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TEMPE, Ariz. -- To say anyone saw this coming would be a reach.

When coach Bruce Arians said he was leaning toward starting rookie Logan Thomas in place of Ryan Lindley in the Arizona Cardinals' season finale at San Francisco (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox), there was an element of surprise. Even, to a lesser degree, a sense of shock.

But it wasn't because Arians chose to bench Lindley after the Cardinals' 35-6 loss to Seattle where Lindley completed just 18 of 44 passes and failed to throw a touchdown pass, extending his NFL record streak of scoreless passes to 225. It was because Arians was going with the unproven rookie for an entire game.

Yet, it's the right choice.

Arians figured out quickly the Cardinals weren't going to win Sunday with Lindley. And with a division title and home-field advantage still on the line in a twisted, complex way, Arians can't throw in the towel just yet. By starting Thomas, Arizona will keep the 49ers guessing.

All the tape on Thomas will come from an appearance in relief of Drew Stanton for almost two quarters against the Broncos and one errant pass Sunday against Seattle. That's far from enough for the 49ers to prepare a game plan around. They'll see nine passes thrown by Thomas, one of which was completed, an 81-yard touchdown to Andre Ellington.

Looking at his collegiate history, San Francisco will see a mobile quarterback. Yet, they may not see any designed runs for Thomas. At the same time, he may just take off.

See? It'll be hard to prepare for the unknown.

Arians gave himself an out, however, saying he'll be quick with the hook of Thomas if he's not playing well.

If Arians started Lindley, the 49ers would know what to expect. He was unproductive for the majority of Sunday's loss to Seattle. And when he did manage to move the ball, it led to points -- field goals, however, not touchdowns. For the third time in five games, Arizona failed to score a touchdown. With the playoffs looming, the Cardinals' offense is going backwards. Had Lindley led the Cards to at least one score, his status for Sunday likely wouldn't have changed.

But the Seahawks dared the Cardinals to pass. They did. And it didn't work.

It didn't matter how Arians tried to spin his decision to start Thomas -- "I think we need to find out what he can do for the future and the playoffs, if it were to come to that." -- because it came down to the fact Arizona won't win with Lindley guiding the offense.

That may not change with Thomas on Sunday in San Francisco, but at least neither team knows what they're getting.
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Marc Trestman benched starting quarterback Jay Cutler in favor of backup Jimmy Clausen for Sunday's 20-14 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Then mysterious circumstances -- the team's announcement that Clausen was ruled out after suffering a concussion Sunday in which delayed symptoms surfaced Monday -- called for Trestman to go back to Cutler for the season finale at Minnesota. Trestman mentioned that Cutler gives the Bears the best chance to win, which is absolutely true. But if Cutler's future is truly as murky as the team's recent actions indicate, why risk getting the quarterback hurt, which would diminish his trade value while potentially making the Bears liable for $10 million of the quarterback's $16 million base salary for 2016 if he's still on the roster on the third day of the 2015 league year (March 12)?

Remember, you can't move an injured player.

Cutler said all the right things last week in the wake of the benching. But from this vantage point, Trestman made a move in benching Cutler that he can't undo. In what appeared to be a desperate attempt to keep his job, Trestman damaged the relationship with Cutler. Likely forever.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen
Joe Sargent/Getty ImagesIn a questionable move, Jay Cutler will start in the Bears' Week 17 game at Minnesota on Sunday.
So Trestman's decision to go back to Cutler makes little sense, given there's absolutely nothing left for the Bears to play for Sunday in Minnesota.

Even receiver Brandon Marshall admitted Monday during his radio show on ESPN 1000 he's "sure there's some bitterness there or something there," and that Cutler coming back "is playing with your emotions a little bit."

Cutler's salary guarantees make it difficult enough to trade the quarterback because any franchise grabbing him would basically be forced to make a two-year commitment. So the quarterback going down with an injury in a meaningless game would only increase the difficulty the Bears already face this offseason, if the plan truly is to move Cutler.

