Posts by Jason Cole

Martin, Dolphins working toward offseason trade

Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin’s interview on NBC with Tony Dungy on Tuesday night is part of a progressive plan to help him return to the NFL, although not with the Miami Dolphins. Despite the fact the team recently hired Dennis Hickey as general manager, Martin is still not expected to return to the team.

Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin’s interview on NBC with Tony Dungy on Tuesday night is part of a progressive plan to help him return to the NFL, although not with the Miami Dolphins. Despite the fact the team recently hired Dennis Hickey as general manager, Martin is still not expected to return to the team.

At the same time, Martin has no plans to sue the team or seek any other action. Instead, Martin wants to work with the team so that he can be traded to a team with earnest interest in him. The Dolphins can’t trade Martin until after the beginning of the 2014 league year in March.

While Martin is not expected to get a lot in return for the Dolphins, two general managers said last week at the Senior Bowl that Martin would probably worth something.

“You can play the game with them a little that they’re probably going to have to cut him if they can’t trade him, but then he goes through waivers and you have to compete with other teams in that process. If you trade for him, you get him on a decent contract,” one general manager said.

More importantly, both GMs said that Martin has value because he is an offensive tackle and possesses rare physical traits.

“He’s not a great player, but there aren’t many people who can play the position. Unless something else comes out that we don’t know about, he’s going to be playing next season,” the GM said.

A report compiled by attorney Ted Wells about the incident between Martin and former teammate Richie Incognito is expected to be released after the Super Bowl.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 243 Words

NFLPA debating whether to use $2M option on cap

The NFL Players Association is debating whether to use a $2 million per team option to help increase the salary cap to more than $128 million in 2014 and end a string of four consecutive years in which the cap has been below its high-water mark in 2009 under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The NFL Players Association is debating whether to use a $2 million per team option to help increase the salary cap to more than $128 million in 2014 and end a string of four consecutive years in which the cap has been below its high-water mark in 2009 under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Spending on players has been below $128 million per team in 2009, the final year of the cap under the previous CBA. A new CBA was agreed upon in 2011 in which players took a significant decrease in compensation.
In addition, the union is hoping to reverse two years of uncomfortable negotiations aimed at boosting the cap and avoiding player unrest. The union has had to fend off a possible decrease in the cap from 2011 to 2012 and then get a $3 million increase from 2012 to 2013.
In 2012, the union agreed with owners to move the payment of certain benefits to later years of the CBA and move that money to salary compensation. In the process, the union also agreed with the owners not to bring any charges of collusion against the NFL for actions prior to the current CBA. That was despite the fact that owners have acknowledged that they made an agreement in 2010 among themselves not to spend more than $120 million per team in the uncapped year.
In 2013, the union also agreed to defer the payment of performance-based pay to all players, causing a negative reaction in the agent and player community.
This year, the salary cap is preliminarily expected to increase to $126.3 million, which would mark the fifth straight year that the cap was below the 2009 level, when current NFLPA Executive Director De Smith was elected. The good news for the union is that the projected increase of $3.3 million is considered a conservative estimate.
However, if the cap comes in at the current projection, the union could use the $2 million option to boost the cap to at least $128.3 million.
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah declined to say whether the union would use the option.
“The new economic model places an emphasis on cash spending to players not on cap, which is the highest it has ever been. Any report on what the salary cap will be next season is speculative because we will not know until mid-March. No decisions can be considered until then. Any reporting on the salary cap without the context or understanding of how the new system works is incom-plete,” Atallah wrote in an email.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed the option exists, but deferred any question about what the union would do to the union.
Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 376 Words

Ravens to hire Kubiak today

The Baltimore Ravens have hired former Houston coach Gary Kubiak to be their next offensive coordinator, replacing Jim Caldwell, according to multiple reports. Kubiak is expected to be joined by former Houston assistants Rick Dennison and Kyle Shanahan, although those hirings have not been finalized.

Kubiak was the head coach of the Texans

The Baltimore Ravens have hired former Houston coach Gary Kubiak to be their next offensive coordinator, replacing Jim Caldwell, according to multiple reports. Kubiak is expected to be joined by former Houston assistants Rick Dennison and Kyle Shanahan, although those hirings have not been finalized.

Kubiak was the head coach of the Texans for eight years and built one of the league’s most consistent offenses until the team was undermined by injury and inconsistent play this season. In particular, quarterback Matt Schaub had his worst season. Kubiak was fired with three games left in the season after Houston fell to 2-11. However, his teams were a combined 22-10 the previous two years before losing in the playoffs.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 68 Words

Report: Ravens trying to hire Kubiak, Shanahan

ESPN reported Monday morning that the Baltimore Ravens are trying to assemble an offensive coaching staff that would feature former Houston coach Gary Kubiak as the coordinator with Kyle Shanahan and Rick Dennison as his top assistants.

Shanahan was the offensive coordinator under Kubiak in Houston before going to Washington to work with

ESPN reported Monday morning that the Baltimore Ravens are trying to assemble an offensive coaching staff that would feature former Houston coach Gary Kubiak as the coordinator with Kyle Shanahan and Rick Dennison as his top assistants.

Shanahan was the offensive coordinator under Kubiak in Houston before going to Washington to work with his father. Dennison joined Kubiak in 2010 as Houston’s offensive line coach, but worked with Kubiak as both an assistant coach and as a teammate during more than 15 years together in Denver. Shanahan and Dennison also know each other well. Dennison worked under Mike Shanahan with the Broncos.

Prior to Monday, Ravens assistant coach Jim Hostler was considered the favorite to get the offensive coordinator job.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 69 Words

Goodell impressed by Pro Bowl

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had a favorable reaction to the new format and competitiveness of the annual Pro Bowl. In the game played on Sunday in Honolulu, Team Rice beat Team Sanders 22-21.

“You have to admit it was very competitive,” Goodell told ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning on Monday.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had a favorable reaction to the new format and competitiveness of the annual Pro Bowl. In the game played on Sunday in Honolulu, Team Rice beat Team Sanders 22-21.

“You have to admit it was very competitive,” Goodell told ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning on Monday. “Exciting. Fun. I think the players played much harder … I believe it was a very, very positive step. I salute the players.”

Over the weekend, NFL Players Association President Domonique Foxworth said Goodell came close to canceling the annual all-star game. Foxworth made suggestions to the format, such as changing the AFC vs. NFC format and turning the game into a draft to help amp the competitive-ness of the game.

The suggestions seem to have worked for now, but the NFL remains concerned about whether the game will be taken seriously by fans.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 101 Words

A storm is brewing

The star-studded class of the 2011 draft had to put off guaranteed money when the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed that year.

But three years later, when players such as Cam Newton, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Green and J.J. Watt have established themselves, don’t expect the top players from that draft to make

The star-studded class of the 2011 draft had to put off guaranteed money when the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed that year.

But three years later, when players such as Cam Newton, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Green and J.J. Watt have established themselves, don’t expect the top players from that draft to make serious money.

And maybe not for a while.

In a survey of 10 NFL general managers and/or salary cap specialists, all of them said they expect almost every player from the first round in 2011 to be tendered for a fifth year in their contract rather than sign a long-term extension this year. Simply put, a system that was advertised as a way to reward players who perform has instead turned into leverage against the players.

Or as one team executive put it: “Why wouldn’t you just put the option on them?”

In response, numerous agents said the system is clearly broken.

“The (NFL Players Association) sold the best players in the draft down the river,” one agent said. “And the worst part is they don’t understand the ripple effect. If star players like Newton, Peterson and Watt don’t get paid, how is anybody else supposed to get paid? You base the value of contracts on what the stars make and work your way down.”

According to data produced by the website Spotrac.com and confirmed by many executives, the fifth-year salaries for most players from the 2011 draft are expected to be so inexpensive that there is almost no reason for teams to want to renegotiate right now. In addition, those salaries aren’t guaranteed for anything more than injury until the beginning of the player’s fifth season, putting the team in almost no risk.

For instance, standout defensive ends Watt, Robert Quinn, Cameron Jordan and Muhammad Wilkerson project to have fifth-year salaries of only $5.25 million in 2015, according to Spotrac.com figures. While several executives said the number will probably be a little more than $6 million by the time new figures come in, the salary is still relatively small.

And not guaranteed. Beyond that, those players can be franchised in 2016, giving teams ample control of them through the 2016 season.

In the case of Watt, who is due to make just over $1.9 million this season, if his fifth-year option is $6 million and the franchise tag is $12 million for him in 2016, the Texans essentially have him under contract for three more years at only $20 million. On the open market, Watt might be worth double that.

“If I was Houston and had Watt or I was the Jets with Wilkerson, why do anything right now?” one executive said. “What’s the pressure on the team? Sure, if you get a good deal and you can buy out three or four more years, essentially buy his whole career, maybe.”

Thus, a player like Watt would be lucky to get $20 million guaranteed on a six-year, $60 million deal that would mean the first nine years of his career would be with Houston. Compare that to defensive ends Jared Allen (six-year deal for $73.2 million with $31 million guaranteed) or Mario Williams (six years, $96 million with $50 million guaranteed).

Even teams like Tennessee, Jacksonville and Minnesota, which took quarterbacks Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder, have little risk in putting a tender on those players.

