the end of the day when it's all said and done, I want that respect of my teammates, let them know I was there and I was a good teammate."

Along with being on the verge of his 200th game, Wayne needs three catches to move past Isaac Bruce (1,029) into the No. 7 spot all-time and 24 yards to move past Henry Ellard (13,777) into the No. 10 spot.

Coach Chuck Pagano has become numb to Wayne's continued excellence.

"…if you tell about milestones or somebody else tells me about the numbers, the number of games he's gone with three or more catches, all those type of things, am I shocked? No," he said. "He's the consummate pro. You can't have enough guys like Reggie in your locker room."

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proCanes NFL Rosters as of September 26, 2014

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Sean Spence’s long road back to starting lineup pays off

Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler once said that it would take a “miraculous” recovery for Sean Spence to ever play football again.

So imagine how it must have felt for Butler to tell Spence he’s not only playing, but starting this week.

With rookie Ryan Shazier out with a knee injury, Spence will take his place in the starting lineup. For a guy who tore his ACL, LCL, dislocated his kneecap and had nerve damage in the 2012 preseason, it’s been a long road back that featured a year on IR and another year on the physically unable to perform list.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” Spence said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “”It’s going to be very emotional. I’ll try to hold my tears back; I’m not sure, but I know it will be emotional.”

The former third-round pick showed plenty of promise, but after that devastating knee injury, even he wasn’t always sure he’d return.

“It’s a blessing,” Spence said. “God is good. I’ve been through a lot of things. The tunnel was dark for me for a long time, but I stayed positive. Steeler Nation stayed behind me.”

And this weekend, he gets the chance to pay them back.

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Andre Johnson nears another receiving milestone

Receiver Andre Johnson has a chance to make history against Buffalo on Sunday.

If Johnson catches seven passes, he’ll tie Marvin Harrison as the fastest receivers in history to reach 950 catches.

Harrison did it in 158 games, and Johnson can match him.

“You have to keep everything in perspective, and right now, everybody’s focused on winning because that’s the important thing,” Johnson said on Thursday. “If I was able to do that, it would be humbling and a tremendous honor.”

Johnson used to watch Harrison twice a year when the Texans played Indianapolis in the AFC South.

“I got to see him a lot, and he’s one of the best to ever do it,” Johnson said. “He and Peyton (Manning) were always on the same page. It was something great to see.”

The Texans’ objective is to beat the Bills, of course, but coach Bill O’Brien admitted he’s aware of how many catches Johnson needs to make history.

“You’re doing what you have to do to win the game,” said O’Brien, who calls the plays. “(But) if he can get catches that help him set records – we’re not all about records – but I feel strongly about Andre and what he means to our organization and to this team.

“He’s a big part of every game plan, anyway, so, hopefully, he’s able to get that record. If we’re in the fourth quarter and he has six catches, we’d certainly like to get him a catch. That’s for sure.”

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Pep Hamilton Talks Production For Reggie Wayne

Pep Hamilton on Reggie Wayne’s production the last two weeks:

“Within the flow of the game, there are times where teams kind of scheme, rotate, take away certain guys.

“We feel like we have the flexibility within the system to keep everyone involved.”

Bowen’s Analysis: It speaks to the Hall of Fame type of volume for Wayne when questions come up at press conferences on a lack of production from Wayne after back-to-back 3 and 4 catch games. The crazier stat is that Wayne and T.Y. Hilton have been held out of the end zone, even with Andrew Luck leading the NFL in touchdown passes (9).

This is simply a byproduct of the weapons around Luck. Wayne himself said it best on his weekly radio show. He compared it back to his days with the likes of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison and how the touches might not be what most first round picks expect. Wayne doesn’t get too caught up in such things, knowing that wins and losses is the ultimate deciding factor. He also knows that when the game is on the line, the ball is in all likelihood coming towards Wayne.

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Bruce Johnson healthy but can't get back into Bombers lineup this week

You couldn't blame Bruce Johnson if he barged into head coach Mike O'Shea's office and said he was ready to play this weekend.

Never mind that the Bombers defensive back suffered a heel injury against the B.C. Lions, missed the first practice this week and is slated to sit out Saturday's game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. As the man who is replacing him this week, Johnny Sears, found out earlier this season, once you leave the Bomber lineup due to injury it's difficult to get back in it after returning to full health.

Johnson practised fully the last two days, but Sears will still get the start on Saturday against the Tabbies.

“I feel fine, man,” Johnson said after Thursday's practice. “I'm just taking it one day at a time, basically for precautionary reasons, to make sure everything is fine. We still got a long season and playoffs, so I want to be here when things get crackin'.”

Johnson said it's normal for a player to worry about getting his starting job back, but he knows there's some injuries with which you can't take a chance.
“I'm human, but I've been through this,” he said. “I've had experience, but I know I can't rush my body.”

Johnson had a great start to his NFL career with the New York Giants, but an array of injuries led to his release and his signing with the Bombers earlier this season. He has one interception, 33 tackles, three pass knockdowns and two tackles for a loss for the Blue and Gold as their field halfback this season.

Johnson injured his heel trying to break up a pass against the B.C. Lions on Sept. 13.

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Frank Gore eager to help 49ers, even if it means fewer touches

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Through head coaching changes and quarterback switches, enduring miserable seasons and bitter Super Bowl disappointment, Frank Gore has been the constant in the San Francisco 49ers offense for eight years.

Multi-talented quarterback Colin Kaepernick may have given the Niners a new dimension when he became their starter nearly two years ago. But until recently, there had been little doubt to the offensive identity. The 49ers were a power running team reliant on Gore.

Perhaps that is why it was so stunning to see a healthy Gore relegated to the sideline for so much of last Sunday's loss to the Arizona Cardinals as the Niners frequently lined up with four, and even five, wide receivers. Gore had just 10 yards on six carries and played in just half of the team's 64 offensive plays after playing nearly 70% of the snaps in the first two games. And after averaging 17 carries per game from 2011-2013, during which he played in every game, Gore has just 35 total carries in the first three weeks.

Kaepernick admitted this week it was a little bit odd to see Gore absent from the huddle so often.

"But that was the game plan we had going in," Kaepernick said. "He's going to do whatever it takes to help this team win."