Trestman insisted the relationship with the quarterback isn't strained. But even if that's truly the case, it's still bad business to play Cutler against the Vikings. Besides, why not give rookie David Fales a chance to showcase his skills?

"Jay's comments to the media were very similar to mine. We didn't practice together, in terms of what we were going to say. I said very specifically that I believe that Jay can work his way out of this," Trestman said. "And I've enjoyed coaching him and working with him. And we had dialogue last week. And we worked together last week. It was a tough week on him. I empathize with him on that. But we're moving forward, both with the idea that we've worked together for a long time and that hasn't changed."

What has changed is the functionality in the Chicago Bears' organization. That, certainly needs to change.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts are expected to have receiver T.Y. Hilton back for Sunday’s regular-season finale at the Tennessee Titans, coach Chuck Pagano said.

Hilton missed Sunday’s blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys because of a hamstring injury. Quarterback Andrew Luck could have used Hilton, too. Luck only completed three passes for more than 10 yards and threw for a career-low 109 yards before being taken out of the game in the third quarter.

As far as other injured players go, tight end Dwayne Allen had an MRI on his knee and Pagano is calling him day-to-day. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman is also day-to-day after undergoing an MRI on his hamstring. Allen and Freeman both left Sunday’s game early with their injuries.

Right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who missed Sunday’s game with a groin injury, is expected to do some field work at the team’s practice facility Tuesday. Xavier Nixon started at right tackle in place of Cherilus and really struggled. He was called for two penalties, including one on a 24-yard completion.
The Cleveland Browns are nothing if not consistent.

The Browns may be starting their third quarterback Sunday when they play the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore.

Hoyer
Manziel
If Connor Shaw starts, it will be the third year in a row and fourth time in the last five seasons the Browns will have started their third quarterback in the season finale.

The others: Jason Campbell last season (after Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer), Thad Lewis in 2012 (after Weeden and Colt McCoy) and McCoy in 2010 (after Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace).

Johnny Manziel has a significant hamstring injury that will not allow him to play and Hoyer has a significant shoulder injury that, though not structural, could keep him from playing.

That would leave Shaw, promoted from the practice squad this week.

Nothing has been determined, and Hoyer will try to play. But he probably would have left the game in Carolina on Sunday after he was drilled into the ground by 315-pound defensive lineman Kawann Short if the Browns had a third quarterback active.

Short landed on Hoyer, and he was feeling the effects after the game.

So the Browns quarterback situation looks like this:
  • Manziel out with what sounds like a severe hamstring pull or perhaps even tear (the Browns never specify on injuries). Manziel has erased none of the criticisms of him heading into the draft. Among them: Too short. Can’t read defenses. Looks to run. Runs the risk of injury because he runs. In the end, Manziel did not read defenses well, looked to run too often and was injured -- though he said his injury was caused when he slipped on a third-down throw to Josh Gordon. The sample size to judge Manziel is miniscule, but in the sample size he was given, he provided few answers.
  • Hoyer dealing with facing a Ravens defense with a bum shoulder. He will try to play -- it’s his nature -- and the Browns are treating Hoyer as day-to-day. If he improves enough as the week goes on, Hoyer will play. But given his impending free agency, he has to measure the risk/reward. The Browns' plan for their quarterbacks following the season remains an unknown.
  • Shaw, highly thought of by South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, has done the grunt work with the scout team much of the season as a practice squad quarterback. Browns coach Mike Pettine said all the right things about Shaw’s work ethic and preparation, but asking him to play in a game where the Ravens have the playoffs on the line is a tough task. Then again, Houston signed Case Keenum last week and he led the Texans to a win over the Ravens.

So ... there’s that.
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CLEVELAND -- So he's "more hungry"?

So he wants to be "the guy"?

Yeah, these next eight months are crucial.