Cam NewtonCam Newton took a big step forward in 2013, but it’s unlikely that he will be fairly compensated for his efforts.

To many people in the industry, that’s an indication of how lopsided the rules on paying rookies – and top rookies, at that – have become under the new CBA. In 2011, the owners recoiled at signing bonuses that reached upwards of $50 million for players such as 2010 No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford. Other players in the top 10 picks were regularly getting $25 million and $30 million guaranteed before playing a down in the NFL.

At the same time, the idea at the time was that players who prove themselves deserved to get paid sooner. Rookie contracts were reduced from a maximum of six years in the first round to only four (players drafted after the first round still only can get a four-year max contract). The catch is that NFL teams have the option to exercise a fifth season on first-round picks. This is the first year under the new system in which teams can exercise the option.

With the exception of a team such as Green Bay with injury-ravaged offensive lineman Derek Sherrod, just about every team is expected to exercise the option. Even Tampa Bay, which has disappointing 2011 first-rounders Adrian Clayborn and Gabe Carimi, is likely to exercise the options because the contracts aren’t guaranteed.

“You’d rather have control than not because there’s very little risk. What if Carimi comes in and plays really well? You have him under contract for $5 or $6 million in 2015. Do it. Same goes for Clayborn,” one source said.

Even flop quarterbacks such as Locker and Ponder could get the option, several GMs said.

“You’d probably have to alter the contract a little so that you could buy insurance for the season against an injury, but that’s not expensive. If you’re talking about a $13 or $14 million salary, the insurance is about $150,000 and you’d get the cap credit back,” an NFC executive said.

Even someone like Newton, who has performed better than Bradford to this point, is unlikely to get a contract commensurate with other quarterbacks. Bradford received a six-year, $78 million deal.

If Carolina wants, it can wait on Newton. Under the current system, Newton is due an option salary of $13.6 million according to Spotrac.com’s numbers and a $16.4 million franchise salary in 2016. Add that to his original four-year, $22 million contract and Newton will make roughly $52 million over his first six years.

And at a time when quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan and Tony Romo are getting in excess of $50 million over the first three years of their new contracts, Newton is due to make roughly $35 million over his next three years.

Or as one agent put it: “Think about that. As good as Newton is when you compare him to those guys, he has no leverage. This system was supposed to give guys leverage if they played well. It has failed. Absolutely failed.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonPhilCole

Read More 1029 Words

Ray Farmer pulls out of Dolphins GM search

Cleveland Assistant General Manager Ray Farmer has pulled out of the running for the Dolphins general manager job, according to CBS Sports reporter Jason LaCanfora. Farmer had been expected to get a second interview for the position.

Farmer pulling out leaves the Dolphins with in-house executive Brian Gaine, Tampa Bay’s Dennis Hickey, Omar

Cleveland Assistant General Manager Ray Farmer has pulled out of the running for the Dolphins general manager job, according to CBS Sports reporter Jason LaCanfora. Farmer had been expected to get a second interview for the position.

Farmer pulling out leaves the Dolphins with in-house executive Brian Gaine, Tampa Bay’s Dennis Hickey, Omar Khan of Pittsburgh and Lake Dawson of Tennessee as remaining candidates who have interviewed for the job.

However, candidates for the job have expressed concern about power structure within the front office, saying that owner Stephen Ross has been non-committal about the structure.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 47 Words

Goodell comments on Richard Sherman’s rant

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reacted to cornerback Richard Sherman’s postgame rant on Sunday during an interview with CBS This Morning, saying that he hoped Sherman would pre-sent himself in the “best possible way” and defending Sherman’s character.

“It’s an emotional game, and you see a young man who comes off the field and

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reacted to cornerback Richard Sherman’s postgame rant on Sunday during an interview with CBS This Morning, saying that he hoped Sherman would pre-sent himself in the “best possible way” and defending Sherman’s character.

“It’s an emotional game, and you see a young man who comes off the field and he’s pumped up, and there’s so much excitement in the stadium, but no, I’m not cheering for that because he’s a great young man, he’s extremely well spoken, does great things off the field, obviously a great play-er on the field. I want him to present himself in the best possible way, and make sure that he’s re-flecting on himself and his family in a positive way. He took away a little bit from the team. That was what he said yesterday. I thought that was a very interesting comment and I think it’s fair,” Goodell said.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 123 Words

Suh fired agent at Pro Bowl

Two agents currently in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl confirmed that Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is there to play in the game, has told them that he has fired agent Eugene Parker and is interviewing candidates to represent him. Suh is entering the final year of his deal and has a $12.5

Two agents currently in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl confirmed that Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is there to play in the game, has told them that he has fired agent Eugene Parker and is interviewing candidates to represent him. Suh is entering the final year of his deal and has a $12.5 million base salary. The Lions are expected to renegotiate with Suh on a new contract this off-season to both reduce his salary cap number and keep him with the team long-term.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 33 Words

Harbaugh says sideline collision unintentional

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday that the NFL has been in contact with the team about a collision between an assistant coach and Seattle cornerback Jeremy Lane on the sideline as Lane was covering a punt Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

Lane was knocked down on the play as it

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday that the NFL has been in contact with the team about a collision between an assistant coach and Seattle cornerback Jeremy Lane on the sideline as Lane was covering a punt Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

Lane was knocked down on the play as it appeared that the assistant coach, who Harbaugh would not identify, went to hit him. Harbaugh said the coach was merely trying to defend himself as someone ran toward him.

“I think there has been some contact there. (General Manager) Trent’s (Baalke) talked to them about that. I do have a perspective on that because I did see it. I was standing closer to the sideline than the person that got run into,” Harbaugh said. “I saw Jeremy deep into our box and I turned around. What I saw was our guy do the exact same thing. I was practically in his shoes because we both turned around and saw the same thing. And he did run into our guy and kind of stumbled down to the ground. But our guy was in a spot back where he was supposed to be. I saw it with my own two eyes. I saw the same kind of reaction. He made the same reaction that I did. So, it was bang-bang. I could be called for a witness on that because I saw it.”

The collision was reminiscent of a sideline incident in 2010 in which then-New York Jets assistant strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi tripped Miami coverage man Nolan Carroll. Alosi was eventually fined $25,000 and suspended for the rest of the season. The Jets were also fined $100,000.

Harbaugh said this situation was not the same as the Jets-Dolphins incident.

“Yeah, you don’t know which way to go other than just hold your ground and protect yourself. Which was his reaction. It would have been mine as well. But I think I would be welcomed to be called and say the same thing on the record,” Harbaugh said.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 295 Words

Oklahoma CB Aaron Colvin tears his ACL

Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin suffered a torn left ACL during the afternoon practice for the Senior Bowl, an injury that could impact his status in the upcoming draft. The April draft is particularly thin this year at cornerback.

Colvin was hurt during a one-on-one coverage drill. His availability for the season is now

Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin suffered a torn left ACL during the afternoon practice for the Senior Bowl, an injury that could impact his status in the upcoming draft. The April draft is particularly thin this year at cornerback.

Colvin was hurt during a one-on-one coverage drill. His availability for the season is now in question, although he could heal in time to play at least part of the year.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 18 Words

NFL GM: 2014 QB class not as good as some think

The 2014 draft may not be as heavy on quarterbacks at the top of the draft as many people have been projecting. According to three general managers who have a serious interest in what happens with the quarterbacks, passers such as Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel may not end up

The 2014 draft may not be as heavy on quarterbacks at the top of the draft as many people have been projecting. According to three general managers who have a serious interest in what happens with the quarterbacks, passers such as Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel may not end up going as quickly as many draftniks have suggested.

And the most damning analysis came Tuesday morning when one of them said: “This group is reminding me a lot of the first round in 2011, except there’s no Cam Newton.”

The 2011 NFL draft featured four quarterbacks being selected in the first round. Newton went No. 1 overall before Jake Locker went No. 8, Blaine Gabbert at 10 and Christian Ponder at 12. All three of those players have flopped after only three years in the league. Their teams (Minnesota, Tennessee and Jacksonville) are all looking to draft quarterbacks again this year.

In hindsight, all of the general managers questioned about this draft say that the group in 2011 is proof of the pratfalls of reaching for a player.

“A couple of things happened with that class that I think will make some teams hesitant this year,” one of them said. “First, the desperation to get somebody forced those guys up the board a lot higher. Second, the desperation also forced those team to play those guys before they were ready and before they had talent around them to make it easier.

“You look back at it and say, ‘Be more patient.’”

Will that happen in a league where finding a quarterback is paramount to success? The an-swer is probably not. Starting with Houston at No. 1 overall, Jacksonville at No. 3 and Cleveland at No. 5, there are plenty of teams in need.

Yet, there is some belief that the difference between the quarterbacks perceived to go at the top of the first round and the ones who are likely to be in the second or third round is so small that waiting is wise. Players such as A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, David Fales and James Garoppolo are expected to be in that group later in the draft.

“The difference between all those guys is about this much,” one of the GMs said, holding his forefinger and thumb about a half-inch apart. “If that’s how you see it, why not wait?”

Furthermore, Bortles, Bridgewater, Carr and Manziel each have their issues. There are con-cerns about Bortles’ accuracy, Bridgewater’s lack of size and quiet personality, Carr’s pocket pres-ence and Manziel’s personality.

