(AP)Hurricane Bill certainly whipped up some gusts with a torrential downpour on Friday morning, targeting all meteorologists.
With a forecast for rain on Saturday and the possibility of more wet (and cold) conditions on Sunday, the weather was a natural talking point for the media during New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's Friday morning press conference . Would the meticulously prepared Patriots head coach factor the possible slick and brisk conditions into his game plan for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos? It was a thoughtful question, or so one would think.
Instead, there was a bad moon rising as the 'Hooded One' almost couldn't contain his disgust, with earthquakes and lightning on the way.

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“When you play in New England, you have to be ready for everything. I’d say based on the forecasts we’ve gotten so far this year, none of them have been even very close to what game conditions were. There was 100 percent chance of rain last week and the only water I saw was on the Gatorade table,” Belichick said.
“You know, it is what it is. You know as well as I do, it could start one way and change during the game. we have to be ready for whatever it is, but my experience of going with the forecast in this area two days before the game, I mean I’d bet a lot that they’re wrong, just based on history because they’re almost always wrong. An hour before the game, maybe. You might have something to work with there. I think [if] you start game planning for what the weather is going to be and you game plan wrong, you’ve wasted a lot of time.”
Moments later, he called forecasts “a bunch of air,” a clever turn of the phrase as his own personal storm clouds continued to pelt meteorologists with a hail of abuse.
“Look, I’m not saying I could do it better than them, I’m just saying they’re wrong a lot,” Belichick said.
“That’s a fact. They’re wrong a lot. We all make mistakes. I’m not being critical of them, I’m just saying I don’t think you can go based on that.”
When his rant was done Belichick outlined his routine, which is to go out to the field roughly 90 minutes before the game to take in the conditions. Any changes to their game plan that are related to the weather generally are made during that time period an hour-and-a-half before the game when warmups start.

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Kristian R. Dyer writes for Metro New York and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KristianRDyer

Author: Kristian Dyer
Posted: November 1, 2014, 12:04 am

(AP)The Arizona Cardinals hit two long touchdowns in the second half of their win over the Philadelphia Eagles, and the two plays appeared to have no connection. But if you watch the film, you could see that the first score set up the second. 

The first, an 80-yard touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald, was the result of the Cardinals understanding tendencies and calling the right play to beat a defense they knew was coming. The second, John Brown’s 75-yard game-winning score, was a great concept and a perfect call to beat the defense Philadelphia adjusted to after the first score.

Let’s examine the coaching moves that went into the two scores, and how the two plays were connected, because there was some really high-level coaching involved.

The first play to Fitzgerald came out of an empty backfield. In previous games this season and in the first half of Sunday’s game, the Eagles checked to “zero blitz” against an empty backfield. They don’t do it 100 percent of the time, but it’s a strong tendency and the Cardinals knew it. And, knowing what the Eagles would do, the Cardinals invited it.

The Cardinals designed the play that was Fitzgerald’s touchdown to beat “zero blitz.” You can tell that by receiver Ted Ginn, who lined up next to Fitzgerald. He didn’t even run a route, he went directly to block safety Malcolm Jenkins. Carson Palmer had a one-step drop, Fitzgerald ran a quick slant, Palmer hit him and he went for the score.

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Since this play came on the first possession of the second half, it seems like the Cardinals decided at halftime to run it, after confirming the Eagles’ tendency against empty backfields. In my opinion they said, “If we go empty they’re going to get blitz. So we’ll invite the blitz. And let’s have a play that beats it.”

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That’s superb coaching, but the chess match isn’t confined to that one play. The first time the Cardinals ran an empty set after Fitzgerald’s touchdown, the Eagles rushed just four and played “quarters” zone behind it. That’s a very important point to remember. After the touchdown, the Eagles decreased their blitz frequency as a whole and played more zone coverage. They mixed in an occasional third down blitz, but kept a safety in the deep middle.

On Brown’s touchdown, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians used a concept he likes in that situation, one he borrows from Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman. Arians does an excellent job of combining routes that could get a first down on one side of the field, and have route combinations to get an explosive play on the other. Other teams do this, but usually it’s to beat different coverages; the left side will have a combination to beat “Cover 2,” the right side will have a combination to beat “Cover 3” and the quarterback will decide which side to use based on the coverage. That’s common. Arians is a very strong believer in explosive plays. He likes to have opportunities for explosive plays built into many calls.

The Cardinals used an empty backfield on their last three plays, including on third and five. The Eagles ran “quarters” coverage – the adjustment they made after Fitzgerald’s touchdown. The Cardinals ran a flat/curl/seam seal to the right for the first down, and Brown ran a “sluggo” (slant and go) to the left. He lined up with minus splits, close to the formation, and a “sluggo” from a minus split is an excellent route against “quarters,” which the Eagles ran to Brown’s side. Brown distorted the “quarters” responsibilities of cornerback Cary Williams and safety Nate Allen because of his alignment. It looked like Allen was at fault, and he got plenty of blame, but the responsibility was more on Williams than Allen. Here’s why:

Andre Ellington lined up outside Brown and ran a shallow cross, disappearing from the play. In “quarters,” the cornerback is responsible for the vertical route furthest to the outside, which is “1 vertical.” It’s not common to see “1 vertical” come from inside the numbers, but “1 vertical” was Brown. That’s Williams’ responsibility.

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Palmer made a great throw, and Brown made a great catch for what turned out to be the game-winning score. But it was a great call, set up by another play earlier in the game. That’s the kind of maneuvering that makes studying the game of football so interesting.

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

Author: Greg Cosell
Posted: October 31, 2014, 11:02 pm

Welcome to the latest Shutdown Corner podcast! On today's piping-hot episode, we have:

• A Halloween-themed rundown of the scariest NFL players

• A digression into college football, specifically how insane the Jameis Winston draft debate is going to be

• A look at Brady-Manning XVI. Is the hype valid? Who's got the edge?

• Our locks and upsets of the week, and the game we'd pay to see in Week 9.

All this and more as part of the Shutdown Corner Podcast. Listen up, and while you're listening ...

Subscribe via iTunes right here.

Non-iTunes subscription link here.

Leave us a nice review here.

The Shutdown Corner podcast is the product of Kevin Kaduk (@KevinKaduk), Frank Schwab (@YahooSchwab) and Jay Busbee (@JayBusbee). New episodes every Tuesday and Friday, with bonus episodes when you least expect it. Enjoy!

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.

Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 31, 2014, 9:23 pm

The Carolina Panthers are struggling, and their head coach Ron Rivera thinks one of their best players should be able to return to the field.

Suspended defensive end Greg Hardy has had his domestic abuse trial postponed until after the 2014 NFL season, and head coach Ron Rivera believes that Hardy should be able now to return to the Panthers' active roster.

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“In so many words, yes,’’ Rivera said, via ESPN.com. “If things had all transpired and gone a certain way, then his availability might be now.’’ 

Although court records still indicate that the trial remains on the docket for Nov. 17, reports have come out that it has been delayed until after the season. Multiple reports suggest that Hardy will seek reinstatement.

Hardy has been on the commissioner's exempt list for the past six games, which just so happens to coincide with Roger Goodell's newly instituted punishment for a conviction for domestic abuse. Because of this, Rivera believes Hardy should be able to play while the legal system plays out — after the season, it appears.

Hardy played in Week 1, then was deactivated in Week 2 amid public pressure following the backlash of the rash of NFL domestic abuse cases. After that, Hardy has drawn weekly paychecks of $770,000 while sitting in limbo.

Could he remain there? It's not clear. The Panthers have yet to hear anything formal from the NFL on the matter (anything that has been made public, anyway), but they have some extended time off following Thursday night's home loss to the New Orleans Saints and prior to their Week 10 Monday night game at the Philadelphia Eagles.

Rivera said playing without Hardy has been a difficult adjustment for the team.

“It affects a lot, because of who he is,’’ Rivera said. “He’s a guy that plays [four different positions]. He also plays in what we call a rebel package where he’s also a standup linebacker where we can get into some 3-4 stuff.

“But we don’t have him. These are all things, you go through OTAs, mini-camps and training camp and you work all these things, then all of a sudden you’re put in a different situation. That’s been hard.’’ 

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 31, 2014, 8:04 pm

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been cleaning house a bit, and prior to the trade deadline, they shipped for former No. 7 overall pick Mark Barron to the St. Louis Rams for two future draft picks.

Barron, upon arriving in St. Louis, then ripped the Bucs' defensive scheme as being "too passive."

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His former head coach, Lovie Smith, is the architect of the Buccaneers' defensive scheme, and it doesn't appear he took too kindly to Barron's comments.

In fact, Smith wasn't even prompted to comment on what Barron had to say to take his own thinly veiled shot at his former player.

Asked about rookie receiver Mike Evans, who made a strong effort in vein to tackle Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr on the game's final play in overtime last week, Smith went for the open-field tackle.

"The effort [Evans] gave, he looked like a safety on that play," Smith said, via the Tampa Bay Times. "One that wasn't real passive on that play, going down and trying to strip the ball." 

Sour grapes, meet ill will.

But then again, it's in Smith's nature to be passive aggressive, right?

Smith was asked about his Tampa-2 system, which requires defenders to sit back, defend their turf, seldom blitz and aim to make plays after receivers catch the ball. The head coach, who is in the middle of a brutal first season in Tampa, made it known he was not going to attack Barron directly — and that his scheme isn't the problem.

"I'm not going to talk about any players that aren't here anymore," Smith said. "Our safety position that we play, one of the requirements isn't for you to be passive, I will say that."

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 31, 2014, 7:29 pm

The Tony Romo watch continues, and it appears we won't have an answer to whether the Dallas Cowboys quarterback will play Sunday until just before kickoff against the Arizona Cardinals.

Romo missed a third straight practice with a back injury on Friday, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said via The Dallas Morning News that the three-time Pro Bowl QB will remain a game-time decision going forward.

“Obviously you’ve got your 53-man roster, and we have to turn our actives in within an hour before the game,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM], “and so that’s when you’ll know.”

Jones added that Romo has been working out and attending team meetings. Likewise, coach Jason Garrett told reporters before Friday's session that Romo's health has improved, according to the Morning News.

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It's a bit of a reversal for Jones, who went on the radio earlier this week and essentially dared Romo to play through the injury: "Make no mistake, it's the player's decision [to return]. Its' not like concussions."

“At this time we have nothing medically that would prevent him from playing,” Jones said. “This is a function of pain tolerance, but it’s a serious issue that you could look at people who have had a similar type contusion, or injury, and they haven’t played the next week. That would cause you some concern about him playing.”

The Cowboys (6-2) enter Sunday with a half-game division lead on the Philadelphia Eagles, and a win over the Cardinals (6-1) would put them in the pole position for the NFC's top seed. Romo gives Dallas a better chance to win than backup Brandon Weeden, but risking further injury could create even bigger problems.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don't Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Author: Ben Rohrbach
Posted: October 31, 2014, 5:27 pm

We're pretty fortunate to have seen one of the great sports rivalries unfold before us this century.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning don't literally face each other – I assume they’ve never been on the field together for even one play in 15 head-to-head games – but it’s incredible to see one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time lead his team against one of the other greatest quarterbacks of all time. When they retire, many lists will have them as the top two ever. Which player gets the top spot will depend on your tastes in quarterbacks.

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Brady’s teams are 8-3 in Manning-Brady bowls in the regular season, but when the stakes are higher in the playoffs Manning’s teams are 2-2. When they’ve met in the conference championship game, the biggest game the two AFC lifers could play in against each other, Manning is 2-1. That’s pretty much the opposite of how most people want to paint the narrative of those two.

The rivalry has changed. For years, the Patriots as a team were much better than the Colts. The Patriots, for much of Manning’s career, were in the middle of one of the greatest runs in NFL history. That’s not the case anymore.

The Broncos are the best team in the NFL now. They are a much more complete team than last year, when they went to the Super Bowl, and in the AFC championship game looked like the clearly superior team ... like Brady's Patriots often did against Manning's Colts. The Patriots are pretty good too (like Manning’s Colts were in the 2000s), but not quite as good as the Broncos.

I’ll take the better team for Sunday’s game. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Patriots, who have played like the Super Bowl contender we thought they were since the debacle at Kansas City, won at home. But I think this is a big proving ground for Denver, and the Broncos win and cover the minus-3 spread. But either way, hopefully this will be another Brady-Manning classic.

Here are the rest of the picks for this week, with the spreads as usual coming from Yahoo Pro Football Pick ‘em (and as always, clearly, just for entertainment):

Panthers (+3) over Saints (picked Thursday): The strategy of picking against the Road Saints didn’t work out well. The Panthers are in really bad shape.

Jaguars (+11) over Bengals: If there’s a spot for a letdown, it’s playing the Jaguars at home a week after an emotional, close win over the Ravens.

Browns (-6.5) over Buccaneers: The Buccaneers have already shown a propensity for not giving all that much effort. Do we think that they’re going to suddenly get fired up after the organization basically announced the season was over by trading two players for picks?

Cardinals (+4) over Cowboys: I might be overrating the Cardinals a bit – their average metrics don’t match up with their 6-1 record – but we saw what Tony Romo did against Washington’s blitz after he got hurt, and now he’s facing the most blitz-happy team in the NFL. Or Brandon Weeden starts, and that’s not changing my pick.

Chiefs (-9.5) over Jets: The Chiefs are legit, it seems. The Jets’ 1-7 record is just as legit.

Chargers (+2.5) over Dolphins: I know Miami is playing well, I just don’t think a good Chargers team lets a three-game losing streak happen.

Vikings (-1) over Redskins: Toughest game on the board to pick, because I have absolutely no idea what Robert Griffin III will do in his first game back.

Eagles (-2) over Texans: According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA rating, the Eagles are eighth in defense, first in special teams and 23rd in offense. If we believe Chip Kelly finds a way to get the offense to click (and I do) that means the Eagles' storm is coming.

Rams (+10) over 49ers: Hopefully the Rams don’t give up another terrible deep touchdown at the end of the first half against the 49ers.

Raiders (+15) over Seahawks: I just can’t give more than two touchdowns to any NFL team. I hope the Raiders team that almost beat the Patriots shows up.

Ravens (-1) over Steelers: Are the Steelers the team that destroyed the Colts? Or are they the team that lost at home to the Buccaneers and got destroyed by these same Ravens earlier in the season?

Colts (-3.5) over Giants: I know I shouldn’t take the road favorite on Monday night, but I can’t pick this Giants team over this Colts team.

Last week: 7-8
Season to date: 57-63

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 31, 2014, 4:33 pm

So shrouded in mystery is the NFL’s all-time single-game passing-yards mark — 554, by Norm Van Brocklin of the Los Angeles Rams in 1951 — that there are no physical relics from the game in question at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Canton is full of memorabilia and artifacts from many of the other significant moments in NFL lore, and anytime these days a new mark goes down another piece is added to display. But its best passing game has but a few known photographs representing a mark that miraculously has stood for more than 63 years.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger made a gallant run at Van Brocklin this past Sunday, completing 40-of-49 passes (with a few clear drops) for 522 yards (tied for fourth-most all time), six touchdowns (a Steelers record) and no interceptions.

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The ball from Ben Roethlisberger's second 500-yard game (Pro Football Hall of Fame)The ball from the game will be headed to the Hall, and rightfully so — in doing so, Big Ben became the only man in league history to surpass the 500-yard mark twice, having previously torched the Green Bay Packers for 503 in 2009. Only 14 other quarterbacks have reached the plateau throughout the years, and Van Brocklin has remained on top since Harry Truman’s last term in office.

Sixteen 500-yard games in the 15,196 known games played in league history through Thursday night’s contest between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.

It’s clearly a special plateau. But how special?

Roethlisberger seemed unfazed by the numbers. After the game, he said he had no idea during it that he was a few throws away from taking down one of the league’s most vaunted records.

“No. I don’t even know what’s going on. Usually I have guys coming up to tell me what is going on, or I look on the Jumbotron,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t know my stats, I just know what the score says, really.”

Although he paid due deference to becoming the first 500-yard repeater, Roethlisberger didn’t sound like a man putting a ton of stock in the record — rather, more in his fellow Steelers who helped win the game.

“Well there have been a lot of great quarterbacks that have played this game, and it’s just such a great honor just to be mentioned in the same breath as a lot of those guys,” he said. “It’s not just [about] me; those guys [his teammates] gave me time, and everyone else made plays.”

CBS analyst Boomer Esiason, who matched Ben’s 522 yards in 1996 with the Arizona Cardinals, was more than happy to do the talking for Roethlisberger’s effort.

“Ben happened to get out of bed on the right side Sunday morning,” Esiason said by phone. “Because looking back and watching that tape again, I think it was the single greatest performance a quarterback has ever had in a game.”

We watched the tape, too. Considering those four or five dropped passes among Roethlisberger’s nine incompletions, Van Brocklin might have gone down.

“I thought they left about 75 or 80 yards on the field, but you never know what would have happened had those plays been completed. Maybe they run it more later, who knows?” Esiason said. “But the fact that he wasn’t sacked and wasn’t intercepted and that it happened so flawlessly and so easily, it was amazing.

“I think it’s the greatest single regular-season performance a quarterback has ever had.”

The 500 Club is populated with current Hall of Famers such as Warren Moon, Dan Marino and Y.A. Tittle, as well as with likely future inductees such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees and perhaps Roethlisberger as well.

But there also are some less distiguished quarterbacks on the esteemed list as well.

• Elvis Grbac, with 70 NFL starts and only 10 other 300-yard passing games, threw for 504 against the Oakland Raiders in 2000.

• Vince Ferragamo, who only had flashes of success in his two NFL stints, threw for 509 against the Chicago Bears in 1982.

• Matt Schaub, the much-maligned backup to Oakland Raiders rookie Derek Carr (and who has thrown an interception on his only Raiders pass attempt this season), is tied with Moon for second all-time with 527 in an overtime game two seasons ago for the Houston Texans against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

History largely has forgotten their efforts. The 500-yard game clearly is clearly exceptional and rare. But is it a clear indication of quarterbacking excellence?

Ready to be shocked? Brett Favre, first all-time in passing yards, had only two 400-yard games in his career. John Elway, fifth all-time, also had just two.

