PHOTOS: One family’s 21 beer can salute, for Sean Taylor



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Marcus Forston draws attention

In what seems like a strong indication of how highly the Patriots' coaching staff viewed the Texans' defensive line talent, and how limiting them was crucial on Monday night, three d-linemen were named practice players of the week.

Rookies Jake Bequette (3rd round, Arkansas), Justin Francis (free agent, Rutgers) and Marcus Forston (free agent, Miami) were three of the four award winners. They were joined by running back Shane Vereen, who was a winner for the second week in a row (he must have nicely simulated Arian Foster).

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

Let's focus on Forston, who is on the practice squad, as he could be a candidate to fill the team's open spot on the 53-man roster.

The Patriots were a little thin on the interior in Monday's win over the Texans, with only Vince Wilfork, Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love dressing. If they are eyeing another layer of depth, Forston (6-3, 305) would be a natural candidate.

Earlier this year, Forston had been doubling up by playing offensive line on the scout team when the Patriots had a run of injuries, which was another reason he was recognized for his practice work.

Forston made the club out of training camp and has appeared in one regular-season game this season, logging eight snaps vs. the Ravens on Sept. 23. He was waived Sept. 26 and re-signed to the practice squad after clearing waivers.

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Man charged in theft of Reggie Wayne's Bentley

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - An additional charge has been added to a man arrested after Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne’s car went missing over the weekend.

Gunner Belcher is now charged with auto theft in addition to operating while intoxicated and operating with a BAC between .08 and .15, according to court documents.

Belcher was pulled over by police after Wayne discovered his Bentley had disappeared from the Westin hotel in Indianapolis.

WISH-TV originally reported that charges against Belcher had been dropped. His case was simply dropped in one court and re-filed in another.

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VIDEO: Jimmy Graham to make 'toon guest appearance in 'NFL Rush Zone'

New Orleans Saints stars Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham will appear in ‘toon form in Friday’s (Dec. 14) episode of Nicktoons’ “NFL Rush Zone: Season of the Guardians.” The episode airs locally at 8 p.m. It repeats at 6 a.m. Saturday (Dec. 15) on the NFL Network.

Rush Zone Clip 1 from Jessica Wilson on Vimeo.

Rush Zone Clip 2 from Jessica Wilson on Vimeo.

The network’s episode description:

In this episode, hometown hotshot Troy challenges Ish on the field and in the HOK when Ish learns that Troy has been selected as the next Guardian. But it's Troy who has to learn a lesson in humility, when he oversteps his new powers and ends up trapped in the Saints’ new Super-Secure Megacore vault with Drop Kick. Saints quarterback Drew Brees and tight end, Jimmy Graham, join the Guardians to battle a squad of Blitz Botz inside the Superdome.

The NFL Rush Zone site.

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Brandon McGee to play in East/West Shrine Game

CORAL GABLES — In the Year of the Freshman, at least one Miami senior will get a shot to impress the pro scouts this January.

Cornerback Brandon McGee, a Plantation product, was chosen to play in the 88th East/West Shrine Game. The game is Jan. 19 in St. Petersburg's Tropicana Park.

McGee will be the 44th Hurricane to play in the long-running all-star game designed to showcase talents in the lead up to the NFL Draft.

As the veteran of the Miami defense last season, McGee started the last 24 games of his college career. His 54 tackles last season ranked sixth on the team while his two interceptions tied for the team lead.

McGee graduated Thursday with his degree in sports administration and a minor in entrepreneurship.

As far as the NFL goes, McGee has a shot at being drafted.

His draft profile lists him as a potential seventh-round pick or a free-agent signee. Among cornerbacks, CBS ranks him 33rd nationally. On both and, he's listed as the 26th-best cornerback available.

And now, courtesy of UM media relations, the full list of Hurricanes who've played in the Shrine Game.

1976: Ernie Jones, DB 1977: Eddie Edwards, DE 1983: Mark Rush, RB; Mark Cooper, OL 1984: Jay Brophy, LB; Glenn Dennison, TE 1986: Kevin Fagan, DL 1987: Gregg Rakoczy, C 1989: Cleveland Gary, FB 1990: Bernard Clark, LB; Bobby Harden, DB; Greg Mark, DL 1991: Wesley Carroll, WR; Mike Sullivan, OL 1992: Leon Searcy, OL 1993: Ryan McNeil, CB; Darrin Smith, LB; Lamar Thomas, WR; Gino Torretta, QB 1994: Darren Krein, OLB; Kevin Patrick, DL; Dexter Seigler, CB 1995: Chris T. Jones, WR; CJ Richardson, SS/FS; Head Coach: Dennis Erickson 2000: Ty Wise, C; Michael Boireau, DL 2001: Al Blades, FS; James Jackson, RB; Andre King, WR 2002: Joaquin Gonzalez, OL 2003: Ken Dorsey, QB; Todd Sievers, K 2004: Jarrett Payton, RB 2005: Santonio Thomas, DL 2006: Rocky McIntosh, LB 2007: Tyrone Moss, RB; Baraka Atkins, DL 2010: Javarris James, RB; AJ Trump, OL 2011: Graig Cooper, RB 2012: Chase Ford, TE; LaRon Byrd, WR; Micanor Regis, DL; Tyler Horn, C 2013: Brandon McGee, DB

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Hall Call: Reggie Wayne

It took Reggie Wayne four years to arrive. For a while, it looked as though the Colts’ 2001 first-round pick might be a bust. He caught just 76 passes in his first two seasons combined, in part because in those years the Colts were throwing more to their backs and tight ends. But in 2004, Wayne emerged as the team’s home run threat with 12 touchdowns, and for five seasons he and Marvin Harrison made up the league’s most dangerous receiving duo.

When Harrison left the game prior to the 2009 season, many predicted Wayne would experience a drop-off in production; he didn’t. When Peyton Manning was forced to sit out the 2011 season with an injury, many said Wayne would not be the same player, but he held up fine. The slow-to-arrive wideout has put together very strong numbers for his career, and this season might be his best to date. Because he has been consistent for more than a decade now his biggest supporters are setting him up for a run at Canton. Here is his résumé stacks up …

Statistics: Counting this year, Wayne has eight 1,000-yard seasons and should reach the 13,000-yard mark this weekend. He is 44 catches shy of reaching 1,000; at present, there are only eight members in that club, although only one (Jerry Rice) is in the Hall of Fame. Wayne set a single-game best for receiving in 2012 with a 212-yard game against the Packers and could become the first player to reach 200 targets in a season (statisticians began tracking targets in 2006).

Success: Wayne has been a part of 10 winning seasons during his 12-year career. Credit Manning for that more than anyone else, but Wayne was certainly one of the Colts’ key players in that long run of success. Wayne’s 53-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of Super Bowl XLI helped swing the game back to Indianapolis, helping him and his teammates claim a ring.

Accolades: This is the area where Wayne’s candidacy is weakest, perhaps. He has been voted to five Pro Bowls (likely a sixth after this year) and has made the All-Pro team only once. He has led the league in receiving yards only once (2007), never in catches or touchdowns. Other than that, Wayne’s career lacks highlights. He’s been a steady producer, but someone lacking the big moments and seasons that help a Hall of Fame candidate stand out.
HOF comparison: John Stallworth

Both Stallworth and Wayne have had to live in the shadow of a more popular teammate (Lynn Swann for Stallworth, Harrison for Wayne) but arguments could be made that Stallworth and Wayne were the better all-around receivers. Stallworth also aged well, like Wayne; his finest year came in his 11th season (1984) when the Steelers legend set personal bests in catches (80), yards (1,395) and touchdowns (11).

Intangibles: One thing that will help Wayne’s candidacy is that his numbers have not dropped off much these past two years without Manning under center. His early critics credited Manning for much of Wayne’s success, but the fact the Wayne had 75 catches for a two-win team in 2011, and that he might set personal bests with a rookie quarterback this year suggests those critics were wrong. Wayne’s candidacy also might be helped by his durability — he hasn’t missed a start since entering the lineup full time in his third season — and his longevity. At 34 he has shown no signs of decline.

First-ballot candidate: No

HOF probability: 60 percent

Same as is true with quarterback, the requirements wide receivers must satisfy to enter Canton will change in the coming years. There is so much passing, and so many 80-catch wide receivers that the standards once used to separate the very good from the elite no longer apply. Even so, by the time Wayne becomes eligible, having 1,000 catches and more than 13,000 yards still will carry plenty of weight in the minds of voters.

Wayne is not a first-ballot candidate, and probably will need to be patient; in recent years players like Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed have been forced to wait, and all three probably had better careers than Wayne.

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Giants not sure how long Kenny Phillips will be out

Giants coach Tom Coughlin had the status of several injured players to update on Thursday and there wasn’t much good news for three of the team’s starters.

Ohm Youngmisuk of reports that Coughlin said safety Kenny Phillips did suffer a setback in the Week 13 loss to the Redskins. That was Phillips’ second week back from a sprained MCL and he played a limited number of snaps in that game after being listed as doubtful on the team’s final injury report because of the knee. He missed last week’s win over the Saints and Coughlin now says the team has no timetable for his return.

Phillips didn’t practice and he was joined on the sideline by cornerback Prince Amukamara. Amukamara hurt his hamstring against the Saints and Coughlin didn’t offer any thoughts about his outlook for the week. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw missed practice for the second straight day after adding a sprained knee to the neck and foot injuries that have bothered him all season. Coughlin said Wednesday that he wouldn’t predict Bradshaw’s status. He didn’t waver from that Thursday, although the language he chose isn’t particularly optimistic.

“We’ll see. Whatever the medical people tell us we’ll live with,” Coughlin said, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.

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Manning: Ed Reed still is best safety in football

Like Peyton Manning, Ravens safety Ed Reed isn’t getting any younger.

And despite his age, he is to be reckoned with. Reed, that is.

"I thought you said he was one of the best safeties, and I was going to correct you," Manning, 36, quarterback of the Denver Broncos who play at Baltimore on Sunday. "He is the best safety in the league and has been really for this past decade."

Reed, 34, is in his 11th season. Manning has rebounded from neck surgery that kept him out for all of 2011 and has led the Broncos (10-3) to an AFC West title by throwing for 30 touchdowns, just 10 interceptions and 3,812 yards.

Reed has played through torn cartilage in his shoulder as far back as Week 3. He has had trouble wrapping up runners to make tackles but he still makes can make plays.

In the first game of the season, Reed intercepted Andy Dalton and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown in that 44-13 rout. That return made him No. 1 in NFL history for return yards. Reed has 4 interceptions pushing him to 61 for his career. He also has 3 fumble recoveries, one at the goal line of a 9-6 win at the Kansas City Chiefs that kept the Ravens from losing their lead. 

"(He has) unbelievable ball skills, unbelievable range, great hands," said Manning, who has been intercepted 4 times by Reed. "You can tell what kind of athlete he is by what he’s done once he’s got the ball in his hands -- returning (turnovers) for touchdowns. (He’s a) smart player. The list goes on and on."
Manning has led the Broncos to an eight-game winning streak, last losing 31-21 to the New England Patriots in Week 5.

The way the Broncos are playing certainly looks familiar.

"It sort of looks like Indy over there to me," said Reed of the Colts with Manning who went 7-1 vs. Baltimore since 2002. "You see Peyton on the sideline, he’s coaching everybody. That’s no different from when he was in Indy. So, I don’t see too much of a difference. I really don’t."

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Santana Moss: 'I've Been Waiting For This Moment'

After a dozen years in the NFL, Redskins receiver Santana Moss still gets excited by winning football in the month of December.

Over Moss's eight seasons in Washington, the Redskins hold a 15-17 record in the game's final month, including a 2-0 record this season. 

Not surprisingly, the team's last winning December was in 2007, the last time that Redskins made the playoffs.

"It feels good," Moss told the media after Sunday's 31-28 overtime victory over the Ravens. "I’m out of body right now. I’m floating somewhere around here."

Moss was also floating around the field, finishing as the team's third-leading receiver with three receptions for 52 yards, including a 31-yard strike to open the game.

For Moss, this season has been a long time coming, but something he envisioned when he signed a three-year contract with the team before the 2011 season.
"I’ve been waiting for this moment, where we can beat this kind of team," he said.  "It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be here a couple of years ago when it was time for me to sign back.

"There’s nothing more important for me than to come out here and be part of something like this."

Moss is having a solid season statistically, tallying 32 receptions for 468 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns.  At his current pace, Moss will finish the year with 40 receptions for 576 yards and nine touchdowns.

Even if Moss falls short of these projections, his leadership in the final three games will provide a positive impact for the Redskins' playoff hunt. 

That leadership was on display in the final moments of Sunday's win, when Robert Griffin III left with a knee injury and was replaced by Kirk Cousins.