Johnny Manziel threw up one money sign to celebrate a touchdown in 15 offensive drives then closed the register with a news conference in Carolina that seemed to acknowledge the obvious: There wasn't enough done on the field to take immediate ownership of the Cleveland Browns' quarterback job, but that process should start now.

Listen to coach Mike Pettine carefully when he describes in general terms what he wants in a quarterback to fit his "play like a Brown" mold. There's not a lot of talk about throwing mechanics or third-down conversions.
  • "It's the leadership part, not just vocally but leading by example."
  • "An encyclopedic knowledge of what we're doing ... in lockstep with the offensive coordinator."
  • "Every time he steps on to the field, he has to elevate the play of the players around him."
  • "Find a way to make plays. ... We want to find the winningest quarterback."
[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonShould Johnny Manziel compete for the Browns' starting quarterback job again next year, there are a few lessons he could learn in the offseason.
There's your blueprint, Manziel. Who knows, maybe there's a "no swan-floating" somewhere in there. Must be in another transcript.

Manziel and others around him (offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, for one) have said Manziel is misunderstood, that the party-with-Bieber-and-Drake image is a far-fetched one. This offseason can punctuate that point if that's how Manziel really feels. He can remold his image. He was able to start that process during the season, it seems. Coaches said he worked hard. Manziel said he learned to be a pro.

This offseason, Manziel can check off the first two items on Pettine's wish list -- and the quotes appear in the order he said them, by the way. Let the struggles of your two NFL starts drive you, an offseason fueled by the "absolutely" humbling experience you mentioned last week.

Spend some time in Cleveland outside the mandatory hours. Organize throwing sessions with receivers. Lean on veterans and coaches for advice.

That last part is crucial, Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby said. He's seen a lot of high draft picks fizzle out because they didn't evolve with the game.

"Johnny's got a lot of growing to do. He's a rookie. What do you want me to say?" Dansby said. "Johnny's making strides. He's getting better every week."

Dansby was speaking about rookies in general, but the point is clear: Now is the time to start winning the job.

Browns draft another quarterback? Who cares, start winning the job.

Browns sign a veteran free agent? Who cares, start winning the job.

The more competitors, the better.

It was fair to question whether Manziel was ready this season, but it seems reactionary to label him anything -- bust, hero, journeyman -- based on 35 throws. That's an absurdly small sample size for a rookie quarterback.

But Manziel could have created offseason momentum with a few more plays made on the field. Maybe he would have done that in Baltimore. That's why his injury is unfortunate for the Browns. That was a chance for Manziel to redirect the ugly statistics from the past six quarters.

Right now, that's all people remember. Manziel will need time -- and examples -- to change that.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- At the midpoint of last season, the Green Bay Packers thought they had a solid defense, and the numbers backed them up. They ranked 15th in the league in yards allowed per game (and fifth against the run) as the second half of the season began.

Then came the free fall.

Without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who missed seven starts in the second half of the season because of a broken collarbone, the Packers defense crumbled under the pressure of trying to carry a team that was rendered offensively challenged without its quarterback.

By the time Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale, Dom Capers' defense had bottomed out at 26th out of 32 teams, only to move up one spot and finish the season at 25th, which was tied for the Packers' second-lowest ranking since 1983. Their run defense never recovered, either, finishing 25th as well.

This season, Capers and Co. have flipped the storyline.

As the Packers began the second half of this season, they ranked 25th in total yards allowed. They hovered around that area until two weeks ago, when the first signs of major improvement came in the 21-13 loss at the Buffalo Bills. The Packers did not allow a defensive touchdown and yielded just 253 yards, their lowest total since Week 7 of the 2013 season.

They bettered that in Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who managed just 109 yards of total offense and did not score a touchdown.

It shot the Packers up to 12th in the defensive rankings, giving them their highest ranking since Week 8 of last season, when they were 11th. Their run defense, which bounced between 30th and 32nd the first nine weeks of the season, has gone all the way up to 22nd.