There have been only 19 postseason 400-yard games in NFL history, and three of them were by Don Strock, Jeff George and Kelly Holcomb. Bernie Kosar came the closest to 500 in the playoffs, with 489 against the New York Jets in 1987.

The top five passing-yardage games of all time came in victories, but seven of the other 11 were in losses. Throw out Y.A. Tittle’s seven-TD, no-INT game in 1962, and the aggregate TD-INT ratio of the quarterbacks is a mere 31-20.

Boomer Esiason of the Arizona Cardinals runs from Washington Redskins defenders (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Esiason threw four picks, fumbled twice and was nearly benched in his 522-yard game.

“I remember my offensive coordinator at the time, Jim Fassel, said to me, ‘You know, Boom, if you don’t start throwing it to our guys, we are going to bench you.’” Esiason said. “There was a lot of turmoil in Arizona at that time.”

The middling Cardinals were playing the slightly better Washington Redskins at old RFK Stadium, and Esiason had his family, including son Gunnar, who had been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis a few years earlier, at the game. Right before kickoff, everyone in the stadium was startled by a stunning sight and sound.

“They had a B-2 stealth bomber fly right over the stadium, almost engulfing the entire roof of the stadium,” Esiason said. “I remember it vividly because Gunnar, at five years old … he was such a plane fanatic.

“It took everyone by surprise. No one knew the thing was coming. All I could think of on the sideline was, my 5-year-old son got to see it fly over the stadium. How cool was that?”

The Redskins were celebrating Veteran’s Day, which was the following day. Esiason took it as a sign: He was celebrating Gunnar.

“So when Jim Fassel told me they were thinking about replacing me [later in the game], I said, ‘If you’re going to replace me, that means we are going to fight right here on the sideline.’”

Fassel stuck with Esiason, who had 153 yards at halftime, and asked him to throw to help erase a 14-point deficit. And throw and throw and throw …

It didn’t hurt that the Redskins’ defensive coordinator, Ron Lynn, had been with Esiason and the Bengals four years earlier. Esiason made a very important mental note of Lynn’s tendencies in Week 2 of the 1992 season against the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers’ starting quarterback, Don Majkowski, got hurt. A little-known replacement named Brett Favre was getting his first extended NFL action in the game. The Bengals led by four points with less than a minute left.

“Favre had marched right down the field against our defense that was coordinated by Ron Lynn,” Esiason said. “He was playing cover-2 the whole time.

“So fast-forward four years later [against the Redskins]. In the fourth quarter when we were going no huddle, all that I saw was cover-2 and I knew it was Ron Lynn and that was what he was going to do the whole time. I was basically just alternating plays to go after cover-2.”

The game went to overtime, and Esiason had reached 485 yards in setting up Cardinals kicker Kevin Butler for a 32-yard game-winner. Butler missed the chip shot.

But Esiason never would have reached 522 had that miss not happened. He added 37 more passing yards two drives later to reach the mark and win the game.

“After the game was over, two really unique conversations happened,” Esiason said. “As I am walking off the field, Jim Fassel says, ‘I’m glad we didn’t bench your ass.’

“Number two, Ron Lynn said, ‘I think you just got me fired.’ I remember saying to Ron, who was a great guy and a really good coach, ‘You know, Ron, you gotta stop playing that cover-2 in crunch time.’

Like Esiason’s game, Van Brocklin’s record was set amid unique circumstances.

Norm Van Brocklin (Pro Football Hall of Fame)With no video and few written accounts of the game surviving, there’s a strange mythology about the game, carrying on a Wilt Chamberlain-esque, 100-point game did it actually happen-like life several generations later.

But it did happen.

“Well, the best thing that happened to [the Rams and Van Brocklin] in that game was that they play the New York Yanks,” Pro Football Hall of Fame Vice President Communications/Exhibits Joe Horrigan said. “This was a team that had talent, good individual players from college, but as a team they struggled.”

The record was set in the season opener on an 81-degree day (a Friday, interestingly) at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before a reported 30,310 fans. The hapless Yanks, who would fold following the 1-9-2 season, had little chance of stopping the torching from Van Brocklin and Co.

“They met a buzzsaw that day,” Horrigan said. “The Rams were loaded, and they were just looking for a victim. You have the league’s two greatest receivers [Hall of Famers Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Tom Fears] and it was an offensive juggernaut.”

But there was some controversy, too, with the Rams continuing to chuck it seemingly every play despite leading 41-7 entering the fourth quarter. Van Brocklin technically had been the backup to Bob Waterfield, both eventual Hall of Famers, and Van Brocklin might have sought to prove who the best quarterback was on the roster. So the story goes.

“I could see it,” Horrigan said. “You had two very competitive quarterbacks on that team.”

Remember, too, that it was a run-first, run-second era. The average team passed for 162.7 yards per game in 1951, and the New York Giants — who were 9-2-1 that season — averaged fewer than 100 yards passing per game.

Completion percentages hovered in the mid-40s and quarterbacks were sacked once every 10 times they dropped back to pass. Interceptions outnumbered touchdown passes. Frankly, the forward pass was still viewed with some suspicion, prior to the wide-open Sid Gillman-fueled 1960s; especially compared to the modern era, passing games were crude at best then.

Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo in 1982 (Getty Images)Tittle threw for 505 in 1962, and he stood in the No. 2 spot for 20 years. That’s when Ferragamo and the 1-6 Rams hosted the 2-5 Chicago Bears in a game at Anaheim Stadium, during the strike-shortened 1982 season in which there was no football from mid-September to mid-November.

“Coming off strike, guys were out of condition coming back to the team,” Ferragamo said this week.

The era was still dominated by the run. Ferragamo had seven NFL starts in which he threw for 101 yards or fewer. In the nine weeks of the 1982 season, there were only four other 400-yard passing games.

If there were fireworks anticipated, they would have been from the Bears’ Walter Payton, who was approaching 10,000 rushing yards for his career. The Bears took a 17-0 first-half lead with Payton leading the way. The Rams asked Ferragamo, who had 214 pass yards at halftime, to keep chucking it.

“It’s funny, I had no idea about the record,” Ferragamo said. “I didn’t know a Ram had set it.

“I had [someone] come up to me on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter and say to me, ‘Hey Vince, do you know you’re getting close to a record? You’re closing in on Van Brocklin.’ I had no idea … I had to ask him how many more yards I needed. I suddenly thought, 'We needed to go overtime!' ”

The Rams lost 34-26, a two-score loss before the two-point conversion came into the league. He never had a chance. But Ferragamo moved into second place behind Van Brocklin, where he remained until Phil Simms toppled him with 513 yards three years later.

Still, Ferragamo’s performance was not celebrated roundly at the time.

“Walter Payton got more headlines [for surpassing 10,000 yards] than I did in that game, understandably,” Ferragamo said. “And his team won the game.”

Ferragamo, who now is working in real estate in California (and whose business phone number is, no joke, 888-TOUCHDOWN) as well as making wine, says he watches a lot of NFL action these days and that he’s jealous of today’s pass-happy game.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “The rules slant toward the offense. They make it easier to throw. We never played with an empty backfield. We might motion a back out of the backfield and empty out. But it was a whole different era. A 300-yard passing game was a huge game back in my day. Dan Fouts threw for a bunch of them, but other guys just didn’t hit that mark often.”

Esiason agrees.

“You’re going to see more and more of them now because of the rules. One of these days very soon, the 400-yard game is going to be the new benchmark for a good game. It used to be a 300-yard game was the threshold, and before that it was 200 yards,” said Esiason, who also threw for 490 yards in another game.

“Ultimately, when you get players like Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers and the next generation of great quarterbacks, why wouldn’t you throw the ball 45-50 times a game?”

In the first 60 years of NFL history, there were only two 500-yard passing games. Since 2006, there have been eight. Van Brocklin is going down one of these days — and very soon.

“Along with the usual suspects,” Esiason said, “I would think when Calvin Johnson comes back, you could put Matthew Stafford in that mix. It would be Luck, Rodgers, Stafford, even Drew Brees. We could get it this weekend in New England [between Peyton Manning and Brady].

Roethlisberger hit that rare level of performance last week. But as the Ferragamo and Esiason games show, it also takes the perfect storm — and a little luck — to reach such a lofty total. 

“In order to get that kind of game, it takes two teams to be competitive for four quarters,” Esiason said. “If you’re up 41-10 entering the fourth quarter and you’ve thrown for 395, 420 yards, you’re going to take the air out of the ball. But if you’re up 41-31 at the end of the third quarter, you’re going to continue to throw because you know the other guy is not going to stop.”

Many have come close, but Van Brocklin lives on … more than 31 years after his death. 

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 31, 2014, 3:35 pm

Orlando Franklin of the Denver Broncos warms up as the team practices at the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre. (Getty Images)
Denver Broncos offensive lineman Orlando Franklin is giving Yahoo Canada Sports an exclusive first-person account of life in the NFL. Franklin grew up in Toronto before playing at the University of Miami and was drafted by the Broncos in the second round in 2011.

A lot of people don’t think being a professional athlete is a “job” but it really is. It’s a grind. Every week is full of a lot of work, with long days. Before we even step on to the field for a game on Sunday, we’ve put in a lot of hours of work during the week – on and off the practice field.

It’s not like a lot of normal jobs. There’s no such thing as being five minutes late in the NFL. If you’re five minutes late you’re going to get fined. I don’t know what the fine amount is, because I’ve never been late, but it’s a lot.

When you add in travel and everything else, it can make for long, hectic weeks. After our game on Sunday, if we’re on the road, we fly right back – doesn’t matter how far away, we go straight from the stadium to the airport. It doesn’t matter how late we land, the next day we have workouts at 11am in Denver. It’s a team workout that goes from about 11am till noon. Coach Fox will talk to us then we start meetings and grading film. At around 2 p.m. we have offence and defence meetings. Sometimes we’ll meet as an entire offence or we’ll break up – offensive line goes into one room, tight ends into their room, etc. After film we’re done for the day around 3:30.

On Tuesdays we’re off – that’s our one day off for the week. Unless you’re hurt, you don’t have to go in. For me, my day off typically means a lot of rehab. I’ll get a massage at 10am, then get stretched out at 12, then I do my radio show at 1pm.

Wednesday is our hardest day of the week. I get there around 7:15 a.m. and my first meeting is at 8. After a team meeting we do offence and defence meetings until about 10:30. Then we’re on the field at 11 and we have practice. After practice we lift weights then have a break for lunch and it’s back into meetings for the rest of the day.

The hardest part of our week, by far, is full-pads practices on Wednesday. Everybody hates it but we all know that we need to do it. Wednesday is just a grind, you’re gonna be in full pads for the whole day. You’re gonna take a lot of reps, and we just all hate it. It’s a physical day, it’s like playing another game in the middle of the week.

Thursday is almost the same, we practice again but not in full pads. It’s a little bit easier of a day and you don’t have to workout. But everything else is the same and we’re there just as long, about 11 hours.

Friday is more of a mental day, or a tune-up day – making sure you know what’s going, what you gotta do. We usually go in and our first meeting is at about 7:30. Friday’s we have a quick practice, but we’re not really on the field that long.

The entire 53-man roster stays at a hotel on Saturday night before a game – even for a home game. Before that, we watch practice from Friday and we get on the field but take minimal reps. It’s a crisp walk-through tempo – it’s not really a walkthrough, it’s more of a jog-through. If it’s a home game you get to go home for a couple hours then we have to be at the hotel by 7pm that night. But if we’re playing away that week then we get dressed and head to the airport to get on the plane. We have night meetings at the hotel then have an 11pm curfew.

It makes for a long week and requires a lot of work and focus but you have to be prepared every time you step on the field.

Follow Orlando Franklin on Twitter and Instagram.

More from Orlando Franklin:

-How football led me down the right path, and to protecting Peyton Manning

-Giving thanks to the mentors who helped me get where I am today

-On being part of history, and what it takes to win big games

More football coverage on Yahoo Sports:

Author: Orlando Franklin
Posted: October 31, 2014, 2:07 pm

Someone has to win the NFC South. It's in the rules.

One big road win from the New Orleans Saints, who were on a seven-game road regular season losing streak, might be enough to bend the balance of power in the NFC South their way.

New Orleans had a methodical 28-10 win over the Carolina Panthers. They frustrated a shorthanded and talent-poor Panthers offense, and an 80-yard fourth-quarter drive that chewed up 7:27 and finished with Mark Ingram's second rushing touchdown sealed the victory.

The win improves the Saints' record to 4-4, which isn't impressive anywhere but the NFC South. They're in first place, ahead of the 3-5-1 Panthers. The moribund Falcons and Buccaneers aren't even worth mentioning as contenders anymore. Considering how dominant the Saints are at home they were 3-0 at home this season and 0-4 on the road before Thursday night it'll be a tough battle for the Panthers to defend as NFC South champions. There has never been a repeat champion in the NFC South.

The Saints were very good on defense. The Panthers are really beat up on the offensive line and it showed. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wasn't at his best either. He was off on many passes, and has been erratic for three games in a row.

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The Saints had a tough start to the season, but they're looking like they're figuring some things out. The defense played maybe its best game of the season. Ingram, who missed some time with an injury, is making a huge difference for the offense. The former Heisman Trophy winner and 2011 first-round pick has become a legitimate workhorse after three disappointing NFL seasons. He rushed 30 times for 100 yards against Carolina, and was the Saints' preferred option in the red zone. He'll be a free agent after this season.

The Saints cashed in on a Newton fumble deep in Panthers territory for their first touchdown, and took a 14-0 lead into halftime on Jimmy Graham's 1-yard touchdown with three seconds left in the first half. The Panthers tried to rally in the second half, but were held to a field goal on a promising drive early in the fourth quarter. With the lead cut to 21-10, the Saints' long drive and Ingram's second score iced the game.

The Saints haven't won the division just because they climbed back to .500. But nobody else in the division is playing well. If the Saints can play like this on the road a few more times, they'll guarantee themselves one home playoff game in January.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 31, 2014, 3:29 am

(AP)A lot has been made of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones coming down from his luxury suite to the sideline during Monday night's game against the Washington Redskins.

The proper answer is, he's the owner and he can do almost whatever he wants, including coming down to the sideline in the billion-dollar stadium he owns. But, the question still was asked why he came down to the sideline after quarterback Tony Romo went out with a back injury, and he had the perfect Jerry Jones answer.

“No. 1, I wanted to go down there and do what I could, look our guys in the eye, look at them, inspire them to overcome Romo not being out there and overcome what I thought was a critical time,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan, via the Dallas Morning News.

Admit it, you love when Jones says things like this.

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So Jones was down on the sideline to inspire the troops to overcome the quarterback's injury. Jones rightfully pointed out to 105.3 The Fan that other owners watch from the sideline, so it shouldn't be a big deal that he did. The other owners just don't get the publicity Jones does (they don't seek out the publicity like Jones either, but that's another topic).

There has been a lot of speculation on if Jones made the call to put Romo in after doctors said it was OK, and he said that's not what his sideline visit was about. He said he did want to pass along word that Romo's injury wasn't of the season-ending variety, and that Garrett should "get his thinking cap on" because Romo could come back. Romo did come back, was ineffective against Washington's blitz, and the Cowboys lost in overtime.

Jones being on the sideline is all much ado about nothing, but nothing is ever inconsequential when it comes to the Cowboys' owner. That's why he's a brilliant businessman and ultimately great for the NFL, mostly because you love to hate him and even go crazy about him showing up on Dallas' sideline.

“It’s just not an issue," Jones said. "I’ve always felt that seeing the attitude, seeing what’s going on, getting the pulse, looking at who’s in to it, looking at how they’re into it, looking at how they’re reacting on the sideline, all of that is just part of understanding the team, getting to be a better decision-maker.”

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 30, 2014, 9:27 pm

(USA Today Sports Images)Emmitt Smith has, by cold and hard facts, an nearly airtight argument as the greatest running back of all time.

First in rushing yards. First in rushing touchdowns. First in attempts. He wasn't just a compiler either. Smith won four rushing titles, an NFL MVP award, a Super Bowl MVP, three championships, four first-team All-Pro nods. He was the best in the NFL in his prime by a few measures, and he had unbelievable longevity. That's a perfect combination for his legacy.

It will be debated until the end of time, though. Some like Smith. Some prefer Jim Brown. Or Walter Payton, or Barry Sanders, or Red Grange or whoever else comes up. Smith doesn't like to get caught up in that debate of where he ranks.

"People have their own opinion," Smith said, in a promotional interview for Keurig 2.0 coffee brewers. "They’re entitled to their opinion. Based off of history, and what people talk about – Who had most home runs in Major League Baseball? Who was fastest man on the planet? When they talk about the guy who has most receiving yardage, it’s Jerry Rice. The most points NBA history, who has the most championships in golf – they talk about Jack Nicklaus being best. If that’s what the criteria is, my history speaks for itself. I shouldn’t talk about what I was able to do."

Smith is working with Keurig on a campaign called “What Do You Do While You Brew?” with a video series. Fans can register through Keurig for a chance to tailgate with Smith at the College Football Playoff title game in January at Cowboys Stadium.

If we're dealing with quantifiable measures for Smith’s legacy, the trump card Smith has is the all-time rushing record. He finished with 18,355 yards. He passed Walter Payton by nearly 2,000 yards, and is more than 3,000 yards ahead of Barry Sanders, who is in third place. Steven Jackson is the leading active rusher, and the 31-year-old Atlanta Falcons back has 11,026 yards, which is about five great seasons away. Seattle Seahawks back Marshawn Lynch is the top rusher under 29 years old, and he has 7,871 yards, not even 43 percent of the way to Smith. Lynch is 28.

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Smith’s record gets more impressive as time passes. If someone rushed for exactly 2,000 yards each year for nine seasons, he’d still be short. But Smith thinks his mark could be broken.

“I was always raised this way – records are made to be broken. I’m not concerned about that,” Smith said. “I know how difficult and hard it is for that to take place. I just enjoy watching the players and hope they stay healthy and fight hard and give themselves a chance to do something they haven’t experienced.

“I think it could be broken. You never know what run a player might get on. I think it’ll take 13 years. And this sport is very, very physical. If a person doesn’t take care of their body, doesn’t do a lot of the small things, it’ll be very tough.”