"I told them in the huddle when we got to the red zone, 'We are going to overtime, so just put that in your head,'" Moss said after the game.  "That mindset has to be there, that we are going to take it to overtime. Kirk came in and handled himself well."

Now one game over .500 for the first time since Week 1, the Redskins travel to Cleveland for their final AFC matchup of the regular season.

The Redskins have won four-straight, but are well aware that they need to close out the final three games strong if they intend to play in January.

"We have the opportunity and just need to do something with it," Moss said.  "If we can continue to play together, regardless of who is up and who is down, I think we can come up with the wins.

"I'm proud to be on the other side of the playoff conversation for a change."

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Ray Lewis back at practice for Ravens

The Ravens remain mum on whether Ray Lewis will play Sunday against the Denver Broncos, but the middle linebacker was present at the early portion of practice open to the media.

Lewis has not played since Week 6 against the Dallas Cowboys because of a torn right triceps injury. He practiced some last week but there was no sign of him during the early part of Wednesday's practice, fueling speculation that he may not be ready to return against the Broncos.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who has missed the past two weeks with an ankle injury, returned to practice on a limited basis. After missing yesterday's practice, defensive end/tackle Arthur Jones (shoulder) was back on the field today as well as a limited participant.

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Is Vince Wilfork A Hall of Famer?

At the age of 31, he’s carved out a career as one of the best big men in the NFL. He’s been to four Pro Bowls, voted a second-team All-Pro twice and been a Super Bowl winner. He’s also been a part of two other teams that have made it all the way to the big game. And in this -- his ninth season -- he’s continued to play a very high level, dominating along the line in a way that few defensive linemen can.

But is that resume enough to get Vince Wilfork to the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he retires? The one defensive constant for the Patriots since the days of their last Super Bowl title, Wilfork has been a rock in the middle for New England. Admittedly, his career isn’t over -- it’s not unrealistic to think that there will be at least one more trip to the Super Bowl, as well as another Pro Bowl berth or two -- but it’s not too early to start speculating about his chances for reaching Canton.

Since being taken 21st overall out of Miami in 2004, the 6-foot-2, 325-pounder has been a rock up front for New England, only missing six regular-season games since the beginning of 2005. This season, he has 46 tackles (32 solo), with a pair of sacks, two forced fumbles, four fumbles recovered and six passes defensed, and has been a big reason New England has spent most of the season in the top 10 when it comes to run defense. In addition, he’s played 730 of a possible 912 defensive snaps (according to Pro Football Focus), or 80 percent, a ridiculously high amount for any interior defensive lineman over the age of 30. That durability, as well as his versatility (he’s played just about every position along New England’s defensive front -- which has flipped between a four-man front and three-man front sporadically over the course of his career with the Patriots -- other than 4-3 defensive end) has made him an essential element to New England’s defensive game planning over the last nine seasons.

If we’re going to evaluate him as a possible Hall of Fame candidate, for our purposes, let’s first consider him as a defensive tackle. We won’t compare Wilfork to every other great defensive tackle who has a spot in the Hall -- the game has changed so dramatically over the years, the comparison wouldn’t be appropriate. But we can stack him up against some of the best of what the Hall calls the “modern era” defensive linemen. Of the 31 “modern era” defensive linemen who are in the Hall of Fame, 13 are pure defensive ends, a group that includes Lee Roy Selmon, Jack Youngblood, Deacon Jones and Howie Long. There are others -- like Dan Hampton and Reggie White -- who spent time at both spots.

The rest are mostly defensive tackles, but defensive tackles who have big sack totals, a group that includes Pittsburgh’s Joe Greene, Minnesota’s Alan Page and John Randle, Randy White of Dallas and Cortez Kennedy of Seattle. All of them were dominant when it came to rushing the passer. With the understanding that sack totals weren’t officially compiled prior to 1982, all of them did enough to be considered elite pass rushers: the fist four unofficially topped 100 sacks, while Kennedy, who played 11 seasons (1990-2000), finished with 58. While defensive end Michael Strahan, who was a defensive end, is a seemingly a lock as a finalist for the Hall this year, the only pure defensive tackle who is a finalist on this year’s ballot is Warren Sapp, who finished with 96.5 sacks over the course of his career, including four seasons of 10 or more sacks.

This is where Wilfork will likely suffer with Hall of Fame voters. The bottom line? The Hall likes big men, but doesn’t necessarily tend to reward big men in the middle who don’t pile up big sack numbers. Those who didn’t watch Wilfork over the course of his career will instead look at his statistical line and see a handful of sacks -- he had just the 15th of his career Monday night against Houston -- particularly when compared to some of the other defensive tackles of his era. Of course, Wilfork has played the majority of his career in a defense that didn’t call for a penetrating defensive tackle, but that won’t matter to voters who didn’t see him play on a regular basis and only look at his final numbers.

(To that end, his historical comparisons are odd. Pro Football Reference has Jerome Brown, Jumbo Elliott and Darnell Dockett listed as “similar players” -- defined by PFR as “players whose careers were similar in terms of quality and shape”. And while all three have or had carved out impressive careers for themselves, no one is talking about them as a possible Hall of Famer.)

Secondly, there’s Wilfork as a nose tackle. While he had played just about every spot on New England’s defensive front except defensive end in a four-man front  (the Patriots continue to use both a four-man front and a three-man front, and he’s played nose and defensive tackle in both schemes), he came into the league as a nose tackle, and that’s where he gained his greatest measure of success. However, as Robert Mays explains here, the Hall of Fame is even less inclined to induct a nose tackle than a defensive tackle who doesn’t pile up big sack numbers. Mays mentions Kris Jenkins and Casey Hampton as two nose tackles who maybe should receive consideration from the Hall for their impact when they become eligible -- supporters of Wilfork’s possible candidacy would be wise to see how voters treat those two. Locally, all you need to do is consider the case of Fred Smerlas, a five-time Pro Bowler with the Bills, Niners and Patriots who played from 1979 to 1992. He set an NFL record for most consecutive starts by a nose tackle on some very good Buffalo teams, and while he’s been a finalist, he’s never come close to getting the call.

(In fact, according to this story from Cold, Hard Football Facts, there’s only pure nose tackle in the Hall of Fame -- Bill Willis, who played for Cleveland from 1946-53.)

However, when we’re talking about nose tackles and the Hall of Fame, it’s clear that while the game has changed, those who vote have failed to pick up on the fact that defenses have evolved as well. The current incarnation of the 3-4 defense, which really came of age in the 1980s, demanded a world-class nose tackle if a team was to execute properly. You needed a big, space eater who could control the A gap and take on two blockers at once. New England went through a few of them, including veterans like Ted Washington and Keith Traylor, before Wilfork arrived. It was soon clear that Wilfork was that guy -- the Miami product quickly learned his job wasn’t going to be about penetrating and getting sacks, but occupying blockers and freeing things up for outside linebackers and defensive ends like Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest to get into the backfield and inside linebackers like Tedy Bruschi to shoot the gaps and pile up those tackles for loss.

To that point, it’s interesting that, with the evolution of the passing game, it’s clear now that Wilfork has now played in two distinct time frames. While 2004 wasn’t the ground-and-pound era, there was more emphasis on running the ball -- there were 19 backs that season who topped 1,000 yards. Now, with the proliferation of spread offenses, there’s a greater premium on the passing game. It would be a stretch to call them different eras, but Wilfork has managed to excel against the run and the pass, so much so that while many interior linemen are rotated out in favor of an extra defensive back or linebacker when it comes to sub defenses, he’s one of only a handful of interior linemen who can be counted on to be a three-down presence up front.

He certainly doesn’t fit the statistical mold of a Hall of Famer, but having watched Wilfork on a regular basis since he came into the league, I can tell you that so much of what Wilfork does is difficult to quantify. Occupying two and three blockers on a regular basis so that his teammates are freed up to make plays certainly isn’t as sexy as being able to pile up big sack numbers, but it’s something Wilfork does on a regular basis, and has done better than just about anyone in the league over the last nine seasons.

In the end, it appears that the biggest thing holding Wilfork and other great interior space eaters back from a call to the Hall is the outdated notion that those guys are only worthy of induction if they get after the quarterback. But just as the game has evolved and the responsibilities of the big guys has changed, the Hall of Fame voters need to alter their line of thinking when it comes to evaluating big guys like Wilfork. If that happens, they should start measuring him for a yellow blazer the second he calls it a career.

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Saints counting on Jonathan Vilma to bolster defense

Here's one potential side effect of former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's decision on Tuesday to vacate the bounty-related suspensions of Saints DE Will Smith and LB Jonathan Vilma: New Orleans might not make ignominious history on defense.

A year after setting the NFL offensive record for most yards in a season (7,474), the Saints are on pace to give up more yards than any NFL team ever, completing an improbable statistical about-face. The 1981 Baltimore Colts allowed an all-time high 6,793 yards while going 2-14. The 2012 Saints have yielded 5,680 yards through 13 games, a pace for 6,991 yards.

New Orleans has to hold teams to an average of 371 yards or fewer the rest of the way to avoid breaking the Colts' record. Without Smith and Vilma, that task would have been difficult.

Smith has started all 13 games, ranking second to Cameron Jordan among Saints' linemen with 51 tackles and five sacks. No other end on the roster has more than 17 tackles.

Vilma has made 25 tackles and started seven times at weakside linebacker since returning from a knee injury against Tampa Bay on Oct. 21. Coaches and teammates have credited him with stabilizing the defense with his leadership and ability to recognize offensive sets.

The difference has been noticeable despite the Saints' three-game slide. After giving up more than 400 yards in the first 10 games, the defense has yielded fewer than 400 in three straight, holding opponents to an average of 350.7 yards during that stretch.

“We are the same group that held San Francisco to 17 points [offensively],” first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said Monday. “That's a good offense. We went to Atlanta and certainly were very good on third down and [held them] under 300 yards. We didn't play well enough [against the Giants on Sunday, allowing 394 yards], but that just gives us a little more determination this week to regain that and go forward.”

The Saints are too far out of it to make a run at the playoffs with Vilma and Smith in the lineup for the final three games. All they can do is avoid a statistical embarrassment on defense.

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proCanes Players of Week 14

Offensive Player of the Week:

Reggie Wayne: proCane Colts WR Reggie Wayne caught six passes for 64 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's Week 14, 27-23 win over the Titans. Wayne was targeted 10 times on the afternoon and caught his touchdown pass from four yards out to get the Colts on the board in the first quarter. Wayne extended his NFL record 61 game streak of having 3 or more receptions.

Honorable Mention: Greg Olsen

Co-Defensive Players of Week:

Sam Shields: proCane Packers DB Sam Shields in his first game back from a high-ankle sprain that kept him out nearly two months regained his old spot by the second quarter. Shields returned with four tackles and an interception in Sunday's win over the Lions. Shields was targeted 5 times and only allowed one completion.

Antrel Rolle: proCane New York Giants DB Antrel Rolle recorded a fumble recovery and forced fumble on successive drives, adding in six tackles in a stout defensive performance. Through Week 14, Rolle ranks first on the team in solo tackles (61) and second on the team in total tackles (79).
Honorable Mention: Vince Wilfork DL New England Patriots finished the game with 4 tackles, 1 pass deflection, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss and numerous plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

Special Teams Player of the Week:

Travis Benjamin:
proCane Browns WR Travis Benjamin proved to provide the momentum the Browns needed to run away with their 30-7 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Benjamin turned in a record-setting punt return when he ran 93 yards for a touchdown to open the second quarter. It was Benjamin’s first NFL punt return for a TD which also earned him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Benjamin's touchdown was the first on a punt return for a Cleveland rookie since 1967, and the first for any returner not named Josh Cribbs since 2005. Adding the longest punt return in franchise history to his resume, the Belle Glade, Fla., native now has over 400 all-purpose yards in his first season, including 296 on punt and kick returns.

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Travis Benjamin is the AFC special teams player of the week

Everything’s coming up roses for the Browns all of a sudden.

They’ve won three straight games, the first time they’ve strung that many wins together since 2009, and one of their players has been recognized as the AFC special teams player of the week. Rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin took home the prize for the week on the back of his 93-yard punt return for a touchdown in the 30-7 rout of the Chiefs.

It was the longest punt return in Browns history and the longest punt return in the AFC this season. Benjamin, a fourth-round pick this year, has returned just three punts all year as it has largely been the domain of Josh Cribbs. Cribbs is a free agent after the season and he’s made no secret that he’d like to be playing a bigger role on offense than the Browns have been willing to give him.

If he does wind up heading elsewhere, it looks like Benjamin can be considered a strong candidate for the punt return job.

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Quantifying Vince Wilfork's impact

VinceWilforkOn Tuesday, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said it was difficult to use statistics to tell the story of Vince Wilfork’s value to the Patriots.