"What you've got to understand is that throughout the run, there's going to be a couple bumps, but we've always overcome adversity here in Green Bay," Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. "We don't see it as anything different. We're going to continue to get better, continue to go to work, continue to trust the guy next to us and continue to trust our whole team."

The yardage allowed the last two weeks combined (362) is only slightly more than what the Atlanta Falcons put up against the Packers in the second half alone (304 yards) two weeks ago, when it looked like the Packers might be headed for another defensive collapse.

"I can't even really think about two weeks ago, but every week is a different week," said outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who had two of the Packers' season-high seven sacks on Sunday. "We go out with the goal every week to try to perform better than we did previously. If we can continue to go in that direction, we'll be good."

While Williams said he believes the defense is trending up, they will have to come up with a similar performance in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions to prove it was something more than a product of the schedule. The Bills rank 24th in total offense, while the Bucs are second to last. The Lions are at least respectable at No. 18.

"When that's what you're expected to do, I guess it's normal,” Williams said of slowing down two bad offenses. "But it's the NFL and anytime you can keep a team to that, it doesn't matter what type of offense it us. There's a lot of talented players out there. For us to come out and play the way we did [Sunday], it's something to build off of."

Perhaps this season will follow the same defensive track as 2010, when the Packers ranked 14th in total yards allowed at Week 9 but finished fifth on their way to Super Bowl XLV.

"Now we just have to not get too high with the highs or too low with the lows," safety Morgan Burnett said. "Keep an even keel."
TEMPE, Ariz. – Regardless of how healthy Drew Stanton is by kickoff Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, he won’t play against the 49ers, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Monday.

The hope is to have Stanton ready for Arizona’s first playoff game, whether that’s during the wild card or divisional round.

“I have very, very high optimism because he wants to be ready,” Arians said. “I think had he not had that minor setback last week, he would have probably tried to play in that one.

“There’s no way I’ll play him this week unless we have to.”

Stanton
After Thursday’s practice, in which Stanton was listed as a limited participant, Stanton’s right knee swelled but it went down quickly, Arians said.

“We don’t want to have another setback,” Arians said. “He’ll work into practice some this week and get some action in practice.”
  • Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is playing at a 70-percent level as he continues to recover from a sprained left MCL, Arians said. “He’s nowhere near what he was playing at before,” Arians said. Fitzgerald has averaged 6.5 yards per catch since his he returned in Week 14 after missing two games. Prior to his injury, Fitzgerald averaged 14.3 yards per catch.
  • Jonathan Cooper received a new cast and Arians said he’ll determine Wednesday if the second-year left guard can play in San Francisco. Arians said Cooper’s initial cast was built “non-functional.” Arians wouldn’t commit to Cooper regaining his starting role at left guard if he returns this season. “We’ll have to see that in practice because he did not do very well in practice last week,” Arians said. “And then we had to take him out. If he can, again, we won’t be in pads, so it’s very hard to find out, but we’ll see.”
  • Stanton will be the only player held out of Sunday’s game, Arians said. “We’re playing to win the game,” Arians said. “If Drew were truly healthy, we would start him but I don’t see that happening by Sunday.”
  • The Cardinals came out of Sunday night’s game healthy, Arians said.
  • Arians said University of Phoenix Stadium had the feeling of a “different game than it had been all year. We didn’t rise up to that. It’s a shame because they don’t come around very often.”
  • Arians praised the NFL’s scheduling department for putting together matchups this late in the season that ended up mattering. "I think the league does a great job in scheduling when you come down to the last week of the season and there’s so much at stake still,” Arians said. “Throughout the entire league, divisions are still up in the air, wild cards are still in the air. It’s going to be a fun week.”
CINCINNATI -- There's something else on the line when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Denver Broncos on ESPN's "Monday Night football" that's barely been mentioned this week.

The AFC's 2-seed.

