NFL Nation: NFC North

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This week, we looked at the Green Bay Packers' upcoming free agents on both the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side and noted that general manager Ted Thomson has some difficult choices to make.

He's also facing some decisions about players under contract for next season.

Not that the Packers are hurting for salary-cap space -- they already have $18,361,430 in available room for 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data -- but they could pick up a lot more room if they decide to release some players already under contract.

If the Packers make salary-cap related moves, they usually do so before free agency begins in March.

Here's a look at three possible salary-cap casualties:

A.J. Hawk, LB
2015 salary-cap charge: $5.1 million
Cap savings if released: $3.5 million
Hawk
Why he could be released: In his ninth season, the former first-round pick saw his role greatly reduced late in the season. He played only 31.1 percent of the defensive snaps over the final seven games (including playoffs). In the first 11 games, he played 94 percent of the snaps. He has only the 2015 season remaining on his contract. If the Packers released him, they would have to absorb $1.6 million -- the remaining proration from his last signing bonus -- on their salary cap, but they would wipe out his $2.45 million base salary and bonuses of $800,000 (roster) and $250,000 (workout). Age and a lack of speed appears to have caught up to Hawk, who turned 31 this month. However, injuries could have been a factor. Although he denied he was hurt, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, one of Hawk's best friends on the team, said several times during the season that Hawk was battling health issues.

Brad Jones, LB
2015 salary-cap charge: $4.75 million
Cap savings if released: $3.75 million

Jones
Why he could be released: Like Hawk, Jones' role was significantly reduced as the season went on. He played every snap in the season opener, then missed three games because of a quadriceps injury. When he returned, he played only 15.9 percent of the defensive snaps the rest of the reason. Those snaps came mostly as the lone inside linebacker in the dime package, but he was benched from that role before the NFC Championship Game and didn't play a snap on defense in that game. He has only the 2015 season remaining on his contract. The Packers would wipe out his $3.25 million base salary and $500,000 in bonuses by releasing him. They would have to count only $1 million -- the remaining proration from his last signing bonus -- on their cap.

Julius Peppers, OLB
2015 salary-cap charge: $12 million
Cap savings if released: $7 million
Peppers
Why he could be released: Peppers had a productive season with 9.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions, including playoffs, while playing 73.8 percent of the defensive snaps. But the three-year, $26 million contract he signed last March was structured so that the Packers could move on after one year and save cap space if they desired. On the flip side, if they keep him, it will be costly. His base salary for 2015 would be $8.5 million, and he has another $1 million in bonuses. That $9.5 million would be wiped off the books if he were released, and the Packers would have to count $5 million in remaining signing bonus proration (or they could designate him as a post-June 1 cut and count $2.5 million on 2015, and the other $2.5 million on the 2016 cap).
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MOBILE, Ala. -- The Senior Bowl won't be played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium until Saturday, but for NFL teams evaluating the 108 players in this year's game, most of the heavy lifting is done. Many coaching staffs, including the Minnesota Vikings' coaches, left town on Thursday, and while the team's front office will be here until Saturday, they're mostly staying for a meeting with the team's representative from the BLESTO scouting service.

The top of the draft board is stocked with underclassmen -- Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton, thought to be the top player in Mobile this week, generally isn't projected to go until the middle of the first round -- but there is value to be found here for the second and third days of the draft.

The Vikings have identified eight positions where they need to improve in 2015. Some of those could be filled by development from players the Vikings already have, and some could be solved through free agency in March. But for now, here's an early guess at a few areas where the Vikings could be looking for help, and a look at a few players who stood out in those areas during Senior Bowl practice this week.

Safety

Mississippi's Cody Prewitt has had an impressive week here, intercepting a pass on Tuesday, charging in to stop a reverse during Wednesday's practice and showing good strength and positioning during one-on-one red zone drills on Thursday. At 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, he could make a nice second-round target for the Vikings if they wanted to put him next to Harrison Smith.

Middle linebacker

Clemson's Stephone Anthony was voted the top linebacker of Senior Bowl week by scouts who evaluated practice, and could be worth keeping in mind; he's 6-foot-2, 245 pounds and had solid speed for his size. Miami's Denzel Perryman might be too small to play middle linebacker in the NFL -- he's only 5-foot-11, and said earlier this week he's trying to get down to 235 pounds before the NFL scouting combine in February -- but he's looked stout against the run this week. Cincinnati's Jeff Luc has also been impressive. He's also 5-foot-11, but weighs 263 pounds and has run well in coverage at that weight.