San Francisco's spread scheme worked well enough early against the Cardinals — Kaepernick led two 80-yard touchdown drives while mostly running an up-tempo, no-huddle offense — that it was fair to wonder if the 49ers were changing their identity. And if so, might Gore soon be phased out of the offense?

"I wouldn't categorize it," head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "In terms of identity, we want to be about moving the ball, picking up first points, scoring points, scoring touchdowns."

The problem for the offense has been doing that consistently, regardless of the game plan. San Francisco has led at halftime of each of its first three games but has yet to score a second-half touchdown. The Niners have been outscored 52-3 after intermission, holding on to beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 before blowing leads to the Chicago Bears and Cardinals.

And that, more than the decreased workload, was what had Gore so grumpy last Sunday. But his smile was back this week, and he doesn't seem to be taking his lack of touches personally.

"I just feel that, for me, whatever works, I'm with it. If it's passing, it's passing, let's pass the ball. If it's running it, we run," Gore said. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win, and if we have to go out there and do spread again, I'm with it. That's what sort of player I am. I just want to win."

So which version of the Niners will show up Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles? There are signs San Francisco could revert to a power game if both tight end Vernon Davis, who sat out last week with an injury, and right tackle Anthony Davis (who has yet to play this season because of a bum hamstring) are cleared to return to the starting lineup. Both are critical pieces for a team that's thrived with a bruising, physical approach so frequently in recent years.

"We're a power team. I don't think there's ever a question about that," guard Alex Boone said. "Sometimes you have to change it up, you have to be able to mix it up. We should be able to get it done no matter what the play call."

Still, San Francisco is encouraged by their improvements in the passing game, even if it hasn't resulted in enough touchdowns yet. Kaepernick is completing 70% of his passes, and the Niners are happy to have their deepest wideout corps in years with Anquan Boldin and a healthy Michael Crabtree joined by offseason acquisitions Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd.

"We have a lot of great receivers," Kaepernick said. "It's going to depend on mismatches."

And maybe some Gore.

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Vince Wilfork: Chiefs RBs tough to stop

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles is dealing with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss last week's game against the Miami Dolphins. His status for Monday night's game against the New England Patriots is still up in the air.

But Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said that Charles would practice Thursday.

"Yeah, I think so. He's going to practice today. We'll see how it goes," Reid said.

Whether or not Charles plays, the Patriots are preparing to face off against one of the NFL's elite running backs.

"We are preparing like [Charles] is going to play," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "If he doesn't play, he doesn't play. They didn't miss a beat last week without him, so this is a team that wants to run the football and that's what they do. They are built to run the ball. They have explosive guys at the skill positions. We have to be able to stop all of them."

If Charles doesn't play, the Patriots will have their hands full with another tough running back, Knile Davis. At 5-foot-10 and 227 pounds, Davis packs a big punch to his game while also possessing explosive speed.

"A big, strong, powerful running back that can hit you anywhere on the field. He's a bigger guy but he is fast," Wilfork said about Davis.

And if Charles plays, the Patriots have to deal with the combination of Charles and Davis, who Wilfork says are used in similar ways because both backs can do it all.

"They both run downhill. They both test the edges. They both catch the ball out of the backfield. They both block," Wilfork said. "So they are built differently but at the same time they run hard like a big back. The big guy has speed and the small guy has toughness.

"They are kind of similar when you look at them like that, but Charles, there are not too many guys faster than him. We have to do a real good job up front of playing well in the run game and pass game because they use him so much everywhere on the field."

The goal for Monday night is for Wilfork and the Patriots to contain Charles and Davis and hope that leads to a win.

"[Charles] is a hell of a back, so it's going to be another challenge for us once again this week to be able to go into somebody else's turf and try to slow that running game down, and I hope we will walk away with a W," Wilfork said.

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Closing Time: Yasmani Grandal, come splash with me

We've seen plenty of ebb and flow in the brief career of Yasmani Grandal. He was a buzzy hitting and catching prospect at the front of the decade; a hot-hitting rookie upon promotion in 2012; a suspended sophomore last year; and not much of anything this summer, invisible in the post-hype days. 

But it's time to reopen the Grandal case. He's swinging a mean bat of late, and can help you on the final weekend of the season. 

Grandal made his biggest splash of the year, most literally, in Thursday's 9-8 loss at San Francisco. He cranked a solo homer off the right-field foul pole in the sixth inning, then dunked a grand slam an inning later. Enjoy the sweet swings on the video - both balls were absolutely crushed. 

Grandal's overall stat line isn't going to entice many, but let's focus on what he's done in September. He's on a .282/.395/.535 binge, with four homers, 15 runs and 11 RBIs over the final month. Those numbers will play anywhere. And while he's a catcher for eligibility sake, he's not burdened by the tools of ignorance: 16 of his 20 starts this month have come at first base. No surprise he's hitting better, freed from the physical demands of catching. 

Add it up, let's see what we have. Grandal is an OBP machine with some pop (15 homers), a hot hitter who's up against a Giants team he generally owns. A faux catcher is always welcome for our purposes. He's free to add in 93 percent of Yahoo leagues. Take some hacks with us.

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Chase Ford gets his chance to shine

The depth chart indicates that Rhett Ellison will step into the starting lineup in the absence of Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who has undergone surgery to repair a sports hernia.

But Ellison isn’t expected to be the guy who benefits from the extra attention in Norv Turner’s tight-end friendly attack.  The guy who stands to rack up the targets and the catches while Rudolph is out is Chase Ford.

Ford, added to the active roster on Wednesday, played college football at Miami, and he stands six feet, six inches tall and weighs 255 pounds.  The Vikings surely hope Ford has even more in common with Jimmy Graham than height, weight, and a link to the “U”.

He appeared in nine games for the Vikings last year, catching 11 passes for 133 yards.

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Sean Spence to make first NFL start

PITTSBURGH -- Sean Spence will add another chapter to his inspirational story on Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker makes his first NFL start.

Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler told Spence Wednesday morning that the 5-foot-11, 231-pounder will start in place of Ryan Shazier, who is nursing a sprained knee, against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It had to be particularly gratifying for Butler to deliver that news to Spence.

It was Butler, after all, who said in April of 2013 that it would be a “miracle” if Spence ever played again.