Or as one GM put it: “I’m telling you right now, don’t be surprised if those guys start to fall. It’s just like last year at this time when we all thought Geno Smith was going No. 1 overall and then he dropped. I think there’s a real chance to see that.”

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 450 Words

NFL draft trade talk already starting at Senior Bowl

Although the NFL draft is still almost three months away and the NFL scouting combine isn’t for another month, several team executives said Monday and Tuesday that preliminary trade talk is al-ready being bandied about at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

In particular, there are several teams interested in moving back in

Although the NFL draft is still almost three months away and the NFL scouting combine isn’t for another month, several team executives said Monday and Tuesday that preliminary trade talk is al-ready being bandied about at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

In particular, there are several teams interested in moving back in the draft in hopes of obtaining extra picks in the second and third rounds. The reason is that because 102 underclassmen have entered the draft, this year’s draft is expected to be one of the deepest in many years.

“You’re going to see a lot of players who would normally be second-round picks end up in the third round. Same goes for the mid- to late-first round picks ending up in the second round,” one team executive said.
While this draft is expected to have a number of top-end stars available in the top 10, includ-ing defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina and quarterbacks Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, some teams may opt for depth in this draft.

“If you’re in a rebuilding mode, I think it would be really tempting to move back to pick up a couple of extra picks,” said another executive, who pointed to Jacksonville as a team that would fit that profile. The Jaguars have the No. 3 pick and are in need of a quarterback, but also have needs at numerous other spots.

St. Louis, which has the No. 2 overall pick from Washington via the Robert Griffin III trade in 2012, is also looking to move down. A Rams coach joked about the team taking Clowney at No. 2 and putting him on the field with fellow defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long, but then admitted that might be difficult.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 249 Words

Candidates still confused by Dolphins GM search

Two candidates for the Miami Dolphins general manager job said they remain confused about exactly how the power structure within the team will work after going through initial interviews. Despite a public statement from owner Stephen Ross that the new GM will report to him, the private view during interviews was not so clear,

Two candidates for the Miami Dolphins general manager job said they remain confused about exactly how the power structure within the team will work after going through initial interviews. Despite a public statement from owner Stephen Ross that the new GM will report to him, the private view during interviews was not so clear, the candidates said.

That has led to uneasiness among those candidates, who say that other candidates they have talked to expressed the same feeling.

“Maybe they’re waiting for the second interview to lay it all out, but they were completely non-committal about how it was going to work,” one candidate said Monday. “I honestly don’t know if you answer to the owner or to (Vice President of Football Administration) Dawn Aponte. It’s all really unclear.”

The Dolphins have identified current assistant GM Brian Gaine, Ray Farmer, Lake Dawson, Omar Khan, Brian Xanders, Jason Licht and Dennis Hickey as candidates who have been interviewed for the job. The search is currently on hold because Ross is traveling to London and China on business.

At the root of the question over structure is that Aponte has control of contract negotiations and, ultimately, the salary cap. Even if Aponte is considered on equal ground with the incoming GM and returning coach Joe Philbin, there is a perception of future problems.

“If you have three people all at the same level, you’re going to have one taking sides and that’s going to create problems,” said a candidate, who also perceived that that Aponte and Philbin are politically aligned. That problem came to light after the Dolphins and former General Manager Jeff Ireland cut ties.

It has been reported that late in the season Aponte overhead Ireland complaining about the coaching staff and then relayed those quotes to Philbin.

The bottom line is that, as of right now, the situation seems problematic.

“You just don’t know what you’re walking into at this point. If you’re going to take that job, you’re going to want some protection because if they fire Philbin after next season, they could bring in some experienced head coach or a guy from college and they’re going to want a lot of control,” a candidate said.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 345 Words

5 up, 5 down for Sunday

FOX sideline reporter Erin Andrews was one of millions of people in America who were probably frightened by Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman’s postgame outburst on Sunday night after the Seahawks beat San Francisco to advance to the Super Bowl.

But most people don’t understand how hot Sherman burns, particularly when his former Stanford

FOX sideline reporter Erin Andrews was one of millions of people in America who were probably frightened by Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman’s postgame outburst on Sunday night after the Seahawks beat San Francisco to advance to the Super Bowl.

But most people don’t understand how hot Sherman burns, particularly when his former Stanford coach, Jim Harbaugh, is standing on the opposite sideline.

After Sherman tipped the final pass of the game to create an interception that ended the 23-17 victory, he was approached by Andrews. During a full-on rant that channeled the best of Bart Scott, Sherman said he was the best cornerback in the game and called intended wide receiver Michael Crabtree “sorry.”

It was the kind of moment YouTube was created to store forever.

But all of that anger, which caused Andrews to end up speechless, is fueled by Harbaugh, the 49ers head coach. The story is simple. Prior to the 2011 draft, NFL personnel executives talked to Harbaugh and his Stanford staff. The reviews on Sherman weren’t good. In fact, they were brutal, dropping Sherman all the way to the fifth round.

To a man like Sherman, that’s like lighting a blow torch in a refinery. While most people will dismiss Sherman as a classless jerk who doesn’t know how to contain his emotions, well, yeah, that’s what he is.

But at least he’s completely honest about it. Sherman has talked trash to anybody and everybody, from Crabtree to Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. With two weeks to go before the Super Bowl, the only question is whether Sherman will get too tired talking to play well.

FIVE WINNERS

1. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning – While the debate over whether this game impacted his legacy is a little ridiculous, Manning did manage to put together a legacy game. His precision in completing 32 of 43 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns was one of the greatest performances of his playoff career and vaulted him into his third Super Bowl. Now, Manning will have to endure two weeks of wondering whether he can be considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game if he doesn’t win a second Super Bowl. Manning is either the best quarterback of all time or somewhere in the top six, depending on your opinion. Ultimately, the difference between Manning, John Elway, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Tom Brady and Dan Marino can only be measured with an atomic microscope.

2. Denver defensive tackle Terrance Knighton – In two playoff games, Knighton has been an absolute monster, mostly with his ability to stuff the run. Knighton did that in a big way in the first half against New England, helping stuff Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount. Blount had only six yards rushing on five carries in the first half. But in this game, Knighton got a rare big play in pass rush. Late in the fourth quarter with New England going for it on fourth-and-3, Knighton made Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins look absolutely silly on a shoulder move to the outside followed by a hard rush to the middle. Mankins completely whiffed on the play.

Peyton ManningThe last time we saw Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl, he was watching Drew Brees and the Saints hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

3. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson – It’s clear that as the Seahawks offense has struggled over the past month, Wilson has come to believe that he has to do more than necessary. That has led to some bad scrambling decisions. One of those led to an intentional grounding call that appeared to take Seattle out of a scoring situation. Instead, Wilson came up with one of the great fourth-down throws you’ll ever see for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was one of two huge plays that Wilson came up with to make up for his sometimes frenetic play.

4. San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman – After watching Colin Kaepernick struggle so much in his previous two starts in Seattle, Roman made an excellent adjustment to his plan of attack by instructing Kaepernick to run more often in this game off scrambling situations. The 49ers had been trying for most of the season to make Kaepernick more of a pocket passer. Knowing that Seattle likes to play man defense, that opened the door for Kaepernick to do things he is more comfortable doing. Along the way, Kaepernick played more decisively than ever in Seattle.

5. Seattle defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril – Bennett and Avril combined for 16.5 sacks this season after being relatively cheap free agent pickups by Seattle General Manager John Schneider. They punctuated their season with a terrific effort on Sunday, including a combo play on which Avril sacked and stripped the ball from Kaepernick and Bennett recovered the ball. That was the first of three turnovers by Kaepernick in the fourth quarter.

FIVE LOSERS

1. NFL officiating and replay rules – After a relatively clean game in the AFC Championship, the work of the NFC officiating crew, led by Gene Steratore, wasn’t particularly strong. That’s being kind. There were some ticky tack calls that shouldn’t have been made (a questionable holding call against Sherman), more definitive calls that should have been made quickly (the first grounding call against Wilson) and a missed call on a fumble by Seattle at the goal line. That call at the goal line, which couldn’t be reviewed because of a technicality, will lead to a rules change this offseason.

2. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick – This is a tough one because for the first three quarters of the contest, Kaepernick played a brilliant game. The 17 points the 49ers scored is more than they had in the previous two games with Kaepernick starting in Seattle. However, Kaepernick’s fourth-quarter performance was a nightmare of three turnovers, including two interceptions. The last interception was partly a great play by Sherman, but it’s a throw Kaepernick probably shouldn’t have made. All of that overwhelmed a tremendous early effort that included him rushing for more than 100 yards.

Colin KaepernickKaepernick put together a terrific performance…right up until the fourth quarter.

3. New England quarterback Tom Brady – Brady didn’t play poorly in this game, but he wasn’t sharp at critical moments. He missed a wide-open throw in the first quarter that he normally hits in his sleep. He missed another one later in the game that was slightly tougher, but no less important as the Patriots offense limped through this game. Really, much of this was all of the Patriots’ injuries coming home to roost at a critical time, but Brady was nonetheless off at a critical time.