Thirteen years? Running backs are lucky to get five years, and that’s with limited workloads and tailback committees.

Limited workloads? Committees? The concepts were foreign to the Cowboys when Smith was their workhorse back. Smith was either a freak of nature, an example of how the game has changed in less than two decades since his prime, or both. People have spent weeks worrying about current Cowboys star DeMarco Murray’s workload, but here’s a list of Smith’s annual touches from 1991, his second year, to his final year with the Cowboys when he was 33: 414, 432, 340, 418, 439, 374, 301, 346, 356, 305, 287, 270. Murray is having one of those high-volume seasons and people are freaking out. Smith had 12, and those numbers don't count 395 postseason touches. Smith missed seven of 208 possible games in 13 Cowboys seasons. That's unbelievable.

Luck helped. Smith never suffered a major injury. He had a great offensive line in front of him, which he pointed out. But he also took great care of his body. Smith had an in-season routine during his career. He said he spent two hours getting massages on Monday, and met with the trainers. He saw his chiropractor “as many times as I needed to see him.” On Fridays he’d be back for two hours with the message therapist, an hour or so with the chiropractor again, and he said he got a lot of rest and drank a lot of water. Voila. That’s how he lasted for 4,409 regular-season carries and 515 receptions.

“Doing all the little things to make the big things happen,” Smith said.

The phenomenon about worrying over touches is not new (“I heard the same thing when I was playing,” Smith said with a chuckle), but Smith said Murray and the Cowboys shouldn’t worry about it.

“The bottom line is [Murray’s] moment and the Cowboys’ moment is now,” Smith said. “The cupboard has been bare for a long time for the Dallas Cowboys. We’re 6-2, good chance of making the playoffs, with a team that is built in a way to go deeper into the playoffs and we have to take full advantage. Don’t worry, just allow him to do what’s natural. Let’s figure out where everything is at the end of the season.”

It worked for Smith. He has the numbers and records to prove it. It seems like he’ll have those records for a long time, as well.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 30, 2014, 8:08 pm

The next time you see Georgia running back Todd Gurley, assuming the school’s appeal is not granted, will be when the Bulldogs take on Auburn in a great test in two weeks.

Gurley has been suspended and will have missed four games, as things stand now, for receiving more than $3,000 in exchange for signed memorabilia the past two years. Georgia suspended Gurley for the previous two games after allegations of accepting illegal benefits came to light.

In the NFL’s eyes, these transgressions are but a blip on the radar. From a character question, nothing Gurley did in relation to this case should hurt his future draft stock.

“Not in the least,” said one NFL personnel director. “Are there rules and did he break them? Yes. But we’re not talking about anything too serious here. Heck, in five years, would it surprise you if kids can get paid [as student-athletes]? We’re headed that direction.”

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But let’s take it a step further. Could Gurley’s absence help or hurt him?

Sitting out four games against SEC opponents might not be the worst thing in the world for Gurley, the eventual NFL prospect — either this year or next — with more tread on his tires. Oh sure, NFL teams want to see production against the highest levels of competition, but they also look down on heavy workloads for college backs.

“I don’t think it’s a negative at all,” the director said. “Let him rest up, heal up. This is a tough part of the season, and who knows? Maybe he did some speed work on the side while he was [suspended]. Maybe not being out there did his body some good.”

But what about the fact that in Gurley’s place, freshman Nick Chubb has come in and been terrific? Gurley averaged 154.6 yards per game (and that included a six-carry, 73-yard cameo against Troy) in his five games before the suspension, along with an 8.2-yard average per carry.

Chubb has run the ball an impressive 68 times over the past two games with Gurley out and averaged 172.5 yards against Missouri and Arkansas. Over his past three games, which included a strong outing against Vanderbilt, Chubb has averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

Does the fact that the Georgia run game hasn’t taken much of a hit in Gurley’s absence hurt his stock? Is he a product of the system?

“Absolutely not,” the scouting director said. “First of all, Chubb is a talented young kid — big, strong, has some twitch. But he’s not Gurley. Not at all.

“Gurley is special. It’s a solid [offensive line] group there, but Gurley can make yards where there aren’t any. He’s not just running to space. He has great vision and speed and instincts. He’s very naturally gifted.”

Those gifts are expected to be on display for the Bulldogs’ final few games — Auburn, Charleston Southern (which could be another Troy-like game for Gurley and the Dawgs), the rivalry game against Georgia Tech, plus the postseason. Georgia is squarely in the mix to represent the East division in the SEC title game and mathematically remains in the college football playoff mix ranked at No. 11.

Even though NFL teams have seen plenty of Gurley, they’ll get more. We’re just not sure how much that will be yet.

TIDBITS

With some strong early returns from 2014 rookie linebackers Khalil Mack and C.J. Mosley so far this season, it begs the question: Are there any 2015 prospect who grade out as potential first-year 

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan fumbles, forced by Washington's Shaq Thompson (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

impact players? Answer: It depends.

Washington’s Shaq Thompson grades out as a fantastic athlete — he plays running back, too — with rare playmaking skills who projects to play an outside linebacker spot in a 4-3 defense (or perhaps inside in a 3-4, although many scouts wouldn’t be wild about that). A slew of pass-rushing defensive ends who could be 3-4 linebackers are expected to go high, too, with Missouri’s Shane Ray, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha, Kentucky’s Bud Dupree and Clemson’s Vic Beasley leading the list. Other off-the-ball linebackers — a la Thompson — who could be in the first-round discussion include Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney and Georgia’s Leonard Floyd.

Top 5 senior running backs (so, not Gurley et al)

Every week we’ll run a top-five list related to the 2015 NFL draft.

1. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska  "I like him, that burst and effort are there, but he might not be a three-down back in our offense," one personnel man said.

2. Jeremy Langford, Michigan State — Tough but perhaps not special player with any remarkable traits. Solid in passing game as blocker and receiver.

3. David Cobb, Minnesota — Compact plugger who packs a punch but lacks a burst or a second gear.

4. Karlos Williams, Florida State — Instincts still raw, but he has the raw physical skills to be good in time. Not a microwave-ready talent.

5. Marcus Murphy, Missouri — Dynamic, record-setting return man with receiving ability and shiftiness to be multi-toll weapon in right scheme.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 30, 2014, 7:50 pm

Robert Griffin III will be the Washington Redskins' starting quarterback this week if nothing goes wrong before Sunday's game, coach Jay Gruden said.

It'll probably take until Griffin's first incompletion for someone to mention that Colt McCoy led the team to two wins in a row, including a victory on Monday night at Dallas, but there's really no decision here. McCoy, even with a nice game at Dallas, isn't the long-term answer at quarterback. Griffin should be that answer, although the second half of the season will go a long way in determining that.

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A very important evaluation period begins on Sunday against Minnesota.

"He's played five quarters of football as a starting quarterback for me, since I've been here, and he's got a lot to prove, as we do," said Gruden, who is in his first season as Washington's coach. "But he's our starter and we feel like he gives us the best chance to win. That's the bottom line. Which quarterback, when all three are healthy, gives us the best chance to win? We made the decision back in training camp it was Robert. He deserves the chance to prove us right."

Gruden made it clear that Griffin, who has been out since Week 2 with a dislocated ankle, is healthy. He practiced with the starters on Wednesday.

"We wouldn't put him with the ones if we didn't feel like he was 100 percent physically," Gruden said in his press conference. "Every intent right now, moving forward, is to prepare him to be the starting quarterback."

Gruden was hopeful Griffin would be able to make all the throws and reads, especially on new plays that have been put in while he was out, but that will be the overarching question for the rest of the season anyway. How does Griffin adapt to Gruden's offense? Can he function in the pocket on a consistent basis? Kirk Cousins is effectively out of the picture as Washington's future quarterback, after a terrible stint replacing Griffin. McCoy isn't that guy either.

Can Griffin be Washington's franchise quarterback? He obviously has the talent for it. The Redskins want to find out for sure to feel comfortable going into 2015 and beyond with him. Washington better hope Griffin passes that test, because it gave up a ton of draft picks to land him in 2012. We'll start to find out on Sunday.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 30, 2014, 6:04 pm

It seemed like the Joseph Randle story, in which the Dallas Cowboys running back was arrested for stealing underwear and cologne from a department store earlier this month, had passed. Then the booking video from the Frisco (Texas) Police Department provided even further embarrassment.

Randle is shown in the video, which was first shown by CBS 11 News in Dallas, joking around during his booking. He asks a female employee at the police office, "If I give you $100, can you give me a massage?" He is told no. Of course, he wouldn't have been in this situation had he used $100 to pay for the merchandise. 

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Randle doesn't seem to take anything very seriously, although he does ask if his arrest will make the news (it did, Joseph). He makes a call to his agent to help him make bond so he can make practice.

In another clip, he brings up teammate Josh Brent, a defensive tackle who was convicted of intoxication manslaughter for the death of Cowboys practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown in a 2012 car crash. He also cracks jokes about his mug shot photo, and an employee snaps back that it's not a "trading card."

The video is weird, adding on to what was already a pretty strange story.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 30, 2014, 3:59 pm

It used to be that you would have to ask Mike Ditka his opinion on something, and he'd say something pretty fierce.

Now he just writes it.

"I think everybody deserves a little bit of the blame," Ditka wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times. "But I think it starts with the fact that they are not a very good team on defense, and that creates a lot of problems for the offense.

"They consistently put the offense in a position where they have to score to win. Their defense hasn’t been able to stop anybody, that’s for sure. You can point the finger at anyone you want, but the players on the field play.

"Coaches coach — they don’t play. Owners own — they don’t coach or play. It’s foolish to blame one person."

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That's inflammatory. But then Ditka brings out the big guns to flamethrow the Bears' defense, with some pretty damning historical perspective.

"It’s the worst defense I’ve seen in a long time. No question about it," Ditka wrote. "I can understand why [Bears greats] Dick [Butkus], Dan [Hamption], Doug [Buffone] or any of these guys would be vocal about it. The one constant throughout Bears history has been their defense. You know, in ’63, our defense carried us. We did some good things on offense, but our defense carried us. In ’85 we won a championship — our defense carried us."

Comparing this group to the 1963 or 1985 title-winning teams is a bit unfair. But compared to where the Bears were a year ago, struggling horribly against the run, and seemingly getting better personnel-wise, there's no doubt the results are disappointing. They rank 18th in yards allowed but a lowly 29th in points allowed (27.8 points per game), with only the New York Jets, St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers below them.

It's going to be a long bye week for the Bears.  

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 30, 2014, 3:46 pm

Sometimes even good intentions turn south in a hurry. The New York Jets' Eric Decker decided to reach out to his beleaguered, tormented fan base on Twitter and offer a bit of love ... and swag:

#jetsnation, tell me why you love the @nyjets using #jetsdiehardfan and I'll send a signed prize to my favorite.

— Eric Decker (@EricDecker87) October 29, 2014

Unfortunately, with their team sitting at 1-7, Jets fans were in no mood for love. Some wounds are just too raw. You don't ever go to Twitter seeking honest opinion, because you just might get it:

My father forced this cursed franchise on me while i was in the womb 32 years later still no qb @EricDecker87 @nyjets #jetsdiehardfan

— 贾斯汀 (@_keator) October 29, 2014

@EricDecker87 @nyjets They aren't a threat to any AFC playoff teams! Also, they aren't a threat to draft good players. #jetsdiehardfan

— Chris (@StengDADDY) October 29, 2014

@ericdecker87 @nyjets @sportspickle #jetsdiehardfan I'm a Jets fan because they're an easy win when my team plays them

— Alex (@LuNcH_BoXx) October 29, 2014

@EricDecker87 @nyjets #jetsdiehardfan because the GM said the coach, owner and players are great. If it weren't for 1-7 we'd all be happy

— Frank Donato (@FrankDonato1) October 30, 2014

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Now, to be fair, some fans were taking this quite seriously:

@EricDecker87 @nyjets #jetsdiehardfan Born in to the tradition and love every second of it pic.twitter.com/8z7cHg9urj

— Grande Papi (@JetRossi) October 30, 2014

Love the @nyjets because despite the 1-7 start I have faith you can and will turn this thing around #jetsdiehardfan

— Amanda (@Manda4294) October 29, 2014

@EricDecker87 @nyjets #jetsdiehardfan I have loved the Jets my whole life and one day we'll win another title and dance on our haters graves

— Griffin McKinley (@GriffinMcKinley) October 30, 2014

Whew. That last one turned a little dark. Decker has not yet announced who'll win the prize, but you can follow yourself at #jetsdiehardfan. Might want to keep a raincoat on for the splatter.

____
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

Follow @jaybusbee

And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.

Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 30, 2014, 1:39 pm

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) runs away from Detroit Lions free safety Glover Quin (27) in the first half of the NFL football game at Wembley Stadium, London, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)Welcome, friends, to the Shutdown Corner mailbag. You know how this works: you write, we comment, everybody goes away a little happier. Want in on the action? Reach out via email, Facebook, or Twitter; we'll hear ya.

Today, we're talking Julio Jones, Vick and Geno, the longevity of linemen, hailing the Redskins, and more. Away we go...

In retrospect, was the Atlanta Falcons' trade up for Julio Jones in the 2011 Draft an unwise decision? Does the acquisition of a superstar like Jones outweigh the potential acquisition of solid, but not spectacular, role players on defense or the offensive line?

-Susan Bernstein

Gather round, friends, and let me tell you a tale of an Atlanta Falcons team that wasn’t teeth-grindingly bad. Back in the halcyon days of 2011, Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff hatched a scheme to send five draft picks, three from 2011 and two from 2012, to Cleveland in exchange for the pick that would become Jones.

With hindsight, you can look back and say that the Falcons should have grabbed O-linemen, D-linemen, sacks of wet sand, ANYTHING to protect QB Matt Ryan more effectively than he’s being protected now. But I’ll still back the Julio trade for a few reasons. He creates mismatches on virtually every possession. He brought a deep threat to a Falcons receiving corps that severely lacked it. And he has star power that’s desperately needed in a city like Atlanta, which is as front-running as they come.

Here’s the thing with the Falcons, though: it wouldn’t matter if they’d managed to nab Jones, Arian Foster and Richard Sherman, they’d still be held hostage by their coaching staff. Mike Smith’s inherent conservatism is acceptable when you’ve got the talent to avoid letting small mistakes become big ones. But at this point, the Falcons show all the ability of roadkill to adjust to changing game conditions. That’s on the coaching staff, and that means it doesn’t matter who’s lining up for Atlanta.

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Via Twitter:

@jaybusbee Doesn't matter whether it's Vick or Geno with the Jets. The problem goes all the way up to ownership. QB change does nothing.

— Matthew Jordan (@SteamPunkAdept) October 27, 2014

Hey, speaking of big Falcons trades, Atlanta once made a monstrous one to nab Michael Vick, giving up the pick that would become LaDainian Tomlinson. It seemed like such a good idea at the time ... anyway, you could blend Vick and Geno Smith into one hybrid quarterback -- Mike-O Smick -- and all he'd do is figure new and fascinating ways to turn the ball over. "Don't believe I've ever seen a quarterback literally gift-wrap a ball, with ribbon and everything, and present it to the defense, Jim," Phil Simms would say. "Look at that! He even put his monogrammed name tag on it."

And yes, once a team goes through two, or three, or 17 generations of players and still sucks, it's time to set the sights a bit higher up the organizational ladder. When there is absolutely no institutional memory of success on the football field, it's time to back up the moving vans. No more screwing around. Either everybody goes, or this team's moving to Los Angeles.

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Time for a classic commercial break. Hey, remember the '80s? Dan Marino and Joe Montana clearly had a budding bromance:

That was ... hmmm. I've been dragged to romantic comedies that didn't have that much spark between the two leads, let's just say that.

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 I'm a Pats fan and I'm starting to wonder if we're overrating Vince Wilfork. How long do interior linemen (on both sides of the ball, but particularly D) get to slide by on reputation due to the fact that even the best don't rack up a ton of conventional stats? If an RB starts to slip, it's very apparent both in the numbers and in what the naked eye can see on TV. My suspicion is that once an interior lineman earns a good reputation, he gets to keep it for life. 

-Will

Linemen are like refs; you only notice them when they screw up so egregiously that the announcer says their name in disapproving tones. Granted, there are ways of evaluating a particular player's productiveness now; today's psychopathic NFL coaches will study game film of a third-string defensive lineman's first-step tendencies for hours to avoid having to live anything like a normal human existence, one that involves non-football-related activities and conversations.

Production isn't always a tangible stat; sometimes it's measurable by its absence. Wilfork is already getting fewer snaps these days, and it's because, despite his lofty reputation, he's giving ground more often than coaches would like. Were it anywhere but New England, I'd say he'd still be set for life, but Bill Belichick actively looks for reasons to cut veterans and replace them with no-name talent. Breathing too heavily? Out of shape. Cut. Not breathing heavily enough? Taking it easy. Cut. Not breathing at all? Dead. Cut, but with offer to re-sign at a cheaper rate.

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I remember in 1957 when the Lions won their last championship and I heard it on the radio as they played Cleveland at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. I never thought it would be their last championship. This could be the year they bring the jink and win it. They seem to have the luck they had back in the 1957 season.

-Gerry

I've been a long-suffering Falcons fan, but even I stand in awe of fans who've followed teams like the Lions and Browns for decades without payoff. That's a fate I wouldn't wish on anyone, except for those fans who win a championship and immediately become insufferable. (Why so nervous, Pats fans? You think I'm talking about YOU?) Anyway, I'm not sure the Lions have any more luck this year than they've ever had before, but if they're in a late-game "screw it, everybody go long and get open" kind of situation, Matthew Stafford's pretty much the best possible QB to have flinging that ball.

Oh, and I think Gerry was trying to say "break the jinx," but I don't care. I'm gonna use his phrase in everyday life from here on out. BRING THE JINK, BABY.

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 Over at the Shutdown Corner podcast, we offer up our Lock of the Week, Upset of the Week, and Game We'd Pay To See. Here's an early preview of my picks, home team in CAPS.