Between the work he does in freeing up space for linebackers, taking on blockers, stuffing the run, collapsing the pocket as a pass rusher, and providing standout leadership on defense, his value is hard to quantify, Patricia said.

ESPN Stats & Information took that as a challenge, comparing the performance of the Patriots defense when Wilfork is on the field to when he's off of it. The result are the numbers you see in the table to the right.

Patriots D with Wilfork on/off field

On field
Off field

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Warren Sapp wears missing Super Bowl ring to Tampa celebration

When Warren Sapp filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year, Buccaneers fans everywhere were enraged that their former favorite player had lost his Super Bowl ring from the 2002 season. We all got over it and forgot that Sapp lost such a prized possession until he showed up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 year Super Bowl reunion last Sunday - and his ring was miraculously found in time for the event. All in all, no one's really going to care about this for long. But it is an interesting footnote to a story that had some people scratching their heads a few months ago when Sapp reported the item missing - turns out the thing was in the couch with the remote the whole time. Isn't that just the darndest thing?

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Matt Bosher named teams man of year candidate

FLOWERY BRANCH — Punter Matt Bosher was named the Atlanta Falcons’ nominee for the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award on Tuesday.

Bosher, a two-year veteran with the Atlanta Falcons, is a 2010 graduate of the University of Miami with a degree in History.

“Receiving an award like this is truly humbling,” Bosher said in a statement. “I am very lucky and appreciate all the Atlanta Falcons organization has done to provide me with opportunities to give back to the community. Since my first day as an NFL player I have learned that I have the ability to make a difference.”

During the season, Bosher made five surprise visits to Gwinnett County Fire stations to thank service men and women for their hard work and dedication in the community in commemoration of September 11.

Along with fellow teammates, he signed autographs, took photographs and toured the different stations. He signed autographs and took photographs with fans at a Publix Super Market in Newnan, as part of the Falcons Tailgate team.

He attended the 4th Annual Atlanta Falcons Dazzle & Dine event, which honors five breast cancer survivors for their commitment to the fight against breast cancer.

Prior to dinner, the ladies were treated to special day at Jamison Shaw Hairdressers where they received hair, makeup and nail services. Bosher invited his mother, a breast-cancer survivor, and spoke to the group about his personal experience.

Bosher joined the entire roster along with team executives, front office staff and members of the Atlanta Falcons Women’s Association in this year’s Hometown Huddle event.

This year, the Falcons hosted Play 60 fitness visits at six United Way affiliated elementary schools in metro Atlanta, made an additional stop at a local Publix Super Market and the Atlanta Falcons Women’s Association prepared and served lunch to the homeless at Crossroads Community Ministries.

Bosher participated in the Atlanta Falcons First Down for Fitness event at Marbut Elementary Theme School in Lithonia, where he helped lead an Atlanta Falcons Gatorade Junior Training Camp and coached the children through the various football stations.

He signed autographs, took photographs and visited patients at the Shepherd Spinal Center, attended the annual Atlanta Falcons FootBowl tournament to benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at the 300 Bowling Alley and attended a VIP experience at Cirque Du Soleil in Atlantic Station where he interacted with the performers and promoted upcoming performances.

And, finally, Bosher hosted and purchased a catered Thanksgiving meal, alongside teammates Matt Bryant and Josh Harris, for 250 women and children at the Atlanta Mission.

Bosher has participated in all 13 games this season with 48 punts for 2,275 yards with a 47.4 average.

Since 1970, the NFL has awarded the Walter Payton NFL Man of the year Award to recognize a player’s off-the-field community service as well as his playing excellence. Each club is responsible for selecting their own nominee while the 2011 national Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year winner will be selected by a blue ribbon panel and recognized on field before kickoff of the Super Bowl.

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Vince Wilfork Deserves Defensive Player of Year Consideration Even If Stats Can’t Measure Impact

When deciding who should be the NFL’s MVP each year, most experts look at statistics for most of their analysis. Yards, touchdowns, tackles, sacks and turnovers are all integral pieces of the puzzle. But not all players can be judged strictly off what shows up on the stat sheet. Some positions are more difficult than others to judge when it comes to success or impact, but none may be more difficult to size up than the players down in the trenches.

That’s exactly where you’ll find Vince Wilfork on just about every down each week. Wilfork has been an integral piece of the Patriots’ defensive success for nine seasons now, yet his impact can’t exactly be broken down into totals and averages. His value goes far deeper than any set of numbers could ever show — well, any number but one. “Obviously, the biggest stat we’re concerned with is winning. I think you can definitely say that Vince helps us win every week,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said.

“That’s really what we’re trying to do, and that’s what we’re trying to work for as a defense: to get better.” Since Bill Belichick drafted Wilfork at No. 21 overall — if you can believe he fell that far — in 2004, the Patriots have been nearly unbeatable. As of Week 14 of this season, New England has won 110 of its 141 games in the nine seasons since selecting Wilfork. That staggering number means that, with Wilfork on the roster, the Patriots win better than 78 percent of the time, and the big lineman has had more than just some small part of that record.

The Patriots clinched their 10th consecutive 10-win season Monday night. In nine of those seasons, Wilfork has had a central role. This season has been no different, as was evidenced by Wilfork’s massive role in Monday’s 42-14 romp over the AFC-leading Texans. This season, even more than any other, has been Wilfork’s masterpiece. He has been a monster on the interior, completely dominating opposing offensive linemen week after week.

Even more importantly, his consistent, steadying presence along the line has helped the Patriots improve from one of the worst defenses in football at season’s start to a well-respected and even feared group heading into the home stretch. So, while guys like J.J. Watt, Aldon Smith and even the Bengals’ Geno Atkins are all deserving of their place in the defensive player of the year conversation, Wilfork belongs there, too. His dominance may not be quantified in stats quite like the others’ are, but Wilfork’s had just as much, if not more, of an impact on the Patriots as any other player in football. Give the man his due!


Peyton Manning praises Ed Reed, Ray Lewis of Ravens defense

The record says Peyton Manning knows how to beat the Baltimore Ravens. Still, it's clear the Broncos quarterback holds the Ravens defense in high regard.
Wednesday afternoon, Manning called Ed Reed the best safety of the last decade, praised the passion and intensity of linebacker Ray Lewis and said the Broncos face a major chore Sunday in Baltimore.

"They are an extremely tough team to play at home," Manning said. "They have had some injuries, like all teams do, but I know they have that next-man-up mentality. Defensively, they create a lot of turnovers and are extremely tough to score touchdowns against once you get in the red zone."

The Broncos are 0-5 against the Ravens in Baltimore, but Manning is 8-2 against the Ravens in his career and 4-2 in the six times he has faced the Ravens in Baltimore, including 1-0 in playoff games.

Regarding Reed, Manning said: "Ed Reed, in my opinion, is the best safety in the NFL and has been for this past decade. I could go on and on. He's got tremendous ball skills, tremendous range and (he is) a tremendous athlete."

Lewis, the longtime inspirational leader of the Ravens' defense, remains on the injured reserve-designated to return list with a surgically repaired right triceps. Lewis' status for Sunday's game remains a question mark.

"Ray's a tremendous player with a tremendous passion and that has not changed a bit since I first played against him in 1998," Manning said. "That's pretty impressive for a guy in his 17th year."

The Broncos are in pursuit of the AFC's No. 2 seed in the playoffs, but Manning said the Broncos (10-3) are not making too much of Sunday's game against the Ravens (9-4).

"It's the next game," he said. "I think we have done a good job of placing importance on every team we have played. We have focused on the moment. Certainly, Baltimore is a very easy team to grab your attention, especially when you are playing there."

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Kenard Lang steps down at Jones to take Wekiva head coaching job

Kenard Lang resigned as Jones High’s head football coach Tuesday to take over the vacant Wekiva High head-coaching position.

Lang said on Wednesday that he was offered and had accepted the Wekiva job.

“It’s an opportunity to do something else, to do something different,” Lang said. “I enjoyed it [at Jones]. I love it here. The people are great, the kids are great, there’s phenomenal community support. I just was looking for a little change.”

Lang, 37, said that he has already begun his tenure at Wekiva.

“It’s a larger program and I want to build it, make it successful,” Lang said. “It has great community support with its ties around the area in Apopka and on borderline of Pine Hills.”

An Evans graduate who played in the NFL from 1997-06, Lang took over at Jones in 2008. The Tigers had fallen on hard times prior to Lang’s arrival,  including going 1-9 in 2007.  

Lang accumulated a 30-25 record in five seasons at Jones,  guiding the Tigers to four playoff appearances. Jones went 7-5 this past season, falling to Cocoa in the Class 4A regional finals.

Wekiva, part of the Class 8A classification, went 1-9 this past season. The Mustangs were previously led by Ty Parker, who went 18-43 in six seasons at the school.

Lang also cited Wekiva principal Elise Gruber as a reason for taking the wekiva job.

"Kenard is a perfect fit for Wekiva," Gruber said. "Not only does he have experience with our community, being raised in it, he also has a diverse background. He brings a lot of experience to the program. I was impressed with his integrity and personality and his ability to connect with athletes. And he has a pretty good record since 2008. We’re looking forward to him doing the same thing at Wekiva."

Gruber said Lang will begin meeting players on Friday. 

Lang will remain on Jones’ faculty until the end of the semester before joining Wekiva’s staff. 

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Jon Vilma moves forward in defamation case v. Goodell

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Jonathan Vilma has asked a federal judge to allow him to move forward with his defamation case against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

In a motion filed Wednesday, Vilma drops his case against the NFL's disciplinary process, now that his suspension has been lifted. However, he continues to pursue damages from Goodell for harm he alleges was done to his reputation by the NFL's bounty probe of the New Orleans Saints.

In an NFL appeal ruling Tuesday, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue threw out suspensions for Vilma and three other current and former Saints in connection with the bounty investigation. Tagliabue said the punishment was too heavy-handed, even though he affirmed much of the probe's findings that the Saints, including Vilma, had an improper cash-for-hits program and tried to cover it up.

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Antrel Rolle may play cornerback for Prince Amukamara

Antrel Rolle could have another new job come Sunday.

The safety who has become the Giants' nickelback in the slot in recent weeks might be asked to become a dedicated cornerback if Prince Amukamara is unable to play against the Falcons. Amukamara suffered a hamstring strain late in the Saints win and did not practice Wednesday. When asked if Rolle might be a candidate to take over that job in Amukamara's absence, Tom Coughlin smiled.

"Maybe," he said.

Rolle was a first-round pick of the Cardinals as a cornerback, so he has experience. Against the Falcons' wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, plus tight end Tony Gonzalez, the Giants will need all of the defensive backs they can get. The Giants are thin at safety with Kenny Phillips (knee) and Tyler Sash (hamstring) not practicing Wednesday, but Will Hill and the return of athletic linebacker Jacquian Williams could free Rolle up to play some corner.

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Jonathan Vilma will not challenge Paul Tagliabue's decision

Jonathan Vilma has asked a federal judge to allow him to move forward with his defamation case against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

In a motion filed Wednesday, Vilma drops his case against the NFL's disciplinary process, now that his suspension has been lifted. Vilma does not intend to challenge Commissioner Tagliabue's decision to vacate all proposed discipline. However, he continues to pursue damages from Goodell for harm he alleges was done to his reputation by the NFL's bounty probe of the New Orleans Saints.

Vilma's lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, told's Albert Breer on Tuesday that Vilma still intended to pursue his defamation suit.

"Jonathan intends to continue to pursue the defamation lawsuit in order to reclaim his reputation," Ginsberg said. "We're pleased that the unjust penalties have been overturned, but this is only one piece in remedying the situation for Jonathan."

In an NFL appeal ruling Tuesday, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue threw out suspensions for Vilma and three other current and former Saints in connection with the bounty investigation. Tagliabue said the punishment was too heavy-handed, even though he affirmed much of the probe's findings that the Saints, including Vilma, had an improper cash-for-hits program and tried to cover it up.

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Sam Shields finds his groove in first game back

In his first game back from a high-ankle sprain that kept him out nearly two months, CB Sam Shields had regained his old spot by the second quarter. After a couple of early mistakes by replacement starter Davon House, who'd been playing well for the most part over the span, Shields was back on the outside in his No. 2 cornerback position, where he'd started the first five games for the Packers.

His return to the field couldn't have gone much better. Shields had one of the Packers' two key defensive takeaways in their 27-20 win over the Lions, athletically appearing out of nowhere to intercept Detroit QB Matthew Stafford deep in Green Bay territory in the second quarter. His return on the pick was impressive, too, as he brought the ball back 32 yards, showing off his speed.

“Sam played well. It was great to have him out there,” coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “You know Sam can run, but you really appreciate what he does, in particular on big plays, whether it's chasing down a reverse or, obviously, the interception was a big play for us.