It's quite possible that if the heaviest of dominoes fall not only Monday night but also next week, the Bengals could end up having the opening round of the playoffs off.

What has to happen in order for that to take place?

Primarily, three things: for the Bengals (currently the AFC's No. 3 postseason seed) to beat the Broncos (currently the No. 2 seed), for the Bengals to beat the Steelers next week at Pittsburgh, and for the Broncos to lose next week to Oakland. Even if the Bengals win Monday but have a second tie of the season next week, there are ways for them to get the No. 2 seeding. They are detailed below.

It's improbable that 11-3 Denver would fall to the three-win Raiders next week, let alone that it would drop two straight games entering the postseason. But it's still possible. It's also very possible that Cincinnati could end up winning these last two games, even if they both are in prime time. Next Sunday's game at Pittsburgh was just flexed into an 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff.

As you well know, the Bengals enter Monday's game having gone 2-6 in nighttime regular-season games since 2011, the year quarterback Andy Dalton became the starter.

Before the Bengals can truly entertain thoughts about playoff seeding, they have to first make the postseason. After a little confusion from information passed along from the NFL earlier in the day, we have updated scenarios for what must take place in order for the Bengals to clinch a playoff spot, even if they go winless in their last two games.

Here they are from the NFL and ESPN Stats & Information:

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINCNNATI

Bengals clinch AFC North title with:

1) CIN win

Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot with:

1) CIN tie OR

2) BAL loss or tie OR

3) SD loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot

Cincinnati clinches AFC North title with:

1) CIN win or tie

Cincinnati clinches a first-round bye (and No. 2 seeding) with:

1) CIN win + DEN loss (vs. OAK) or tie OR

2) CIN tie + DEN loss + IND loss or tie
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Dominic Raiola did this to himself.

That is the easiest way to explain why the longtime Detroit Lions center was suspended Monday for one of the biggest games of his 14-year career in Detroit -- a NFC North title game against the Green Bay Packers.

Raiola’s history as well as Sunday’s stomp on Ego Ferguson’s ankle led the NFL to make this move as the league cited his six safety-related violations since 2010 as part of the reason for the suspension. That he stomped on the ankle of the Chicago defensive lineman and then insisted afterward it was unintentional was just the last in a string of incidents.

Even though Raiola called it unintentional, the league clearly saw it differently, and barring a reversal on appeal at his hearing Tuesday, he will sit for the Lions on Sunday against the Packers. And he can’t blame anyone else for it.

Earlier this season, Raiola was caught taking a swing at the back of the head of New England defensive lineman Zach Moore -- drawing a fine of $10,000. He wasn’t fined for the initial play that caught people’s attention at first, which was a cut block on Moore when the Detroit Lions were kneeling for the game's final play.

Raiola was unapologetic then, and though he apologized to Ferguson and other Chicago players this time, it wasn’t enough for him to avoid a suspension.

Last season, he had to apologize and make a donation to the Wisconsin marching band after making inappropriate comments toward them during the Green Bay-Detroit game. He also used an obscene gesture and got into a verbal altercation with a fan in Miami in 2010 -- costing him $15,000 -- and was fined $7,500 in 2008 for making an inappropriate gesture to a Lions fan after the team dropped to 0-13.

So Raiola has acted this way from time-to-time for a long time, and it finally caught up to him at one of the worst times for the Detroit Lions, as they get ready for one of the biggest games in franchise history.

It also calls into question where the Lions sit with discipline right now. Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been fairly strong on disciplining his players so far this season, having suspended Brandon Pettigrew for a quarter against Tampa Bay for a violation of team rules and suspending Joique Bell for the first quarter of Sunday’s game against Chicago for a violation of team rules.

He also sent C.J. Mosley home from London and suspended him for two weeks for a violation of team rules.

Those were off-field issues, though, and they are something Caldwell talks about with his team constantly.

"Every week," Caldwell said. "It’s kind of where the high cost for low living comes in, so you cover the gamut and you’ve got to keep it before them."