Lock: SEAHAWKS over Raiders. One of many double-digit lines this week, and the easiest to see possibly climbing into triple digits. The Seahawks need to get themselves back into the playoff hunt pronto, and they face the Raiders. That's like needing to win a church softball game and finding out Madison Bumgarner's in your congregation.

Upset: Cardinals over COWBOYS. Obviously this line is fluid if Tony Romo doesn't play. But everything's pointing to a special season for Arizona, while Dallas looks suddenly flimsy. Is this the week DeMarco Murray explodes in a fine mist? It's going to happen, it's just a matter of when.

Game I'd pay to see: Broncos at PATRIOTS. I know I'm nearly alone in this, but I don't mind Manning-Brady hype. These are the two best quarterbacks ever to play the game, if you don't include Quincy Carter, and we've only got 20 or 30 of these matchups left.

Hey, while you're here, how about checking out the Shutdown Corner podcast? It's great stuff. Subscribe via iTunes right here.

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Here's a letter in reference to the ongoing Russell Wilson situation in Seattle, where anonymous locker room sources have derided Wilson as "not black enough" and criticized his endorsement deals:

I just find it sad that a young man whom has displayed all the qualities we strive to teach our children has to endure double standards from Seahawk management and ignorance from teammates. It seems to me that the Seahawks, and to a greater degree the NFL, promote and rewards negative behavior while punishing and shunning good behavior. At time when people are starting to view the league as dysfunctional and lacking in morals, it would behoove them push to front those who consistently display the contrary. 

-Tone Thomas

You'd think so, wouldn't you? While not wading too deep into the thicket of racial angling on this story, it's worth noting that in a locker room that features nearly a hundred players, coaches, and staff, there are bound to be disagreements. Think of the person you loathe most at work. You keep your mouth shut, but what if there were a reporter waiting for you as you walked to your car, asking you about your take on Frances from Accounting's habit of leaving old Chinese food in the fridge and stinking up the break room? You'd stay quiet as long as you could, but at some point you'd blow. Get your act in gear, Frances. We're never going to hit those fourth-quarter numbers as long as you're not holding up your end of the deal.

Also, Seattle needs to shut up and play or they're in real trouble of missing the playoffs, and then they're really going to have something to complain about.

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We wrap with one of many letters I received on the whole Redskins PR guy debacle. A refresher, for those of you who missed it:

Who cares if Colt McCoy had somewhere to be or not? It's [PR guy Tony] Wyllie's job to control access to the players.  That's why EVERY team has someone out there doing that. You can clearly see the reporter strong arming Colt into the interview. If it were any other team, we'd be praising the PR guy and lampooning the hijinks of the reporter. Maybe you're a hater, when you should be a HTTR.

-Scotty

"HTTR" is a reference to "Hail To The Redskins," the mantra Washington fans chant over and over and over again as if to call forth the spirits of Joe Theismann and Art Monk and John Riggins from the rutted turf of FedEx Field, rescuing them from this bleak Dan Snyder-imposed existence. But Scotty's right: pretty much any other team would get a pass on this. The Redskins have become the laughingstock of the NFL, and not just because of the name issue. Dan Snyder acts like that one guy in your fantasy league who takes things way too seriously and thinks he's a real NFL team owner, except that Snyder actually IS a real NFL team owner. It's weird. Anyway, not a hater, not a hailer, just loving to watch things keep turning sideways up in DC.

All right, that'll do it for this week. Think you can do better than our letter-writers above? Prove it by writing us via email, Facebook, or Twitter. Have a great weekend, and may your opponents forget to set their lineups. Seeya!

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 30, 2014, 12:57 pm

Aug 4, 2013; Canton, OH, USA; Bill Parcells at the 2013 Enshrinees Gameday Roundtable at the Canton Memorial Civic Center. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)Bill Parcells is the subject of a new biography, "Parcells," written by Nunyo Demasio. It's enormous, hundreds of pages of anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories that will surely keep fans of Parcells' many teams intrigued ... if only to find out what he really thinks of them.

One of the book's more intriguing sections comes toward the end, in late 2007, when Parcells was weighing offers to return to the NFL in an executive capacity. Both Miami and Atlanta were wooing him, and although Parcells had a longstanding relationship with then-Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, Falcons owner Arthur Blank was persistent.

The book describes, in wacky sitcom-like detail, how Blank doggedly pursued Parcells, to the point of flying to Parcells' home in New York to meet with him face-to-face. But Parcells, as if holding out for a better prom date offer, strung Blank along, first by leaving his house while Blank was en route, and later by taking calls from Huizenga while Blank was in another room.

Huizenga was a known commodity, but Blank was offering a longer contract, albeit with some sticking points such as game tickets and the use of a car. So Parcells was keeping Blank at arm's length while waiting for Huizenga to sell, or not sell, the Dolphins.

One paragraph in particular, from this section of the book, has already drawn the attention of Atlanta's Journal-Constitution:

Parcells said he felt the contractual isue at the start of negotiations with Blank was ominous. He also disagreed with the owner's philosophy of making Atlanta's black fan base a factor in football decisions. African-Americans constituted more than half the metropolitan area's population of five million, leading to the NFL's largest such base. However, the main reason for Parcells's inclnation to join Miami was his relationship with Huizenga.

Parcells would end up signing with Miami, infuriating Blank. The Atlanta owner would then sign Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith as GM and head coach, respectively, and it worked well enough ... for a few years.

Now, it's easy to read that line about "Atlanta's black fan base" and flash to the Atlanta Hawks, whose owner announced in September that he would sell the team following a race-based email that looked to exploit the team's African-American fan base for marketing purposes. However, there's no other illumination of this racial line in the Parcells book, save for a reference to new Dolphins owner Stephen Ross looking to make appeals to Miami's Hispanic community several pages later.

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Excerpted, the line looks damning. In context, it appears that Parcells was concerned about how demographics would impact on-field, not marketing, decisions. Regardless, it's a line that may get some further examination down the line.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 29, 2014, 10:20 pm

St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher is preparing his team to face the San Francisco 49ers this weekend. But he's not preparing for 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith.

At least, Fisher doesn't think he should have to.

Smith is serving a nine-game suspension for violations of the NFL’s policies on substance abuse and personal conduct, but there has been chatter that Smith's suspension — which is slated to end after two more games — could be reduced by a game or two because of good behavior.

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Fisher believes the league needs to hurry up to make that decision if indeed Smith is going to be activated prior to Sunday's game.

“I think the league has a responsibility to inform us early enough in the week so we have a chance to game plan if that’s the case," Fisher said, per CSN Bay Area. "I would expect not to hear he would not be available for the game on Friday.”

The 49ers have 12 sacks — ninth-worst in the NFL — and have missed Smith's edge-rushing presence. His matchup this weekend, if he were to play, would be all the more interesting considering the season-ending injury to Rams left tackle Jake Long and that Long's replacement, Greg Robinson, will be making his first start at left tackle, kicking out from guard. Robinson's first NFL start came two weeks ago when these two teams met in St. Louis.

Fisher, who also serves on the league's competition committee, was asked if the Rams prepared for Smith up to this point.

“No, that’s out of our control," Fisher said. "We had discussion about it.”

Although he clearly would be annoyed if there was a late-week announcement that Smith could play. If he does suit up, Fisher said the 49ers would understand the task at hand.

“If he’s available, we have to block him,” Fisher said. “He’s an outstanding player. We played against him before. We have great respect for him. If the league sees its appropriate to reinstate him, we’ll have to play against him.”

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 29, 2014, 8:07 pm

As we approach another great matchup between Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, it's fun to look back on NFL Network's "Top 10" show that ranked the 10 greatest games between Brady and Manning.

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It's hard to argue too much with its list. NFL Network got No. 1 right; I'd tab that as the best NFL game of the past 50 years. The rest are a fun collection of contests between arguably the top two quarterbacks of this century, and perhaps of all time.

Here's the list ...

No. 10
2004 AFC divisional playoff
(video not available)
The Patriots beat Manning's Colts 20-3 in a defensive slugfest. Brady had just 18 completions for 144 yards, but it was good enough to win the game.

No. 9

No. 8
2013 AFC championship game
(video not available)
The Broncos were fantastic in a 26-16 win to advance to the Super Bowl, taking a 23-3 lead early in the fourth quarter and holding on. Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns.

No. 7

No. 6

No. 5

No. 4

No. 3

No. 2

No. 1

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 29, 2014, 6:47 pm

(USA Today Sports Images)By now, we were supposed to be in full Johnny Manziel mode, either picking apart his mistakes or praising his incredible plays for the Cleveland Browns. Maybe both.

That hasn't happened. Brian Hoyer has mostly played very well at quarterback, the Browns are 4-3 and Manziel has played five snaps in two games this season.

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It's a pretty unusual story, of a highly-anticipated player (he topped the entire NFL in jersey sales this summer) barely seeing the field even though he's healthy. It's a bit ironic that among all the highly-touted quarterbacks it's Manziel who is sitting as a rookie, considering he was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

Manziel has been fairly quiet. He hasn't done many media interviews, and he hasn't tweeted much (Manziel did tweet at 4:31 a.m. about a "Legendary night" on Monday morning, and Browns coach Mike Pettine said he didn't know if Manziel "was still up or whether he was waking up early and getting ready to come into work,") so he has mostly dropped out of our consciousness in the first half of the season while the NFL rolls on. It's strange, considering how he dominated NFL chatter all offseason.

Pettine said he senses Manziel is frustrated he's not playing, but that's understandable.

"(T)hat's a position that can be frustrating," Pettine said, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "To go from being the guy at (Texas) A&M, that's a tough thing as the reality of the season has clearly set in. But at the same time, we make sure that he's preparing like a starter. It can happen in the span of one play. You see it around the league all the time. He has to be ready to go, he has to be prepared and there's no reason to think that he's not."

The Browns have a curious situation with Manziel. They traded up to get him in the first round, so they like his talent. But at this point, with one passing attempt, no rushes and a reception on a trick play that was wiped out because of a penalty, the Browns haven't seen him play significantly in the regular season. Hoyer is a free agent after the season. The Browns would like to know what they have in Manziel before the offseason, but that might be impossible.

Pettine said Manziel has "certainly shown flashes" of being an NFL quarterback, presumably meaning in preseason games or practice, but the team won't know until he gets meaningful time.

"I think we all do (wonder how he'll do),'' said Pettine. "I mean, that's a question that we need to have answered but it's not something that you can force. Brian's our starting quarterback. That's a difficult thing to say let's just go ahead and.. all the games are meaningful now. If it ever gets to the point whether we're potentially up big, down big, or if there's a situation that calls for him to go in, we'll get an opportunity to see him, but there's a lot of football left to be played. You're looking for an evaluation at some point, but what I'm saying is I don't think you can force it."

Of the top four quarterbacks selected in last year's NFL draft, Manziel is the only one who is not his team's starter yet. Even Zach Mettenberger, the Tennessee Titans' sixth-round pick, is getting his shot to start.

If Manziel is frustrated, as Pettine said he senses his rookie quarterback is, it's natural and understandable. But it doesn't look like he'll be getting on the field for significant snaps anytime soon this season.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 29, 2014, 6:39 pm

The story of how Paul Kitterman disappeared at halftime of last Thursday's Denver Broncos-San Diego Chargers game was strange, but at least he's safe. But the story behind what happened after his disappearance is even stranger than the disappearance itself.

Kitterman was found safe on Tuesday night in the parking lot of a Salvation Army in Pueblo, which is 112 miles south of Sports Authority Field, where Kitterman was last seen by his family at the Broncos' game. His disappearance made national news, but he didn't know because he said he hadn't watched television in several days and wasn't aware people were looking for him, the Associated Press reported. Kitterman said he didn't want to watch any more football so he walked and hitchhiked his way to Pueblo, which is south of Denver. Kitterman is from Kremmling, which is northwest of Denver.

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Yep, the 53-year-old man walked and hitchhiked 112 miles because he had "his fill of football." It's great that he's safe, but that's unusual.

"He said he had his fill of football and that he likes to walk and wander, and he was looking for a warmer place," Pueblo police Sgt. Franklyn Ortega said, according to the AP.

Temperature at kickoff of the Broncos-Chargers game was 68 degrees.

After he was found Kitterman was tired and had trouble walking but an exam showed he was unharmed, the AP report said. A friend's ex-wife saw him at the Salvation Army, picked him up and dropped him off at a hotel.

His stepson, who Kitterman went to the game with, said Kitterman had only four or five beers in a four-hour span, and that his stepfather didn't have any known health or personal problems. Now that Kitterman is safe, the police have no plans to file charges. He didn't do anything wrong, after all.

"He's a grown man. If that's what he wants to do, he can do it," Ortega said.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 29, 2014, 5:46 pm

The Dallas Cowboys have hit the first speedbump in what until now has been a magical season. The overtime loss on Monday night to the Washington Redskins hurt in the standings, but the real pain could resonate for the rest of the year: the injury to quarterback Tony Romo's back.

Romo exited the game after taking a sharp hit to the back, though X-rays proved negative and Romo returned in what was ultimately a losing effort. Romo had undergone surgery for a herniated disc over the summer; the Monday night injury was a contusion that team doctors said was unrelated to the surgery.

The Cowboys face Arizona on Sunday in a surprisingly critical matchup for supremacy of the NFC. Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones indicated on a recent radio interview that the decision of whether to play rests with Romo himself.

“At this time we have nothing medically that would prevent him from playing,” Jones said. “This is a function of pain tolerance, but it’s a serious issue that you could look at people who have had a similar type contusion, or injury, and they haven’t played the next week. That would cause you some concern about him playing.”

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Jones noted that the injury is not expected to be season-ending. “Make no mistake, its the player’s decision [to return]," he said. "It’s not like concussions.”

That, of course, brings up its own set of questions. Every player wants to be on the field, often to the detriment of their long-term health; it's why players and coaches alike are not thrilled with doctors mandating a benching in concussion cases. Romo is tough, without a doubt, but Dallas has to wonder whether it's gambling tomorrow to have him playing today.

Romo's availability will be critical; as strong as the Cowboys have been on both sides of the ball, Monday night gave the sense that the team is held together with surgical tape and chewing gum. If Romo is injured, the quarterbacking duties fall to Brandon Weeden. Granted, Weeden led Dallas to 10 points Monday night, but Cowboys fans can't feel confident about their chances going forward without Romo in peak form.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 29, 2014, 5:23 pm
(USA Today Sports Images)

It's easy to rage about how the NFL's negative headlines are going to have a serious impact on the league, but that's just hot air that passes the time between games.

The league is doing fine, even after a ton of talk has centered on domestic violence and concussions recently. The one key area in which you'd see a dip is television ratings. The MMQB's Richard Deitsch examined the NFL's ratings and found that as a whole, they're as strong as ever.

Ratings for "Thursday Night Football," with the CBS bump, are way up. "Monday Night Football" ratings are up. Numbers for Fox and CBS are down, but slightly. Check out his whole column for the breakdown. There's some good insight into the mechanics of NFL ratings.

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Unless you bought into the hot takes that the NFL was going to fall off the face of the earth because of Ray Rice, the ratings being strong shouldn't surprise you. What struck me from Deitsch's story was a comment from Amanda Lotz, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, about why the NFL's television ratings stay strong no matter what.

“We might think of people as NFL fans, but they are really fans of a team, not the League,” Lotz said. “There may be real discontent with the actions of the league or the actions of a player, but it is a difficult move to deny fanship of a team as a result. We are Chiefs or Steelers fans, not NFL fans. The dynamics between team and individual sports is also a consideration. Though we may have fondness for particular players, that’s not what draws us in the case of the NFL either."

Lotz goes on to say that the family ritual of watching a favorite team together overrides the league's issues. While those reasons are strong and I respect where she's coming from, I don't agree. I think the NFL's massive popularity comes from being the opposite of what Lotz describes.

The other major leagues are what she describes. Fans are into their favorite teams in other sports more than the league as a whole. People will watch the Los Angeles Dodgers but probably not some Cardinals-Cubs game on national TV. They're Knicks fans, or maybe will watch when LeBron James plays or get into the NBA come playoff time, but aren't subscribing to NBA League Pass to watch how Portland and Golden State are doing after everyone else has gone to bed. Some do, but it's a small minority.

The NFL's appeal goes well beyond that, at least based on my interactions with people. They'll obviously watch their favorite team, but they also want to watch Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers on "Sunday Night Football" even with no specific rooting interest. Fantasy football, and to a lesser extent gambling (yes, Roger, it exists and it's helping your league tremendously), are the drivers of that, as is the relatively short schedule that creates urgency with every game. 

You don't get 18.8 million viewers for the Cowboys-Redskins on Monday night, the ninth-highest cable broadcast of all time excluding breaking news, according to The MMQB, just on Redskins and Cowboys fans. There are a ton of fans who would watch any two teams play, or at very least tune in to see if Dez Bryant can get the 15 points they need to win their fantasy game. That has made the NFL so much more popular than the other sports. There's a reason the Saints-Packers game, between the smallest and third-smallest markets in the NFL, beat Game 5 of the World Series in the ratings. The Lions-Falcons game that was shown at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday did a more than respectable 6.6 rating. People like watching football no matter if their favorite team is playing (and, the argument can be made that for fans of a certain age their favorite team is "My Fantasy Team"). The sport itself is a ritual, every Sunday through the fall.

But that's not a scientific study, just my opinion based on anecdotal evidence. Why do you watch?

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 29, 2014, 3:41 pm

Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin revealed an interesting pre-draft strategy he concocted: He intentionally ran a slow 40-yard dash at the Indianapolis scouting combine.

Why?

“Because I wanted to play for the Carolina Panthers,’’ Benjamin said, via ESPN.com.

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Benjamin said he had been clocked as low as 4.41 seconds, which would have been fifth fastest at the combine, but his actual time of 4.61 in Indy placed him 35th among wide receivers.

Running in the 4.4s most likely would have put him out of the range of the Panthers, who picked 28th overall in May. Although the 40-yard dash is but one metric that NFL teams weigh in a prospect's grade, running that fast with Benjamin's 6-5, 240-pound frame almost certainly would have raised his stock.

As it is, Benjamin has been a godsend for the Panthers as a rookie. He ranks second in receiving yards among rookies with 571, behind only the Buffalo Bills' Sammy Watkins. Benjamin is tied for third among rookie pass catchers with 38 receptions, and is tied for first with five TD receptions with Watkins.