Offensive line

Wisconsin's Rob Havenstein is a mountain of a man at 6-foot-7 and 332 pounds; he comes from a school that prides itself on power football, but looked better on his feet in pass-blocking drills than many thought he might. It remains to be seen if the Vikings will pursue help at the tackle position, as there were indications they spent some time with Havenstein this week. Duke guard Laken Tomlinson was voted the top lineman of the week, largely for how well he fared against Shelton in practice. He's got a compelling story -- he was born in Jamaica, double-majored in evolutionary anthropology and psychology at Duke, and has dreams of becoming a doctor -- and if the Vikings were looking for help at left guard, Tomlinson might catch their eye.

Wide receiver

The group here this week has been stocked with slot receivers -- Kansas State's Tyler Lockett had a good week, and said he talked a couple times with Vikings receivers coach George Stewart -- but Auburn's Sammie Coates is a name to keep in mind. At 6-foot-2, he's the best outside receiver prospect at the Senior Bowl. There's still concern about his hands, but he can fly (he could run the 40 in the 4.3 range at the combine) and is currently projected as an early second-round pick. The Vikings don't exactly need another unrefined player at receiver, but if they feel they can develop Coates, there's plenty there to like.
MOBILE, Ala. -- As seniors at Nebraska and Minnesota, Ameer Abdullah and David Cobb were part of a Big Ten running back class that showed how vital the position can still be in the modern game. Now, they'll be part of a talented draft group that's trying to graduate into the NFL at a time where the running back market has been depressed.

Just six teams spent more than $10 million on their entire running back group in 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Information, with only 13 exceeding the average of $6.87 million for the position. Compare that to the NFL average for the quarterbacks ($11.807 million) and wide receivers ($12.401 million), and the financial impact of the league's well-documented shift toward the passing game becomes obvious.

This year's running back class has depth -- some analysts estimate as many as 10 backs in this year's draft could be solid pros -- and star power at the top with Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. And yet, there have only been four backs taken in the first round since 2011, and the ones to go that high -- Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson and Mark Ingram -- have fallen short of being stars. So as the running backs in the Class of 2015 prepare for the draft, they'll have some work to do if they want to convince teams they're worth a substantial investment.

"The more things you can do, the more valuable you become," said Cobb, who earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2014 and has stood out early during his time at the Senior Bowl. "It's kind of like a role player now -- you throw the ball so much. You have to be a special-teams player, you have to protect the quarterback. The more you do, the better off you'll be."

There are few true featured running backs in the league these days, and a large number of the rookies in this year's draft class could be preparing for time-share roles after careers where they've been a key piece of their offenses. But it's worth noting that six of the top 11 rushing teams in the NFL made the playoffs in 2014. That list also includes the 10-6 Eagles, the 9-7 Chiefs and the 9-7 Texans, who all narrowly missed playoff spots.

For the teams in the running back market (including the Vikings, who might be looking for another back depending on Adrian Peterson's future), there's plenty of supply available. It's up to the players in the draft class to stoke some demand.

"I think the best thing for any running back who's eligible for the draft right now is not to worry about [the state of the position]," Abdullah said. "That's when you start to over-reach and do too much. You can't worry about what the fad is in the NFL. Just try to be yourself."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For a short time on Thursday morning, the Twitterverse was abuzz over the idea that the Seattle Seahawks had lined up in an illegal formation on their onside kick in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.

Dean Blandino, the NFL's vice president of officiating, put an end to that.


It's right there in Rule 8, Article 3, Section C, which states: "At least four players of the kicking team must be on each side of the ball. At least three players must be lined up outside each inbounds line, one of whom must be outside the yard-line number."

So the Green Bay Packers have nothing to gripe about, at least not from an officiating standpoint on that play.

The play will go down as one of the most agonizing in Packers playoff history given that they almost certainly would have advanced to the Super Bowl had they secured the ball. Instead, it went through the hands of tight end Brandon Bostick -- who was supposed to be blocking on the play to allow sure-handed receiver Jordy Nelson to field it -- and the Seahawks recovered and scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Green Bay Packers season report card

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
11:00
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Was this the start of another run of great chances to get back to the Super Bowl or something that could begin a downward spiral?