Now, Caldwell can use Raiola’s actions as another teaching point -- to play cleaner on the field. This was even an issue for Detroit on Sunday beyond Raiola’s stomp. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he made contact with the head of Chicago quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Clausen was found to have a concussion after the game, likely stemming from Ansah’s illegal hit, and already has been ruled out for the Bears' finale against Minnesota.

Typically, there is not much of a reason to make a big deal about penalties, especially considering Seattle, New England and Denver have all committed more infractions than the Lions this season. But Caldwell has made a point of saying any more than three penalties a game is too much.

That’s a mark Detroit has yet to hit this season. Now, after the most experienced player in the locker room is missing perhaps the biggest game of his career because of on-field shenanigans, Caldwell can use it to bring home his point even more.

Play clean on the field. Do things right off of it. Otherwise, there will be consequences, as the Detroit Lions have continued to find out throughout the season.

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IRVING, Texas – A week ago today, DeMarco Murray had surgery to stabilize a fourth metacarpal in his left hand with a plate and eight screws. The stitches still remain.

But Murray did not have any setbacks, according to coach Jason Garrett.

In fact, Garrett called Murray’s 22-carry, 58-yard, one-touchdown game in the 42-7 win against the Indianapolis Colts his best of the season.

Murray
“He’s had other games where the numbers are a little bit gaudier, more impressive, but just his mindset and his demeanor all week long and what that meant to our football team was really, really significant,” Garrett said. “I think it reflected in how we played as a football team. And he was amazing. He ran the ball in this game. He ran it tough. He ran it hard. He blocked in this game. They’re bringing safeties, he’s turning around and picking them up. I just thought he was fantastic, and I can’t tell you how meaningful that was to everybody else for him to have the mindset that he had.”

Garrett said the plan is for Murray to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins. He will continue to wear the hard plastic shell on the top of his glove for added protection.

He needs 29 yards to break Emmitt Smith’s record for rushing yards in a season (1,773 in 1995), but Garrett is not concerned with that.

“And it’s not important to DeMarco either,” Garrett said. “It’s all about winning. It’s all about what’s best for our football team. Now, those two things coincide. It’s good for our football team when DeMarco is running the ball well and we control the game by running the football. That’s been a formula for success for us all year long so we’ll certainly try and do that this week. But the idea that we’re going to get a player some kind of statistic, it’s not really part of our thinking.”

NFL Nation Game Day Live: Broncos at Bengals

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
5:00
PM ET
Follow along below for the latest coverage from our NFL Nation reporters on this week's Monday night matchup between the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals.

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PHILADELPHIA -- In 2003, when he was offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire, Chip Kelly's team didn't go to the FCS playoffs.

Since then, Kelly has gone to the postseason every year. Whether it was bowl games at Oregon or the NFL playoffs last season, Kelly has played beyond the regular season.

When he turned on the Dallas Cowboys' game against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, it was already 28-0. Dallas was well on the way toward winning and eliminating Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles from the postseason.

"Anytime you don't make the playoffs in the National Football League, it's disappointing," Kelly said Monday. "Not happy with the situation we're in right now. We just can't sit here and feel sorry for yourselves. That's not what this group I'm around will do, and I know that."

Kelly was asked if he'd experienced as sudden or disappointing an end to the season as this. Three weeks ago, the Eagles were 9-3 and held first place in the NFC East. Three losses later, they were out of the playoff picture.

"Every ending is sudden and disappointing unless you win the championship," Kelly said. "I lost the [NCAA] national championship on a field goal at the end of the game. That was sudden. That was really disappointing. I mean, anytime you don't get to the ultimate goal, that's the way you feel, whether you were close or far or whatever. I think it's always that way.

"And in this league, there's going to be one happy team when this whole season's over. I don't know who it's going to be. Last year it was Seattle. It's the same exact thing. It's no different than that gut-wrenching feeling that you had when you walked off the field when you played the New Orleans Saints and we lost the playoff game to them."