The fastest receiver at the combine was the New Orleans Saints' Brandin Cooks, the rookie leader in receptions with 40. The two precocious pass catchers will face off Thursday in a key NFC South showdown that could help tilt the division. The Saints traded up from the 27th overall pick to land Cooks at No. 20.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said his team had its eyes on both wideouts, despite their vastly different dimensions — Cooks stands at 5-10, 185 pounds.

"We liked both of them," Rivera said, failing to reveal which one the team liked better.

On Thursday, they'll go head to head on opposite sides of the field. Both teams likely would say everything worked out just as it should.

All thanks to Benjamin tanking it on the dash. Funny how things work out.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 29, 2014, 1:58 pm

(USA Today Sports Images)In the Twitter age, the rumors and anticipation of the NFL trade deadline always far, far, far outweigh the actual action.

But at least this year, there was a former top-10 pick that was moved at the deadline. Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Mark Barron, the seventh overall pick of the 2012 draft, was traded to St. Louis, ESPN reported. ESPN said the Rams traded a fourth- and sixth-round pick for Barron. That trade was finalized just before the 4 p.m. Eastern deadline.

Barron still must pass a physical for the trade to hold up.

 

The Buccaneers were also involved in the other trade of the day, as linebacker Jonathan Casillas went from Tampa Bay to the New England Patriots, where he will help a linebacking corps that has been thinned out by injuries. NFL Network reported the Casillas trade.

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The Buccaneers were the main team involved in trade rumors this season, but players like receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin didn't go anywhere. Trading Barron in his third season is a huge admission of error in taking him with the seventh pick. Miami drafted quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the next pick, and 2013 NFL defensive player of the year Luke Kuechly went ninth to Carolina.

The real trading action in the NFL happened a couple weeks ago when Seattle suddenly traded receiver Percy Harvin to the New York Jets. There were some deals on Tuesday, just not as many as were speculated about on social media leading up to the deadline.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 28, 2014, 8:17 pm

(Getty Images)If you've seen clips of Bill Belichick talking to the media you probably think he gives short answers all the time, and that's not really the case.

Yes, he's short with the media most of the time, but ask him the right question and he'll give a long, thoughtful answer. And someone hit the right button, asking about Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, because Belichick gave as much praise to the all-time leader in touchdown passes as you'll ever see someone give an opponent. New England faces Denver on Sunday.

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You'd think this might be typical "coach praises opponent" stuff, but it runs deeper than that. There's a mutual respect between arguably the greatest coach of this generation, and the greatest quarterback of this generation. Manning said before the AFC championship game last year that he thought Belichick would go down as the greatest coach ever. Belichick didn't go that far with Manning (not with Tom Brady, another contender for greatest quarterback ever, on his side) but he did say that Manning has no weakness as a quarterback.

"Seems like he causes every defense a problem every week for the last 15 years or however long it's been," Belichick said, according to Comcast SportsNet New England. "You gotta know who the other people are out there, but everybody's gotta do their job to defend them. You can't just stop one guy or one thing. But [Manning] does a great job of utilizing his players, his resources, relative to what the defense is giving him, what looks best, the combination of his personnel versus where the defense is soft.

"He's good because he does everything good, really. I don't think there's any low points in his game. Very smart. A great understanding of concepts and timing. Game management, clock management, situational football, third down, red area, great utilization of the field from sideline to sideline, back in the deep part of the field he's very accurate. Great decision-maker, quick release.

"Has very few negative plays. If something happens that the quarterback might be able to keep the team out of, he very rarely puts his team at risk on plays like that. If there's an unblocked guy right at the point of attack, those kind of things, he's always able to get into something else that doesn't create a problem . . . It's pretty much everything. I don't think there are any weaknesses in his game."

That should be Manning's Hall of Fame introduction. It's incredible praise from someone who knows the game as well as anyone, and respects its history as much as anyone too. Thankfully, Belichick took the opportunity to express it.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 28, 2014, 7:44 pm

After 15 NFL seasons, cornerback Champ Bailey has decided to retire and move onto his next career outside of football.

The 12-time Pro Bowl player spent his NFL career with the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos, and played his final NFL game in this year's Super Bowl, losing 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks.  

"At this time, Champ has decided not to accept on-field opportunities and pursue another career path," [agent Jack] Reale said, per ESPN.com. "He could be playing right now if he wanted to be."

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Bailey, who was scheduled to make $10 million this season, was released by the Broncos in the offseason and signed by the New Orleans Saints, who sought to add a veteran presence in their secondary. He was cut before the start of the season.

Reale said that "a couple of teams," including a few contenders, had called about his client's availability for this season. Ultimately, Bailey has decided to forgo the chance to latch on with a team this season, start a new chapter and start the clock on his inevitable induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

"To play the end of this season and maybe next season, given his opportunities, he could have done that," Reale said. "But he decided it was best to move on to those other areas. I think everybody on his team agreed that was a good approach."

Bailey, 36, collected 52 interceptions in his career, which included the past 10 with the Broncos. He played in only five regular-season games last year, starting three, but was a fixture on the Broncos' defense in the run to the Super Bowl.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 28, 2014, 6:20 pm

Welcome to the latest Shutdown Corner podcast! On today's piping-hot episode, we have:

• A breakdown of the Dallas breakdown against Washington on Monday night

• What's wrong with the Chicago Bears?

• Who's got it worse, Bears fans or Falcons fans?

• The Lightning Round, featuring discussion of Seattle's locker room, Kansas City vs. San Diego, J.J. Watt, Blake Bortles, and more.

All this and more as part of the Shutdown Corner Podcast. Listen above, and while you're listening ...

Subscribe via iTunes right here.

Non-iTunes subscription link here.

Leave us a nice review here.

The Shutdown Corner podcast is the product of Kevin Kaduk (@KevinKaduk), Frank Schwab (@YahooSchwab) and Jay Busbee (@JayBusbee). New episodes every Tuesday and Friday, with bonus episodes when you least expect it. Enjoy!

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 28, 2014, 5:52 pm

(AP)Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an unbelievable day on Sunday.

He threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts. It was one of the greatest games I’ve seen Roethlisberger play. In fact, it’s among the greatest performances I’ve seen from a quarterback in the two-plus decades I’ve been breaking down NFL film.

The funny thing is, almost all of his yards came in a manner we’re not used to seeing from Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger is a good pocket quarterback, but he’s not a pure timing, rhythm and anticipation thrower. That’s not the foundation of his game. But against the Colts he really had only one play that was “vintage Ben,” a long touchdown to Antonio Brown in which he left the pocket and made a play by extending it with his legs. The Colts' “man free lurk” took away a shot play, so Roethlisberger left the pocket, Brown saw it and adjusted his route, and they hooked up on a 47-yard touchdown. Other than that, it was really a pocket game for Roethlisberger.

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It was clear early on how sharp Roethlisberger was mentally. All afternoon he read coverage quickly and the ball came out.

When a quarterback has 40 completions for more than 500 yards there are a lot of examples of how good he was (he had just nine incompletions, and only two passes I’m sure he’d like to have back, in 49 attempts), but we’ll take a look at three that really showed how sharp he was.

Roethlisberger’s first touchdown, a 18-yarder to Markus Wheaton, was an outstanding anticipation throw. Lance Moore and Wheaton lined up in minus splits, close to the formation, which backed off Indianapolis’ cornerbacks. Moore’s initial vertical stem held Davis to set up the throw to Wheaton at the pylon. Roethlisberger’s anticipation was the key, so Davis didn't have enough time to react to the outside and play Wheaton’s route effectively.

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Later in the first quarter, Roethlisberger again had great anticipation on a throw, which again took the cornerback out of the play. On second and 17, the slot corner Darius Butler ran with Moore with the Colts in a “Cover 2” zone. Roethlisberger began his delivery before Moore came out of his break, and the timing of the throw beat dropping cornerback Josh Gordy.

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A 52-yard pass to Martavis Bryant in the second quarter was another pass that had great anticipation and accuracy. Bryant was matched up against Butler, who was in press position opposing the outside release. Bryant got on top of Butler in five steps and Roethlisberger turned it loose right away.

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Roethlisberger was great in all areas. The Colts started blitzing more in the second half to change the tempo of the game, and Roethlisberger went 17-of-21 for 237 yards and two touchdowns against the blitz. Roethlisberger was 10-of-12 for 169 yards and three touchdowns against play action. The Colts couldn’t slow him down.

Roethlisberger played with a refined sense of rhythm and timing. He was a precision player much more than a playmaker. It turned out to be an incredible day for him.

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

Author: Greg Cosell
Posted: October 28, 2014, 5:11 pm

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 27: Colt McCoy #16 of the Washington Redskins is congratulated by Jordan Reed #86 and Robert Griffin #10 of the Washington Redskins of the Washington Redskins after running for a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half at AT&T Stadium on October 27, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)Probably the last thing the Washington Redskins need at this point is another quarterback controversy, so head coach Jay Gruden is doing all he can to squash it before it even takes flight. Even after Colt McCoy led Washington to a 20-17 overtime victory over the conference-leading Dallas Cowboys, Gruden was steadfast: When Robert Griffin III is ready, the starting QB gig is still his.

“We went into training camp and did all the OTAs with Robert Griffin as our starter, so when Robert’s back, Robert’s our starter,” Gruden said, per the Washington Post. “That hasn’t changed. I haven’t varied off of that or wavered off of that."

Griffin has sat out the Redskins' past six games, a stretch in which Washington has gone 2-4. However, McCoy has been at the helm for those two wins, which have come in the past two weeks. Is that enough to unseat Griffin, who's the franchise's anointed savior despite not looking like even a faded reflection of his 2012 self?

Nah. The Redskins will ride with Griffin for good or ill until such time as the quarterback physically can't play. No athlete has energized the Washington fanbase like Griffin has in two decades or more, and no athlete has the ability to change the fortunes of the entire franchise, both on and off the field, the way Griffin could.

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Washington has one more game against Minnesota before a bye, and neither Griffin nor Gruden indicated whether RG3 would be ready for a Vikings return. More likely is another two weeks of rest to get completely healthy, which would delight a fanbase that sorely needs some good news.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 28, 2014, 5:06 pm

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones watched his team's quarterback, Tony Romo, suffer a back injury against the Washington Redskins on Monday night, eventually made his way down to the trainers' room where Romo was being evaluated and then followed Romo out to the field in the game's waning minutes to act as messenger.

Jones told head coach Jason Garrett that Romo was good to go. You know, if Garrett needed him or anything.

“I was here during the tail end of the examination and knew he planned to come back out and play if he were needed,” Jones said, via the Fort Worth Star Telegram. “Of course he was needed. I felt good that he could come back out. When he saw the opportunity he did. I told Jason that he would be back in.”

Truly a do-it-all owner if there ever was one.

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On other teams, the sight of a team owner on the team's sideline late in a game is nothing unorthodox. But seeing one talking to the head coach while the game, a 17-17 tie at that point, hung in the balance is something else entirely.

Of course, this is Jones we're talking about.

Jones, of course, was concerned about his quarterback's health. Romo has undergone two back procedures in the past two seasons and was held out for much of the offseason as he worked his way back into shape through increasing work in training camp and the preseason.

Seeing Romo take a knee to the back on a sack by linebacker Keenan Robinson in the third quarter set off alarms for everyone, as AT&T Stadium fell silent while Romo sat on the turf for a few minutes after the hit.

Jones said that sending Romo back into the game for the final two minutes of regulation and then overtime was a no-brainer once Romo checked out medically.

“We knew there were no structural issues when they gave him the X-rays,” Jones said. “I very concerned the fact that he laid there as long as he laid there. After we looked at the play and saw that was a knee kind of to the side of the back, then we felt better about it.

“We got him in here and looked at it real carefully everybody felt better about it. But he was certainly limited when he first got in here, but he loosened it up real good and went back out.”

Is this a case of Jones just being Jones?

Should Garrett have stuck with backup Brandon Weeden, who completed four of six passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, leading two scoring drives in relief?

Is there concern that Romo might have hurt his chances to play on Sunday against the 6-1 Arizona Cardinals by going back out there, admittedly, at less than 100 percent?

These are the questions we'll chew on while the 6-2 Cowboys season showed its first real signs of weakness since Week 1. You knew it was not going to be that easy the rest of the way after winning six straight coming into Monday's 20-17 overtime loss.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 28, 2014, 4:08 pm

These are not the finest of days for the Seattle Seahawks. The team is 4-3, which compared to last year's dominating run is downright pathetic. The locker room may be a roiling mass of racial dissension, the quarterback may be a teacher's pet, the running back may be pouting, the problematic receiver definitely is gone.

At his Monday news conference, Seahawks  head coach Pete Carroll shot down any idea that Marshawn Lynch could be dealt on Tuesday. And, in response to a question about whether he and Lynch were on speaking terms, Carroll said, “At this point I don’t think it behooves us to try to respond to all of these things. Our players have told you how they feel, our coaches have told you how we feel about it and we are in a really good place right now," he said.

"There is nothing to that report. I don’t know where that came from."

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Carroll is a master of the news conference, of saying what needs to be said in the way it needs to be presented. In that way, he's the anti-Belichick. Even if stories are out there, by meeting them head-on Carroll doesn't let them fester without comment. Maybe it's a coating of icing over stale fish, but Carroll can blunt at least some criticism this way.

“Our locker room is solid," he said. "They are together. They are really determined. I don’t think you can get any other thought than that. And they are surprised as we are as coaches that you guys have these questions about us. But we understand it’s part of it and we are not going to get frustrated by it. We are just going to keep working our business."

Carroll's made the point to the media and fans. Does he need to make the same point to the anonymous sources in his locker room?

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 28, 2014, 2:03 pm

Look, this might shock you, but the Redskins made yet another public relations gaffe last night. And this one was caught on live TV.

The Washington Redskins had just defeated their hated rival Dallas, and everybody in burgundy and gold was feeling a rare moment of exultation. Colt McCoy had achieved the greatest win of his life, and he was ready to talk to anyone and everyone. John Sutcliffe of ESPN Deportes was trying to wrangle an on-camera interview with McCoy.

Enter Tony Wyllie, Redskins VP of communications, who was trying to get McCoy off the field however he could. “No, no, no, we gotta go, guys, we gotta go,” Wyllie said, even as Sutcliffe was setting up for the interview. Where did McCoy have to be at this moment? Who knows, but Wyllie made sure everybody knew HE WAS IN CHARGE.

"No means no!" Wyllie bellowed at Sutcliffe as he led McCoy to whatever mysterious destination awaited beneath AT&T Stadium. Naturally, #NoMeansNo began trending worldwide on Twitter.

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Per the Washington Post, McCoy finally did talk with ESPN Deportes. And it's entirely possible that McCoy needed to be at a time-sensitive destination, like a larger live-TV hit. But, as per usual, even when things go the Redskins' way, they manage to come off looking ridiculous.

[UPDATE: Wyllie said on Tuesday morning that he was trying to get McCoy into the locker room for a speech from Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. “We wanted to get Colt in to hear coach’s postgame speech,” he told TMZ. “I wasn’t denying access. I wanted Colt to hear coach talk. I felt we needed to get him inside.” Make of that what you wish.]

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

Follow @jaybusbee

And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.

Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 28, 2014, 1:09 pm

John Brown (12) celebrates his game-winning touchdown with fans. (AP)One of these years, a team will make the Super Bowl when it's being held in its home stadium.

And we're starting to reach a point where we should start wondering if this is the year.

This season's Super Bowl will be held at University of Phoenix Stadium on Feb. 1, and the Arizona Cardinals are looking like a real candidate to be playing in it. With a dramatic win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Cardinals are 6-1. They lead the NFC West by two games with some key early tiebreaker edges (a win over San Francisco; the Seahawks and 49ers have one divisional loss to none for the Cardinals).

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The defense has endured a ton of injuries and linebacker Daryl Washington's suspension but still is playing at a high level. The Cardinals were without quarterback Carson Palmer for a stretch, but the Cardinals went 2-1 with Drew Stanton starting. Arizona's only loss was on the road to Denver, which is clearly the best team in football through eight weeks.

Here's more on how the Cardinals have reached this point:

The strange thing about the hometown Super Bowl possibility is not just that it hasn't happened in 42 tries (six Super Bowls were held in a stadium that wasn't home to an NFL team that season), it's that there haven't even been many close calls. According to the NFL, before this season teams that were set to host the Super Bowl were a combined 346-442-5. The last time a host team even made the playoffs was the 2000 Buccaneers, and they lost in the first round. Strangely, the two times a team played a Super Bowl very close to its home: the 1984 49ers at Stanford University and the 1979 Rams at the Rose Bowl.

Maybe the Cardinals can break the host city curse. Just in case, it's worth noting that they are 4-0 at home this year.

Here are the post-Week 8 power rankings:

32. Oakland Raiders (0-7, Last Week: 32)
Raiders fans seemed pretty optimistic that Cleveland would be their first win. They couldn't cover a point spread of a touchdown. So now what?

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-6, LW: 31)
The Buccaneers are on a mission to lose every single way possible this season.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7, LW: 30)
This season is about small steps. Finding out Denard Robinson is a very nice playmaker (he had his second straight 100-yard game after the Jaguars have finally given him a shot) is an example.

29. New York Jets (1-7, LW: 26)
I can't even imagine what would happen if the Jets drafted Jameis Winston next year.

28. Tennessee Titans (2-6, LW: 29)
Lost in all of J.J. Watt's talk about selfies was that Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger wasn't all that bad. He was better than most sixth-round rookies would be. That doesn't mean he'll be a good starter for his career, but it wasn't a bad first step.

27. Atlanta Falcons (2-6, LW: 27)
That was an absolute clinic on how to blow a game. If nothing else, you cannot call a pass on that last offensive third down, not even a high-percentage one.

26. Minnesota Vikings (3-5, LW: 25)
Teddy Bridgewater isn't a star yet, but he makes a throw like his 17-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings and you can see why he might be some day. It's impressive how he stood in against the rush and threw such an accurate ball.