4. New England cornerback Aqib Talib – Talib wasn’t so much a loser as he was really unlucky after being the target of a vicious pick hit by Denver wide receiver Wes Welker. That play essentially took Talib out of the game after such an incredible season and allowed Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to run free throughout the game. Thomas finished with seven catches for 134 yards and a touchdown after being contained effectively by Talib in the November matchup. This is the second year in a row Talib has been knocked out of the AFC Championship Game because of injury. He now heads to free agency desperately wanting to stay in New England.

5. New England offensive line – Aside from the aforementioned play by Knighton against Mankins, the entire Patriots offensive line had problems throughout the first three quarters, allowing New England to get behind early. The running game was nonexistent from the beginning of the game as the Patriots finished with only 64 yards rushing on 16 carries. As for the pass protection, left tackle Nate Solder also got toasted on another play as Brady was pressured early and often.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonPhilCole

Read More 1282 Words

NFL likely to look into 49ers sideline behavior

The NFL is expected to look into an incident along the 49ers sideline in the first half in which Seat-tle’s Jeremy Lane was hit after going out of bounds while covering a punt.

Lane was driven out of bounds and continued to run through the San Francisco team when a member of the

The NFL is expected to look into an incident along the 49ers sideline in the first half in which Seat-tle’s Jeremy Lane was hit after going out of bounds while covering a punt.

Lane was driven out of bounds and continued to run through the San Francisco team when a member of the 49ers team dressed in a warmup suit collided with Lane. The person on the 49ers sideline appeared to lean into Lane as they collided. The play was reminiscent of when members of the New York Jets, led by former strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi, interfered with Miami Dolphins coverage man Nolan Carroll.

Alosi was fined $25,000 by the NFL and was suspended for the remainder of the season. The Jets were eventually fined $100,000.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 77 Words

102 underclassmen to enter NFL draft

The NFL announced Sunday that 98 underclassmen have entered the draft, forgoing the final sea-son of their college career. In addition, another four players who are underclassmen in terms of eli-gibility are in the draft because they have already graduated. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is among those who has already graduated and fellow quarterbacks

The NFL announced Sunday that 98 underclassmen have entered the draft, forgoing the final sea-son of their college career. In addition, another four players who are underclassmen in terms of eli-gibility are in the draft because they have already graduated. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is among those who has already graduated and fellow quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are among the 98 who have declared early.

The total of 102 is the highest ever to declare for the draft, eclipsing the 73 who came out early last year. NFL personnel executives have said they expect half of the players selected in the first round to be underclassmen. Aside from Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles, players such as USC wide receiver Marqise Lee and Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandijo are expected to be first-round picks.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 79 Words

Report: Dolphins knew of Bess problems

The Miami Herald reported Sunday that the Dolphins were aware of personal problems involving wide receiver Davone Bess in March, approximately a month before trading him to Cleveland.

If so, the reputation of former Miami General Manager Jeff Ireland could take a serious hit in NFL personnel executive circles. It may also have

The Miami Herald reported Sunday that the Dolphins were aware of personal problems involving wide receiver Davone Bess in March, approximately a month before trading him to Cleveland.

If so, the reputation of former Miami General Manager Jeff Ireland could take a serious hit in NFL personnel executive circles. It may also have a lingering impact on the team’s reputation. Bess has been involved in two incidents over the past week, including battery on an officer at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport.

Bess also sent out a picture of himself standing naked over social media. That follows two other pictures sent of himself from the past four months in which he appeared to be using marijuana. However, the reports by The Herald indicate that Bess’ problems and possible links to marijuana go even further. In the March incident, Bess had to be restrained at his home and police indicated a strong smell of marijuana coming from the bedroom of his home.

Bess was eventually hospitalized for observation and his mother flew to South Florida to help her son.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 130 Words

Gase may wait another year to pursue HC job

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Saturday that Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase is likely to remain the offensive coordinator with the Broncos next season rather than pursue the Browns head coaching job.

Gase, 35, has been the offensive coordinator with Denver for only one season. He followed Mike McCoy, who took the San

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Saturday that Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase is likely to remain the offensive coordinator with the Broncos next season rather than pursue the Browns head coaching job.

Gase, 35, has been the offensive coordinator with Denver for only one season. He followed Mike McCoy, who took the San Diego head coaching position last season. While Gase is widely regarded as a strong head coaching candidate, he has refused to interview until after the Broncos have ended their playoff run.

Gase has also been counseled by several people around him to take his time and get to know more about running an entire team. Most of his experience has been limited to working with quar-terbacks.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 67 Words

Detroit still trying to hire KC’s Culley

Despite hiring Ron Prince as assistant head coach, Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell is still interested in hiring David Culley as offensive coordinator. The Lions made several moves Friday on the coaching staff, including officially hiring Prince and inking Teryl Austin as defensive coordinator.

The team is adding Dwaine Board as defensive line

Despite hiring Ron Prince as assistant head coach, Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell is still interested in hiring David Culley as offensive coordinator. The Lions made several moves Friday on the coaching staff, including officially hiring Prince and inking Teryl Austin as defensive coordinator.

The team is adding Dwaine Board as defensive line coach and is expected to hire Ray Hamilton to also work with the defensive line, which features the talented threesome of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 26 Words

Garoppolo gets final Senior Bowl QB spot

The Senior Bowl filled its last quarterback spot for next week by picking Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who will now get the rare chance to play in two all-star games.

Garoppolo is already in practice for the East-West Game in Florida and then will go to Mobile, Ala., after Alabama quarterback A.J.

The Senior Bowl filled its last quarterback spot for next week by picking Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who will now get the rare chance to play in two all-star games.

Garoppolo is already in practice for the East-West Game in Florida and then will go to Mobile, Ala., after Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron opted not to play in the Senior Bowl because of an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.

However, some people believe McCarron dropped out of the game because he did not want to test his arm against other quarterbacks who are believed to have stronger throwing ability.

One other player considered for the opportunity was Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, who is considered one of the best throwers in the country and is a former five-star recruit out of high school.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 83 Words

Winslow arrest details other odd behavior

According to a report from the East Hanover Police Department, New York Jets tight end Kellen Winslow was initially observed exposing himself and masturbating during a November incident in which synthetic marijuana was found in his car.

On Nov. 19, police responded to a call from a woman. She had parked next to

According to a report from the East Hanover Police Department, New York Jets tight end Kellen Winslow was initially observed exposing himself and masturbating during a November incident in which synthetic marijuana was found in his car.

On Nov. 19, police responded to a call from a woman. She had parked next to Winslow’s car. That’s when things got strange.

“As she exited her vehicle, she commented to the male regarding how cold it was. As she stood near the open driver side window of the Escalade, she observed the males [sic] erect penis. She stated that she believed he was masturbating. [The woman] provided a written statement regarding her account,” the report read via NJ.com.

Winslow was later charged with possession of the synthetic substance.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 81 Words

Cleveland WR Bess arrested for battery

Cleveland wide receiver Davone Bess was arrested early Friday morning on a charge of battery on an officer at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. This is the third incident involving Bess since the team put him on the reserve/non-football injury list last season. Bess has had two photos placed on social media that show

Cleveland wide receiver Davone Bess was arrested early Friday morning on a charge of battery on an officer at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. This is the third incident involving Bess since the team put him on the reserve/non-football injury list last season. Bess has had two photos placed on social media that show him apparently using marijuana. The team has said it is looking into the situations.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 18 Words

Gamble drops out of Tampa, Miami GM search

Philadelphia personnel man Tom Gamble has dropped out of consideration for the general manager jobs with both Tampa Bay and Miami. Gamble was considered the top candidate for the Dolphins job before the team began interviews. Gamble has a long-time relationship with Carl Peterson, who is advising Miami owner Stephen Ross in the search.

Philadelphia personnel man Tom Gamble has dropped out of consideration for the general manager jobs with both Tampa Bay and Miami. Gamble was considered the top candidate for the Dolphins job before the team began interviews. Gamble has a long-time relationship with Carl Peterson, who is advising Miami owner Stephen Ross in the search.

Gamble is in his second stint with the Eagles after starting his NFL career with the team 25 years ago. He was hired by Philadelphia less than a year ago. Gamble is the son of former Eagles President Harry Gamble, who has recently fallen ill.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 47 Words

Caldwell hired by Detroit

Detroit moved quickly Tuesday to hire Jim Caldwell as its next head coach after Ken Whisenhunt took the head coaching position with Tennessee on Monday. Caldwell, who is currently the Baltimore offensive coordinator, impressed the Lions with a thorough breakdown of quarterback Matt Stafford during his interview with the team, helped lead the Ravens

Detroit moved quickly Tuesday to hire Jim Caldwell as its next head coach after Ken Whisenhunt took the head coaching position with Tennessee on Monday. Caldwell, who is currently the Baltimore offensive coordinator, impressed the Lions with a thorough breakdown of quarterback Matt Stafford during his interview with the team, helped lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl title in 2012 and was the head coach in Indianapolis for three years.

Caldwell helped the Colts reach the Super Bowl in 2009. He has a lengthy offensive background, which was important to the Lions. Detroit’s top four candidates all were offensive coaches as assistants. Aside from Whisenhunt and Caldwell, the Lions talked extensively with former Ten-nessee coach Mike Munchak and former Houston coach Gary Kubiak.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 73 Words

Brees willing to help Saints, but contract is tough

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said he’s willing to do “whatever I can” to help the Saints deal with salary cap problems the team is facing this offseason, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

However, the Saints, who are projected to be at least $10 million over the salary cap for next season,

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said he’s willing to do “whatever I can” to help the Saints deal with salary cap problems the team is facing this offseason, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

However, the Saints, who are projected to be at least $10 million over the salary cap for next season, may be limited to how much they can do with Brees outside of an extension of his contract as they try to figure out how to get under the salary cap and keep top free agents Jimmy Graham and Malcolm Jenkins.