Kelly didn't see much difference between losing in the playoffs and missing them entirely.

"Whether we lose in the playoff game or whether we lost in this fashion, they're both gut-wrenching situations," Kelly said. "We're extremely disappointed. We're frustrated. We understand that. But we still have to play one more football game. We're not going to say, 'Hey, New York [Giants], let's not worry about that.' They're not like that. They've won their last three straight. They're going to be ready to play. We're going to be ready to play on Sunday."
Geno Smith didn't see a whole lot wrong with his performance Sunday. That, in itself, is troubling.

"After watching it on tape, I think I played good," the New York Jets' quarterback said Monday on a conference call with reporters. "I made some good throws, made some good reads."

Hello?

Smith
Smith threw a critical third-quarter interception -- a "poor throw," according to head coach Rex Ryan -- and he took a third-down sack in the fourth quarter that might have cost them the game. Afterward, Ryan chided Smith for holding the ball in that situation, saying it's up to the quarterback to avoid a sack at all costs.

The second-year quarterback has made some curious comments recently. Two weeks ago, Smith was mocked for saying he has displayed "flashes of being a Pro Bowl quarterback." On Monday, after a crushing loss to the New England Patriots, he still was wearing his rose-colored glasses.

Smith acknowledged they should've fared better in the red zone, but he added: "I think we did a good job overall. Protection was great. The run game was great. Aside from one or two plays here and there, I think as an offense we did a pretty good job against a really good defense."

Bottom line: The Jets scored one touchdown. They lost, 17-16. No, the offense didn't do a pretty good job.

Smith's fourth-quarter sack was the killer. It came on a third-and-4 from the Patriots' 24. The Patriots blitzed, rushing five. The Jets had six in protection, but there was a miscommunication between running back Bilal Powell and right tackle Breno Giacomini, leaving linebacker Dont'a Hightower unblocked.

Smith refused to accept the blame for the sack.

"I know you’re supposed to get the ball away in that situation," he said. "Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to and I wasn’t able to."

He claimed he wasn't surprised by the blitz, but there was "immediate pressure and didn’t want to run backwards or try to scramble out to the right or to the left and take a bigger sack, so I tried to pretty much eat it right there and take as minimal a loss as I could."

What about throwing a quick outlet pass?

"I’m pretty sure you guys have seen the play," Smith said, bristling. "There is no outlet in that situation on that play. The guy who was the outlet, the back, was in protection."

True, but wide receiver Jeremy Kerley was open underneath.

Smith's comments were surprising because, in the past, he has owned up to his mistakes, as every quarterback should. These latest remarks show a lack of accountability, and that's not what you want from your quarterback.
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The Charley Casserly news probably elicited a great big laugh from the New England Patriots' bunker in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Bill Belichick, we know, isn't a member of the Casserly fan club.

Belichick doesn't fire off too many candid responses, which made it stunning almost five years ago (January 2010) when he ripped Casserly for reporting on CBS that Tom Brady was playing with three broken ribs.

"Who's been wrong more than Charley Casserly since he left the Redskins? His percentage is like a meteorologist," Belichick said during his weekly spot on WEEI radio. "He has no relationship to this team. I'd say less than zero. Based on what? He's never at a practice, never at a game. ... At least he put his name on it, which is more than a lot of guys. But, like he usually is, he was 100 percent wrong."

At the time, Casserly, a former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans general manager, was working as an information man for CBS.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Casserly
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesCharley Casserly says the blame has to fall on someone within the organization for the Jets not addressing their cornerback position.
The New York Jets are interested in Casserly for his knowledge of the NFL, not his reporting skills. He will be hired as a Jets consultant if owner Woody Johnson decides to fire general manager John Idzik or coach Rex Ryan. Casserly won't have a say in the Idzik and Ryan evaluations, according to sources, but he will have input into potential GM and head-coaching searches.