“The tunnel was dark for me for a long time, but I stayed positive and Steelers Nation stayed behind me,” said Spence, who shredded his left knee in a 2012 preseason game and dislocated his knee cap while also sustaining nerve damage. “I finally get to get some good quality reps on defense.”

Spence actually got those last Sunday night when he replaced the injured Shazier in the third quarter of the Steelers' 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers.

And the 2012 third-round pick played well enough to earn the start this week with Shazier already declared out against the Buccaneers.

Spence recorded three tackles against Carolina, including one when he tripped up Cam Newton after the Panthers quarterback had escaped a collapsing pocket. Newton had a lot of grass in front of him when he started to scramble, but Spence limited him to a 5-yard gain.

Spence, who logged a career-high 35 snaps last Sunday night, said his play in Carolina proved “that I can play in the National Football League. I hadn’t done it in two years, and the preseason doesn’t really count and Sunday night counted. I think I held up pretty well.”

Spence will probably make more than a few calls after his work day is finished.

His parents are at the top of the list of people with whom he wants to share his latest good news. Spence will also call former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote, who is now playing for the Arizona Cardinals, at some point.

“I talk to Larry every week. He’s like a big brother to me,” Spence said. “He mentored me when he was here, not only in football but life.”

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Falcons OC Dirk Koetter: Devin Hester has earned more WR playing time

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said Tuesday that Devin Hester has earned his increased playing time at wide receiver, according to ESPN.com.

While the kick return specialist did appear at receiver during his eight-year career with the Chicago Bears, he hadn't caught more than 26 passes in a season since 2010 and wasn't targeted at all last season. In his first game for the Falcons, Hester had five catches for 99 yards in Atlanta's Week 1 win over the New Orleans Saints.

Koetter said he's been surprised by Hester's route-running ability, catch radius and hands.

"The thinking is simple: All players usually get what they deserve," Koetter said. "Devin has played his way into more plays. I've told you before, when Devin signed here, I was thinking, 'Chicago didn't use him. Why are we going to use him?' And Smitty [coach Mike Smith] was talking to (wide receivers coach) Terry [Robiskie] and I saying, 'Hey, we've got to find some stuff for Devin.'

"Devin has totally earned everything he's got by how he plays in practice. It's true of any player, it just happens that Devin (is) the greatest kick-returner in league history."

Hester's best season came in 2009, when he had 57 receptions for 757 yards and three touchdowns. He's had two catches for 27 yards in the Falcons' two games since the season opener.

In Atlanta's 56-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Thursday, Hester had the 20th kickoff/punt return touchdown of his career, breaking the NFL record held by Deion Sanders.

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Chris Myers' 100th consecutive start a testament to his preparation

HOUSTON -- Reminded of his ability so far in his career to avoid major injuries, Houston Texans center Chris Myers reached over to the wooden side of his locker and knocked on it.

That injury history, or lack thereof, is part of why Myers is approaching his 100th consecutive start with the Texans. Early in his career, Myers learned how important it was to take care of his body. He's nearly obsessive about it, and it's worked so far. Myers, 33, has the longest active streak of starts, regardless of team, among centers at 115 games.

"Any vet, any pro realizes that your body is kind of your career," Myers said. "If you want to be able to last a long time, you take care of it. I haven’t had any significant injuries, like I said, knock on some wood, but I think when you get the knick-knack ones, you’ve gotta take care of it."

Early in his career, Myers thought being in the training room was a sign of weakness. A former practice-squad member, he didn't want coaches to see him in there and think he was injury-prone. He later realized the appearance didn't matter -- the training room was a necessity for him.

Today, Myers begins the process of recovering his body each week on Mondays. He'll come into the facility an hour before anything the team schedules on Mondays to have enough time for some treatment for the soreness that comes the day after a football game. On Tuesdays, technically the team's off day, Myers goes in for some hot tub or cold tub time, any treatment he needs, and maybe some film work or an extra workout.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, days with full practices, he works on maintenance of whatever issues might crop up during the week.

Being 100 percent healthy during a regular-season week is difficult for a football player.

"It’s close to impossible," Myers said. "The older you get, I think the less chance you have of kind of getting back there. The older you get, the more you need to take care of your body and the more those little tiny injuries kind of linger throughout the season. But the more you’re in here and the more you kind of stay on top of them, the less hindrance they’re going to be on Sunday for you."

Myers even takes some of his treatment home.

He said: "If you can kind of implement that time in a regular day life, it’s a small sacrifice you have to pay to play on Sundays. To play the game that you love."

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Antrel Rolle still feels Taylor's loss

LANDOVER, Md. – The photo remains on display in the living room of Antrel Rolle’s suburban Miami home to this day.

The Giants’ safety does not recall how it initially ended up there, but he believes his older sister, Alexia, is responsible for its placement.

The memories captured in that frame flood back at the first mention of its significance.

Antrel Rolle and Sean Taylor together, then 14-year-old football stars of the eighth-grade Florida City Razorbacks, future All-Americans for the University of Miami and first-round NFL draft picks selected in the Top 8 in consecutive years.

"He’s the best teammate I’ve ever had," Rolle said. "I tell everyone that to this day. He’s the best teammate I’ve ever had. I looked up to him as a player. He had my back; I had his back."

Nearly seven years have passed since Taylor was shot and killed at the age of 24 in a burglary at his home. The NFL Network will air a one-hour, NFL Films-produced documentary Friday night on the life and legacy of Taylor, enshrined as one of the greatest players in franchise history despite playing just three seasons as a professional with the Redskins.

Rolle spoke with The Record about the impact Taylor had on him and the emotion he promises will be overwhelming from the moment he and the Giants step inside FedEx Field for tonight’s nationally-televised showdown with the Redskins.

"Every time I walk in that stadium, there’s no question I feel him there," Rolle said. "The Ring of Fame, everywhere his name is, I make sure I find it. Every time I get to that stadium, I make sure I pray that I represent his number, represent the home, represent what we called ‘the crib,’ and tell him to look out for me, make sure he keeps me safe and injury-free, and allows me to go out and play ball the way we always did."

Rolle and Taylor played youth football together as 6-year-olds with the Homestead Hurricanes. Not only did they share uncommon skill and a passion for the game, the bond was strengthened under the watchful eye of their fathers, both police chiefs of neighboring small-towns.