Brees counts for $18.4 million against the salary cap next season, including a $10.75 million base salary. However, his cap number increases to $26.4 million ($18.75 million base salary) in 2015 and then $27.4 million ($19.75 million base) in 2016. In other words, moving money from this year’s base salary to the next two seasons will only create a bigger problem in the following years.

The situation gives Brees tremendous leverage in the situation, particularly if the team asks him to do an extension of the contract. One issue worth watching in the deal is that Brees and Graham are represented by the same agency, CAA.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 146 Words

Saints appear to have monitored Graham’s TE/WR downs

It appears the New Orleans Saints carefully monitored the use of tight end Jimmy Graham in to prevent them from having to use the wide receiver franchise tag on him this offseason if the team is unable to work out a long-term deal.

But only during the regular season.

According to stats

It appears the New Orleans Saints carefully monitored the use of tight end Jimmy Graham in to prevent them from having to use the wide receiver franchise tag on him this offseason if the team is unable to work out a long-term deal.

But only during the regular season.

According to stats kept by Pro Football Focus, Graham lined up in the slot or at wide receiver 49.8 percent of the time during the regular season. The rule on the franchise tag states that a player must be tagged at the position which he plays the most.

However, during the playoffs, Graham lined up in the slot or split wide 69.6 percent of the time. That raised the overall percentage of time he played in the slot or at wide receiver to 52 percent in the 2013 season.
That could create a massive debate over whether Graham gets a tag of more than $10 million or one that’s closer to $6 million. In 2013, the franchise tag for wide receivers was $10.53 million. For tight ends, it was $6.06 million.

For the Saints, that would be a significant issue because the team is currently projected to be more than $10 million over the salary cap this offseason before making any moves. Aside from Graham, the team has safety Malcolm Jenkins up for free agency.

But Graham’s leverage on a long-term deal will be drastically impacted by his franchise tag. Graham’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, is expected to ask the Saints for a record contract for tight ends. However, the amount of the franchise tag could impact his demand.

The issue of play-time percentage for tight ends was a factor last year when Tennessee toyed with the idea of putting the tight end franchise tag on Jared Cook, who played more than half the time in the slot or split wide. Ultimately, the Titans backed off the idea and allowed Cook to be-come a free agent. He then signed with St. Louis.

In 2012, Graham played more than 65 percent of all downs in the slot or split wide. That was more than Cook.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 295 Words

Lions expected to bring back 2 or 3 candidates

After being unable to hire Ken Whisenhunt as head coach, the Detroit Lions are expected to bring two or three candidate back for final interviews in which they will meet with owner William Clay Ford Sr.

However, former Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell is considered the front-runner for the job, according to a source.

After being unable to hire Ken Whisenhunt as head coach, the Detroit Lions are expected to bring two or three candidate back for final interviews in which they will meet with owner William Clay Ford Sr.

However, former Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell is considered the front-runner for the job, according to a source. Caldwell, former Tennessee coach Mike Munchak and former Houston coach Gary Kubiak are among those who have interviewed for the job with the Lions putting an emphasis on offensive coaches. All four top candidates have offensive backgrounds. Caldwell has received strong recommendations from quarterback Peyton Manning and former boss Tony Dungy.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 53 Words

Report: Denver loses CB Harris with ACL injury

The Denver Post reported Monday that Broncos starting cornerback Chris Harris has a torn ACL in his knee and will miss the remainder of the playoffs. Harris was injured during the third quarter of Denver’s victory on Sunday against San Diego. He will now miss the AFC Championship Game against New England. Harris is

The Denver Post reported Monday that Broncos starting cornerback Chris Harris has a torn ACL in his knee and will miss the remainder of the playoffs. Harris was injured during the third quarter of Denver’s victory on Sunday against San Diego. He will now miss the AFC Championship Game against New England. Harris is the third significant defensive starter the Broncos have lost to injury this season, joining linebacker Von Miller and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. Safety Rahim Moore is also still nursing an injury that has kept him out of the lineup.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 44 Words

Gore lends a hand on Davis TD for 49ers

San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis credited running back Frank Gore with helping him get ready for his 1-yard, toe-tapping touchdown catch on Sunday in the playoff game at Carolina.

Davis said that earlier in the week during practice Gore came to him and threw him several passes to simulate the diving catch

San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis credited running back Frank Gore with helping him get ready for his 1-yard, toe-tapping touchdown catch on Sunday in the playoff game at Carolina.

Davis said that earlier in the week during practice Gore came to him and threw him several passes to simulate the diving catch along the side of the end zone, Gore telling Davis, “We’ve got to have this this week.”

The catch was Davis’ only one of the game and was initially called incomplete until it was reversed after review. As Davis came to the sideline, he thought about what Gore had said during the week.

“I had a flashback of Frank throwing me that ball,” Davis said. “And when I sat down on the bench, I was like, ‘My God, that’s the same exact catch that Frank was throwing me this past week.’”

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 106 Words

5 up, 5 down for Sunday

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn’t need to steal counterpart Cam Newton’s celebration to make the point that he really might be Superman.

But it was a pretty sweet move.

The real question is whether Kaepernick can pull off this effort on Sunday in Seattle in the NFC Championship Game,

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn’t need to steal counterpart Cam Newton’s celebration to make the point that he really might be Superman.

But it was a pretty sweet move.

The real question is whether Kaepernick can pull off this effort on Sunday in Seattle in the NFC Championship Game, where he and the 49ers have played more like a Ziggy than Clark Kent’s alter-ego. In San Francisco’s past two games in Seattle, the 49ers have lost by a combined score of 71-16. Worse, Kaepernick has looked far more confused than confident.

He has completed a combined 32 of 64 passes for 371 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. He has struggled to get through progressions in the deafening noise and against Seattle’s swarming defense.

Colin KaepernickKaepernick stuck it to Newton and the Panthers in Sunday’s Divisional Round victory.

But if there is a glimmer of hope for the 49ers and Kaepernick, it has been his ability to transform himself on the road in the playoffs. After coming up with the critical plays against Carolina and Newton, Kaepernick is now 3-0 on the road in the playoffs. That’s better than guys like Joe Montana and Steve Young. It’s also halfway to Joe Flacco’s NFL record six road wins among quarterbacks.

On Sunday, as Kaepernick’s defensive teammates were pilfering Newton’s mojo in a 23-10 victory, he was quietly brilliant against Carolina’s stellar defense, twice converting short-yardage touchdowns. The first was a 1-yard touchdown at the end of the first half to Vernon Davis. Moving to his right, Kaepernick threw a perfect dart to the right side of the end zone as Davis tapped his toes to get in for the score.

In the second half, Kaepernick converted a quarterback option play for a 4-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach. On the celebration, Kaepernick mocked Newton’s Superman celebration, essentially marking Carolina’s home field as his territory.

If Kaepernick can do that in Seattle, he might really deserve an S on his chest.

<strong>FIVE WINNERS

1. New England running back LeGarrette Blount – Blount is a reminder to Tampa Bay fans of why Greg Schiano is no longer their team’s coach. Given away for Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick, Blount has 48 carries for 355 yards and six touchdowns in his past two games dating to the season finale against Buffalo. Not bad for a guy who was a backup the first 15 games of the season and is headed into free agency. Blount is a powerhouse runner who is reminding people of his strong rookie season in 2010. However, what’s helping him most is he had only 153 carries in the regular season, making him look fresh (and unusually fast) now that he’s getting regular work.

2. San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis – Willis’ first-half interception against Newton was significant in a number of ways. First, his physical play in coverage against Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was an example of how the game is called differently in the postseason compared to the regular season. Second, it set the tone for a game where the 49ers consistently took advantage of every mistake made by Newton. On this play, Newton threw high and behind wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who tipped the ball toward Willis.

Marshawn LynchLynch has been unstoppable for a struggling Seattle offense.

3. Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch – Earlier this year, Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell said that Lynch was the closest runner in the league to him terms of style. That’s quite a statement since Campbell is probably the fiercest runner in the history of the game. Lynch once again proved why he’s worthy of such high praise with his 28 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday.

4. Seattle safety Earl Thomas – One of the top contenders for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award had another great game with 11 tackles, including a team-high-tying seven solo stops, and two passes defensed. The great thing about watching Thomas is what a great pure tackler he is. At a time when so many defensive backs go for the hit rather than the wrap, Thomas is a throwback to the way the game should be played.

5. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning – Manning didn’t have one of his typical games this season, completing 25 of 36 attempts for only 230 yards and two touchdowns. But his play-calling and manipulation of the San Diego defense was a thing of beauty. He baited San Diego into four offside penalties and continually got the Broncos into the right running play as they had 34 carries for 133 yards. He also converted two critical passes on the final drive as he has able to run out the clock, holding the ball for 35:27. His lone blemish was an interception off a deflected pass that should have been caught for a touchdown by wide receiver Eric Decker.