“It was great to have him back and his presence on special teams. He's just an ascending young player that gets better with every opportunity.”

With Shields back, the Packers had a glut of young cornerbacks that rendered the Lions' injury-depleted receiving corps toothless. Besides colossal All-Pro Calvin Johnson, who caught 10 passes for 118 yards, only one other receiver (Kris Durham) had a reception.

Shields' partner in the secondary, CB Tramon Williams, who covered Johnson, was glad to have his sidekick back.

“Sam showed what he can do (Sunday) and showed what he can bring to this team,” Williams said. “I hope he continues playing like he did.”

The Packers hope to get veteran DB Charles Woodson back this week against the Bears. Woodson has been out with a broken collarbone since Week 7. Before his injury, he was playing safety in the base defense and slot cornerback in the oft-used nickel package.

With Woodson in the fold, the Packers would have five capable cornerbacks -- Williams, Shields, House, Woodson and rookie Casey Hayward (five interceptions) -- available in passing situations. It may not be an embarrassment of riches, but it's an abundance of competent cornerbacks in time for the playoff push.

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VIDEO: Michael Irvin's NFL Hall of Fame Speech

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Ginsberg: Jonathan Vilma pursuing defamation lawsuit

Jonathan Vilma's season-long suspension was vacated Tuesday, but the New Orleans Saints linebacker still intends to fight for his good name.'s Albert Breer reported Tuesday that Vilma's lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, said the linebacker won't let go of the defamation lawsuit he filed in May against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"Jonathan intends to continue to pursue the defamation lawsuit in order to reclaim his reputation," Ginsberg told Breer. "We're pleased that the unjust penalties have been overturned, but this is only one piece in remedying the situation for Jonathan."

That won't be an easy fight after Paul Tagliabue vacated punishments for Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove on Tuesday. The former NFL Commissioner dropped the suspensions but backed the findings of Goodell's investigation. Gabe Feldman, Director of Sports Law at Tulane, told NFL Network on Tuesday that Tagliabue's ruling makes Vilma's suit challenging.

"That was a difficult to begin with because of the very high standard if you're a public figure," Feldman said. "You have to prove actual malice. By Paul Tagliabue saying that he did find that Jonathan Vilma engaged in the conduct that was alleged by the Commissioner, it's going to be very hard for a judge to say that there was actual malice here, that the Commissioner lied about this and basically fabricated it. It doesn't eliminate the case, but it just makes the case a very difficult one."

The tangled saga of the "bounty" scandal is fading away, but not for Vilma. His fight wages on. The player's official statement, prepared by Ginsberg and obtained by Breer, spoke of a fight not yet over:

"Two competing forces have been at play since at least March of this year. Roger Goodell has been trying every conceivable maneuver to avoid real and honest scrutiny of his manufactured allegations that Jonathan Vilma engaged in a bounty program aimed at opposing players and Jonathan has been fighting to have an open and fair review of those accusations.

"We are obviously relieved and gratified that Jonathan no longer needs to worry about facing an unjustified suspension. On the other hand, Commissioner Tagliabue's rationalization of Commissioner Goodell's actions does nothing to rectify the harm done by the baseless allegations lodged against Jonathan. Jonathan has a right and every intention to pursue proving what really occurred and we look forward to returning to a public forum where the true facts can see the light of day.

"We call upon Commissioner Tagliabue to release the transcripts of the proceedings held before him so that they are available as we go forward. Finally, it is regrettable that the NFL continues unjustifiably to attack the New Orleans Saints, an organization comprised of decent and honest people who continue to stand strong in the face of these baseless attacks."

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Police: Hotel valet stole Reggie Wayne's Bentley, said he was 'cousin by marriage'

Indianapolis police say a hotel valet stole Reggie Wayne's white 2007 Bentley on Saturday night and went for a joyride.

Instead of returning the car on time and forcing Ferris Bueller Wayne to go back to Cameron's dad's house to try to reverse the mileage, the valet was arrested by police after he was found stopped in the middle of the street with "glassy eyes and slurred speech."

It was later discovered that a hotel security guard says he saw a person matching the description of valet Gunner Belcher, 21, leave with the Bentley around 9:45 p.m.

A police report says the joyrider told police he was a "cousin by marriage" to Wayne, presumably because that sounded more plausible than "I got lost trying to find a parking spot for his car."

Fox59 reports police booked Belcher on charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, failure to wear a seat belt and failure to carry registration.

No one at the hotel realized Wayne's car was missing until the wide receiver showed up Sunday morning trying to retrieve it. It was only then that the connection between the 2 a.m. arrest and the hotel valet was made. Police eventually returned the car to Wayne.

If Wayne was fazed, he didn't show it. He caught six balls for 64 yards and a touchdown in Indy's 27-23 win over the Tennessee Titans. Then he sang "Twist and Shout" at a parade.

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DeMarcus Van Dyke Likely To See Time At Corner For Steelers

Ike Taylor will miss his second consecutive game due to a broken right ankle, and Tomlin revealed Tuesday that Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen have hip flexor ailments. Although both will be limited in practice, Tomlin indicated he was more optimistic about Lewis' potential availability to play Sunday.

Lewis started in Taylor's place against San Diego, with Curtis Brown filling in as the slot. The result was 12 third-down conversions from San Diego—the majority targeted at Allen or Brown.

Brown was benched in the second half in favor of the undrafted Josh Victorian. The first-year pro was on the practice squad just last week—but he could be in line for a significant role in Dallas if either Allen or Lewis can't play. Victorian was beat for a touchdown by Danario Alexander in the fourth quarter Sunday.

Another cornerback who had yet to see many reps on defense but who might be pressed into action is DeMarcus Van Dyke. Van Dyke was cut by Oakland at the end of training camp a year after being drafted in the third round by the Raiders.

"Obviously, we are running short at cornerback," Tomlin said. "Those guys that had the opportunity to step up and log a bunch of snaps over the last week and a half, it looks like that is going to continue."

Van Dyke started four of the 14 games he played for Oakland as a rookie last season. He was active for Pittsburgh's first six games this season. After being flagged five times for fouls on special teams over a three-game span, though, he was benched. He was a Sunday inactive five times in a six-game span before playing vs. the Chargers.

"We will continue to work with those guys and build a plan around what they are capable of executing and executing at a high level," Tomlin said. "More than anything, it's not about what we call; it's about what those guys are capable of executing."

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Andre Johnson Calls Blowout to Patriots an ‘A– Whipping’ As Texans Players Lament Loss

FOXBORO, Mass. — At 11-1 entering Monday night’s “game of the year,” as many had billed it, the Texans had gotten used to whipping the hind side of their opposition. This time around, though, it was quite the opposite.

The Patriots laid a 42-14 beat down on the visiting Texans on national television. It was a loss that Houston players were so embarrassed by that even team leaders were outwardly ashamed. Arian Foster was quick to admit that they had gotten out-played “in all aspects of the game.” Matt Schaub decided to express his frustrations with the old undertaker analogy, saying “we dug ourselves a hole.” But no one was more disgusted than wide receiver Andre Johnson.

Johnson knows all too well what it’s like to lose, being on five Texans teams that have finished under .500 in his nine-year career. But not like this, and especially not a game with such huge implications. “We know how important this game was to us. It was a good ass whipping and that is pretty much it,”

Johnson said candidly after the loss. Johnson’s response may seem a bit profane to some, but in reality it’s exactly right. The Texans clearly weren’t ready for the challenge of the Patriots and the end result showed it. The Texans will undoubtedly move past this loss into the final three weeks of the season. But you can bet that Johnson won’t let his teammates forget about the whipping they took in Foxboro, especially come playoff time.

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Vote for Travis Benjamin for Rookie of the Week...

Voting is from Tuesday at 9AM till Friday at 3PM -- (Eastern time, I suppose)

Vote early, vote often, Tell your friends.

Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin has been nominated for the Pepsi MAX NFL Rookie of the Week Award, the league announced Tuesday morning.


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Jeremy Shockey Buys Two Fiberglass Tigers

Sales topped an amazing $1.5 billion at Art Basel, with many wealthy stars lining up alongside the world’s top art collectors to snap up pieces. Former Giants star Jeremy Shockey bought two fiberglass tigers painted by Domingo Zapata for $100,000 each. Zapata was honored at a Hublot/ Haute Living event at the SLS Hotel on Friday , and among the 2,000 guests was famed artist Damien Hirst — who was spotted giving Zapata a kiss on the lips.

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Stock Watch: Jimmy Graham

Falling: Jimmy Graham, tight end, Saints. His numbers aren’t terrible, but Graham’s not having the kind of season I expected in his second year as a full-time starter. I thought he’d take a big step forward from last year, but that hasn’t happened. Graham is playing with a wrist injury and dealt with other injuries early in the season. He’s been adequate, but not dominant. He hasn’t caught a touchdown pass in the last three games.

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Rocky McIntosh Provides Holiday Surprise for Local Students

After fitness activities at the Emerson Family YMCA with members of the St. Louis Rams, the group of Herzog Pilot Academy second and third graders boarded the bus and awaited their next instructions. Rams linebacker Rocky McIntosh, the leader of the day’s activities, stood at the front of the bus and asked if the students were ready to return to school. The question was met with a resounding “NO!” from all on board.

With prior plans already in place for the kids, McIntosh was happy to oblige. He directed the buses to a nearby Walmart, where he and his foundation, A GRAN Foundation, treated the kids to a holiday shopping spree by providing each with a $100 gift card. With their funds, the students were able to purchase winter items, such as a new coat and gloves; school supplies and a toy of their choice with the remaining balance.

“It was like the old ‘Shop ‘til You Drop Show,’” McIntosh said. “It was crazy. But the kids definitely had a great time, their parents were here to support and we also had a lot of chaperones out here as well.”

It was McIntosh’s idea to surprise the students at school. He approached the Rams’ Community Outreach Team, who then worked with The Little Bit Foundation to find a school that best matched McIntosh’s criteria.

The Little Bit Foundation is an organization that partners with 14 schools in the St. Louis area to provide clothing items, school supplies or other necessities to needy students. Each week, three to four Little Bit volunteers visit a school to identify items needed by the students. The following week, the volunteers return to provide those items to the kids and work with them in a one-on-one setting to make sure the items fit, that they are appropriate and that they are going to help that child. Today, the organization works with over 3,400 students, many of who are at or near the poverty level. When it came to accomplishing McIntosh’s plan, Herzog emerged as the best fit.

“Herzog is a very special school and there’s a large need in the school,” Hanley said. “We knew that Rocky wanted to help the students with coats, shoes and other school supplies. Targeting Herzog as the neediest school made it a great partnership. We knew it would have the biggest positive impact.”

The impact of the program went deeper than just sales receipts.

“I was excited that our kids had the opportunity to meet a great athlete, and then to receive the wonderful treats he provided,” Herzog Principal Sandra Bell said. “They learned a lot about looking at healthy fitness and living healthy.”

Providing students with the skills to embrace learning, lead healthy lives and mentor others in the community is the overarching goal of A GRAN Foundation. McIntosh and his family started the foundation in Virginia in 2011, and have since expanded its efforts to include the St. Louis area.

“My family and I decided we wanted to try and teach kids about healthy eating, healthy lifestyles and make them feel better about themselves,” McIntosh said. “Hopefully it turns out that they improve in the classroom as well.”

Prior to the event, the Herzog second and third graders wrote letters to McIntosh regarding their efforts to improve their health and fitness. According to Bell, it was a way to connect the students to McIntosh before his visit. On Tuesday, the Rams linebacker surprised the kids at school and referenced their letters when giving a speech on the importance of being healthy. He backed up his claims at the Emerson YMCA with the help of eight of his Rams teammates, including safety Matt Daniels, guard Brandon Washington, defensive end Mason Brodine, tight end Cory Harkey, linebacker Jabara Williams, wide receiver Nick Johnson, tackle Ty Nskhe and punter Johnny Hekker. Together, the group led the students through a series of stretches and other fitness activities. Afterward, the students were provided a healthy lunch from St. Louis Bread Co. consisting of a turkey sandwich, an apple and a cookie.

As evidenced by McIntosh’s efforts, the partnership between the Rams and Little Bit has already produced success. That is a theme the two organizations hope to continue moving forward.

“This is such a positive impact on the kids and Herzog, but also The Little Bit Foundation,” Hanley said. “I’ve already received calls from other principals asking if The Little Bit Foundation could bring a Rams player to their school, so it’s a huge help all the way around.”

Bell and her Herzog students also appreciate the efforts in their own way.

“This is an experience my kids will never forget – I’ll never forget it,” she said. “But just knowing that they met a National Football League Player, and to have him so involved with the kids, they’re going to have a great memory of this.”