"It’s where I really learned what chemistry means. The chemistry we had as teammates was phenomenal," Rolle said. "We never had to say a word, yet we were always on the same page."

Rolle and Taylor both wore No. 21 coming out of college. But when the former signed with the Giants in 2010 as a free agent, he chose to wear Taylor’s No. 26 from their days at Miami in honor of his late teammate.

"To me, it never seems like he’s gone. Seems like he’s on a long vacation, it doesn’t seem real even now," Rolle said. "I mean, you lose a lot of people in your life, a lot of loved ones, a lot of family members, but for some reason, this one definitely sticks out more than the majority of my family members. This is one that was very, very, very hard to swallow. I still haven’t been able to swallow it."

Rolle remembers being in Arizona preparing for the Cardinals’ game against Cleveland when he received the phone call with the stunning news about Taylor from his mother, Armelia.

He played with a heavy heart that Sunday and made sure he was on a plane back to Miami immediately after the game for Taylor’s memorial service the following day.

"We didn’t have a day-to-day relationship or even a month-to-month relationship [once they got to the NFL]. Just knowing that he was OK was good enough for me," Rolle said. "And when that got taken away, it put a lot of things in perspective. You never anything for granted. We started together and I still represent 26 for him. I try to be the best player I can be and make myself proud, make my family proud and make him proud, too."

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Bears sign linebacker Darryl Sharpton

The Chicago Bears continued overhauling the roster on the go Wednesday, signing linebacker Darryl Sharpton to a one-year contract.

Sharpton played the last three seasons under linebackers coach Reggie Herring with the Houston Texans, so he’s a known quantity for a unit that will be without Shea McClellin again this week when the Green Bay Packers come to Soldier Field on Sunday.

Sharpton, 26, appeared in 42 games with 19 starts over the previous four years with the Texans. He made 87 tackles and had one forced fumble last season. The Texans drafted Sharpton in the fourth round out of Miami in 2010.

The Washington Redskins terminated the contract of Sharpton on Monday. He had been on the team’s injured reserve list after suffering a high ankle sprain in the second week of August.

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Frank Gore: 'I Just Want to Win'

Frank Gore could hardly conduct an interview following the San Francisco 49ers Week 3 road loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Gore spoke for a few minutes and then asked politely if he could have time for reflection.

Days later, Gore had another opportunity to speak with the media about what was a challenging game for the 10-year pro: a six-carry performance against the Cardinals.

“I was frustrated,” Gore said on Wednesday. “If we would have got the win, I’m happy, you know?”

Gore wasn’t the focal point of the team’s offensive game plan for the Cardinals. Instead, San Francisco elected to attack Arizona’s secondary.

“We felt like it was a personnel group that would help us in the game,” Jim Harbaugh said. “And we wanted to use it.”

The 49ers had a 23-37 run-to-pass ratio against the Cardinals.

Gore, who has 35 carries for 139 rushing yards and one touchdown on the year, said he wasn’t discouraged by the game plan. He understood it.

“Whatever works, I’m with it,” said Gore, who is averaging 4 yards per carry this season. “If it’s passing, it’s passing. We pass the ball. If it’s running, we run the ball.

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win and if we have to go out there and do the spread again, I’m with it. That’s just the type of player I am. I just want to win.”

Gore’s backfield mate, starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, said the 49ers will continue to attack a defense by highlighting the offense’s best matchups.
That’s been the hallmark of a Harbaugh-coached team – San Francisco just hasn’t had the type of wide receiver help that they do in 2014.

So will Gore be used sparingly once again with the Philadelphia Eagles coming to town on Sunday?

That will be discovered in a matter of days.

The 49ers running attack could be in line for reinforcements. Right tackle Anthony Davis returned to practice for the first time this season in a limited role. Tight end Vernon Davis also was limited in practice, a good sign that he’s improved from the ankle injury that kept him sidelined against Arizona.

Gore said the key this week is to “finish” the game out. After back-to-back losses, his mindset appears to be in a good place.

Harbaugh vouched for it.

“I would see no reason why he wouldn’t be confident in that regard,” the coach said.

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Clinton Portis, LaVar Arrington Remember Sean Taylor

Former Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis and linebacker LaVar Arrington remembered some of what made legendary safety Sean Taylor such a great person and player Wednesday morning, on the set of NFL AM before Friday’s airing of ‘Sean Taylor: A Football Life’ on NFL Network at 9 p.m.

Portis – who played with Taylor at the University of Miami and with the Redskins – said Taylor was “one of the greatest ever” on the field, and “really low-key off of it.”

“It would shock people to know his hobbies, or what he was passionate about,” he said. “When you look at a guy that’s so ferocious on the field, you wouldn’t believe that Sean watched as much film as he watched [and] what he was into – video games, cooking, four-wheelers.

Arrington, meanwhile, said Taylor always wanted to be the best that he could be.

“His determination and his drive – everything that appeared for me – was a dude that just wanted to be the best he could possibly be,” Arrington said. “And be the best dude around us as a group of guys, while being the best on the field.”

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Jon Beason doubtful

The Giants will likely be without linebacker Jon Beason for tomorrow. Beason was again a limited participant at practice today (toe/foot) but the team may give him another week to recover. As Tom Coughlin said last week, this may be something Beason has to deal with for the remainder of the season.

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Dontari Poe and Allen Bailey have a blast hosting local youths during football camp

A handful of local children got a chance to witness the rarest of sights Tuesday evening — nose tackle Dontari Poe, all 346 pounds of him, lining up as a cornerback and trying to defend passing routes.

This was the scene at the Chiefs’ practice facility, as Poe and fellow defensive lineman Allen Bailey helped the team and Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Muñoz host an NFL Play 60 character camp for area youth in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

The mission of the event was to make a positive impact on youth through teaching football skills, emphasizing exercise and reinforcing the importance of character in athletics and life. The event was run in collaboration with USA Football and their NFL Flag curriculum, which introduces children to football by teaching basic skills in a noncontact setting.

And in the middle of all of it was Poe, who let the kids take turns trying to catch a pass on him.

“The kids are always a good time, man,” Poe said. “(They have) no problems, no worries. They’re just about one thing — having fun. I feed off their energy.”

Poe hoped his positive attitude during the event left a lasting impression on the kids.

“Kids are sponges; they soak up a lot,” Poe said. “Any positivity I can bring to them, I know it goes a long way.”