FIVE LOSERS

1. Indianapolis safety LaRon Landry – Landry was supposed to be one of the key acquisitions of the offseason for the Colts after they gave him a four-year, $24 million contract last winter. The deal included $11 million in the first year overall ($7 million signing bonus and $4 million base salary). On Saturday night, Landry played like a guy you might consider cutting this offseason. He was a non-factor in his best role as a run defender as New England simply overpowered Indy with the running game (46 carries, 234 yards). But one of the back-breaking plays was a 53-yard completion from Tom Brady to Danny Amendola on the play right after the Colts had closed to within 21-15 early in the third quarter. The play went over Landry, who was biting up against the run. The Patriots went on a 22-7 run the rest of the way to put the game away.

2. Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck – As dramatic as Luck’s performance was in the first-round of the playoffs, he continued his run of ugly interceptions in the postseason with four more on Saturday. He had seven in two postseason games and the first one on Saturday night was a throw that simply didn’t make a lot of sense.

Andrew LuckLuck will need to cut down on the turnovers prior to his next playoff berth.

3. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton – Some of Newton’s numbers from this game suggest that he had a good game, particularly his average of 10.7 yards per pass and 54 yards rushing. He also threw a beautiful touchdown pass to Steve Smith in the first half. However, Newton got sacked five times and had two interceptions, including a game-killer that finished any chance of a comeback. Newton’s first playoff game ended up being so empty that San Francisco counterpart Colin Kaepernick even stole his trademark Superman celebration in the second half.

4. San Diego’s offensive line – In a game where the Chargers should have been able to impose their will, the team’s front five came up decidedly short. The Chargers couldn’t handle Denver defensive tackle Terrance Knighton at all and allowed three sacks in the first half. Any semblance of the ball-control offense that allowed San Diego to hold the ball for 39 minutes in the last game at Denver was gone early in this game.

5. New Orleans wide receiver Lance Moore – After the Saints finally started to find some rhythm on offense in the second half, one of their toughest receivers picked the wrong time to play some pretty shoddy football. It started with Moore short-arming a pass over the middle and even throwing up only one arm in the process. Moore followed that up with an offensive pass interference call. Ultimately, New Orleans scored on the drive, but the performance was emblematic of a tepid effort by the Saints in a game where they needed to lay it on the line.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonPhilCole

Read More 1281 Words

Pollard Alliance chair reverses stance on Dolphins

After expressing initial concern about the power of the general manager position with the Miami Dolphins, Fritz Pollard Alliance Chairman John Wooten said Thursday night that he was “satisfied” with how the job had been explained to him by a Dolphins spokesman. As a result, Wooten said he would recommend that any minority candidates

After expressing initial concern about the power of the general manager position with the Miami Dolphins, Fritz Pollard Alliance Chairman John Wooten said Thursday night that he was “satisfied” with how the job had been explained to him by a Dolphins spokesman. As a result, Wooten said he would recommend that any minority candidates who were seeking guidance from the alliance take the interview with the Dolphins.

The Dolphins have been linked with minority candidates such as Lake Dawson, Marc Ross and Ray Farmer.

“When I listened to the comments from (owner) Stephen Ross on Wednesday, I was con-cerned that this would be a normal personnel position and wouldn’t have the power to perform the job the way a general manager should,” said Wooten, who earlier on Thursday said he would not recommend candidate take the interview.

“From what I have been told now, the position will have the full authority to do the job properly and I feel comfortable with what the Dolphins are putting in place,” Wooten said.

The Dolphins released a statement from Ross on Thursday night clarifying the power of the job. This came after Ross said Wednesday that he tried to keep previous GM Jeff Ireland by reducing Ireland’s power. Ross said he would conduct the search for the new general manager with the assistance of long-time friend and former Kansas City Chiefs President Carl Peterson.

“We will begin interviewing candidates for the General Manager position tomorrow. It will be a thorough process with the goal of bringing the best person to help us build a team that will be a consistent winner. Carl Peterson will serve as an advisor to me on this search. Carl and I have had a business relationship for almost 30 years dating back to the USFL and I have tremendous respect for his experience and judgment on team building and football operations. He will advise me on the search but he will not have a role with the Dolphins after the process is over.

“The new General Manager will have autonomous responsibility for the 53 man roster and selecting players during the draft and will report to me. First and foremost, this person must have a passion for the game and demonstrated player evaluation expertise. They will need to be a person who is a collaborative team player that puts the organization first. Regardless of reporting structure, the relationship between the General Manager and Coach Philbin must be one of trust, respect, and collaboration, and this will be an area we will look closely at during the process. This individual also must be a person with integrity who is open-minded and creative.

“Our media relations department will update you on the list of candidates when interviews are finalized. Once the process is complete, I will make the final decision on who to hire.

“Coach Philbin and his staff are continuing their offseason activities while conducting interviews for the offensive coordinator position. We are also working on our draft preparation, including our upcoming trip to the Senior Bowl as well as all of the other aspects of player evaluation and procurement. At the end of this process, we will be a stronger organization with people working together to build a championship team.”

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 504 Words

KC blocks Ballard from Bucs GM interview

As expected, Kansas City turned down Tampa Bay’s request to interview personnel executive Chris Ballard for the Buccaneers vacancy at general manager. The Chiefs did so because, technically, the job in Tampa Bay will not have full control of the roster and therefore is not a full promotion. With the move, the Bucs now

As expected, Kansas City turned down Tampa Bay’s request to interview personnel executive Chris Ballard for the Buccaneers vacancy at general manager. The Chiefs did so because, technically, the job in Tampa Bay will not have full control of the roster and therefore is not a full promotion. With the move, the Bucs now have Marc Ross of the New York Giants and Lionel Vital of Atlanta as their top candidates.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 22 Words

Washington hires Jay Gruden

Washington hired former Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to be the team’s next head coach, according to multiple reports. Gruden takes over for Mike Shanahan, who was fired after the season. Gruden interviewed for the position on Wednesday and the team quickly began negotiations on a contract.

Washington General Manager Bruce Allen worked

Washington hired former Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to be the team’s next head coach, according to multiple reports. Gruden takes over for Mike Shanahan, who was fired after the season. Gruden interviewed for the position on Wednesday and the team quickly began negotiations on a contract.

Washington General Manager Bruce Allen worked with Gruden’s brother Jon in both Oak-land and Tampa Bay.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 16 Words

Dolphins lining up OC, GM candidates

The Dolphins have begun lining up candidates for both their offensive coordinator and general man-ager positions. According to multiple reports, the Dolphins are interested in talking to former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, former Houston coach Gary Kubiak and Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo for the offensive coordinator spot.

As for the

The Dolphins have begun lining up candidates for both their offensive coordinator and general man-ager positions. According to multiple reports, the Dolphins are interested in talking to former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, former Houston coach Gary Kubiak and Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo for the offensive coordinator spot.

As for the general manager position, Miami has joined Tampa Bay in requesting permission to speak with New York Giants personnel man Marc Ross. The Dolphins are still considered very interested in speaking to Tom Gamble, who is considered the team’s top candidate.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 44 Words

Bucs request permission to interview Chris Ballard

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially asked the Kansas City Chiefs for permission to interview personnel man Chris Ballard for the Bucs opening at general manager. However, a source indicated that the Chiefs may turn down the request because of questions over whether Ballard will have full authority as a general manager.

When Tampa

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially asked the Kansas City Chiefs for permission to interview personnel man Chris Ballard for the Bucs opening at general manager. However, a source indicated that the Chiefs may turn down the request because of questions over whether Ballard will have full authority as a general manager.

When Tampa Bay recently hired coach Lovie Smith, he was giving authority over the 53-man roster. As a result, it’s unclear whether the job the Bucs are offering is technically a promotion.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 34 Words

Chiefs will try to extend QB Alex Smith in offseason

The Kansas City Chiefs will try to extend the contract of quarterback Alex Smith this offseason be-fore he begins the final year of his current deal, a source said Wednesday.

Smith led the Chiefs as they went from 2-14 in 2012 to an 11-5 record and playoff appearance this season. He has one

The Kansas City Chiefs will try to extend the contract of quarterback Alex Smith this offseason be-fore he begins the final year of his current deal, a source said Wednesday.

Smith led the Chiefs as they went from 2-14 in 2012 to an 11-5 record and playoff appearance this season. He has one year left on a three-year deal he signed in 2012. The final year is worth $7.5 million, all of that in base salary, making Smith vastly underpaid compared to other quarter-backs of his experience and ability.

For example, Jay Cutler signed a seven-year, $126.7 million contract last week with Chicago. That deal included $54 million guaranteed in the first three years.

Smith finished the season a quarterback rating of 89.1, the third best of his nine-year career. In addition, Smith has helped the Chiefs and San Francisco to a 30-9-1 record in his regular-season starts over the past three years. Those teams have made the playoffs each season, although Smith was replaced by Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco midway through last season.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 119 Words

Dolphins GM search could be dicey

As the Dolphins begin their search for a general manager to replace Jeff Ireland, one of the concerns voiced among executives from around the league is the relationship between coach Joe Philbin and vice president of football operations Dawn Aponte.

While the relationship is considered purely professional, it may be overly close after

As the Dolphins begin their search for a general manager to replace Jeff Ireland, one of the concerns voiced among executives from around the league is the relationship between coach Joe Philbin and vice president of football operations Dawn Aponte.