To learn more about The Little Bit Foundation or volunteer opportunities, visit And for more information about A GRAN Foundation, visit their website at

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Antrel Rolle says Giants' defense will stay nasty

Now that the Giants have their dog, Antrel Rolle says it's not going back on the leash.

The safety who last week sparked the team to be nastier and backed up those words with strong play against the Saints, was back on the radio Tuesday for his weekly WFAN spot. Rolle said the Giants have no intention of letting up after finding their ferocity.

"We have our foot on the pedal now and we're not going to let it off,'' he said of the Giants' attitude as they prepare to visit the 11-2 Falcons. "The dogs will be out hunting come Sunday.''

Rolle said when he spoke last week, disappointed in the way the Giants fawned over upcoming opponents and calling on the team to be nastier, he was directing those comments toward the whole team, including himself.

"I just said I could be playing more physical, more dominant as a player,'' Rolle said this week. He had a hand in three of the Giants' turnovers.

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VIDEO: DeQuan Jones Destroys Earl Watson's Shot Attempt

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Scott Maine moves past car wreck to keep dreams alive

Scott Maine opened his eyes on Aug. 17, 2005, fought through his hazy double vision to glance at his mother, and offered the first thing that came to his shell-shocked mind.

"It feels like I got shot in the head," Maine, now a reliever for the Miami Marlins, told his mom, Patricia.

Maine has graced the earth for more than 27 years, but he's fortunate to have seen his 21st birthday.

At 1 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2005, a prototypically sweltering summer afternoon in South Florida, Maine was cruising on the Florida Turnpike back to Miami from a dentist appointment in Jupiter, Fla., when he lost control of his 2003 Dodge Dakota RT.

That's all he remembers.

Maine can't recall his vehicle swiping another car, racing down a hill and smashing into a cluster of trees. He has no recollection of his head meeting his windshield. Maine can't summon any memories of his stout black truck morphing into a useless heap of metal in the matter of an instant.

"It's probably a good thing I don't remember," Maine said.

Maine certainly doesn't recall the restoration project executed by his doctors, who performed surgery and induced a coma to relieve the swelling in his brain, injected titanium rivets to piece together his fractured skull and basically recreated the upper half of his head.

Maine spent more than three weeks in a hospital bed, and for nearly nine days, he fluctuated in and out of consciousness.

"I didn't think he was ever going to be out of that hospital room," said Indians closer Chris Perez, Maine's former teammate in Cleveland and roommate at the University of Miami.

The accident occurred during the offseason, so Maine's collegiate cohorts were spread throughout the country. Perez first received the alert from his mother. A handful of Maine's fellow Hurricanes wasted little time in reuniting at North Broward Medical Center to visit their traumatized teammate.

"I didn't really think it was that serious until I got there and saw, 'Wow, this is pretty [messed] up,'" Perez said. "He was out of it, wasn't able to talk very loudly or in long sentences or anything. He had bandages on his head. You couldn't see his scars."

Maine doesn't remember his teammates visiting him, and therefore he has no recollection of promising them that he would be ready to pitch at the start of the season, five months later.

"It drove me to get healthy and get back on the field," Maine said. "Baseball is what I live for. This is why I'm here. I wanted to show people that I could still do it and overcome things."

Maine used to sport long hair that sprouted out the sides of his baseball cap. The look accommodated his persona on the mound: a hard-throwing, sometimes-erratic southpaw who imposed his will on the rubber with a deceptive arm angle. Now, he dons a shaved head, boring a scar that spans the width of his skull. Maine tells people he has a hard head or that he suffered a shark bite. When speaking about his near-fatal car accident, he boasts a nonchalance that greatly understates the severity of the entire episode.

"It is what it is," Maine said. "I have a big scar on my head for a reason. I can't hide it."

And so, he embraces the opportunity to teach.

At the time of the crash, Maine's seatbelt wasn't strapped over his shoulder, in position to protect his body. Who knows how much trauma he could have saved himself had he buckled up.

Since the accident, Maine has returned every so often to his old stomping grounds in South Florida and preached about the importance of driving safety and maximizing every opportunity in life, a pair of lessons he learned the hard way.

"They look at it like, 'It's a car accident. You're still alive. That's crazy, man. Wow,'" Maine said. "I just try to tell them to wear their seatbelt, because I wasn't wearing my seatbelt, and [I tell them] how important that is. [I talk about] how fast things can change to being on top of the world to be fighting for your life."
It's uncanny how things tend to come full circle in life.

Maine has bounced around four Major League organizations in the past few months. The Indians claimed his off waivers from the Cubs in late August. The Blue Jays poached him from Cleveland at the end of October. The Marlins added him two weeks later.

Now, he's home. Maine lives just five minutes from the Marlins' Spring Training complex in Jupiter, Fla.

Many people are fortunate to receive second chances. Maine underwent Tommy John surgery in 2004. He took a redshirt his first year at Miami while he recovered from the procedure. A year later, working his elbow back toward full strength, Maine pitched only nine innings.

Then, the near-fatal wreck.

So now Maine is on his third chance, and despite occupying the uncertain role of a journeyman reliever, he has at least realized his dream of pitching in the Majors. And, as fate would have it, he'll have a chance to do so right back where it started, and nearly ended.

"It goes along with the saying, 'Throw every pitch like it's your last,'" Maine said. "That made it more of a reality. It's not just a saying; it actually occurred in my life. It helped me in that aspect to where, when I go on the field, I don't do anything half. I go 100 percent.

"You never know when you'll not be able to play the game of baseball."

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PHOTO: 49ers & Dolphins proCanes Represent After Game


proCane Dolphin Olivier Vernon, 49er Frank Gore & Dolphin Lamar Miller throw up “The U” after their Week 14 matchup in which the 49ers won. proCane 49ers LB Tavares Gooden was not in the picture as he was in the locker room nursing an injury he suffered during the game.

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Frank Gore sports dead Dolphins logo after game


Frank Gore must have been confident that the San Francisco 49ers would beat out the Miami Dolphins. Via Sacramento Bee reporter Matt Barrows, this is the hoodie Gore wore after the game.

It was a bold choice because Gore had to be assured of the result when he bought the hoodie and when he packed it to wear after the game. Did he pack a backup? Because he would have looked really silly if the 49ers lost.

But they didn't. The 49ers won 27-13. Gore had 85 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. Aldon Smith added two sacks to his monster season. San Francisco got the win, and Gore's sweatshirt choice was downright clairvoyant.

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Video: Wilfork on defense's effort

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Matt Bosher Named Falcons' Payton Man of the Year

The Atlanta Falcons held their third annual Community Honors dinner where they recognized the Community Quarterback and Community All-Star winners, as well as announcing the 2012 Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner.

That winner, it was announced Monday night, is punter Matt Bosher.

The Atlanta Falcons Man of the Year award recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service. Each team in the NFL nominates one player from their organization for this prestigious honor. The winner will be considered in the final selection of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award which will be announced during halftime of the Super Bowl XLVII.

Along with Bosher, the other nominees were Kevin Cone, Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon.

The event was also scheduled to be attended by past Man of the Year winners Morten Andersen, Scott Case, Buddy Curry, Brian Finneran, Michael Haynes, Mike Kenn, Ovie Mughelli and Christopher Owens.

Last year’s winner, defensive tackle Corey Peters, had the honor of announcing Bosher as the winner.

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Man arrested for drunk driving in Reggie Wayne's Bentley

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Police arrested a man who they say stole and drove drunk in Reggie Wayne's Bentley.

Saturday night, Police stopped an intoxicated driver in the 300 block of South Meridian. When police stopped the man driving a Bentley, he tried to stop in the middle of the road. An officer noticed the man was not wearing a seat belt and was talking on the phone while driving.

According to a police report, the man smelled of alcohol, had glassy eyes slurred speech. The man failed multiple sobriety tests and was identified at Gunner Belcher. Belcher also told police he was Reggie Wayne's "cousin by marriage."

Belcher was taken into custody and charged with an OWI, not wearing a seat belt, and failure to carry registration.

The next morning, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne attempted to pick up his Bentley from the Westin Hotel when he was informed that valet staff had no idea where the Bentley was.

A garage security officer told police that he had seen a white male, about 6 feet tall wearing a valet uniform take the vehicle out of the garage late Saturday night. Hotel employees identified the suspect as 21-year-old Gunner Belcher.

Hotel employees told police Belcher was released from work shortly before the vehicle was removed from the garage. Belcher failed to clock out the night of the incident.

According to a separate police report, the Bentley was returned to Reggie Wayne Sunday.

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Giants' D responds to Antrel Rolle's challenge

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Antrel Rolle said he wanted to see a "dog mentality" from the Giants on Sunday.

His teammates heard him loud and clear.

The Giants finally got the better of Drew Brees and the Saints, winning 52-27 at MetLife Stadium. And afterward, several defensive players said Rolle's words earlier in the week made a big impact.

“I think we came out with a little more nasty," cornerback Corey Webster said.

"You definitely want to go out there and play hard after someone makes a comment like that," safety Stevie Brown said.

"It added a little extra motivation," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "One of our brothers was, not calling us out, but challenging us to step up."

New Orleans did rack up 487 yards of offense, and connected on several big plays. But the bigger plays were the four turnovers the Giants produced. And safeties were involved in each and every one of them.

Rolle himself recovered a Marques Colston fumble in the first quarter -- a fumble caused by fellow safety Will Hill. Rolle was also involved on the Jed Collins fumble later in that quarter.

Brown picked off Brees on the first play from scrimmage of the second half, a big momentum-changer. And Brown's second interception of the game, early in the fourth quarter, followed by a 70-yard return, set the Giants up for a field goal that essentially put the game out of reach.

Brown now has seven interceptions on the season -- second most in the NFL. And he set a new franchise record for interception return yards in a season with 259, besting the previous mark of 251 -- established by Hall of Famer Emlen Tunnell in 1949, and equaled by Pro Bowler Dick Lynch in 1963.

Not bad for a former seventh-round draft pick, who the Giants picked up off the scrap heap this past spring.

"He was in position again," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "The one he picked in the fourth quarter, boy was that timing right. They had flipped the momentum on us almost completely. We weren’t doing much about it at that time. But thank goodness he makes that play and we end up kicking a field goal."

Brees came in 4-0 in his career against the Giants, with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. The Saints embarrassed the Giants last season, winning 49-24 in New Orleans.

Kiwanuka was asked what the difference was this time around.

"[We] just played harder," the linebacker said.

Rolle deserves some credit for that. He thought the Giants had played too soft in recent weeks, and had been too complimentary of opposing players before games.

Naturally, people were eager to hear Rolle's assessment of the Giants' performance after the game.

"Oh yeah, I saw a lot of dog," Rolle said.

"No pit bulls [though]," he added. "I didn’t see any pit bulls today. We are saving that for the long haul."

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Vince Wilfork’s respect for Andre Johnson deep

FOXBORO — It’s been 10 years since Vince Wilfork [stats] shared a practice field and won a national championship with Andre Johnson at Miami, but he remembers it like it was yesterday.

Though the pair played on opposite sides of the ball, Wilfork admired the wideout. And his tune remains the same today.

“That’s a guy, when you talk about a team player, he has the heart of a champion,” said Wilfork, heading into Monday’s matchup with Johnson’s Houston Texans [team stats]. “He’s very quiet, doesn’t say much. I just remember playing with him in college, he was always quiet. But he was a fireball on the field. He’d give it his all. He’d play hurt. He’s a tough, tough football player. That’s one thing I always look back when playing with him and seeing him 10 years later in the NFL, still doing it. He has a lot to be proud of.”

Wilfork played with Johnson in the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Their teams went 24-1, beating Nebraska for the BCS National Championship in January 2002. (Johnson was named the Rose Bowl co-MVP.) As a freshman, Wilfork didn’t start but played in every game, finishing with 41 tackles, a sack and three forced fumbles. Johnson, a sophomore, led Miami in receiving with 682 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Wilfork, like Johnson, entered the NFL after his junior season and found instant success. The Patriots [team stats] defensive tackle, in nine seasons, has earned four Pro Bowl and All-Pro bids. Johnson, in 10 seasons, has been selected to the Pro Bowl five times and to the All-Pro team four.

This season, Johnson is fourth in the NFL with 1,114 receiving yards. Slowed by injuries in the first half of the season, Johnson — says Texans quarterback Matt Schaub — is playing like himself again. The past five games, he’s hauled in 40 passes for 670 yards.

“I’ve said before you know, he’s really feeling like he’s hitting his stride and he really feels like he’s getting back to the Andre of old,” said Schaub. “I think you’ve seen it the past few weeks or months, some of the games that he’s had that were against Jacksonville and Detroit. He really is continuing to play at a very, very high level.”

Though Wilfork praised Johnson’s heart on the field, the wideout is one of the league’s most caring off of the gridiron as well. This week, he donated more than $19,000 for a Christmas shopping spree at Toys “R” Us to 12 children, selected by Child Protective Services.