The Chiefs continue to champion the Play 60 message of eating right, staying active and living healthy lifestyle with numerous outreach events and activities each season. In fact, last year alone these efforts encouraged local youth to be active for an estimated 2.5 million minutes.

Bailey said he and Poe enjoyed hosting the event because it broke up a monotonous football schedule.

“Ordinarily, we’re playing with grown men, so it’s fun seeing a kid smile, see them laugh,” Bailey said. “It’s a nice breather from the busy daily schedule we have from 8:30 in the morning to 5:30 in the afternoon.”

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Local artist’s Reggie Wayne painting to hang in Conrad Hotel

As part of the Conrad Hotel art experience, local artist and Colts fan Constance Edwards Scopelitis created a portrait of Reggie Wayne. The Portrait will be available for the public to view at the Conrad Hotel.

Constance graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from Indiana University and was a student of legendary American Figure painter Isabel Bishop.

In 1993 she established a studio in the exceedingly creative environment in the historical Stutz Building downtown Indy and promptly went to NYC and studied at the Art Students League. It wasn’t long before Constance gained representation in the national gallery scene including Hawaii, California, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas.

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Devin Hester Excited for Return to TCF Bank Stadium

Days after setting the all-time NFL record for 20 career-return scores, thanks to a brilliant 62-yard punt return TD in Week 3, Falcons WR Devin Heste was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

"I give all the credit to my teammates and coaches," Hester said Wednesday. "It's a credit to them and the work they put in, each and every week."

As for the upcoming week, Hester is focused on the Minnesota Vikings team that he knows really well. During his illustrious nine-year NFL career, he's faced the Vikings 15 times (9-6), all while playing for the Chicago Bears. The current Falcons star has quite a resume against the Purple and Gold, logging:
5 receiving TDs
3 punt return TDs
1 kick return TD

After Hester's last visit to TCF Bank Stadium (where the Falcons play this Sunday), on Dec. 20, 2010, he left the land of 10,000 lakes with the following numbers:
1 kickoff return for 79 yards
2 punt returns, including a 64-yard TD
2 receptions for 23 yards and 1 TD (15-yard score)

"We played them so much, when I was with the Chicago Bears, that I've had a lot of opportunities," Hester said. "I'm excited to play them; it's a team I'm used to playing against, so, we'll see how it turns out this time."

Falcons fans are hoping for similar numbers from Hester this weekend, which would only help accomplish the ultimate goal on Sunday, a third win of the 2014 regular season.

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Frank Gore explains postgame mood

After he fielded a series of questions about his mood after Sunday’s loss at Arizona, Frank Gore walked away from the media scrum with a faux snarl.

“I’m mad. I’m mad,” the 49ers running back said before breaking into a smile.

Three days after Gore, visibly upset, had to cut an interview short after he had a puny role in a 23-14 defeat, he said his frustration stemmed from the loss, not his lack of usage. Gore had 10 yards on six carries, no receptions and played 32 of 64 offensive snaps. His six carries matched his lowest total in a game he’s finished since he became a starter in 2006.

“For me, I just feel that whatever works, I’m with it,” Gore said. “If it’s passing, it’s passing. You pass the ball. If it’s running, you run. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win. If we’ve got to go out there and do spread again, I’m with it. That’s what I’m type of player I am. I just want to win.”

And the fact that the 49ers lost, Gore said, explained his postgame mood.

“I was frustrated,” he said. “If we would have won, I’m happy.”

Gore was happy to break this news: right tackle Anthony Davis will return for Sunday’s game against the visiting Eagles after he missed the first three weeks with a hamstring injury. Davis has been replaced by Jonathan Martin in the starting lineup.

“I think he’s been doing a pretty good job,” Gore said of Martin. “It’s NFL ball: You win some, you lose some. I think it’s good he got an opportunity to play. Now we’ve got (Davis) back … Now we know that if something happens up front again, we know (Martin) can step in.”

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Pelicans hoping John Salmons can make impact at small forward

This summer, veteran small forward John Salmons wasn’t considered one of the top available players in free agency. But he was near the top of the New Orleans Pelicans’ priority list.

He was targeted because of his experience and potential to be a consistent contributor. For the past three seasons, the Pelicans desired consistency from 24-year-old small forward Al-Farouq Aminu.

Aminu, however, could not deliver despite starting the previous two seasons. The Pelicans did not extend Aminu a contract offer this summer as an unrestricted free agent, which led to him signing a two-year deal to join the Dallas Mavericks.

Still, the small forward position appears to be the Pelicans’ weakest spot heading into next Tuesday’s start of training camp. It’s likely that Salmons, a 12-year veteran, will be in a competitive battle with third-year forward Darius Miller and Luke Babbitt for the starting job.

Also, it has not been ruled out that swingman Tyreke Evans could move into the spot as a starter if Pelicans coach Monty Williams decides to stick with Eric Gordon as the starting shooting guard.

Williams has not disclosed his plans yet, but he thinks they have enough talent whichever way he uses his rotation.

''I’m excited about our roster,’’ Williams said last week. ''That doesn’t mean I’m not always trying to figure out ways for us to get better.''

At 34, Salmons is the oldest player on the team’s roster. But the Pelicans are hoping he still has plenty left to emerge. Salmons has been in the league since 2002-03, having played for the Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors.

Salmons, who signed a one-year, $2 million contract, has not been in a starting role since the 2012-13 season when he started 72 of 76 games for the Sacramento Kings and averaged 8.8 points.

As a backup, Salmons played 60 games with the Toronto Raptors last season and averaged 5.0 points and 2.0 rebounds. In June, the Raptors traded Salmons to the Atlanta Hawks.

Immediately after acquiring him, Atlanta put Salmons on waivers to clear salary cap space that allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent. While the Pelicans are aiming for Salmons to emerge, they also want Miller to excel like he did this past April, when he scored in double figures in three of the final five games of the season.

In July, Miller was not extended a $1.15 million qualifying offer and became an unrestricted free agent. But the Pelicans still wanted to bring him back. He signed for one year at a veterans’ minimum of $915,243, which is non-guaranteed.

Babbitt is also expected to compete for minutes at the spot because of his ability to score from the perimeter. He played in 27 games with the Pelicans last season and averaged 6.3 points.