How the Green Bay Packers come back from the stunning end to this season, the NFC Championship Game collapse against the Seattle Seahawks, will alter how history views the 2014 season.

"It's going to be a missed opportunity that we'll probably think about for the rest of my career," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the 28-22 overtime loss to the Seahawks. "We were the better team today, and we played well enough to win, and we can't blame anybody but ourselves."

Can the Packers get back to this position next season?

"Yes, we can," veteran safety Morgan Burnett said.

If so, then perhaps Rodgers and his teammates won’t have to think about it for the rest of their careers.

Team MVP: Forget team MVP. Rodgers should be (and probably will be) the NFL's MVP. Rodgers threw just five interceptions in the regular season to go with 38 touchdowns. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7.6 was more than double what second-best Tony Romo's was, at 3.78. At home, Rodgers was unbeatable, going 9-0. In those games (playoffs included), he threw 25 touchdowns without an interception. His last interception at Lambeau was 418 passes and 36 touchdowns ago. His performance against the Cowboys in the divisional playoff game, playing on a badly strained left calf, was one for the ages. His season-long production was even more remarkable considering he had only two consistent weapons in the passing game, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

Best moment: R-E-L-A-X. On Sept. 23, Rodgers went on his weekly radio show on ESPN Milwaukee and said: "Five letters here just for everybody out there in Packerland: R-E-L-A-X." Rodgers added, "Relax. We're going to be OK." At the time, the Packers were two days removed from a 19-7 loss at the Detroit Lions that dropped them to 1-2. That one word served as an unofficial theme for the season. In the next game, Rodgers threw four touchdowns in a 38-17 road win over the Chicago Bears that began a stretch in which the Packers won nine out of 10 games and 11 out of their last 13 to close the regular season. They won the NFC North for the fourth straight season.

Worst moment: Take your pick, but most of them happened in the final minutes of Sunday's NFC Championship Game. You can start with Seattle burning the Packers for a fake field goal. Then there were the back-to-back, three-and-out possessions (and some ultra-conservative play calls) that began with 6:53 and 5:04 remaining. The Packers led 19-7 to start both of them. Then there was the botched onside kick recovery in which backup tight end Brandon Bostick, who was supposed to be blocking on the play, went for the ball and couldn't corral it. And finally the defense allowing touchdowns on Seattle's last two possessions of regulation and in overtime. If you want to look at another game, try Week 15 in Buffalo, where Nelson dropped a potential touchdown pass in a 21-13 loss that cost Green Bay home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

2015 outlook: At age 31, Rodgers still has plenty of good years left, so the Packers' championship window would seemingly remain open for a while. However, there are some key issues general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy need to address. First, Thompson must find a way to re-sign Cobb, who would be a free agent in March. Then, he needs to find another weapon or two for Rodgers. McCarthy must fix the special teams and defensive issues that have plagued the Packers since their Super Bowl win four years ago. This is a team that has shown it's the class of the NFC North, but is not in the class of recent NFC Super Bowl participants.
MOBILE, Ala. -- Hello from Mobile, the temporary site of the Minnesota Vikings blog headquarters this week while we're at the Senior Bowl. We'll be here until Friday, covering the workouts at Ladd Peebles Stadium before Saturday's game. Most NFL teams have their coaches and scouting staffs here until Thursday or Friday, so in addition to covering the NFL draft prospects who are working out here, we'll try to pass along a few Vikings and NFL nuggets of interest, as well.