25. St. Louis Rams (2-5, LW: 23)
This team is a chronic underachiever, but at least Robert Quinn (two sacks vs. Kansas City) is breaking out of an early-season slump.

24. Washington Redskins (3-5, LW: 28)
Give defensive coordinator Jim Haslett a ton of credit. He called a great game, and then when Tony Romo came back in after a back injury, he blitzed constantly and dared the gimpy Romo to win the game. He couldn't.

23. New York Giants (3-4, LW: 24)
Giants GM Jerry Reese said he wants the team's offense to be more aggressive. It would make sense to get Eli Manning passing more downfield, because that was one of his strengths before this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Manning's 22 attempts of 20 yards or more are tied for 25th most in the NFL (tied with Stanton, who started only three games) and he has completed just five, tied with Charlie Whitehurst and Blake Bortles for 28th.

22. Chicago Bears (3-5, LW: 20)
This is Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker's seventh season as a defensive coordinator, and his second with Chicago. In his first six seasons his defenses finished better than 23rd in yards allowed once and better than 24th in points allowed twice. So this year's ranking of 18th in yards allowed is an improvement! (The ranking of 29th in points allowed is not.)

21. Houston Texans (4-4, LW: 22)
Jadeveon Clowney returned on Sunday from a knee injury. He played 33 snaps, had one quarterback hurry and one tackle. It'll be fun when he hits his stride.

20. New Orleans Saints (3-4, LW: 21)
Sunday reaction after the win against the Packers: "Wow, the Saints are back!" The real answer: Nope, they just played a home game.

19. Carolina Panthers (3-4-1, LW: 16)
The positive for the Panthers is the 16-carry, 79-yard performance by Jonathan Stewart against a tough Seahawks defense. Maybe he is beyond all the injuries and ready for a nice second half.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3, LW: 19)
Their final four road games are at Jets, Titans, Bengals and Falcons. Three very winnable games in there. If they win those, and handle business at home, their good record will sneak up on folks.

17. Cleveland Browns (4-3, LW: 18)
Brian Hoyer was 19-of-28 for 275 yards and a touchdown. After that stinker in Jacksonville, it was a much-needed rebound. (By the way, before any Steelers fans complain about their ranking vs. the Browns, remember that Browns 31, Steelers 10 was just two weeks ago.)

16. Miami Dolphins (4-3, LW: 17)
Defensive end Dion Jordan made his 2014 season debut, and didn't do too much. That's not unexpected because he missed the first six games due to suspension. But the third overall pick could use a strong second half to establish himself in the Dolphins' long-term plans.

15. Buffalo Bills (5-3, LW: 15)
Kyle Orton's production is huge for the Bills, and it really shows how bad E.J. Manuel was before he was benched.

14. San Francisco 49ers (4-3, LW: 14)
Marcus Lattimore will return to practice on Wednesday, two years after his horrible knee injury at South Carolina, then the 49ers will have three weeks to decide if they want to activate him. Hopefully he makes it back into an NFL game. It's a story worth rooting for.

13. Kansas City Chiefs (4-3, LW: 12)
Justin Houston had three sacks on Sunday, giving him 10 for the season, putting him slightly over the pace to break Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5. He'll be a free agent after this season.

12. Baltimore Ravens (5-3, LW: 10)
Sunday night's game against Pittsburgh is a fun one. The Ravens don't want to lose three of four to the Bengals and Steelers.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2-1, LW: 13)
For the record, I think it was the right call on Steve Smith. A tough call, but the right one.

10. Detroit Lions (6-2, LW: 11)
Lions fans would probably rather they didn't play like that for a full half against a terrible Falcons team, but a win is a win. I'm still not sure they deserve a big bump up after two one-point wins against losing teams the past couple of weeks.

9. Seattle Seahawks (4-3, LW: 8)
It wasn't a dominant win, but that final drive was great. Not everything is perfect again, but it's easier to figure it out at 4-3 rather than 3-4. (And no, Seattle didn't get "moved down" after a win. Another team that was behind them last week took a deserved big jump up. Someone has to slide down when that happens.)

8. San Diego Chargers (5-3, LW: 6)
There are a lot of injury issues the Chargers are dealing with. They'll be fine. Their biggest problem is they play in a division with the top team in football.

7. Green Bay Packers (5-3, LW: 5)
This Aaron Rodgers hamstring issue better not be serious. We saw what Rodgers means to this team last season. Heck, we saw it on Sunday night when the Packers fell apart because he was limited.

6. Indianapolis Colts (5-3, LW: 4)
I don't know what to do with them anymore after their defense pulled a sudden 180. But, no matter how many points the Colts were down, until the end you always had it in the back of your mind that Andrew Luck might bring them all the way back. He has reached that level.

5. Dallas Cowboys (6-2, LW: 3)
You can blame Romo's injury, and that was a factor, but the offense scored 10 of its 17 points with Brandon Weeden, and Romo had nothing to do with Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy carving up the defense. Bad loss. 

4. Philadelphia Eagles (5-2, LW: 2)
The mistakes in Sunday's loss are concerning, but it doesn't make them a bad team. They're a few costly turnovers, a great John Brown touchdown catch or 16 more yards from winning a road game against one of the best teams in the NFL. No reason to panic.

3. New England Patriots (6-2, LW: 9)
Rob Gronkowski isn't the only reason the Patriots are back to being legit Super Bowl contenders, but he's probably the main one. How many tight ends in NFL history have had that kind of impact?

2. Arizona Cardinals (6-1, LW: 7)
I haven't been the biggest Carson Palmer fan, but he's having an excellent year. He has 1,136 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception in four games. Aside from an excellent coaching staff, Palmer's the biggest reason the Cardinals are this high.

1. Denver Broncos (6-1, LW: 1)
I'm glad the Patriots look like a legit Super Bowl contender again. It makes next Sunday's game with the Broncos much more entertaining.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 28, 2014, 4:37 am

Tony Romo was heroic, but Colt McCoy was clutch.

McCoy, making his first start since Week 14 of the 2011 season, filled in for an injured Robert Griffin III and an ineffective Kirk Cousins to deliver a thrilling overtime victory for the Washington Redskins against the Dallas Cowboys, 20-17, on Monday night. 

Romo was knocked out early in the second half of Monday’s game, taking a shot to his surgically repaired back on a sack, before returning to the contest in the final two minutes in heroic fashion.

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But McCoy played his best ball down the stretch and finished completing 25 of 30 passes for 299 yards — the second-highest total of his career — and a rushing touchdown with his Texas-resident parents watching from a booth at AT&T Stadium.

To start overtime, McCoy led a strong drive — one of the more memorable ones of his career. He opened with a 23-yard pass to Pierre Garcon, then made a backyard improvisation throw to Jordan Reed for 5 yards on third-and-3, with Reed tiptoeing the sideline for a fantastic catch.

Although the Redskins drove to the Dallas 22, they couldn’t go any farther and settled for a 40-yard Kai Forbath field goal to take a 20-17 lead in the extra frame.

Romo came back out for his shot in OT, but DeMarco Murray was caught for a loss on a second-down throw, Jason Witten dropped a third-down pass and — after a timeout — Romo’s fourth-down pass amid heavy pressure was knocked down.

The postgame conjecture: Should Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett have stuck with Brandon Weeden, who competed four of six passes for 69 yards with a touchdown and two scoring drives? Romo was blitzed heavily after returning, and he was sacked six times on the night, but it’s impossible to know how much his back limited him or whether Weeden would have been better in overtime.

McCoy was 6-15 as a starter entering the night, and the Cowboys were one of the hottest teams in football at 6-1. Although he was shaky at times, McCoy made several clutch plays in the state where he became a high school and college legend and delivered the first signature victory for the 3-5 Redskins and new head coach Jay Gruden.

The Redskins started the game quickly. After the defense forced a punt on the Cowboys' first possession, Redskins returner Andre Roberts brought back the punt 37 yards to the Dallas 48-yard line. McCoy hit Niles Paul for 20 yards and just missed hitting Roberts on a touchdown pass. Washington ended up with a Forbath field goal and a 3-0 lead. 

Romo faced some early heat. He was sacked twice on the first two drives, and the second one — a seven-man blitz — prevented Dallas from getting into field-goal range.

After a Redskins punt, the Cowboys gave it back again. Joseph Randle, subbing for Murray, lost a fumble on his own 25-yard line, which appeared to be a crucial error. But the Redskins, giving as always, gave it back two plays later when McCoy threw up a pass for grabs into double coverage in the end zone and Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox easily picked it off for a touchback.

There was controversy on the play, though, as Wilcox appeared to fumble the ball out of the back of the end zone without being touched down. By NFL rules, that’s a safety, but the referees did not call it that way.

The Cowboys got the ball back and appeared poised to burn the Redskins for their missed opportunity and their bad luck. They moved the ball into Washington territory, and Murray had a 36-yard reception inside the 10-yard line, but he fumbled at the end of it — his fifth lost amid an otherwise brilliant season — to give the ball back to the Redskins.

McCoy struck back by hitting DeSean Jackson on a post pattern for a 49-yard completion, but the Redskins moved backward with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (over Logan Paulsen entering the huddle, then leaving the huddle?) and a third-down sack of McCoy by defensive tackle Henry Melton, his former teammate at University of Texas.

The Cowboys finally struck gold on an eight-play, 80-yard drive midway through the second quarter. Romo hit Dez Bryant for 20 yards, Murray for 24 on a brilliant dump-off on a Redskins blitz, Terrance Williams for 15 yards and then Bryant again for a mannish effort of a touchdown. Bryant caught the off-target pass, broke the tackle attempt of David Amerson and then blasted through safety Ryan Clark for the unreal score.

The Redskins avoided disaster on their next possession, as Silas Redd’s fumble deep in Dallas territory was ruled down by contact, but they could not get into scoring position before the end of the half. Offsetting penalties — with Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson retaliating after contact with Cowboys corner Brandon Carr — didn’t help.

The Cowboys got the ball back but could do nothing, as pressure once more took down Romo, and the first half expired with a tenuous 7-3 lead in an ugly game.

McCoy was better on the Redskins’ first drive of the second half. His throws weren’t always crisp or right on target, but he led an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter. Alfred Morris ripped off a 29-yard zone stretch to kickstart the drive, then capped it with a 5-yard score to make it 10-7, Redskins. They had only 23 rushing yards in the first half but ran for 67 on that drive alone.

Romo got hurt on the subsequent drive. After the injury, Murray got the Cowboys in business with a 51-yard run on the first play of the drive. Weeden missed on his only two pass attempts after entering, but the second one was a catchable pass to Bryant that was broken up by impressive rookie corner Bashaud Breeland.

McCoy answered. He overcame a shaky start to the drive by converting a third down and then hitting Jackson for 45 yards on a perfectly thrown arrow route. McCoy finished the drive in style, too, taking a third-and-goal quarterback draw in — despite getting crunched by three Cowboys — from 6 yards out, giving the Redskins a 17-10 lead early in the fourth.

Weeden matched his former Cleveland Browns teammate with a touchdown drive of his own to tie it. He hit Williams for 14 yards, hit Murray for 23 more on a screen and then found a wide-open Jason Witten, whom the Redskins forgot to cover, on a 25-yard score to tie it at 17-all.

McCoy was not done. He converted two key third downs on a scramble and a pass, and then hit fullback Darrel Young on a play-action bootleg on 4th and 1 from the Dallas 49-yard line for 12 crucial yards with just under four minutes left. But a delay of game call and a sack — both brutal hits — pushed the Redskins out of field-goal range. That forced them to punt back to the Cowboys just under the two-minute warning.

Re-enter Romo.

In his first dropback after returning to the game, Romo was crushed by Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather on a blitz, and it looked as if linebacker Ryan Kerrigan fell on the ball. But DeMarco Murray — who missed the blitz pickup — fell on the ball incredibly.

Then on the next play, Romo almost threw an interception to Breeland, but Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams bailed them out with a great theft of a catch.

After a Romo intentional grounding, the Cowboys punted and they went to overtime. 

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 28, 2014, 3:53 am

AT&T Stadium fell silent as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo took a sack on the first possession of the second half, wincing in pain Monday night against the Washington Redskins.

Romo remained down on the field for several minutes after being sacked by linebacker Keenan Robinson, who appeared to unintentionally knee Romo in his back. In the past two years, Romo has had two surgical procedures on his back. Monday's injury, however, was diagnosed as a back contusion, and Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said X-rays were negative.

"It felt like some knee or elbow kind of hit me perfectly," Romo told reporters. 

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It was the Redskins' fourth sack of the night in a game they were leading 10-7 when Romo left the game. They would eventually win, 20-17 in overtime, led largely by backup quarterback Colt McCoy.

Romo said he expects to be ready to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.  

After taking the big hit, Romo was taken to the locker room with a Cowboys trainer and team medical employees. Brandon Weeden replaced Romo in his first regular-season action for the Cowboys since being released by the Cleveland Browns after last season.

With just over two minutes remaining, Romo re-entered the game and almost turned the ball over twice in his own zone. He fumbled on a sack, which somehow was recovered by running back DeMarco Murray despite the ball originally landing in the hands of linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Then Romo nearly was picked by cornerback Bashaud Breeland but was bailed out by a nice catch from receiver Terrance Williams.

The two teams went to overtime after a Cowboys punt. Romo was unable to lead a Cowboys drive after the Redskins opened overtime with a field goal.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 28, 2014, 2:30 am

The New York Jets had no good choice at quarterback, but it became painfully clear on Sunday that Geno Smith was no longer a viable option.

To nobody's surprise, after Smith threw three first-quarter interceptions against the Buffalo Bills, the Jets will move forward with Michael Vick as their starting quarterback. Coach Rex Ryan announced it on Monday.

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Vick, a former first overall pick and superstar in the league, is no longer the same quarterback he once was. He struggled on Sunday too, turning the ball over three times.

The Jets are 1-7. Vick will turn 35 before next season. This wasn't a move for the present or the future. It was just to pull the plug on Smith, who never got past the turnover mistakes that plagued him as a rookie last year. He has 19 touchdowns and a staggering 31 interceptions in 24 career starts. The change had to be made.

The move isn't necessarily permanent, Ryan said.

"I'm not looking past this week. This is truly about this week," Ryan said, according to Metro New York. "It's not any long-term deal."

Perhaps Smith rebounds after the benching and the Jets can try him again as their quarterback of the future, but it's probably a better bet that the Jets look at quarterbacks with a high pick in next year's draft (imagine the media frenzy if it ends up being Florida State's Jameis Winston), and maybe some other team gives the 2013 second-round pick a chance.

Smith said "without a doubt" he thinks he can be an NFL franchise quarterback, and seemed to take the news in stride, via Kimberley Martin of Newsday.

Geno said this "is not an ideal situation" and he's got to use this opportunity to get better. Said he's a tough guy, he can handle it.

— Kimberley A. Martin (@KMart_LI) October 27, 2014

Perhaps Smith will get better as a result. It can't get much worse for him.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 27, 2014, 10:02 pm

It's Brady-Manning Week! Yes, again.

But we need to highlight the other standout players for the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots as they get set to face off in Sunday's marquee matchup in Foxboro in Week 9.

The tight ends are not a bad place to start.

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On Sunday, we saw evidence that Rob Gronkowski has returned to prime form, nearly a year removed from last season's ACL injury, in Sunday's Patriots blowout of the Chicago Bears. Gronk was everywhere to the tune of nine catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns — uncoverable by by linebacker or safety the Bears tried to trot out there.

And Julius Thomas, no slouch himself, is a key mismatch piece for Peyton Manning. You can (try to) cover Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and that's fine and all. But that's when Julius Thomas beats you with an athletic move, and sometimes it's just so easy for him to score. Or so he says.

We know Gronk likes touchdowns — with his three scores Sunday, that's now seven this season in eight games, and 49 in 58 regular-season games in his career. But look, too, at Thomas: He has nine touchdowns this season, with multi-TD games against the Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets; in his past 21 games, Thomas has 21 scores.

The closer these players get to the end zone, the more they eat. Tom Brady and Manning are more than happy to feed these beasts.

Look, if you're strictly arguing who the better player is — and even who is more valuable to their respective team's success — it's Gronkowski. When healthy, he is a devastating in-line blocker and dangerous receiver who can win with speed, power and competitiveness. No knock against Thomas, whose athleticism is off the charts, but he's just not the all-around player Gronk is.

But could we see a scenario where Thomas is the better statistical performer in Sunday's game? No doubt. The Patriots have lost Jerod Mayo at linebacker and might not want to ask second-year linebacker Jamie Collins to match Thomas stride for stride.

Might we see 6-4 cornerback Brandon Browner earn that assignment? After all, he was matched up with Bears tight end Martellus Bennett at times Sunday and could reprise that TE-coverage role again vs. the Broncos. That would leave Darrelle Revis on Demaryius Thomas, and either Logan Ryan or Alfonzo Dennard on Sanders. It'll be fascinating to watch.

As for Denver, how do they deal with Gronk? The Broncos used safeties last Thursday to shadow San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, and they had middling success with that. Although Gates only had five catches (on eight targets) for 54 yards, he did score two touchdowns, catch a 31-yard pass on 3rd and 20 to set up another score and also drew a key pass interference call.

Ward has been targeted in coverage a number of times this season and certainly will be someone Brady seeks to go after. Might the Broncos ask ascending linebacker Brandon Marshall, who has been strong on the strong side, to get physical with Gronkowski at times? Perhaps. There is no one ideal matchup for the Broncos on him, so expect safety assistance no matter what.

We've seen just how much these players mean not only for their respective teams but also against Sunday's opponent. The Patriots came back to win in overtime last season in Foxboro in a game Thomas missed but struggled to contain him (team-high eight catches for 81 yards) in the AFC title game as Manning hit him on several key passes, including a 37-yarder, their longest play of the game, midway through the fourth quarter as the Broncos started pulling away.

Meanwhile, Gronkowski was a thorn in the Broncos' sides in the Patriots regular-season win, catching seven passes (on 10 targets) for 90 yards and a touchdown near the end of the third quarter to help fuel the amazing comeback. But he missed the playoff game with the knee injury, and the Patriots were forced to jam the ball into Julian Edelman, Shane Vereen and Austin Collins (yikes) way too often.