New Orleans Pelicans small forwards
Jason Salmons 6-6, 207 (2013-14: 60 games, 5.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.2 blocks)
Darius Miller 6-8, 225 (2013-14: 45 games, 4.4 ppg., 1.2 rpg., 1.0 apg,, 0.2 bpg.)
Luke Babbitt 6-9, 225 (2013-14: 27 games, 6.3 ppg., 3.3 rpg., 1.1 apg., 0.4 bpg.)

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Cardinals' Jon Jay to miss 1 game

CHICAGO -- St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay left the team due to a personal matter and will miss Wednesday's series finale with the Chicago Cubs, according to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.

Jay is expected to rejoin the team Friday in Arizona when the Cardinals face the Diamondbacks. The Cardinals do not play Thursday.

Jay, who had an RBI in Tuesday's loss to the Cubs, is batting .302 with 52 runs in 138 games this season.

The Cardinals currently lead the Pittsburgh Pirates by 1 1-2 games in the NL Central.

Peter Bourjos will start in centerfield in Jay's absence.

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Sean Spence To Start Sunday

The Pittsburgh Steelers finally got some good news on the injury front, as rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier isn’t expected to miss much time with an MCL sprain. He will, however, be inactive Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town.

Pittsburgh brought fan favorite James Harrison out of retirement to add depth to the outside linebackers, as Jarvis Jones is expected to have wrist surgery and miss at least eight weeks. Cornerback Ike Taylor is out indefinitely with a forearm fracture.

With all this bad news piling up, there is one bright spot. Sean Spence will replace Shazier Sunday, and make his first career start after making a miraculous recovery from a grotesque knee injury.

During the 2012 preseason, Spence suffered a torn ACL, LCL, and a dislocated kneecap in a game against the Carolina Panthers. He missed all of the 2012 and 2013 seasons rehabilitating, and some feared he would never walk right again, let alone play football.

Pittsburgh kept him around, knowing that he would be an impact player if he did recover. Well, he did. After a solid preseason, Spence easily made the team and is now going to start his first career game in 2014.

While we wish all the injured players a speedy recovery, it will be an emotional and awesome moment to see Spence get his name announced with the starting unit after suffering setback after setback.

The Steelers are looking to improve to 3-1 Sunday following Thursday night’s huge win over the Carolina Panthers.

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Darryl Sharpton Signed By Bears

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Chase Ford Promoted

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota Vikings announced Wednesday morning that quarterback Matt Cassel and offensive lineman Brandon Fusco have been placed on injured reserve, ending their seasons.

Cassel was hurt scrambling during the first half of the Vikings’ 20-9 loss to the Saints on Sunday. He suffered broken bones in his foot. It means rookie Teddy Bridgewater, barring injury, will be the team’s quarterback the rest of the season.

The Vikings also activated tight end Chase Ford and offensive lineman Austin Wentworth from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. Ford will take the place of Kyle Rudolph, who will miss extended time with an abdominal injury.

The Vikings filled the two practice squad openings by signing quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson and tight end Ryan Otten.

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Devin Hester earns his 14th special teams player of the week award

The best kick returner in NFL history has been recognized again.

Atlanta’s Devin Hester has been named the NFC special teams player of the week after a Week Three win over the Bucs in which he broke the NFL record for return touchdowns. Hester’s punt return touchdown was the 20th return touchdown of his career. He has 14 punt return touchdowns, five kickoff return touchdowns and one missed field goal return touchdown.

Hester has led the league in punt return touchdowns three times, kickoff return touchdowns twice, punt return yards twice and kickoff return yards once. He’ll have a very good chance of becoming the first player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame strictly as a return man.

This was the 14th time Hester won the NFC special teams player of the week award; he won it 13 times in eight seasons with the Bears. Hester is averaging 15.2 yards a punt return and 28.0 yards a kickoff return this year. The Bears, who are averaging 3.7 yards on punt returns and 19.2 yards on kickoff returns, may be wondering why they let him go.

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49ers waive Asante Cleveland

Fooch's Update: The 49ers just announced TE Asante Cleveland was waived, and QB Josh Johnson was re-signed. That would seem to bode well for Davis and/or McDonald's return.

The San Francisco 49ers locker room was open to the media Tuesday morning, and it gave the media a chance to see how Vernon Davis might be progressing in his return from an ankle injury. The team will not issue their first practice report until Wednesday, but early returns are positive.

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That One Time Devin Hester Raced A Cheetah

There's no doubt, after reaching 20 return touchdowns for an NFL record last week, Devin Hestericon-article-link has reached mythical proportions — perhaps even Chuck Norris proportions.

Did you hear that Devin Hester counted to infinity — twice? Or that he can cut a hot knife with butter? Or that death once had a near-Devin Hester experience? Or that Devin Hester once raced a cheetah and won?

OK, maybe only one of those is true (as far as we know), and it happens to be the latter.

Last year, Hester combined with running back Chris Johnson to take on a cheetah in a race for a National Geographic special that aired in November and, despite the best efforts of the bunny-chasing cheetah, Hester won.

Check out the race here!

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Greg Roman Explains Frank Gore's Limited Carries

In Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Frank Gore carried the ball six times for 10 yards. Neither total stacked up to what the veteran running back is used to tallying.

According to offensive coordinator Greg Roman, however, the limited touches were a result of the San Francisco 49ers game plan – at least at first.

The team hoped to utilize its depth at wide receiver early on to set up the ground game in the second half.

“I think Frank knew going into the game, we kind of outlined our game plan that we were going to start the game out a certain way and see how it went,” Roman said Tuesday on KNBR.

The 49ers began Sunday by deploying an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. San Francisco used a five-wide formation, which essentially left quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the lone running threat out of the backfield.

The surprise aerial attack helped stake the team a 14-6 halftime advantage, but the second half of the 49ers game plan went awry when the Cardinals took the lead midway through the third quarter.

“In a perfect world, you're letting Frank and the offensive line take over the game at the end of the game,” Roman said,  “but we weren't in that situation, so we were never really able to transition into that.”

Gore’s six carries tied for his fewest since Nov. 29, 2010 – also against the Cardinals – when he recorded five rushes. His 10 total yards were his fewest since Jan. 1, 2012, when he had nine yards on seven carries versus the St. Louis Rams.