While the relationship is considered purely professional, it may be overly close after a story in The Miami Herald surfaced Wednesday that Aponte shared information expressed by Ireland about the performance of the coaching staff over the final two weeks of the season. Aponte, who negotiates contracts for the Dolphins and has become a trusted advisor to owner Stephen Ross, apparently overheard the remarks and then shared them with Philbin, causing a rift between the coach and the GM.

While Ireland was expected to be let go after five straight seasons without a winning record, other executives wonder how healthy the environment will be for the next general manager, particularly if the position doesn’t have the final authority to fire the coach.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 113 Words

Source: Ballard unlikely to move from KC to Tampa

Kansas City director of pro personnel Chris Ballard is not expected to be in the running for the Tampa Bay general manager position, according to a source. Ballard was considered a favorite for the job with the Buccaneers job last week after Tampa Bay hired Lovie Smith as head coach.

However, Smith’s control

Kansas City director of pro personnel Chris Ballard is not expected to be in the running for the Tampa Bay general manager position, according to a source. Ballard was considered a favorite for the job with the Buccaneers job last week after Tampa Bay hired Lovie Smith as head coach.

However, Smith’s control over personnel may leave the Chiefs with the ability to deny Ballard the chance to interview for the position. Technically, the job would not be considered a full general manager position, a source said.

Or as one source put it: “It would be the same job he has now.”

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 55 Words

Castillo to takeover as Baltimore OL coach

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said he will shift assistant coach Juan Castillo from running game coordinator to offensive line coach for next season, continuing changes in the coaching staff that have already included the firing of running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery.

“Juan will be the offensive line coach next year,” Harbaugh said Wednesday

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said he will shift assistant coach Juan Castillo from running game coordinator to offensive line coach for next season, continuing changes in the coaching staff that have already included the firing of running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery.

“Juan will be the offensive line coach next year,” Harbaugh said Wednesday in the Ravens post-season press conference. “The rest of it is in a little bit of flux.”

Harbaugh has consistently said that Castillo, who will take Andy Moeller’s job, is one of the best teachers in the NFL. However, Castillo was at the center of criticism this season for the regression in the Baltimore running game. Castillo joined the Ravens staff this season after being fired the previous season as the Eagles defensive coordinator. Castillo has been an offensive line coach before working with the defense.
Castillo and Harbaugh have known each other from having worked together in Philadelphia before Harbaugh joined the Ravens.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 111 Words

Baltimore might cut ties with Terrell Suggs

Baltimore General Manager Ozzie Newsome raised the possibility of linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs might not return to the Ravens next season because Suggs has a $12.4 million salary cap figure. Suggs’ contract includes a base salary of $7.8 million. Suggs, 31, has 94.5 sacks in his 11-year career and had 10 last season.

Baltimore General Manager Ozzie Newsome raised the possibility of linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs might not return to the Ravens next season because Suggs has a $12.4 million salary cap figure. Suggs’ contract includes a base salary of $7.8 million. Suggs, 31, has 94.5 sacks in his 11-year career and had 10 last season.

However, Suggs had only one sack over his final eight games. Suggs has talked about wanting a contract extension this offseason. However, Newsome said the team would have to make a decision that could include letting go of Suggs.

“That’s a decision we’ll talk about. Terrell is a real good football player,” Newsome said.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 59 Words

Tom Gamble top candidate for Dolphins GM job

Philadelphia director of player personnel Tom Gamble is the top candidate to replace former Miami General Manager Jeff Ireland, a source said Tuesday night. Gamble quickly emerged as the man owner Stephen Ross wants to get to run the organization after the team’s latest shakeup.

Gamble, who returned to the Eagles this offseason

Philadelphia director of player personnel Tom Gamble is the top candidate to replace former Miami General Manager Jeff Ireland, a source said Tuesday night. Gamble quickly emerged as the man owner Stephen Ross wants to get to run the organization after the team’s latest shakeup.

Gamble, who returned to the Eagles this offseason to run personnel under coach Chip Kelly and President Howie Roseman, could be had because he does not have control over personnel with the Eagles. However, Gamble has a long connection with the Eagles, having started his career in NFL scouting and personnel with the team in 1988. Gamble’s father Harry was the Eagles team president at one point.

The team is also expected to interview Green Bay senior personnel executive Alonzo High-smith for the post. The team also has interest in Green Bay director of pro personnel Eliot Wolf, who is the son of former long-time NFL personnel man Ron Wolf. Aside from Highsmith and Wolf, the team has shown interest in Omar Khan of Pittsburgh and former Kansas City and New England personnel man Scott Pioli.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 133 Words

Bucs G Carl Nicks might not play again

Two sources said in the past week that Tampa Bay guard Carl Nicks is still dealing with pain in his foot in the aftermath of dealing with surgery and then a recurring bout with MRSA. As a result, there is some doubt about whether Nicks will be able to play next season or ever

Two sources said in the past week that Tampa Bay guard Carl Nicks is still dealing with pain in his foot in the aftermath of dealing with surgery and then a recurring bout with MRSA. As a result, there is some doubt about whether Nicks will be able to play next season or ever again. That may lead to the Buccaneers cutting the former high-priced free agent acquisition this offseason.

Nicks signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract in 2012, but was hurt after seven games. He had surgery on his foot after that, then suffered an infection early in training camp. Nicks eventually played in two games before the infection returned.

Nicks is due a base salary of $7 million this season. With the change in coach to Lovie Smith, there is a chance that Nicks could be viewed as far more expendable.

“Carl is trying to deal with the pain and play again, but we’ll see if he can get through it,” one of the sources said.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 118 Words

DeSean Jackson wants new contract

Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who is coming off a career-best season, said Monday that he hopes the Eagles will renegotiate his contract and alluded to the fact that he doesn’t want to do anything “out of the ordinary” to get a new deal.

“I definitely feel it’s something deserving,” Jackson told CSNPhilly.com.

Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who is coming off a career-best season, said Monday that he hopes the Eagles will renegotiate his contract and alluded to the fact that he doesn’t want to do anything “out of the ordinary” to get a new deal.

“I definitely feel it’s something deserving,” Jackson told CSNPhilly.com. “We’ll see how that plays out, and hopefully we can work things out smoothly and not have to worry about anything out of the ordinary.”

Jackson finished the season with 82 receptions for 1,332 yards, both the bests for him. Jackson has three years remaining on a five-year deal he signed before the 2012 season. Jackson will earn $10.5 million in 2014, $10 million in 2015 and $8.5 million in 2016 under his current deal. He has earned $18 million in the first two years of the deal.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 93 Words

Pollard group pushes to ban “N” word in locker room

John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said his organization is continuing to push the NFL aggressively to get use of the “N” word out of games and perhaps out of the locker room as well.

“It shouldn’t be allowed in game, it shouldn’t be on the practice field and it

John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said his organization is continuing to push the NFL aggressively to get use of the “N” word out of games and perhaps out of the locker room as well.

“It shouldn’t be allowed in game, it shouldn’t be on the practice field and it shouldn’t be in the locker room,” said the 77-year-old Wooten, who is black and played offensive line for Washington and Cleveland. Wooten, a two-time Pro Bowler, eventually became a coach and then an executive in the league.

Members of the alliance met with Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league executives on Dec. 13 to push the idea and discuss several other topics. Wooten said he and other members of the alliance, which works primarily to promote minority coaches and executives, would like to see game officials penalize use of the word more aggressively with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said over the weekend that game officials already have the power to penalize players for abusive language under the description of the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Wooten said that use of the word has grown over the years as it has become part of cultural lexicon, particularly in rap music. He said that the one-game suspension of official Roy Ellison was an example of how use of the word has gotten out of control.

Ellison, who is also black, was suspended after Washington offensive tackle Trent Williams said Ellison talked to him with abusive language. While Wooten acknowledged Ellison’s mistake, he said Ellison was reacting to how Williams and Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox were talking to each other throughout the game.
When Ellison told them to stop using the “N” word toward each other, the conversation quickly degenerated, Wooten said. Williams has denied using the vulgarity, but Wooten said he believes Ellison’s version of the story.

Either way, Wooten and the alliance want what they consider vile language contained in a more aggressively.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 293 Words

KC’s Houston suffered only PCL strain to knee

Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston suffered only a strained PCL and bone bruise in his knee, dodging more significant damage, FOX Sports reported Sunday. Houston finished the regular season with 11 sacks in 11 games and added one Saturday night in a playoff loss at Indianapolis. Houston’s injury in that game was one of

Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston suffered only a strained PCL and bone bruise in his knee, dodging more significant damage, FOX Sports reported Sunday. Houston finished the regular season with 11 sacks in 11 games and added one Saturday night in a playoff loss at Indianapolis. Houston’s injury in that game was one of many that hurt the Chiefs’ chances of holding off the Colts in an eventual 45-44 loss.

Houston is expected to be ready for most or all of the offseason training program.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 35 Words

5 up, 5 down for the playoffs

In the aftermath of Indianapolis’ fourth comeback this season from a double-digit halftime deficit, which included the eighth game-winning drive of quarterback Andrew Luck’s two-year career, Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson was comparing Luck to Michael Jordan in an interview with NFL Network’s Albert Breer.