“They have a great, great guy in Andre Johnson,” said Wilfork. “He’s a specimen. He’s special.”

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Sam Shields reinserts himself into secondary situation

Dom Capers doesn't like to use the term starter when addressing the components of his defense.

Whatever the overlying classification, however, it took all of one quarter of football for Sam Shields to reclaim a significant role on the Packers' defense.

In his first game in nearly two months, the third-year cornerback showed no rust in Sunday's 27-20 win over the Lions despite missing six games because of a high-ankle sprain.

After coming in on the defense's third series, Shields cashed in with three tackles, two pass deflections and a game-altering interception of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the second quarter.

On Monday, Capers said the Packers planned to get Shields involved in the defense at some point, but it turned out he saw 58 defensive snaps after relieving Davon House on the Lions’ third series.

While Capers wouldn’t go as far as to say Shields has earned his starting spot back - he started five games before his injury - his natural play-making ability is apparent.

“I really don’t look at starting spots,” Capers said. “I know this, I was happyicon1 to have Sam back and I thought he went in and made a significant contribution last night.

“It’s nice to have him back out there. So how we end up using those guys will be based off of personnel groupings. But I know that you can get short with those guys in a hurry.”

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Ravens hope to have Ray Lewis back in lineup against Broncos

LANDOVER, md. — In need of a little pick-me-up, the Baltimore Ravens hope to have one of the league's all-time greats back in the lineup Sunday against the Broncos.

Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who returned to practice from injured reserve last week, is eligible to return to play against the Broncos.

That return is still in question and would almost be unprecedented as Lewis tore his right triceps in a Week 6 game against the Dallas Cowboys. Lewis had surgery shortly after the injury and the Ravens used the "designated to return" tag on him when they placed the perennial Pro Bowl selection on injured reserve.

"He's always meant a lot," said Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones. "He's amazing."

Lewis returned to practice last week and was seen throwing a football at times, using his right arm, between drills and was working on a blocking sled using both arms as well.

Lewis released a statement last week that said: "I'm making progress. ... But, the story shouldn't be about me right now. ... When I know I will play in a game, or when I play in a game, I will say more then."

The Ravens are 4-3 without Lewis in the lineup, including Sunday's overtime loss to the Washington Redskins.

The Ravens could be thin at linebacker given two linebackers — Jameel McClain and Josh Bynes — left Sunday's game. Bynes later returned in the second half, but McClain was evaluated for a neck injury and did not return to the game.

McClain had been playing in Lewis' middle linebacker spot.

"We hope we have everybody we can have (for the Broncos)," said Ravens tackle Kelechi Osemele. "We'll just get back to chopping wood, get back to work, and hopefully everybody who can play for us will be in the lineup."

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Reggie Wayne hosts fundraiser for Leukemia research

After beating the Titans on Sunday, the Colts’ players enjoyed a day off on Monday, and Reggie Wayne used his to give back.

The star receiver hosted the 8th annual "Wishing on Stars" fundraiser Monday evening, which raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society.

Wayne was joined by Mike Epps and a number of his Colts' teammates like WISH- TV analyst Anthony Castonzo and TY Hilton.

With leukemia hitting close to home for the Colts this season, Wayne has been impressed with how the city has embraced their fighting coach.

“Just the whole state of Indiana has taken him in, like he’s been here forever,” said Wayne.  “I remember when he first stepped into the locker room and had that first meeting, he just had a special halo that touched everybody.  You would think everybody knew him forever, but that’s just the type of guy he is.”

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League’s offer to Vilma may implicitly concede Tagliabue’s conflict of interest

On Sunday morning, details were incomplete regarding the offer made by the NFL to settle the bounty suspensions short of a decision from former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The story from ESPN has since been updated to reflect the terms offered to Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma.  According to Ed Werder of ESPN, the league offered to let Tagliabue determine Vilma’s suspension, in exchange for Vilma dropping his defamation lawsuit against Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The offer was promptly rejected, as it should have been.  Tagliabue already will be determining Vilma’s suspension even without the dismissal of his defamation lawsuit.  So what’s the point of even making the offer?

Arguably, the league’s offer implicitly concedes that Tagliabue currently has a conflict of interest.  If Tagliabue exonerates Vilma, the defamation lawsuit would get stronger.  Which would mean that a member of the law firm that represents the NFL will have made a decision that creates potential civil liability for the man who runs the NFL.  Which would result in liability for the NFL, which surely is picking up the tag for any judgment entered against Goodell.

By clearing away the defamation lawsuit, Tagliabue would be free to conclude that Goodell got it wrong, without the unpleasant reality of putting Goodell and the league in the cross hairs of a significant monetary judgment.

The offer also overlooks the potential argument that, no matter what Tagliabue decides, Vilma’s punishment can’t extend beyond the 2012 season, given the plain terms of his second suspension letter.  Agreeing to let Tagliabue set the punishment would potentially amount to agreeing to let Tagliabue extend a suspension into 2013.

Regardless, the offer was rejected and a decision from Tagliabue is expected tomorrow.  And then the ensuing litigation may extend into 2013.

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D.J. Williams Was Worried About Fitting In After Serving Suspensions

DENVER (CBS4) – Next up on the Broncos’ demolition list are the Baltimore Ravens, who just came off a heartbreaking loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

Sometimes a hard loss can pump a team up, but linebacker D.J. Williams said still he’s glad the Ravens lost.

“Baltimore has been playing very, very well this year. They kind of had a hiccup last week, but each week, week to week, things can be different,” Williams said on Xfinity Monday Live! “I’m glad that they lost because now it puts us in the hunt to get that first round bye. We’re neck and neck with New England, so I’m kind of happy it happened.”

He said even though the Ravens could be a little bit desperate and angry, they also could have low morale.

Williams had to sit out the first nine games of the season while serving two consecutive suspensions. He said when he came back to the team he was a little worried about how he would fit in with the defense that has been playing great.

“Honestly, I was worried, but I’m glad the defense was playing well,” Williams said. “The major thing for me was to come back in shape. Once you come back in shape the coaches will weed you in and find a place for you.”

He said he also had great support from his teammates while serving the suspensions.

“I talked to the guys on a weekly basis and I watched every game. It was kind of different. I got to be a fan for a little bit.”

Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has been getting a lot of credit for the success of the defense, and Williams said it took a little bit of an adjustment from the scheme he was used to playing in.

“It’s a different defense, but I like it, I enjoy it. I like what Coach Del Rio is doing. He plays to people’s strength, you know, he puts a package in for everybody so everybody is happy. That’s why guys are flying around.”

Williams said since Del Rio was a former linebacker, it’s easier for the coach to relate to him.

“It’s always great to have a coach who’s played the game because it’s not just “X”s and “O”s,” he said. “Sometimes complicated things happen on the field and if you’ve actually been out there and have experienced it, you know what the player is telling you.”

Williams said another reason for the defense’s success is the diversity of the players.

“We can do it all. We can rush the passer, we can stop the run, we’ve got (defensive backs) who can cover,” he said. “Del Rio is putting guys in position to make plays.”

The Broncos travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens on Sunday. Kickoff is at 11 a.m. on CBS4.

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VIDEO: Travis Benjamin's record dash turned momentum for Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Browns special teams coach Chris Tabor probably never has been so happy a unit failed at its primary objective.

Tabor wanted to block a Kansas City punt on the first play of the second quarter Sunday afternoon. Instead, he had to settle for making franchise history.

Rookie Travis Benjamin fielded a Dustin Colquitt punt at the Browns 7 and raced 93 yards for the day's biggest play in a 30-7 victory over the Chiefs. The longest punt return since the franchise was created in 1946 energized the home crowd of 62,422 fans and seemed to demoralize the Chiefs.

It was a well-schemed play that almost produced a block and most certainly produced momentum the Browns never relinquished. It also was the perfect response to the Chiefs' 80-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles to open the game. The Browns went from four points down to three points up in a 12-second span.

"It was a huge lift," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "It puts us ahead in a game. We just took an 80-yard punch for a touchdown. That was a punch in the gut. To get a play like that to put you back on top, is something that you always hope for in a game."

On a day in which the Browns got creative offensively, it was some trickery in special teams that ignited the rally. As the return unit prepared to go on the field, Benjamin was telling teammates on the sidelines to watch for something different.

The rookie said the Browns had been practicing the play called "Banzai" for several weeks, but Josh Cribbs contends Tabor planned to use it against the Chiefs because it would work against their blocking scheme.

"We schemed up perfect," Cribbs said. "They're a man-scheme team on their punt coverage. ... We tried to get a punt block up the middle -- but a touchdown is always better."

As the Chiefs lined up at the Cleveland 48, they saw Cribbs deep in his normal position. But prior to the snap, Cribbs ran to the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, Benjamin, who had lined up wide to block one of the two Chiefs gunners, ran back to replace Cribbs.

When the Chiefs gunner -- the one lined up against Benjamin -- saw Cribbs creep forward, he moved inside to assist in punt protection. This gave the Chiefs only one gunner running downfield. The Browns got tremendous penetration, shoving the punt protectors into Colquitt, who fell after kicking the ball.

The speedy Benjamin, returning only his third punt, fielded the ball cleanly with lots of room to operate as Buster Skrine pushed Kansas City's lone gunner wide and into the end zone. The rookie started to his right before cutting back to his left, a move forcing three Chiefs to overrun the play.

"When I made the first one or two guys miss I knew I would be scot-free," Benjamin said, who stumbled momentarily after the Chiefs’ Josh Bellamy got an arm on him at the Browns 16. "I saw all those Brown jerseys up ahead blocking and leading me to the end zone."

As Benjamin picked up speed down the left sideline, the punter and Cribbs entered his field of vision. Colquitt looked like a man fleeing from the vicinity of a bar-room brawl.

"The punter saw me about to come and he opened the gate like, 'I ain't got nothing to do with that.'" Cribbs said. "As soon as [Benjamin] broke it past a couple guys, I knew he was gone."

The Browns search for ways to employ the swiftness of the 5-10, 175-pound Benjamin. He also gained 15 yards on a double reverse, a play they have attempted about five times this season. Cribbs is one of the game's premier returners. He's also a free agent at season's end and there's no guarantee he'll be resigned. In other words, Benjamin could be the Browns' future return man.

"Every time my name is called I just try to go on the field and make the most out of it," said Benjamin, who has five combined returns this season.

In the fourth quarter, Tabor put Benjamin and Cribbs together back deep for the second time this season and the veteran delivered a 38-yard return. It capped a terrific special team's day -- one in which the only missed block turned out just fine.

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Santana Moss helped Ravens’ Ed Reed become great

ASHBURN Ed Reed’s footprint in NFL history is undeniable, and he is considered one of the best safeties to play the game.

“I can’t say he’s the best of all time because I haven’t seen everybody, but he’s definitely the best I’ve ever seen,” Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “There’s a reason people say he’s the best of all time: because he plays like it.”

The Baltimore Ravens safety also has some loud footsteps. His hard-hitting reputation precedes him, so opponents want to know where he is on the field at all times.

“It’s nothing to fear. But he covers a lot of ground. He does a lot of unconventional things,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said. “You’ve just got to be aware of where he’s at.”

The Redskins no doubt will be planning for Reed today because his greatness is more than 10 years in the making. It blossomed at the University of Miami in 2000 and 2001, when he became more than just a kick returner, and was a consensus All-American.

Reed had 17 interceptions in his final two seasons at Miami, but his development started before that, thanks in large part to Redskins receiver Santana Moss and Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne.

“Me, Ed and Reggie Wayne, we were suite mates when we first came in,” Moss said. “Every day was one of those days that we just got each other better (with) different things that we did.”

It happened on the practice field, where Reed said Moss’ competitiveness as a “fire-starter” got him fired up, too.

“A lot of battles, too, from the (defensive backs) and receivers. I remember Santana getting mad at some of the DBs for covering a certain way and hitting throughout training camp and stuff like that,” Reed said. “We tend to get a little physical at Miami.”

That physicality didn’t stop when the Ravens drafted Reed in the first round in 2002. He has registered 590 NFL tackles and 11 forced fumbles, and he hasn’t slowed down despite being 34. “He changes the game,” Shanahan said.

He does that with more than just big hits. Reed (61 career interceptions, seven returned for touchdowns) is a major threat to pick off Griffin or any other quarterback.

“He knows what is going to happen before it happens,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “Ed Reed is in a different zone. There’s not too many guys like him. He’s got a great understanding of offenses. He knows how to set people up, quarterbacks up. That’s why he’s got so many picks and that’s why he’s a great player.”

After talking to Moss and hearing about Reed from coaches, Griffin has plenty of respect for Reed. He’s an intimidating presence on the Ravens’ defense, which perennially has been one of the best in the league.