Despite Gore’s smaller numbers on Sunday, Roman reiterated the team’s commitment to the running game and its stalwart tailback. The coach complimented Gore’s focus on winning and letting the rest take care of itself.

“Frank is the ultimate pro, and he's the ultimate team guy,” Roman said. “He wants to win, and he wants to play in the big games in January and February. So I think he totally understood what we were doing.”

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Jon Beason gets in limited practice Tuesday

Giants MLB Jon Beason (toe) returned to practice on Tuesday, getting in a limited session.

Beason was technically "limited" on Monday, but it was just an approximation, as the Giants didn't actually practice. Beason's aggravation of his offseason injury clearly isn't as serious as first feared, but he remains much more likely to return in Week 5 than suit up for Thursday's game against the Redskins. Jameel McClain will again start in his absence if he can't go.

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Devin Hester's record-breaking return TD is best of Week 3

Was there ever any doubt who would find themselves at No. 1 in this week's Top 10 "Performance Moments of the Week" presented by Bridgestone?

Sure, Devin Hester's 62-yard touchdown return came with this Atlanta Falcons already up 28-0 over the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But it was vintage Hester, now arguably the greatest returner in NFL history with 20 punts and kicks taken back for six. Plus, the 31-year-old did it in Deion Sanders' house, in prime time, with "Primetime" and original return king Billy "White Shoes" Johnson in attendance. If there was a time to do it, no moment was better than Thursday night.

Also on the countdown: a pair of quarterback ... receptions? Bengals signal-caller Andy Dalton hauled in a pass from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu -- who has a perfect QB rating this season -- and avoiding a tackle from Titans cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson. The Red Rifle ran 18 yards and dove in for a TD, good for No. 2 on the list.

Down at No. 7, on a day when Russell Wilson led his Seattle Seahawks to a 26-20 overtime win against the Denver Broncos, he played pitch and catch with Jermaine Kearse, grabbing a 17-yard pass from the wideout.

Also making the countdown: Much later in that game, Broncos passer Peyton Manning orchestrated a game-tying touchdown drive, culminating in a pretty two-point conversion to Demaryius Thomas over Richard Sherman in the back of the end zone. ... In his first ever regular-season action, Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles found Allen Hurns, who broke out of a pair Colts defenders' tackles on his way to a 63-yard scoring scamper.

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Dodgers likely to pay Chris Perez $4.3 million

The next time Chris Perez pitches in a game, he will draw a $500,000 bonus.

Perez is already guaranteed to make $3.8 million this season, according to a person familiar with the details of his contract who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The former All-Star closer is drawing a base salary of $2.3 million and has already earned $1.5 million in incentives -- $500,000 each for his 35th, 40th and 45th appearances.

Perez’s 50th appearance would be worth another $500,000.

Perez has pitched in 49 games, posting a 4.27 earned-run average. Including their game Tuesday night, the Dodgers have five games remaining.

Previously sidelined with bone spurs in his ankle, Perez returned from the disabled list on Sept. 1. He has made seven appearances since then and hasn’t given up a run.

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Jimmy Graham's Ridiculous Stiff Arm on Robert Blanton


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Frank Gore at a loss for words about loss, and his role

The 49ers were without tight end Vernon Davis because of injury. But they were apparently without running back Frank Gore by decision.

Gore carried the ball just six times for 10 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, as the 49ers went to more and more multiple-receiver formations.

“We did what the defense gave us,” Gore said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, saying he didn’t know that would be the plan.

Then after less than a minute of answering questions, Gore said: “I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now.”

The 49ers have been outscored 52-3 in the second halves of games this season, the time when they’d normally feed the ball to Gore and he’d keep chains and clocks moving. Part of the problem was the lack of tight ends Davis and Vance McDonald, which kept them out their preferred personnel packages.

But after drafting young backs to eventually replace him for years, the 49ers showed what could be a sign that Gore’s role might not be what it used to be.

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Clinton Portis offers 3 bits of advice for Jameis Winston

Former NFL running back Clinton Portis has three bits of advice for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, and one of them is to stop talking.

Portis, who played in the NFL for nine seasons with the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins, works for ACC.com, and in his weekly video piece, he told Winston to:

1. "Own who you are." Portis says Winston is the public face of the program and "bigger than life right now. The only person getting in your way is you." Portis also said Winston needs to ask himself about the legacy he will leave behind.

2. "Be aware of your surroundings." Portis said Winston is "not a normal 20-year-old" and that everything he does is scrutinized. That means, Portis said, that Winston "cannot slip up."

3. "Stop talking." Portis said Winston has "a big personality," which can create problems. Portis also said that Winston frequently is misunderstood. Thus, Portis said, "Don't give them nothing; you give them nothing, they can say nothing. Only thing they can do is watch your tape. On your tape, you're the man."

Portis said that if Winston follows his advice, "You'll be "a much happier person. And you'll be the first pick of the draft."

Portis was known in the NFL for his production (six 1,000-yard seasons, two Pro Bowls) and for his larger-than-life personality. Keeping quiet wasn't something Portis was known for, so from that standpoint, it seems somewhat hypocritical he is giving that advice to Winston. At the same time, Portis was an NFL star and lived in the limelight, and thus does have some insight on life in the fishbowl. And, frankly, his advice makes sense, especially the part about "stop talking." Winston does seem to be a "Look at me! Look at me!" person, and it obviously has gotten him into trouble.

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Sean Taylor ‘A Football Life’ To Air This Friday On NFL Network

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Legendary Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor’s impact on Redskins Nation and the game of football continues to be felt to this day.

In 53 games with the Redskins, No. 21 recorded 299 tackles, 12 interceptions, eight fumbles forced and a lifetime of memories.

NFL Flims this Friday at 9 p.m. will remember the life of Sean Taylor in the latest edition of ‘A Football Life’ on NFL Network.

Be sure to check Redskins.com each day leading up to the documentary’s airing on Friday for a story featuring Taylor, and video previews.

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Kelly Jennings’ new career in finance

Kelly Jennings, a graduate of Suwannee High School and former Bulldog football and track star, has joined Branning Wealth Management in Ridgeland, Miss. as an Associate.

After Jennings graduated from SHS, he went on to play for the Miami Hurricanes at the University of Miami (UM). He graduated from UM with a double major in business management and finance.