In that spirit, we'll get you started with a few items this evening:
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars are planning to hire former Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson for the same job, according to a league source. That means Vikings running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who had interviewed for the job earlier this month, won't be heading to Florida. Wilson was a finalist for the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator opening last winter, and might have been the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator three years ago if not for a house fire that nearly claimed his life at that time. Wilson is highly-regarded in league circles though, and in the absence of Adrian Peterson, he helped Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata combine for 1,555 yards from scrimmage this season.
  • The identity of Cordarrelle Patterson's offseason instructor is still unknown, but we were able to root out one popular theory: It's not Michael Irvin. The former Cowboys receiver, who built his Hall of Fame career in the scheme of Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner, isn't mentoring Patterson this offseason, according to a league source.
  • Former University of Minnesota running back David Cobb got a surprise visitor after the North team practice at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday: Golden Gophers coach Jerry Kill, who was in the area on a recruiting trip with his wife Rebecca and defensive backs/special teams coach Jay Sawvel, stopped by practice to wish Cobb well. Cobb, who ran for 2,828 yards the last two seasons and broke Laurence Maroney's single-season rushing record this season, spent some time chatting with his former coaches on the field after practice. "It's definitely great," Cobb said. "When you can come off practice and see your head coach and his wife, and he's so proud of you, and you see one of your defensive/special teams coaches -- who's the smartest guy I know -- man, it's a blessing to have so many people supporting you."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Back in September, Aaron Rodgers had just the thing to calm down Green Bay Packers' fans concerned over the team's 1-2 start. Four months later, he couldn't come up with anything comparable to his R-E-L-A-X message to help ease the pain of Sunday's overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game.

Rodgers
"I don't have any catchy, spell-out phrases at this point," Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show. "Everybody's hurt and disappointed and frustrated and shocked, Packer fans and players and coaches alike. It's tough. It's a long year and I know the fans out there, you guys put a lot into it as well. You guys live and die emotionally with our every play, and we appreciate you guys so much.

"We're hurting just like you guys are, and resolute in our determination to get back out there and have a better result next year."

Rodgers talked at length about Sunday's loss during his 36-minute radio show, and he didn't try to downplay the significance of the defeat.

He admitted that he can't help thinking that had any one play gone differently, he might be preparing right now for his second Super Bowl appearance.

"We all play the what-if game," Rodgers said. "It's a terrorizing game because it can really mess with you mentally. Of course, you go through the different plays throughout the game. A lot of times, we're sitting here and thinking, you know, we've lost some playoff games where, yeah, we probably needed to make a few more plays — more than one. You look at the game on Sunday, really one play here or there could have made the difference. Could have been a play in the first quarter or a play in the last quarter."

Some of those plays can be attributed to Rodgers himself. He threw two interceptions, although on one he was convinced he had a free play, and his passer rating of 55.8 was the second lowest among his 11 playoff starts.

"For sure, it's disappointing," Rodgers said of his performance. "It's a great defense but missed a couple throws and then had the couple miscommunications. Yeah, it's frustrating. We were so close. Just a play here or there that would have sealed it."

How will the Packers bounce back?

Even Rodgers isn't sure.

"That's the million-dollar question right there," Rodgers said. "You have to be able to refocus. It's getting away, whether physically or mentally, and kind of refreshing your mind and then getting ready. Every year you get older in the league, you know the chances become fewer. That's why it stings probably a little bit more. I'd love to play, like I've said, another seven or eight, nine more years, but you just never know how your body's going to hold up, how the team's going to hold up and your opportunities you're going to have.

"We had a great opportunity right in front of us to do something special. That's what makes it hard. I remember Ray Lewis talking about losing that AFC Championship, I believe it was to New England, and then how that kind of spurred them on the next year to come back and win it. That's obviously the goal, but so much has to happen between now sitting here in January and getting back to this point. You realize it's a tall task, but we'll be up for it when we get back together."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Few quarterbacks, if any, are better at taking advantage of free plays than Aaron Rodgers. He thought he had one in the first quarter of the Green Bay Packers' NFC Championship Game loss on Sunday when he saw Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett cross the line of scrimmage.

So he took a shot and threw to rookie receiver Davante Adams in the end zone, but cornerback Richard Sherman picked it off.

Rodgers
Since there was no flag for on offside penalty, so the interception stood.

Two days after the game, Rodgers remained convinced the officials missed the call.

"I think it's pretty evident on the film," Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show.

A review of the game film shows Rodgers has a legitimate gripe.

It potentially cost the Packers points because it was a third-and-10 play from the Seahawks' 29-yard line. At worst, an incompletion there would have set up a 47-yard field goal by Mason Crosby, who was 5-for-5 in the game. A penalty would have given the Packers a third-and-5 play from the 24 yard line.

It was one of two interceptions Rodgers threw in the 28-22 overtime loss.

After the game, he explained them both.

"Felt like we might have had an offsides on the first interception," Rodgers said at the time. "Corey [Linsley] snapped it early -- I figured it was a free play -- and Davante was the only route that was going in the end zone. Sherm made a good play. The second one, just miscommunication between Cobb and I."