Pick your position. Both are special players, and they'll be on display for sure on Sunday. They might not upstage the Manning-Brady show, but they might make it that much more electric.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 27, 2014, 7:59 pm

Screengrab from 9 NewsA Colorado man has not been seen since meeting up with friends during halftime at Thursday's Chargers-Broncos game. Paul Kitterman, 53, attended the game with his son and two friends.

"He's absolutely nowhere to be found," Tia Bakke told 9 News. Bakke and her boyfriend, Jay Ust, drove to the game with Kitterman and his son, Jarod Tonneson. It is a two-hour trip from Kremmling, Co., to Denver. Kitterman was not the driver, so he did not have a car at the stadium. He was reportedly not carrying a cell phone or credit cards, and had about $50 in cash.

Bakke and Ust had seats in a different area of the stadium. They met up with Kitterman at halftime, and Bakke told 9 News that as they said goodbye he said he'd see them after the game.

Shortly after, Tonneson called to say his father never returned to their seats. It is unclear whether Tonneson went with his father at halftime to see Bakke and Ust. Regardless, according to Fox 31, Tonneson told Bakke that he'd used the restroom and his dad wasn't at the seats when he got back.

According to 9 News

After the game, she says they scoured the stadium and called security and police, in addition to jails and hospitals in the area... Bakke said Kitterman does not have medical problems and hasn't had any issues with drugs or other dangerous activity in the past.

Tonnesson told Fox 31, “We were looking everywhere in parking lots, trees, bushes, anywhere we could think of."

It was the first game the two attended this year. The family filed a missing persons report on Thursday. Denver police said that there is no reason to suspect foul play and that they do not have any leads. The department is asking that anyone with information contact them immediately.

Author: Danielle Elliot
Posted: October 27, 2014, 4:31 pm

The only thing worse than an owner giving a coach a tepid vote of confidence is the owner not giving the coach a vote of confidence.

After the Atlanta Falcons' collapse in London, turning a 21-0 halftime lead into a really ugly 22-21 loss, Falcons owner Arthur Blank made it very clear he was not happy.

“You’re up 21-0,” Blank said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There’s no way you lose that game — just no way. There’s nothing else I can say.”

That's not very comforting to head coach Mike Smith and his staff.

Smith was already one of the NFL coaches on the hot seat before the season. The Falcons started well enough, at 2-1, but they haven't won since. The fifth straight loss came on Sunday, when there were numerous coaching errors (and, fairly, many playing errors too) to let the Lions come back to win. The Falcons somehow managed to get a holding penalty on second down and an incomplete pass on third down late in the game, both stopping the clock and allowing the Lions an extra minute to drive into position for a game-winning field goal on the last play. That's pretty inexcusable.

No matter the specifics, Blank is right. There's no way the Falcons should have lost that game. Atlanta has a bye in Week 9. The owner is angry. It will be an anxious week for Smith and many others at the Falcons facility.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 27, 2014, 2:31 pm

For awhile there, it looked like anyone who could manage four wins would be able to capture the NFC South. That still may be true, but it now appears that the New Orleans Saints have it in them to win quite a few more.

New Orleans nearly doubled up an unexpectedly punchless Green Bay 44-23, and reaffirmed that as long as they're on home turf, the Saints are very, very tough to beat. After trading a touchdown and three field goals apiece in the first half, the Saints finally cracked through in the third quarter, combining an attack more balanced than they'd shown all year.

Drew Brees looked like the future Hall of Famer he is, going 27 of 32 for 311 yards and two touchdowns, and the rest of the team rallied around him. The Saints D swarmed quarterback Aaron Rodgers for two interceptions. Mark Ingram parachuted in from a Tuscaloosa trophy case to pile up 172 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

The Packers, meanwhile, are now 5-3, a game behind Detroit in the North, and suffering through an eerie reminder of last season. Back then, a shoulder injury that cost Rodgers seven games nearly submarined the entire season. Then as now, the Packers' entire offense rested on Rodgers' shoulders -- or, in this case, hamstring. Rodgers pulled up lame when running out of bounds early in the third quarter, and New Orleans took advantage of his weakness to score 21 unanswered second-half points and effectively hammerlock the game.

Rodgers seemed to recover some of his mobility later in the game, scampering 14 yards for a touchdown with five minutes remaining in the fourth. So perhaps a bit of rest, courtesy of a bye week, will have him back to his usual mobile self.

New Orleans, meanwhile, sits 3-4, half a game behind the Panthers in the woeful South, and with five of their remaining nine games at home, appears back on track for a playoff berth. They'll play Carolina this coming Thursday night, a rugged turnaround, with first place in the division at stake.

The Saints are undefeated at home and un-victorious on the road. That's not any kind of record to start planning January around, but for a division characterized by historic incompetence, it might just be enough.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 27, 2014, 3:38 am

TMZ makes its bones on finding celebrities in public, asking them ridiculous questions, and then reveling in the on-camera reaction. It works a frighteningly large percentage of the time, which is why they keep doing it. Celebrities, control yourselves!

Anyway, some cameraman who probably doesn't know Beast Mode from a bee sting decided to ask Lynch about his Lamborghini, specifically the velvet ropes he apparently uses to block it off. And Lynch didn't take kindly to the question, swinging his gear bag so awkwardly he loses his headphones and hat.

There may or may not be dissension in the Seahawks locker room, but there's a severe need to improve swing technique.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 27, 2014, 2:43 am

Lamarr Houston provided a perfect punch line, but don’t forget the entire joke that was the Chicago Bears’ performance on Sunday.

Houston had perhaps the most embarrassing moment of the season. He suffered what appears to be a serious knee injury celebrating a sack when the Bears trailed by 25 points late in the fourth quarter. It doesn't get much worse than that.

Houston's regretful act is fitting, because this entire 2014 Bears experiment looks regrettable. They put together a bunch of combustible personalities, overpaid an average NFL starting quarterback, whiffed on most of their attempts to fix a bad defense, and it all culminated in an awful loss to the New England Patriots. The 51-23 final didn’t even reflect how badly the Bears got blown out. They’re 3-5 after the loss.

The conversation with most NFL teams starts with the quarterback, and that’s where it begins in Chicago. Jay Cutler is on his way to missing the Pro Bowl and the playoffs for the eighth time in his nine seasons. It should have been a major red flag for the Bears that journeyman Josh McCown played much better than Cutler when Cutler was out with injury last season, but the Bears gave him a $126 million deal this past offseason anyway. Cutler has a long history of being an average NFL starting quarterback despite his tremendous physical gifts. This year he was given perhaps the best supporting cast in the NFL (Denver and Green Bay might argue otherwise) and he has still been unremarkable. Cutler did almost nothing until the Patriots led 38-7. Too often for an offense with Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, the Bears’ offense has gone long stretches without making any plays. Part of the problem is their quarterback isn’t really special, though he gets paid like he is.

That’s not the only problem. Marshall, who took himself out on a fourth-and-10 play against New England, seemed most interested after that loss in jabbing the media for overhearing last week’s locker-room blowup in which Marshall was prominently involved. According to the Chicago Tribune’s Rich Campbell, Marshall told reporters after the game, “Come on, put y’all’s ears closer to the door.” It’s an odd thing to be concerned about immediately following a loss like that. Marshall had one catch for 14 yards at the point the Patriots took a 38-7 lead.

The defense added a lot of pieces in the offseason, but something is missing there. They couldn’t handle Rob Gronkowski, who had three touchdowns. Tom Brady finished with 354 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. Even if the offense was great (and it’s not), they aren't going to win many games with this defense anyway.

The Bears have some talent, especially on offense. Is chemistry the problem? Focus? Is the quarterback the issue? Is coach Marc Trestman pushing the right buttons? Whatever the issues are, they’re real, and they manifested themselves all afternoon in New England.

Here are the rest of the Week 8 winners and losers:

WINNERS

Todd Bowles: Among all the NFL’s coordinators, Bowles should be the top candidate to get hired as a head coach next offseason. Heck, the Atlanta Falcons will be looking for a new head coach soon, and he’d make a great fit there. The Arizona Cardinals’ defensive boss has shown time and again that his incredibly aggressive approach works, and it’s a major reason the Cardinals are 6-1.

On the final play of Sunday’s win against the Eagles, Bowles showed he’s not scared to blitz in any situation. The Eagles were at Arizona’s 16-yard line, trailing 24-20 with one second left. And Bowles called an all-out blitz. He sent seven defenders, an incredible decision at that point in the game.

Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles backpedaled and backpedaled and finally had to loft up a pass that Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews caught out of bounds. Almost any coach would not risk the criticism that would come with sending a blitz like that on the last play of the game. Bowles did it, and like most things he has dialed up for his defense (which has played without key pieces all season, including concussed cornerback Patrick Peterson for most of Sunday’s game), it worked. What a call.

Anthony Barr: Not too many people suffered through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Minnesota Vikings game on Sunday, but those who did saw a rookie linebacker make a phenomenal play to win it.

Barr, the ninth pick of this year’s draft, stripped Tampa Bay tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins of the ball on the first play of overtime, recovered the fumble and returned it 27 yards for the game-winning score, a walk-off hat trick.

Barr’s career is off to a good start, with 54 tackles and three sacks in eight games. The Vikings also got a nice contribution from their other first-round pick, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater led a game-tying drive at the end of regulation. Barr finished it off with a great play in overtime. The Vikings should be pretty excited about that.

Next week's Broncos vs. Patriots matchup: There were times in the first half of this season when it seemed like the Broncos-Patriots matchup wouldn’t be all that great. The Patriots, in particular, had their struggles early in the season. Next Sunday’s game looks really intriguing now.

The Broncos are playing at a very high level, and are clearly the best team in football at this moment. But the re-emergence of Gronkowski as one of the NFL’s best players and improvements elsewhere in the Patriots lineup, especially on the offensive line, have given the Patriots the look of a real contender. The Bears were terrible on Sunday, but the Patriots had a lot to do with that.

And that sets up another classic Peyton Manning-Tom Brady matchup next Sunday. Awesome.

Arian Foster: There were good reasons to think think Foster was entering 2014 on a career slide.

Foster, who had experienced a tremendous workload early in his Texans career, had his average yards per carry dip in 2011 and again in 2012. He played in just eight games last year due to injury. He turned 28 in August, which isn’t young for a running back, and was going to run in a one-dimensional offense with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. And he has been tremendous.

Foster was great once again on Sunday. He had 151 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in Houston’s 30-16 win. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in all six games he has started and finished this year. If it weren’t for Dallas’ DeMarco Murray lapping the field at running back, more people would be focusing on Foster’s incredible season.

The pigeon at the Dolphins-Jaguars game: There wasn’t much reason to attend the Dolphins-Jaguars game on Sunday, but one pigeon refused to go. First, Jaguars mascot Jaxson de Ville tried with no success to oust the bird in the third quarter …

… and the pigeon refused to be denied and was still around for the fourth quarter.


Hey, you can't say nobody wanted to stick around to watch the Jaguars' 27-13 loss.

LOSERS

Colts defense: They spent last week in the winner’s circle, and definitely deserve a spot here after whatever that was against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

How do you evaluate a defense that gave up 135 yards, eight first downs and zero points against the Bengals a week ago (who looked just fine in beating the Ravens this week), then give up 371 yards, 20 first downs and 35 points in the first half alone to the Steelers? Cornerback Vontae Davis was knocked out of the game with a knee injury, but that’s not the difference between giving up zero points a week ago and 51 to Pittsburgh. The Colts let Ben Roethlisberger throw for 522 yards, the fourth-most passing yards in NFL history, and six touchdowns.

I’d like to say here that this means the Colts are in trouble, or it was a one-game glitch, or anything else substantial, but when a team swings from one extreme to another like that it’s impossible for anyone to know what’s coming next.

Challengers to Norm Van Brocklin’s record: There have been numerous ways passing offense has improved and been encouraged to improve via the rules since the 1950s. Given that, one of the most incredible things in the game is that Van Brocklin’s single-game passing yardage record of 554 yards, set in 1951, has never been broken.

Warren Moon came very close once. Tony Romo made a run at it last year and fell short against the Broncos. Ben Roethlisberger was on pace for most of Sunday’s game against the Colts, but fell 32 yards short.

The Steelers should have let Roethlisberger go for the record when they got the ball back, ahead by 17 points in the final minutes (spare me any “run up the score” stuff, it’s not possible to run up the score against another professional team; that concept doesn’t exist among athletes getting paid to play for 60 minutes of football). But the Steelers ran out the clock instead. And Van Brocklin remains king.

The record will be broken eventually, but as Roethlisberger showed, it’ll take a specific set of circumstances. The Steelers won 51-34, and weren’t in a position where they had to throw much in the fourth quarter, or even wanted to pass much with Andrew Luck on the other sideline. To beat the record, a quarterback would need to get a ton of attempts and continue throwing for four quarters in a close game (in which the other team scores quickly too), and get a few big plays along the way. Until then, the Hall of Famer Van Brocklin will remain king.

Jake Long: A former first overall pick is looking at another season-ending injury and another long rehabilitation.

Long, the first pick of the 2008 NFL draft and the St. Louis Rams' left tackle, will likely finish his fourth straight season on injured reserve after suffering what the team fears is a torn ACL, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jim Thomas. Long tore his biceps in 2011, his triceps in 2012, and his ACL late last season and landed on injured reserve each time.

Long’s career was off to a great start, with four Pro Bowl invitations and an All-Pro nod in his first four seasons. He has had tremendously bad luck with injuries since then.

Ben Roethlisberger, punter: Roethlisberger had one of the greatest passing days in NFL history on Sunday. He also had a punt blocked, which is just about impossible for a quarterback. How does that even happen? Take a look:

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 27, 2014, 2:40 am

Here are the top five must-see plays from Week 8 in the NFL:

Amazing ... in a losing cause

The New England Patriots crushed the Chicago Bears, but you have to see this touchdown catch by Martellus Bennett, which might be among the more impressive you'll see all season. Patriots corner Brandon Browner was draped all over Bennett — illegally so, in fact — but he still made the circus grab. Yeah, yeah, it was 45-7 Patriots before that touchdown. But it was that impressive. 

Rookie sensation 

It's rare that a veteran can beat Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas in coverage. But Kelvin Benjamin appears to be no ordinary rookie. Watch Benjamin sky and shag this 51-yard catch over half the Legion of Boom for a terrific catch in a losing effort. Benjamin is going to be scary good the more he develops. 

Just your typical owner-nose tackle kiss

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is known as one of the best owners in football, and he has special relationships with several of his long-tenured players, most notably Tom Brady. But we had no idea how close he is — we'd have to assume — with nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who has been with the Patriots for 10 years now. Watch Kraft and Wilfork share a little double kiss as the owner makes his way down to the sideline during the Patriots' blowout. How very European of them.

A selfie? You're a one-win team

Ryan Davis has been a nice surprise for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season with four sacks. Two of those sacks came Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. That's great and all, but the Jaguars also lost the game, and they've lost all but one game this season. Still, Davis found the time to celebrate one of his sacks with a mock selfie. It's funny ... we admit it. But, dude.

No biggie, just a QB getting a punt blocked

Ben Roethlisberger had a near-flawless game in the Pittsburgh Steelers' shootout of the Indianapolis Colts. But it might be awhile before Mike Tomlin calls on Big Ben to do another pooch punt. They way Ben was slinging it Sunday, why not just go for in on every fourth down? Instead, Roethlisberger dropped back seven yards, caught the shotgun snap, tried to punt it and instead had it blocked for an indescribably funny play. 

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 27, 2014, 1:39 am

Has any player not involved in a criminal investigation suffered a fall more hard and fast in the last two years than Matt Schaub? At the start of last year, Schaub was the quarterback of the Houston Texans, who were penciled into the playoffs at worst, Super Bowl at best.

You may remember what happened next. Schaub started handing out pick-sixes like the cool house slinging full-size candy bars on Halloween. Things turned so ugly so quickly that his own fans cheered his injury, and so he departed for Oakland. Surely he'd be able to start for the woeful Raiders, right?

Not so. The Raiders decided to go with rookie Derek Carr, who's proven surprisingly serviceable for a team that still hasn't won. Schaub entered Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns early on a fake field-goal attempt and, well, it didn't go well.

Schaub wasn't helped by the fact that the Raiders couldn't have telegraphed the fake more if they'd written it on the side of a blimp. Still, having an NFL quarterback handling your fake play is better than having the punter try it, right?

Maybe not. Schaub was by no means the reason why Oakland lost to Cleveland; shoot, he doesn't even make the top 10. But this play is a further reminder that the NFL game is a cruel, capricious thing.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 27, 2014, 12:13 am

Ben Roethlisberger came up 33 yards short of the NFL’s all-time, single-game passing mark, but he became the only quarterback to hit the 500-yard mark twice in a career in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 51-34 victory against the Indianapolis Colts.

The record — 554 yards by the Los Angeles Rams' Norm Van Brocklin against the New York Yanks back on Sept. 28, 1951 — had been approached many times in recent seasons, including by Matt Schaub, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and others, but never broken.

Roethlisberger's previous high was 503 against the Green Bay Packers in 2009. There have been only 16 500-yard passing games in NFL history.

Roethlisberger completed 40 of 49 passes for 522 yards and six touchdowns, which are both Steelers  records. His 522 yards tied for the fourth-most all time with Boomer Esiason, who hit the mark in 1996 with the Arizona Cardinals.

Schaub and Warren Moon are tied for second all time with 527 yards, with Schaub hitting his mark in an overtime game in 2012 for the Houston Texans.

Roethlisberger and the Steelers got the ball back with just over two minutes left after an end-zone interception but was denied a chance at the record when the Steelers ran the ball to try to milk the clock.

Breaking the all-time mark against the Colts would've been especially impressive. This was a defense that had held opponents to 4-of-41 third-down conversions the previous four games. The Steelers' 51 points were the most the team has scored in the Big Ben era.

Andrew Luck and the Colts rallied in the second quarter, and the competitive games late into the fourth quarter gave Roethlisberger a shot at the record. Alas, he came up short.

Is it an overrated NFL mark? Yes, and we discussed it this summer in the Shutdown Corner overrated-underrated series. But the fact that it has stood as long as it has — 63 years — and hasn’t been taken down in this passing-dizzy era is amazing.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 27, 2014, 12:00 am

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Geno Smith era (error?) for the New York Jets might be nearing its end.