Moss sees him as a friend, too. Reed called Moss “a brother to me.” That was forged at “The U” last decade.

“I remember when I broke my jaw one year, Ed Reed made fun of me, calling me ‘Who Killed Kenny?’ because I couldn’t talk. I used to mumble everything,” Moss said, laughing. “But it was all fun days, man. Who would’ve thought back then that all of us would be here now. Looking back at those times and playing against each other almost every other Sunday. Nothing but good memories come to mind with those guys.”

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Frank Gore reaches 1,000 yards rushing, runs for a touchdown

SAN FRANCISCO — Frank Gore made his way through San Francisco’s winning locker room and offered a public shoutout to linebacker and NFL sacks leader Aldon Smith.

“Couple more, baby! Couple more, baby!” Gore hollered.

Gore is taking charge on the 49ers offense, with Smith wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks for the defense.

Gore ran for a 1-yard touchdown and reached 1,000 yards rushing for the sixth time in his career, and even took the fake on Colin Kaepernick’s late 50-yard scoring run in the San Francisco 49ers’ 27-13 victory against the Dolphins on Sunday.

Smith added two more sacks to bring his total for 19½, passing Fred Dean’s franchise-best single-season mark of 17½ set in 1983. Smith also moved within three sacks of the single-season record Michael Strahan set in 2001 with the New York Giants.

“Guys really have a determination on this field and on this team,” cornerback Tarell Brown said. “We were focused out there.”

Gore finished with 63 yards rushing, caught two passes and also matched his mentor, Roger Craig, and late Hall of Famer Joe Perry for the franchise record in rushing touchdowns with 50. And, no, Gore didn’t grow up a Dolphins fan in his native South Florida.

“It’s a blessing. Everybody says when you turn 29 and 30, you can’t do it anymore. When I got to 29, I told myself, ‘I’m going to overcome that,’” Gore said. “I’ve still got the explosiveness. When I see something, I go get it.”

Anthony Dixon also had a 1-yard scoring run, while Kaepernick came through with the touchdown run and also passed for 185 yards in his fourth straight start since being promoted over Alex Smith.

Gore drew Miami’s defense his way on that game-clinching play.

“Everybody came to me and Mr. Everything did his thing,” Gore said of Kaepernick.

Afterward, Gore sported a gray hooded sweatshirt with an upside down dolphin in distress — a purchase from before the season once he found out the Dolphins were on the schedule. Gore was born in Miami, attended college at the University of Miami and still spends the offseasons right there in South Florida.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to turn him upside down,’” he said of the sweatshirt dolphin, Miami’s mascot on its head with a first-aid symbol and each eye covered with an “X.”

Crabtree matched his season high with nine catches for 93 yards and rookie LaMichael James ran for 30 yards in a solid NFL debut for the 49ers (9-3-1), who kept hold of the No. 2 seed in the NFC behind Atlanta.

“We did what it takes,” Crabtree said.

Anthony Fasano made a diving 3-yard touchdown catch for Miami (5-8) midway through the fourth quarter on a pass from Ryan Tannehill. Fasano’s right knee landed in the end zone as he fell out of bounds under pressure from safety Donte Whitner.

Miami went for it on fourth-and-10 from the 35 with 4:16 remaining and Tannehill overthrew Marlon Moore on the left sideline.

“In the fourth quarter, we had some opportunities to put some more points on the board. We didn’t. We were too generous,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “It’s just a lack of playmaking at critical times. That’s it.”

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Andre Johnson weathered rough patches in Houston

HOUSTON — There were moments, especially during the lost season of 2005 when victories were as scarce hereabouts as snowmobiles, that Andre Johnson would wonder whether there wasn’t an exit ramp for him somewhere in this freeway-happy town.

“I wouldn’t say that there was a time when I said, ‘Get me out of here,’ ” recalled the Texans’ receiver laureate. “Had I thought about it? Yeah.”

But that wasn’t what the man had signed on for when he arrived from Miami in 2003 as the franchise’s sticky-fingered future.

“I knew there would be tough times coming to a new franchise,” he said, “but you had a chance to be part of something special.”

The Texans haven’t won a Super Bowl yet but have clinched a return trip to the NFL playoffs and already are assured of their best season (11-1 and counting) since they opened shop in 2002, the year that the Patriots won their first ring.

If Houston beats New England Monday night in Foxborough — which no visitor has managed in a decade of Decembers — it would be well on its way to clinching home advantage throughout the postseason, which would have seemed a long shot even two years ago.

“This is something we’ve been working for around here for a long time, to put ourselves in a situation like this,” remarked Johnson, who has proclaimed the star-spangled showdown as the biggest game in franchise history. “I didn’t think it would take 10 seasons for it to happen, but it did, and I’m just enjoying every moment of it.”

Elite numbers
Johnson is the only man on the roster who goes back that far, and he’s savoring what is shaping up as a career campaign. He has surpassed the 10,000-yard milestone for receiving yards (10,770) and submitted his sixth 1,000-yard season (1,114).

Last month, when Houston survived overtime shootouts with Jacksonville and Detroit, Johnson set an NFL record for yardage in consecutive games with 461, piling up 273 on 14 catches against the Jaguars (including the winning 48-yard touchdown), and 188 on nine against the Lions.

“It’s been six years now I’ve been watching it up close and personal, but every time I think I’ve seen it all, he goes and does something even to outdo himself before,” testified quarterback Matt Schaub.

“He just continues to impress me and wow me as far as what he’s able to do on the football field.”

Significantly, Johnson is doing it at 31 after missing nine games last year with an uncooperative hamstring that kept him fidgeting in street clothes while his teammates were making their unprecedented run to the playoffs.

“Last year, I was excited, but at the same time, I was down because you’re like, man, I know I could be out there helping the team,” said Johnson, who returned for the playoffs.

“Those would be the times when I would get down on myself and try to hope that I could hurry up and come back.

“But at the same time, I was excited to see that it was all coming together, that we finally had a chance to make the playoffs. Now, it just makes you appreciate it even more.”

The Texans without Johnson would be like the Colts without Reggie Wayne, and his body of work rivals that of any of his counterparts in the game for consistency at a lofty level.

Johnson is the only receiver ever to have at least 60 catches in each of his first eight seasons. His 80.4-yards-a-game average is the highest in history among receivers who’ve played at least 100 games, and his receptions per game (5.82) are the most for anyone with at least 500.

“Coming into this league, I always said that I wanted to be the best that ever played, but to accomplish that, you have to try to be consistent,” said Johnson. “That’s my biggest thing, trying to be consistent year in and year out.

“I’ve battled through a lot of injuries in my career but I always thought that if I could be healthy, that I could go out and put up the big numbers.”

Hanging tough
Most impressively, Johnson put them up for a team that didn’t have a winning season until three years ago and where his Sunday stats were the sidelight to a defeat. But the 2005 season, when the Texans went 2-14 and Johnson was limited to 63 catches and 688 yards, tested his resolve.

“There were times when I didn’t want to get up and come to work,” he acknowledged. “It’s hard because you’re working your butt off and you just can’t get the job done. That’s the biggest thing I tell the guys. You don’t ever want to experience that because it’s not a good feeling.”

There were better teams that could have promised Johnson more productive outings, but he was determined to stay the course while a toddling franchise became competitive.

“There’s always frustration, but that’s the thing that makes you grow as a player, as a person,” he said. “You’ve got to find out a lot about yourself — if you’re going to be loyal, if you’re going to run away from it.

“My thing was, I wanted to stay. I wanted to be a part of something special. I wanted to help this organization get to where it is right now and help it achieve more.”

Progress came excruciatingly slowly. Houston went 6-10 in 2006, then 8-8 for two years, and then 9-7 before backsliding to 6-10 in 2010. Still, anything was better than 2-14.

“I really don’t think things could have got any worse than what they already were,” Johnson reckoned. “Things were coming together and you could just see it.”
The arrival of general manager Rick Smith and coach Gary Kubiak from the Broncos in 2006 was the turning point. When the Texans brought in Schaub from Atlanta a year later, it took a while for him and Johnson to align themselves.

“When Matt first got here, he would tell me every play why he didn’t throw me the ball,” Johnson remembered. “It got to a point where we started to see the same things out on the field.

“You just kind of know each other. In the heat of the moment, you know where the ball is going. I’m just glad that I’ve been able to make plays and come up big in games and I’m glad that he has the faith in me to take a chance of throwing the ball.”

Presence and presents
Whenever he isn’t stuffing the ball into the belly of Arian Foster, his 1,000-yard running back, Schaub usually is looking for No. 80 downfield.

“The ultimate security blanket,” he said. “If push comes to shove and we need a play, I know I’m going to go in his direction.”

After last year’s injury, the Texans weren’t sure whether Johnson could return to his customary top-of-the-line form.

“After what he went through and watching early in the year . . . I think there was some concern on his part and my part,” said Kubiak. “We were trying to work through some things, limit the reps, do all the right things to get him back.

“Then all of a sudden we come out of New York [in early October], and since then, it’s just been, ‘Game on.’ ”

The Texans are savoring the holiday season now, and Johnson spent Tuesday afternoon at a local Toys ‘R’ Us store watching a dozen at-risk children fill shopping carts with gifts for themselves and their siblings in 80 seconds as he picked up the $20,000 tab.

“It’s a great thing to be able to help people in need,” said Johnson, who established his charitable foundation when he was a rookie. “I always said if I was to make it to the NFL I would always give back to the community.”

Even if he were wearing a Santa suit, Johnson would be recognizable in Sam Houston’s town. If he didn’t leave when his team was drilling nothing but dust, he’s certainly not leaving in the middle of a gusher.

“I don’t plan on going anywhere,” he declared.

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Leon Williams discusses return to team

The Kansas City Chiefs signed linebacker Leon Williams to the team on Thursday after placing defensive end Allen Bailey on the injured reserve. The Chiefs originally signed Williams in the preseason, but the linebacker did not make the final roster cut.

Williams talked to the media on Thursday about his return to Kansas City. A reporter asked Williams how he had been spending his time since being cut, and Williams responded:

I've been home. I've been in New York, staying in shape, talking to teams, staying in touch with my agent - telling me to stay in shape and everything."

The Chiefs current situation is not a normal situation for any football team, and Williams is now a part of it. The linebacker discussed what it was like observing the situation as an outsider:

"It was hard watching. I kept up with everything and I know these guys out here work very hard to compete. And it's a hard league to compete in, but you go in every day and you give your best."

The media also asked Williams about his relationship with Jovan Belcher. Even though Williams only made a brief stop in Kansas City, he remembered Belcher:

"Oh yeah, I knew Jovan. He's a New York guy too. Me and him clicked really fast when I came here."

Williams has been in the NFL since 2006, and played under Romeo Crennel in Cleveland.

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Travis Benjamin gives Cleveland Browns spark with 93-yard punt return for a touchdown

CLEVELAND — The surprise move resulting in a 93-yard punt return by Travis Benjamin for a touchdown Sunday has been in the Browns bag of tricks for weeks. They were just waiting for the right opportunity to pull it out.

Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor has a code name for the play: Banzai.

The Browns trailed, 10-3, when the Chiefs lined up to punt on the first play of the second quarter. Benjamin, not usually part of the punt return unit, was in the middle of the pack near the line of scrimmage when the two teams were aligning for the play. As the Chiefs were getting set, Joshua Cribbs sprinted forward from where he had been standing to receive the punt and Benjamin ran back to take Cribbs’ spot.

The worst that could have happened was the Chiefs would have punted before Benjamin was in position; Kansas City would have downed the ball and the Browns would have started a drive inside their 20.

Instead, the deception worked perfectly.

“Chris Tabor did a nice job,” Coach Pat Shurmur said. “We messed around with the coverage on the gunners, which caused the gunner to come in.”

When the Chiefs saw Cribbs dashing toward the line of scrimmage they correctly sniffed out the Browns’ intent to block Dustin Colquitt’s punt. The Chiefs’ gunner on the Browns’ left ran in to join on punt protection, leaving only the gunner on the right, and he over ran Benjamin.

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Reggie Wayne hopes era of diva WRs is over

If you're talented enough, plenty of teams will still accept diva behavior from a wide receiver.

But rattle off the league's best guys now, and they all are far more mellow than showy, including the AFC South's two best guys: Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne. Add Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Wes Welker and while you might want to get your popcorn ready to watch them play, none of them will be heading to the sideline to propose to a cheerleader after scoring a touchdown.

I asked Wayne this week if the era of the diva wide receiver is over.