He was drafted into the National Football League (NFL) in 2006 by the Seattle Seahawks and in 2011 by the Cincinnati Bengals. After six years in the NFL, Jennings completed a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the Reformed Theological Seminary. Jennings is currently a candidate for the Certified Financial Planner (CFP)® Certification.

Jennings’ parents are Roy and Ruby Jennings of Live Oak.

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How Ed Reed is still helping the Jets

Ed Reed spent the final six weeks of the 2013 season with the Jets. The veteran safety’s impact on the field was minimal, but the Jets say they are a better team this year for having Reed around.

“I think he rubbed off on a lot of people in that [locker] room and not just defensive backs,” said defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman, who also coached Reed in Baltimore. “It was linebackers. It was D linemen. It was about, ‘Hey, Ed Reed says something. He’s won. He knows. He’s going to the Hall of Fame in five years.’ It was what we were looking for. You can see the carryover now from that impact.”

Thurman said the Jets brought in Reed to educate the younger players on taking ownership over the defense.

“Just bringing Ed in was something that we felt we needed to do from an overall perspective to help guys understand a standard that we’re trying to get to,” Thurman said. “He wasn’t the same Ed Reed we had in Baltimore, obviously.

“But it is a standard of defense, a standard of preparation, a standard of understanding of how to put things and take ownership of it. The preparation, the film study, practice is not over when we’re having walkthrough – leave your backpacks on the sideline – all the little things that make up of taking ownership of a certain unit. That is why he was brought in. It wasn’t about him being the same player. It was about helping us to establish a standard of defense that will take the New York Jets a long way as it has done in Baltimore.”

Antonio Allen was the player who saw his playing time dwindle the most with Reed’s arrival and admitted it frustrated him.

“I don’t think he was real happy with it,” Thurman said.

But Allen said he learned a lot from Reed, including how to study film better and what to expect from offenses.

“The New York Jets should be happy that Ed Reed walked into this building,” Thurman said. “I believe he rubbed off on all those young defensive backs.”

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Giants may get Jon Beason back vs. Redskins

The New York Giants are facing a short week, but they may have a key player back come Thursday.

Middle linebacker Jon Beason, who sat out Sunday's win against the Houston Texans because of his foot/toe injury, was listed as limited on the official injury report issued Monday, which is a sign of improvement. Giants coach Tom Coughlin held a jog-through practice, three days prior to the team's game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) and cornerback Zack Bowman (quad) did not participate, according to the injury report. (Bowman's injury is the only new one, meaning he almost certainly suffered it against the Texans.)

Punter Steve Weatherford (ankle), offensive lineman James Brewer (back) and offensive lineman Charles Brown (shoulder) were also listed as limited.

The Giants had little time to celebrate their first win of the season, but that doesn't necessarily lessen the impact of the victory.

"It does change just the morale of the team," quarterback Eli Manning said, in a radio interview on WFAN. "There's a little more energy, there's a little more excitement around the locker room today and in the meetings. Guys are upbeat and excited about this week."

The players may be excited, but they're also undoubtedly tired, and have just three days of rest in between games.

"It is always a challenge to have this type of turnaround in the NFL, to go from a Sunday to a Thursday night," linebacker Jameel McClain said, on a conference call with reporters. "How I look at it is, both teams are going through the same thing. It is more of a mental preparation-style week because of the physicality [of the game]. Most people’s bodies don’t really recover until Tuesday or Wednesday."

"It is something where it’s part of the NFL, you have to be able to do that and get your body right," offensive tackle Justin Pugh said. "I think that you have to spend extra time this week outside of being at the facility to get that extra work that you need. Today was important to come in, get in the cold tub and make sure you are getting your body recovered."

Home teams have gone 21-15 on Thursdays since the NFL started playing a Thursday night game each week in 2012. But so far this season the home teams have gone 3-0, winning by 20 points or more each time.

At least the Giants don't have to travel far. They'll be playing a very familiar opponent, and the timing is good, too -- according to the quarterback, at least.

"I like having it the fourth game of the season, rather than the 12th or 13th or something," Manning said. "And it's nice coming after a game where, we [gave up] the one sack, [but] really only one or two hits. Not many hits, and so I feel good today and should feel great on Thursday."

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Jon Jay drives in three runs

Jon Jay knocked in three runs with a pair of singles Monday against the Cubs.

Jay has been slumping of late, but he's remained a regular anyway, even against a lefty tonight. Of course, he's actually been quite a bit better against lefties than righties this season, complicating any type of platoon arrangement with Peter Bourjos. Even with his recent struggles, Jay still has a .306 average for the season. The Cardinals will just have to hope he plays better defense in October this time around.

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Watch: Vince Wilfork's INT Which Secured The W

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Asante Cleveland promoted to help injury-plagued TE corps

Injuries to tight ends Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald prompted the 49ers on Saturday to promote Asante Cleveland from the practice squad.

No. 3 quarterback Josh Johnson was released in a corresponding roster move, leaving the 49ers with only Blaine Gabbert to back up Colin Kaepernick, who appeared on the injury report this week with a back issue.

Cleveland (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) was among the 49ers’ final cuts after training camp. Undrafted out of the University of Miami, Cleveland had three catches for 22 yards in the preseason, including a 14-yard touchdown reception in the exhibition finale at Houston (on a pass from Johnson).

Davis (ankle) and McDonald (knee) are listed as questionable, leaving Derek Carrier as the only healthy tight end, though snapper Kyle Nelson and defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs are emergency options.

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Lamar Miller totals 132 yds as Dolphins fall

Lamar Miller rushed 15 times for 108 yards and caught 4-of-5 targets for 24 yards in the Dolphins' Week 3 loss to Kansas City.

Sunday's playcalling performance by Fins OC Bill Lazor was very disappointing. While Miller ripped off over seven yards per carry, Ryan Tannehill was head-scratchingly allowed to attempt 43 passes despite almost complete ineffectiveness. Tannehill averaged 4.8 yards per pass attempt. Lazor has a run-devoted background, so look for him to get this ratio corrected when the Dolphins take on the Raiders in London next week. As long as Knowshon Moreno is out -- and he's expected to miss at least three more games -- Miller will offer upside as a weekly RB2. Miller is now averaging 5.76 yards per carry on the season.

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