Benched after just four series in the Jets' 43-23 home loss to the Buffalo Bills, Smith's time as starter of this 1-7 team is tenuous. He threw three interceptions and just two completions on his first 10 passes, forcing usually lax Jets head coach Rex Ryan to bench his second-year quarterback for the second time this season. Now 24 starts into his NFL career, Smith shows no signs of progress, no signs of turning into a franchise quarterback.

Instead, he struggles with fundamentals and still can't read a defense.

We didn’t execute. We didn’t execute again. I say we [but] I’m talking about myself because it was just atrocious, the way that I started out. I never expected to start a game out like that,” Smith said. “I’ve got to make sure that I get better from that and don’t allow things like that to happen - put ourselves in those types of positions like that.”

Let's be clear that there have been plenty worse quarterbacks in the history of the NFL who have stuck around for a few seasons. And Smith did quarterback a team that went 8-8 in his rookie year last season. What Smith can't do is lead a team or win games on his own. Three interceptions on the game's first four drives shows that Smith's learning curve is perhaps steeper than anticipated.

Smith, by the looks of it, might never get there.

He came from an "Air-Raid" offense in West Virginia that masked his deficiencies. He'd throw to the hot read and let teammates like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey rack up serious yards down the field. But on Sundays, in the face of collapsing pockets, Smith struggles with his decision-making and is pressured into poor throws. All three of his interceptions against the Bills could have been avoided.

The move to Michael Vick in Sunday's loss might show a shift amongst the coaching staff that could point the franchise in a different direction at quarterback, not just as they play out the rest of this year but moving forward.

It could be argued that the Jets haven't had a franchise quarterback – a true franchise quarterback – since Joe Namath left Broadway following the 1976 season. Yes, there has been Boomer Esiason and Vinny Testaverde and Chad Pennington since then, but the Jets have failed to groom a long-term answer under center for almost four decades now.

Smith was supposed to be that quarterback. Instead, he looks ready to be the latest failure at the position, even as the Jets don't know who will start come Week 9.

Head coach Rex Ryan wouldn't commit to Vick or Smith moving forward. Vick was 18-for-36 for 153 yards and had an interception along with two fumbles lost. Vick can improve on this performance, however. He has rarely received first-team reps this season. His 36 attempts on Sunday are the most he has had since Week 2 last year, when he was the starter with the Philadelphia Eagles. Ryan would only say about next week's decision at starting quarterback, “I have no idea, we'll look at that later.” But “later” might well cost Ryan his job.

If Ryan wants any shot to return to the Jets for a seventh season, he might need to go with Vick from here on out.

Well, you know I wouldn’t like to repeat that, but if it does happen I have to use it to my best interest," Smith said. "I have to make it beneficial. Like I said, I never envisioned that happening because I do see myself as the starting quarterback and I honestly believe that I can turn things around myself to get this team going. But if those things do happen I have to learn from it and take those reps from the sideline and I have to do a good job of that.”

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Kristian R. Dyer writes for Metro New York and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KristianRDyer

Author: Kristian Dyer
Posted: October 26, 2014, 11:11 pm

Jon Gruden has settled nicely into a cushy job at "Monday Night Football," trotting out his this guys and I gotta tell yas in a different NFL locale each week. But coaches gotta coach, and for the last few years Gruden has been the go-to name every time a major pro or college coaching job comes open.

Gruden, of course, has a Super Bowl victory on his resume, and has cultivated a reputation as a Quarterback Whisperer. He's free from a whole lot of criticism and responsibility that goes with coaching right now, and that's a lovely place to be. 

According to the NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, though, there's a one job Gruden would take if offered:

Jon Gruden told one close friend: “If there is one job I’d come back to the @NFL for, it’s the #Raiders.” But will he leave his current job?

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 26, 2014

There are a couple interesting elements to that rumor. First, the Raiders are awful, as their 0-7 record shows. So it's not like they'd be giving up on some grand plan were they to clean house top to bottom and bring in Gruden. Ol' Chucky coached Oakland to a 40-28 record for four years from 1998 to 2001; these days, it might take Oakland a quarter of a century to get 40 wins.

Plus, there's also this particular little nugget, also disclosed by Rapoport:

According to three sources, Jon Gruden spent round 1 of the draft imploring the #Raiders: Draft Johnny Manziel. Just imagine #whatif

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 26, 2014

The Raiders were picking fifth last year, and Manziel was still on the board. Oakland went with Derek Carr in the second round. The idea of Manziel in Oakland is an intoxicating one, though if he were thrown to the wolves this early he might already be out of the game. For now, Gruden remains in the most deisrable position of all: the one where everybody wants you.

[Via Larry Brown Sports]

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 26, 2014, 11:06 pm

J.J. Watt is a busy guy, getting ready to dominate each week for the Houston Texans, but he still paid attantion to Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger's social media accounts.

Mettenberger posted a few selfies of himself before and after getting his long hair cut after he was named starter. He did keep his glorious moustache, and added another selfie to his Twitter account on Sunday morning before playing the Texans.

#sundayselfie @wyman pic.twitter.com/uYJMPKjMry

— Zach Mettenberger (@mettshow) October 26, 2014

Now, this has nothing to do with Watt really, but he took it personally anyway.

Watt sacked Mettenberger and his celebration was taking a selfie of himself and the fallen Mettenberger. And he had a lecture for Mettenberger after the Texans' 30-16 win.

"Their quarterback had posted a few selfies this week, inclduing one before the game, and it's just kind of a reminder, this is the National Football League, not high school," Watt said. "So welcome to the show."

Mettenberger struggled for much of his first start, though his final numbers were strong. He completed 27-of-41 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Both touchdowns came after Houston took a 27-3 lead. Mettenberger didn't sound like he had any regrets, via ESPN.com.

"Ultimately that's what this game about -- it's about having fun," Mettenberger said. "Anytime you get an opportunity to show some character or personality, you've got to make the most of that."

Watt is not known for having fun, off the field anyway. He has said in interviews he doesn't go out and party because of his dedication to football. If Watt thinks that Mettenberger wasn't focused on his job enough this week that helped him and the Texans, but for Watt it's about more than that. Hear the rest of what he had to say: 

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 26, 2014, 10:48 pm

Look, there's not a lot going right in the Jacksonville Jaguars' season these days, so when something good does happen, might as well commemorate it with a photo, right?

Jags defensive end Ryan Davis pulled off a key sack of Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the third quarter of Sunday's game. He "posed" for a "selfie" and went on his way. Alas, Jacksonville would lose the Battle of Florida's Atlantic Coast 27-13, but at least Davis will have his selfie for memories. Sort of.

Hey, it could have been worse. Davis could have injured himself celebrating, the way Chicago's Lamarr Houston did celebrating a sack. Given the choice, we'll go with the selfie every time.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

Follow @jaybusbee

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 26, 2014, 9:31 pm

Baltimore Ravens receiver Steve Smith appeared to have pulled off another miracle, an 80-yard touchdown in the final seconds to beat the Cincinnati Bengals.

But ... flag on the play. Offensive pass interference on Smith. No touchdown. The Bengals went on to win a thrilling game 27-24.

The question that will be asked a lot, especially because the result was enormous in the AFC North race, is if the action was worth the flag.

Smith was deep downfield waiting on Flacco's pass when Bengals safety George Iloka reached him and turned around to track the ball. Smith quickly put his hands on Iloka and subtly shoved him aside. Iloka did a great job embellishing as he went to the ground. But acting job or not, by the letter of the rules, it was pass interference.

Yet, this is not an unusual play in the NFL. Hand fighting happens all the time between receivers and defensive backs. Smith's quick shove could be called almost every play, and it's not. So was it fair to change the outcome of a game by calling it then?

Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira said it was the right call.

Sorry @Ravens fans. The OPI on Steve Smith was a correct and gutsy call. Here's why:via: @kfchttps://t.co/frlVcfuGaM

— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) October 26, 2014

This is what coach John Harbaugh and Smith said after the game, via the Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson:

John harbaugh on steve smith pi 'I'm not allowed to answer that question'

— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) October 26, 2014

steve smith 'i don't like the idea of a play like that determining the game'

— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) October 26, 2014

Steve Smith: 'I'm not mad. I'm not upset. I'm not frustrated. I'm just exhausted.'

— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) October 26, 2014

Your browser does not support iframes.

That play was the most entertaining in a game that had plenty of them. The Ravens rallied to take a late lead off a couple big turnovers. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton then made some great plays on a late drive and scored on a quarterback sneak on fourth and goal with 57 seconds left to give the Bengals a lead.

It was a fantastic game, but all people will be talking about is one play, and a call that changed the outcome. But was it the right call?

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 26, 2014, 8:52 pm

In someone else's hands, the New York Jets' trick play on a kickoff return might work.

Here's what they did: Just before the kickoff, receiver T.J. Graham lay down and hid in the end zone. His green jersey was supposed to blend in with the green paint in the end zone. so nobody would see him. He'd get up and the other returner, Percy Harvin, would pass it to him across the field. Get it? TCU did this fake play against Oklahoma for a big gain a few weeks ago.

But this is the Jets, and of course it turned out to be a total failure.

The Bills covered pretty quickly, so by the time Harvin was ready to spring the trick, they were all over him. They weren't fooled, and Harvin was tackled at the 3-yard line without ever throwing the ball. Of course he was.

On a day when the Jets had two different quarterbacks turn the ball over three times each in a 43-23 loss, it wasn't the team's worst play. It was just the ugliest, and the one we can laugh about for a while.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 26, 2014, 8:46 pm

Note to all you youngsters out there looking to follow in the footsteps of your NFL heroes: don't do this. Don't ever do this.

The Chicago Bears were on the wrong end of a 51-23 tail-whipping courtesy of the New England Patriots when defensive end Lamarr Houston scampered in and sacked backup Jimmy Garoppolo. Now, most players would be so humbled that they were part of a defense that gave up 38 first-half points, a dubious Chicago record, that they'd just go about the final minutes of their work.

Not Houston, though. He decided to celebrate his astonishing feat, and in so doing injured himself to an as-yet-undetermined degree. There is a fear the injury is serious.

Word on Bears DE Lamarr Houston is the team is fearing a season-ending knee injury. MRI tomorrow to confirm, prepared for bad news.

— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) October 26, 2014

It's reminiscent of a similar ill-advised play earlier this season by the Detroit Lions' Stephen Tulloch; that play put Tulloch out for the rest of the season. Here's a refresher:

Houston made headlines earlier this month when he told Chicago fans who couldn't offer their unconditional support to "eat dirt." He also signed a five-year, $35 million free-agent deal before the season. So, yeah ... not a lot of sympathy likely to come Houston's way.

We're all in favor of celebrations. Just, please ... celebrate responsibly.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

Follow @jaybusbee

And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.

Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 26, 2014, 8:18 pm

The Seattle Seahawks' season didn't exactly look over when the Carolina Panthers took a late lead, but the defending champs were looking down the barrel of a 3-4 record if they couldn't rally in the final minutes.

But, there's a reason the Seahawks are champions.

The Seahawks trailed 9-6 with 4:37 left when they took over at their own 20-yard line. The offense had done almost nothing against a Panthers defense that has a good reputation but hasn't played well in about a month. Everything had gone wrong for the Seahawks until that point. But quarterback Russell Wilson, who this week found himself in the middle of one of the Seahawks' growing list of controversies, brushed it all aside when Seattle needed it.

Wilson went 4-of-4 for 53 yards and 21 rushing yards on Seattle's game-winning drive, hitting tight end Luke Willson for a 23-yard touchdown with 47 seconds left and the Seahawks escaped with a 13-9 win. Bruce Irvin got two sacks on Carolina's last drive to seal the victory.

The Seahawks, who were on a two-game losing streak and dealing with a ton of negative stories since trading Percy Harvin on Oct. 17, weren't good before the final drive. The big play of the first three quarters was when Wilson's pass went through Marshawn Lynch's hands and was picked off in the end zone. In the fourth quarter of a tie game, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton escaped what seemed like a sure sack and safety by Michael Bennett. Later in that drive rookie Kelvin Benjamin's circus catch over All-Pro Seahawks defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas set up a go-ahead field goal with less than five minutes left. It wasn't hard to see the narratives that were starting to form at that point.

But Wilson (and Willson) saved the Seahawks. It was a methodical drive all the way down the field when the Seahawks absolutely needed it, pulling out a huge win that will help their title defense. 

Even with all the turmoil, the Seahawks are still champions for a reason. 

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 26, 2014, 8:07 pm

Rob Gronkowski went to the New England Patriots' locker room early in the third quarter with a bout of dehydration.

Too much eating, not enough drinking for Gronk.

Tom Brady hit Gronkowski three times for touchdowns — from 6, 2 and 46 yards — in a 51-23 Patriots blowout of the Chicago Bears. It got to the point where you could call out the ball going to him, but the Bears had zero answers to stopping him. 

This was a perfect storm: an emerging Gronk facing a Bears defense that had no one qualified to cover him, plus a dialed-in Brady with all day to throw.

The result was a nine-catch, 149-yard, three-score game that gives the Patriots some hope they can match blows with the Denver Broncos next week.

Early in the season, Gronkowski looked tentative and hesitant coming back from his torn ACL from last year. But with each passing game, and namely the past four games, Gronk has started to dominate. Sunday against the Bears was a great display of his improved quickness, his awesome stiff-arm power and his coverage-changing ability. 

And don't look now, but this Brady guy seems to have figured things out since his Monday meltdown against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4. Since then in four games, Brady is 101-for-145 passing (69.7 percent) for 1,268 yards, with 14 touchdowns and zero turnovers.

Not bad.

And now we have another Brady-Peyton Manning showcase? Tasty as ever.

But don't overlook the Gronkowski-Julius Thomas battle, either. Oh sure, Manning has a ton of targets he can throw to. But the Patriots saw just how tough Thomas was to cover last season. In the Patriots' win in Foxborough, Thomas was inactive; in the AFC title game in Denver, he caught a team-best eight passes on a team-best 11 targets for 85 yards, with several big catches in the second half including a huge 37-yard reception in the fourth quarter to help ice the game.

The Gronk factor had its affect on the two games, too. In the first one, a healthy Gronk caught seven passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. In the rematch, the Patriots had no X-factor in the receiving game with Gronkowski hurt. Brady had to force the ball on 29 of his 38 throws to Julian Edelman, Shane Vereen and Austin Collie (!).

Brady-Manning is always great. But having Gronk and Thomas healthy and available makes this one a little more special.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 26, 2014, 8:05 pm

Plenty of perks come your way when you're a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, one of them being endorsement offers for every product under the sun. And when your performance outstrips your paycheck and you're making about one-twentieth of what some of your peers make, well, some of those endorsement checks start to look pretty tasty.

You can understand, then, why the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson might jump at adding some endorsements to his portfolio. But you're (presumably) not tasked with making sure he wins football games. Seattle team execs are, and they want Wilson to "limit some of that exposure," according to a new report from ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

This latest "dissent in the Seattle locker room" story, which surfaced before the Seahawks' 13-9 victory against the Carolina Panthers, follows on the heels of the earlier "dissent in the Seattle locker room" story, in which some players allegedly claimed Wilson is "not black enough." This report seems to indicate that the locker room's problem with Wilson is not racially-based, but organizationally, with players upset at his closeness with management, and management upset with the number of commercials in which Wilson now appears. Even though the commercials were all filmed in the offseason, Seattle may be concerned about the possibility of "distraction," apparently.

Here's the report:

Of note, Wilson makes "only" about $660,000, or about half of what his backup, Tarvaris Jackson, makes. So yes, that might be at the heart of much of this as well.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 26, 2014, 7:11 pm

Sammy Watkins learned a big lesson on Sunday: You haven't scored in the NFL until you've crossed the goal line.

In a blooper clip that will be shown plenty for the rest of Watkins' career, the rookie Buffalo Bills receiver caught a pass and appeared to have a long touchdown against the New York Jets. Watkins certainly thought he had a touchdown. Inside the 20-yard line, Watkins slowed up and put up his right arm, pointing to the crowd in celebration. 

One problem. Big problem. Watkins was being chased down.

Watkins had the Jets' Saalim Hakim, a receiver who plays a few snaps of defense, in pursuit. Watkins never saw him. Hakim tackled the celebrating Watkins at the 5-yard line. How embarrassing.

The play didn't affect the Bills (though it did affect about a million fantasy teams) as Frank Summers scored on a touchdown run two plays later. Buffalo ended up routing the Jets, 43-23. 

Watkins somewhat redeemed himself later in the game with a 61-yard touchdown catch. He didn't slow down much on that one. 

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: October 26, 2014, 6:10 pm

Geno Smith attempted eight passes in the first 10 minutes of Sunday's game — three of those passes fell incomplete, two were completed to New York Jets, and three ended up in the hands of Buffalo Bills defenders.

That apparently was enough for Rex Ryan.

Smith was benched. Enter Michael Vick.

Even if Smith's second interception was the fault of newly acquired Percy Harvin, the intended target who most certainly could have run the wrong route, the Jets ran out of excuses to keep trotting Smith out there only to give the ball back. The Bills turned those three picks into a 14-0 lead.

There has been chatter for weeks about the tenuous status of Smith, who has thrown 10 interceptions and lost two fumbles in parts of eight games. Over his career, Smith has 37 turnovers in 24 games.

Is Vick the answer? Likely not.

The Jets' first drive with Vick at the helm went 13 plays, 76 yards and resulted in a touchdown. Vick completed 3-of-6 passes for 44 yards and ran twice for 16 more.

That was the good. The bad? Vick took four sacks, fumbled twice, threw an interception, averaged 4.3 yards per attempt and completed only half of his 36 passes in the Jets' 43-23 loss.

Ryan has a decision to make for Week 9 against the Kansas City Chiefs. The options are not appealing.

Shut it down pic.twitter.com/OrYFlU46rt

— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) October 26, 2014

Rex Ryan on who his QB will be next week in KC: "I have no idea. We'll look at that later."

— Bob Glauber (@BobGlauber) October 26, 2014

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: October 26, 2014, 5:46 pm

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