"I don’t know, I would assume so," he said. "Those guys you named, they are hard-working guys. They aren’t into all that diva stuff. I got kind of upset a couple of years ago, somebody put me into that category. I don’t even know what it means. As a professional football player at the receiver position, you know how much running and how much hard work it is that you have to dedicate yourself to, to be successful. Whenever you say those names that you did, I respect all of those guys. I respect everybody in this league, period. As far as the diva stuff, man, I hope it is gone. I hope you get more guys out there that like to work hard and go out there and enjoy playing football."

That thinking struck up a conversation with my colleague from Yahoo! Sports, Michael Silver on the radio this week.

He pointed out that if you're a quality receiver who's easy to have around, like Derrick Mason was, you can have a 15-year career. If you're Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson and you bring a tiresome act, those years at the end when you're more average aren't likely to get tacked onto your resume because of the hassle.

Randy Moss is getting one of those years now in San Francisco, but only because he appears to have come to an understanding of what he has to be at this stage.

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Leonard Hankerson caught four passes for 67 yards

Leonard Hankerson caught four passes for 67 yards versus the Ravens in Week 15.

He would have added a touchdown if not for an end zone drop on a back-shoulder throw. Although Hankerson's five targets were second only to Pierre Garcon's nine, he's not a fantasy option for Week 15 versus the Browns.

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Trick play on punt return springs Travis Benjamin, Browns’ rout

CLEVELAND: The turning point of the Browns 30-7 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday was supposed to be in the form of a blocked punt.

Instead, the Browns turned the special-teams trick play into a record-setting punt return, when rookie Travis Benjamin ran 93 yards for a touchdown to open the second quarter.

“It was a huge lift,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said.

Just before the Browns’ special-teams unit took the field, kicker Phil Dawson alerted the team’s sideline reporter, Jamir Howerton, that the Browns had something up their sleeve.

“It was a special one that [special teams] coach [Chris] Tabor had drawn up this week,” Dawson said. “That was awesome to watch and fun to finally see us get one in the end zone.”

The play, dubbed “Bonsai,” calls for Cribbs and Benjamin to trade spots before the ball is snapped. Cribbs sprinted up the middle of the field from his usual return spot to help bring more pressure on Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt, Benjamin shifted backward to field the punt.

When Benjamin caught the ball at the 7-yard line, the Chiefs’ gunner was pushed past by Buster Skrine. Another defender, Josh Bellamy, dove at Benjamin’s ankles near the 15-yard line but missed.

“He’s the fastest man I’ve ever seen,” Browns running back Trent Richardson said. “With his speed, he gets an edge and he’s gone.”

Benjamin avoided more traffic when he cut back near the Browns’ 27-yard line and continued sprinting up the sideline. Cribbs did his part by scaring Colquitt out of bounds and a final spring block by Johnson Bademosi knocked the Chiefs’ Terrance Copper to the ground near the 5-yard line.

“The punter saw me about to come and he just opened the gate like, ‘I ain’t got nothing to do with that,’ ” Cribbs said.

Using both the veteran-savvy Cribbs and rookie speedster Benjamin together on returns is a pick-your-poison dilemma in its own right. But adding the twist of changing their positions added a stroke of genius designed especially for the Chiefs.

“It schemed up perfect,” Cribbs said. “They’re a man-scheme team on their punt coverage. We had guys coming across the ball and they had guys leave their post to come chase the guy. … Because we had so many guys in the hole, they had to stay in to protect and weren’t able to get out on the punt. That’s why [Benjamin] was able to catch the ball with nobody in his face, because they were all at the line.”

Not only did the trick play go into the record books replacing Eric Metcalf’s 92-yarder in 1994 as the longest punt return in team history, but Benjamin also became the first Browns rookie to return a punt for a touchdown since Ben Davis had a 52-yarder for a touchdown in 1967.

“It’s a very dangerous duo with me and Cribbs back there,” Benjamin said. “We knew that their special teams [players] and their coaches who were here were scared of Cribbs, so we built up this scheme all week and it worked perfectly.”

In the third quarter, another trick play involving Cribbs nearly resulted in immediate success as the Browns shook the dust off their old wildcat formation. Lining up at quarterback on first-and-10 at the 18-yard line, Cribbs took off running to his left. Just as he neared the left goal-line pylon, linebacker Cory Greenwood tackled him by the legs and dragged him down at the 1.

Cribbs, as well as the Browns’ coaches upstairs in the booth, thought he might have gotten the ball across the goal line, prompting coach Pat Shurmur to challenge the play. The ruling stood, but the point was moot when Richardson scored on a goal-line plunge on the next play.

“They didn’t get the right angle, Coach,” a hobbled Cribbs said after the game to offensive coordinator Brad Childress as the two passed each other on the way out of the locker room.

“You were close,” Childress said. “And we got it anyway.”

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Players reject 11th-hour settlement offer from NFL in bounty case

As former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue weighs the evidence in the New Orleans Saints bounty case, it's coming out that the NFL, which handed the case over to Tagliabue to avoid the appearance of impropriety, made a last-ditch settlement offer to the players involved, and that the offer was rejected.

Tagliabue is expected to reach a decision by Thursday.

The league offered to reduce the suspensions for Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove in exchange for admissions of guilt from the players, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.

The settlement offers, which were first reported by Ed Werder and Chris Mortensen of ESPN, could have left Smith with a four-game fine and Hargrove with a two-game suspension, contingent on his signing with another team. It is not known what, if any, offers were made to Vilma and Fujita, the two players who have been most outspoken about the NFL's handling of the bounty scandal and current commissioner Roger Goodell's role in it.

On Oct. 19, Goodell announced that he was appointing Tagliabue, his predecessor, to take over the case.

"I have appointed former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to serve as the hearing officer for the upcoming appeals," Goodell said in a statement. "Paul Tagliabue is a genuine football authority whose tenure as commissioner was marked by his thorough and judicious approach to all matters. He has many years of experience in NFL collective bargaining matters and an impeccable reputation for integrity.

"To be clear, I have not consulted with Paul Tagliabue at any point about the Saints matter nor has he been any part of the process. Furthermore, under our process the hearing officer has full authority and complete independence to decide the appeal and determine any procedural issues regarding the hearings. I will have no role in the upcoming hearings or in Mr. Tagliabue's decisions."

Vilma has said that he feels the Tagliabue-led process would be more fair and equitable.

"I think it's a good first step for Paul to be the neutral arbitrator," Vilma said before the hearings, which ended on Dec. 3, began. "We expect that he'll do things in a neutral capacity that will allow us to cross-examine some of the witnesses, that will allow us to see some of the evidence."

After his testimony, Vilma merely said that he was happy with the way that things went, and that Tagniabue seemed more receptive to all sides. He refused further comment, respecting Tagliabue's request that the process remain confidential until there is a ruling. However, Vilma did express consternation that two key witnesses, Former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, were to testify on October 29 and 30, and the Saints were playing the Atlanta Falcons on the 29th.  All suspended players are allowes to play pending appeal rulings, though Hargrove is without a team and Fujita is on injured reserve.

"I'm kind of disappointed in that because these are the guys that essentially made the case against me," Vilma said, while blaming Goodell for the timing of Cerullo's and Williams' testimony. "I would love to be there to see them, hear what they have to say, talk to Peter [Ginsberg]. my attorney, about it."

If Vilma and the other players don't like what they hear from Tagliabue, they can still seek relief from New Orleans-based judge Helen G. Berrigan, who has made some very testy comments from the bench when reviewing Goodell's broad powers and possible misuse of them. Berrigan has said that she will wait to drop her own particular hammer until she sees how the NFL's internal process takes shape.

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Andre Johnson sees historic game in Foxboro

As the Texans get ready to face the Patriots on Monday Night Football, a player who has been in Houston for all but one year of the franchise’s existence has a fairly strong assessment of the meaning of the game.

“It’s big,” Andre Johnson said, via  “You know how big it is, biggest game in the history of this franchise.  It’ll be a big test for us and we’ll be ready to go.”

Some would say that last year’s playoff debut, which took a decade to earn, is still bigger.  But Johnson apparently thinks that this game is the biggest stepping stone to date on what could be a Super Bowl run.

“I think as long as we keep winning, every game is going to get bigger and bigger,” Johnson said. “When you’ve been somewhere you’ve never been before, everything gets bigger.  It’ll be a big game for us.  Everybody knows the significance of this game, so just get ready and we’ll be ready Monday night.”

The significance primarily comes from the impact of the outcome on the playoff seeding.  A win puts the Texans within striking distance of the No. 1 seed, given that they’d have at least a two-game lead (plus the head-to-head tiebreaker) over the Ravens and Broncos and a three-game lead (plus the head-to-head tiebreaker).

Let’s consider that for a second.  If the Texans beat the Pats, Houston will have beaten every other division leader in the AFC this year.  If the rematches occur in Reliant Stadium, the Texans could indeed be heading to New Orleans in late January.

Working against the Texans is the fact that the Pats haven’t lost a home game in December since 2002.  And it’s a big game for New England, since a win over Houston would put the Patriots withing a game of the Texans for the top seed in the AFC.

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Patriots' Vince Wilfork: Texans are NFL's 'best'

FOXBORO —  The Houston Texans and their 11-1 record have the full attention of Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.

“They're the best team in the NFL,” Wilfork said yesterday as the Patriots continued preparations for Monday night's showdown against the Texans at Gillette Stadium.

“They're the best team for a reason. They do a lot of things well. Blowouts, tough games, overtime — they've played through it all. They definitely have what it takes to be a champion, so you have to respect that. It's going to be a big challenge for us. We know how good they are.”

The Texans have won four games by 20 points or more, five by seven points or less, including back-to-back overtime victories over the Jaguars and Lions.

Houston is the only team unbeaten (6-0) on the road this season.

“They play as a team,” Wilfork said. “They never get too high or too low. They stay poised. They've won some big games this year.”

Wilfork, who had three tackles and a fumble recovery in last week's win over the Dolphins, will lead the effort up front as the Patriots try to keep running back Arian Foster under control. Foster leads the AFC with 1,102 yards rushing and tops the league with 15 total touchdowns.

Foster, of course, is just one of Houston's top offensive threats. Also looming is wide receiver Andre Johnson, who is in the midst of the sixth 1,000-yard season of his 10-year career.

Johnson set an NFL record for receiving yards in back-to-back games with 461 in Weeks 11-12. That included a career-high 273 yards on 14 receptions against Jacksonville.

Johnson and Wilfork were teammates at the University of Miami.

“That's a guy,” Wilfork said, “he has the heart of a champion. He's very quiet. He doesn't say much. In college, he was always quiet but he was a fireball on the field. He's big, physical, strong, fast. He can catch, run. He's well put together. He's a specimen. He's special.”

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Edgerrin James reacts to Immokalee's state semifinal victory

The most famous Immokalee High graduate watched the Indians' 29-21 victory over Miami Jackson with about a dozen college scouts surrounding him.

Edgerrin James knew all about Immokalee's talent. He's been bragging about the dozen Division I recruits all season. And the former University of Miami and NFL star said he knew Immokalee's talent would eventually prevail in a season filled with injuries and turmoil.

"They knew what kind of team they had," James said. "They buckled down when they needed to, when it counted."

James said the Indians showed they believed in themselves Friday night against Miami -Jackson even after committing three first-half turnovers.

"They did exactly as expected," he said. "If they didn't have all of the turnovers it wouldn't have been so dramatic in the end."

But in the end, James said he was most impressed by the Indians' heart. He noted how most players played both ways and how quarterback Tshumbi Johnson took a hard hit and only missed one play.

"Those players wanted it," James said. "They were exhausted after the game. They didn't even have the energy to celebrate. They left it all on the field."

James missed the Indians' 2004 championship victory because he was playing in the NFL. He said he'll be in Orlando next Friday to support the team.

"You bet I'm going to be there," James said. "Indians all the way."

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Ray Lewis ready to play in game for Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis returned to practice this week. If it wasn't for NFL rules, he'd be ready to play in a game, too.

Fox Sports insider and NFL Network contributor Jay Glazer reported Sunday that Lewis is ready to go right now after recovering from his triceps injury. The Ravens expect Lewis to be available next week, when league rules allow him to return. Lewis has been out since being hurt Oct. 14.

Lewis was placed on injured reserve with a designated-to-return tag. Initially, it was believed Lewis would be lucky to return in time for the playoffs. Instead, it sounds like he'll return for the Ravens' massive Week 15 AFC showdown with the Denver Broncos.

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John Salmons scores 19 points w/ 11 assists

John Salmons scored 19 points and dished out 11 assists, one shy of his career-high, as the Kings defeated the Blazers in Portland on Saturday.

Salmons also had seven assists on Wednesday, a welcome boost for the team with the lowest assist ratio in the NBA (14.7 percent of their possessions result in assists), but keep in mind that he hasn't scored double-digit points in consecutive games this season. A healthy Tyreke Evans will also take the ball out of his hands, and we wouldn't cut anyone with reliable value to pick him up.

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