What does Casserly think of the Jets? In an October interview with CBS Radio, he was asked to assess blame for the Jets' season. He seemed to point the finger at Idzik.

"I would say, having been in an organization, it's hard to know from the outside-in who's making the final decision on things," he said. "For example, they took two corners in the first round. One is hurt [Dee Milliner], and the other one, [Kyle] Wilson, hasn't panned out. So how much of that was the coaching staff? How much of that was the scouting staff? Who made the final decision? Those are the things you're going to have to figure out -- and that's the owner's job to figure that out."

Casserly added, "This year, they did not take a corner [in the first round] -- and they were in desperate need of a corner. Cincinnati took Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State [24th overall], who was rated about in the middle of the first round. Now, he's not playing for them because they have a lot of other corners, but they do like him there.

"Not addressing the cornerback position was huge because [of] two things: One, any time you talk to Rex Ryan, he says, 'Give me corners. That's what I need is corners.' When you watch their defense, they've never had a legitimate outside pass-rusher you have to game-plan against. But by having good corners, Rex is as good as anybody in the league at designing blitzes to get people free.

"So that's an example of the front office not getting what the coach needs. From the outside-in, that's the obvious one we look at there. It's a legitimate question because clearly there's not enough talent around that football team to compete. I thought Rex should have been the coach of the year at 8-8 last year."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer closed his postgame remarks after a 37-35 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday by hinting to reporters they had only gotten a taste of the ire he had showed to players.

Asked if his message to the team was similar to his terse news conference, Zimmer simply said, "It was stronger."

Zimmer
That's probably an understatement, based on what players said Monday, and there is good reason for Zimmer's belligerence. The Vikings allowed season highs in yards (493), passing yards (377) and first downs (36) on Sunday. The 35 points they gave up while their defense was on the field matched their most of the season (Green Bay also scored five offensive touchdowns on Oct. 2). Several players called it the worst defensive performance of the season. Few were surprised at Zimmer's response.

"He was livid," defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. "In his position, I would be, too, watching the defense do what we did."

The Vikings allowed four touchdowns in the second half, with three of them coming on 80-yard drives. They sacked Ryan Tannehill just twice, and couldn't put much pressure on him; according to ESPN Stats and Information, Tannehill hit 27 of his 33 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns when the Vikings brought four or fewer rushers.

"That was the worst we've played all year -- maybe one of the worst defensive performances I've seen in a long time," Zimmer said on Monday. "But definitely this year, for sure."

The Vikings still rank 15th in the league in yards and points allowed, and they are seventh in the NFL with 41 sacks. But they have dropped off after being ranked in the top-10 in a number of statistical categories this season, and Sunday showed how many rough edges they still have; linebacker Jasper Brinkley said there were a number of miscommunications on defense, and Zimmer put things in even sharper focus.

"There were times where guys lined up and I didn't even know where we were lining up," Zimmer said. "That's probably an issue."

As much of an overhaul as the Vikings' defense received before this season -- and as much as the group has improved -- the feeling here has always been the team probably needs one more cycle of player acquisition before Zimmer has all or most of the defensive pieces he wants. It wouldn't be surprising to see a number of changes again this offseason; players have one more chance to make an impression on Sunday against Chicago, and then the Vikings will begin their process of deciding whom they will keep.

"Throughout most of the season, the defense has done what they're supposed to do," Zimmer said. "And for the most part, good things have happened. But those things bother me: mistakes bother me, penalties bother me, selfishness bothers me. I'm trying to preach that being a team is important, understanding your role and understanding where you're supposed to be, and everybody else understanding. That's why we have this (team meeting room), so that we can all understand what we're trying to get done.

"Our guys care. Both sides of the ball, this football team cares. They didn't perform defensively yesterday. ... At some point in time, I'll get this defense fixed. It may not be this week, it may not be until the middle of the year, but it'll be fixed. You can bet your butt on that."

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