While that’s a tad apocryphal, there

In the aftermath of Indianapolis’ fourth comeback this season from a double-digit halftime deficit, which included the eighth game-winning drive of quarterback Andrew Luck’s two-year career, Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson was comparing Luck to Michael Jordan in an interview with NFL Network’s Albert Breer.

While that’s a tad apocryphal, there is no question that Luck is on the right path, particularly as he faces off against one of the great comeback masters of NFL history, New England’s Tom Brady on Saturday night in Foxboro, Mass. In two seasons, Luck has 11 fourth-quarter comebacks and eight game-winning drives.

Andrew LuckLuck already has 11 fourth-quarter comebacks in just two NFL seasons.

Brady, who is in his 14th season, has 42 comebacks and 31 game-winning drives. That includes two game-winning playoff drives during his historic 2001 season, when he took over as the starter and led the Patriots to the Super Bowl title.

All of which sets up a fantastic look at the once and future of NFL quarterbacking in the second round of the AFC playoffs. However, Luck has been doing this game-ending stuff for quite some time.

As a junior in high school, Luck was playing in a Texas seven-on-seven tournament with his teammates from Stratford High in Houston when they faced a squad from Lufkin High. On the Lufkin team was Dez Bryant, who was as unstoppable then as he is now.

Luck engineered a final, game-winning drive. Almost as important, Luck did it by eating up nearly five minutes of the clock. That’s absurd in seven-on-seven football and Luck did it with the kind of precision that left Lufkin with no chance to get the ball to Bryant for a miracle finish.

Stratford coach Eliot Allen, who was sitting in the stands and watching because high school coaches aren’t allowed to run seven-on-seven teams in Texas, shook his head as he watched Luck finish the drive. Allen turned to his assistant coaches and called the exhibition “brain surgery.”

On Saturday, Luck put on another show that was as much mind over matter. Luck and the Colts put themselves in yet another first-half hole. Luck contributed to that deficit with back-to-back interceptions in the first half and a third in the second half.

But as the saying goes, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. Luck kept throwing and, most importantly, did it aggressively. Despite Kansas City being able to pass rush with impunity, Luck found a way to hit deep passes of 64 yards to T.Y. Hilton (who finished with 13 catches for 224 yards) and 46 to Da’rick Rogers.

Those throws were critical to the Colts putting together one of the most stunning comebacks in playoff history. In just two years, this is becoming old hat for Luck. Then again, he’s been at it a lot longer than that.

FIVE WINNERS

1. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick – While Kaepernick didn’t replicate his record-setting rushing performance from a year ago against the Packers, he was still good enough that Green Bay will have more nightmares about him running around. His 28-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis in the fourth quarter was a brilliant throw and a great response after Green Bay took the league only moments before. Likewise, Kaepernick rushed for 98 yards on seven carries, setting up San Francisco’s first touchdown with a 42-yard run and then set up the game-winning field goal with a critical 11-yard run on third down for a first down.

Sean PaytonICONPayton and the Saints found a way to get it done on the road Saturday in Philadelphia.

2. New Orleans coach Sean Payton – In a season when his team has been fraught with doubt for its inability to win on the road, Payton was able to keep his team focused for its toughest road test of the season. Payton didn’t lose his cool after quarterback Drew Brees threw two first-half interceptions, sticking with the running game in the second half.

3. Old kickers – Between 38-year-old Phil Dawson and 36-year-old Shayne Graham, this was a brilliant weekend. Both hit game-winning field goals as time expired and went a combined seven for seven in brutally cold weather. Both also ended long careers of playoff futility. Dawson was playing in only the second playoff game of his career and hadn’t been in the playoffs since 2002. As for Graham, he has been on a four-season, 10-team odyssey that started with an ugly playoff performance in Cincinnati in January 2010. That’s the day that Graham missed field goals of 28 and 35 yards in a 24-14 loss to the New York Jets in the first round of the playoffs. After the game, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis sadly admitted that Graham’s performance “killed us.” While Lewis allowed that Graham felt worse about it than anyone, that didn’t stop the Bengals from letting go of Graham in the offseason, ending his seven-year run in Cincinnati. Since then, Graham hasn’t been with any team for longer than seven months. He landed in New Orleans three weeks ago after the team cut Garrett Hartley. On Saturday night, Graham hit four field goals, including two as time elapsed in both the game and first half. At 36, Graham might have earned a return to New Orleans next season.

4. Indianapolis running back Donald Brown – Like Graham, Brown hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since playing in three postseason games in the 2009 season. In both 2010 and 2012, Brown didn’t get any playing time in the playoffs and his inconsistent career was largely to blame. On Saturday, Brown played a vital role in the Colts comeback and continued what has been the best season of his career. He scored two touchdowns and had 102 yards combined rushing and receiving. His back-to-back scores in the third quarter got the Colts within two touchdowns. Moreover, Brown is doing this just as he’s heading into free agency.

5. San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt – One year removed from getting fired by Arizona, Whisenhunt has become the hottest name on the coaching front. He is on the short-list for Detroit and Tennessee and will be considered by Cleveland if the Browns don’t get Josh McDaniels. Whisenhunt’s work this season to get Philip Rivers back on track has made him a prime target for Detroit, which is trying to get Matt Stafford on the right track.

FIVE LOSERS

1. Kansas City coach Andy Reid – It’s hard to blame a coach who loses his best offensive player (Jamaal Charles) on the first drive and still manages to put up 44 points. However, Reid is going to take his lumps after a game in which he had a 28-point lead at half and called 23 passes and only 11 runs in the second half. Time management has never been an area of expertise for Reid, even when he has the lead. Not a good way to end such a glorious season for Reid and the Chiefs.

2. Running backs – After only one week of the playoffs, none of the top five leading rushers in the NFL this season remain in the playoffs. League leader LeSean McCoy was knocked out on Saturday night when Philadelphia lost to New Orleans. As mentioned, Charles, who led the AFC in rushing, was knocked out in the first quarter. Worse for Charles, the Chiefs were able to score quite easily without him. The trend for years is that running backs are less and less valuable. This year, the playoffs are merely further proof.

Andy DaltonAnother year, another postseason disaster for Andy Dalton.

3. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton – The postseason nightmare continues for Dalton, who had three turnovers in the second half for Cincinnati. While Dalton has led the Bengals to the playoffs all three years he has been in the league, he now has seven turnovers (six interceptions and one fumble on a play in which he wasn’t even hit) in three playoff games.

4. Philadelphia’s third-down offense – After converting two of its first four third-down situations, Philadelphia converted only one of eight the rest of the game. As a result, coach Chip Kelly’s electric offense was limited to only 256 yards of total offense. Ugly.

5. Green Bay backup cornerback Jarrett Bush – Bush doesn’t blitz a lot and it’s really hard to come down on a guy who doesn’t play much, but he made a huge technical error on a third-and-8 play in the fourth quarter, allowing Kaepernick to get away. The 11-yard run not only converted for a first down, but set up the game-winning field goal and put San Francisco in position to run out the clock.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonPhilCole

Read More 1422 Words

Report: Munchak fired by Tennessee

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Saturday afternoon that Tennessee coach Mike Munchak has been fired. Munchak, who has been with the Titans/Houston Oilers organization since he was drafted in the first round in 1982, met with team owner Tommie Smith and General Manager Ruston Webster on Friday. He has been head coach for three years,

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Saturday afternoon that Tennessee coach Mike Munchak has been fired. Munchak, who has been with the Titans/Houston Oilers organization since he was drafted in the first round in 1982, met with team owner Tommie Smith and General Manager Ruston Webster on Friday. He has been head coach for three years, leading the team to a 22-26 record.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 12 Words

Steelers interested in Ray Brown for OL job

The Pittsburgh Steelers have expressed interest in Carolina assistant offensive line coach Ray Brown to fill the vacancy created after the team fired offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. on Friday. For the time being, the Panthers have declined to let Brown interview, but are expected to let him talk to the Steelers about

The Pittsburgh Steelers have expressed interest in Carolina assistant offensive line coach Ray Brown to fill the vacancy created after the team fired offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. on Friday. For the time being, the Panthers have declined to let Brown interview, but are expected to let him talk to the Steelers about the job after the playoffs have concluded.

Brown spent 20 years in the NFL as a player and has spent the past seven years working his way up through the coaching ranks.

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 34 Words

Caldwell met with Stafford during Lions interview

Former Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell was the first person to interview for the Detroit coaching job on Friday. He met with not only General Manager Martin Mayhew and President Tom Lewand, but also with owner William Clay Ford Jr. and quarterback Matt Stafford.

The interview with Stafford included a breakdown of many of

Former Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell was the first person to interview for the Detroit coaching job on Friday. He met with not only General Manager Martin Mayhew and President Tom Lewand, but also with owner William Clay Ford Jr. and quarterback Matt Stafford.

The interview with Stafford included a breakdown of many of Stafford’s throws from the 2013 season and a series of drills that Caldwell would go through to help Stafford. Caldwell and Stafford also have a series of connections, including their friendship to former NFL quarterback Brad Johnson and with former coaches from Texas, where Stafford grew up and where Caldwell recruited when he was a college assistant.

A source called Caldwell’s interview, “very impressive.”

Follow me on Twitter @JasonPhilColehttp://www.twitter.com/jasonphilcole

Read More 71 Words