- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Time for a quick tour of the morning headlines from around the division:
Running back Michael Turner admitted he’s surprised that his role has been reduced so much. I don’t know that anyone should be all that shocked about Turner’s declining role. The Falcons came into the season saying they planned to limit Turner’ carries. Turner still was getting a fair amount of carries early in the season, but the results weren’t very impressive, so Jacquizz Rodgers has started to get more carries.
Quarterback Matt Ryan spent the offseason adding bulk and said his plan seems to be working. Ryan said he feels stronger at this point of the season than he has in past years. Of course, the real test will be if Ryan can turn in stronger postseason performances.
Jonathan Jones points out some great numbers on Cam Newton. In the last four games, the quarterback has accounted for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. I think that can only help coach Ron Rivera’s job security, especially if that trend continues in the final three games. Newton is the franchise and owner Jerry Richardson might be wise to maintain continuity. A new coaching staff would mean another learning curve for Newton.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he and suspended coach Sean Payton have had preliminary talks about the reinstatement process and will talk more after the holidays. Payton is supposed to remain suspended until after the Super Bowl. But Goodell didn’t rule out the possibility of the coach being reinstated a bit earlier.
The Associated Press obtained transcripts of the appeals hearings in the bounty scandal and one of the biggest revelations was that former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said he wanted to stop the bounty program, but was overruled by assistant head coach Joe Vitt. I doubt this news is going to change anything now. But, like former commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in his ruling on the appeals, nobody is coming out of this in a favorable light.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Defensive end Michael Bennett broke into a hula dance after recording his second sack of the game Sunday. His message was that he thinks he’s earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. Bennett has nine sacks on the season, which ranks fourth among NFC defensive ends. Bennett wasn’t listed among the top five vote-getters in the latest fan voting results. But Bennett’s candidacy may pick up some steam when players and coaches vote next week. Bennett’s not a household name for fans. But his play this season likely has caught the attention of coaches and players.
Rick Stroud writes that wide receiver Vincent Jackson has been everything the Bucs were hoping for when they signed him to a five-year, $55 million contract in free agency. Jackson’s given the Bucs a true No. 1 wide receiver and that’s helped quarterback Josh Freeman quite a bit. Jackson’s signing has to be considered one of the best moves of this season’s free-agent class.