Aaron Rodgers pulls out of Pro Bowl

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
12:30
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When Aaron Rodgers said last week that he had 120 minutes left in him this season with his injured calf, he surely wasn't talking about the Pro Bowl.

Rodgers
Two days after the Green Bay Packers' overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's NFC Championship Game, Rodgers pulled out of the Pro Bowl, citing his calf injury. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was added in his place.

Rodgers said after Sunday’s loss that he "felt it the whole game" when asked about his injured calf, although he appeared to be more mobile as the game progressed.

"The fourth quarter, I just kind of let it go," Rodgers said in his post-game press conference. "I need to push it and run a little bit and just kind of let it go."
NFL free agency doesn’t start until March 10, but Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace considers the team’s efforts to fill out the coaching staff just as important.

"I look at these coordinators as free agent moves," Pace said. "Sometimes your best free agent acquisition is a coach. If we get the right coordinators and the right coaches, that’s going to set us up. I’m excited about it. Right now, the clock is ticking on these coordinators. So a part of me is like, 'Let’s go, let’s go.'"

Shortly after introducing new head coach John Fox on Monday, Pace caught a flight to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, to meet with the club’s area scouts. From there, Pace planned to head back to Halas Hall to continue assisting Fox in assembling Chicago’s staff.

The Bears announced they reached agreement Monday with former Broncos special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, who worked with Fox in Denver and in Carolina. As Pace and Fox met with the media at Halas Hall, Rodgers had already started work upstairs in his new office.

The club now needs to nail down the offensive and defensive coordinator posts. Fox said he met with all but two (special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker were out of town) of the remaining members of former coach Marc Trestman’s staff, and hasn’t determined whether he will retain any of them. Fox could also be interested in bringing in some of his assistants from Denver. According to a source, the Broncos have blocked receivers coach Tyke Tolbert from talking to the Bears. Tolbert worked with Fox in Denver and in Carolina.

"There's obviously some good coaches on this staff. I had a team full of coaches back at Denver. So it's a fluid process and we're going to try to locate the best human talent there is, and then move forward to try to motivate them to be the best they can be every day, and that's really coaches and players," Fox said.

Both Fox and Pace acknowledged the Bears could experience difficulty landing an offensive coordinator because of the competitiveness of the current process, with nearly 10 teams around the league looking to fill openings at that position. Kyle Shanahan, a potential Bears target, signed on Sunday with the Atlanta Falcons. Adam Gase, Fox’s offensive coordinator in Denver who also interviewed for Chicago’s head coaching position, is expected to land in Baltimore or Jacksonville.

That could lead to Pace crossing off a couple of names on the dry-erase board inside his office filled with names of potential assistants.

"You should see my office right now," Pace joked. "We’ve got this big dry erase board with all these names. [Fox is] choosing his staff, but he’s taking a lot of input from me. We’re working on that together."

The search for a defensive coordinator continues, too. Though it’s likely the Bears will play a 4-3 front under Fox, the coach said he doesn’t have a preference between 4-3 or 3-4 fronts. Pace said the team hasn’t offered a contract to former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who interviewed on Saturday, and is also a candidate with the Washington Redskins for the same position.

Team president Ted Phillips marveled at the cohesion already displayed between Fox and Pace, saying "they’ve got a whole staff to put together, and they were working tirelessly over the weekend, and they already seem to have that rapport where they trust each other."

That should help considerably as Pace and Fox work to finish assembling the staff.

"We were joking last night [that] we're the first boots on the ground. So it's good to have somebody with me," Pace said. "But there's still a lot of heavy lifting in regards to the coordinators and the coaches. We're working on that right now. We're kind of excited to get back upstairs and keep on going, because it's competitive in that market. So we have to get on it. We are on it."

Two more Packers added to Pro Bowl

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
6:45
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Randall Cobb and Sam Shields will play in their first Pro Bowl. The Green Bay Packers' duo was added to the game on Monday as alternates.

Cobb replaced Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who pulled out because of an injury. Shields got the spot because New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis is in the Super Bowl.

The game is Sunday in Glendale, Arizona. The teams will be divided up on Wednesday night in a Pro Bowl draft to be televised on NFL Network.

Cobb set career highs in receptions (91), yards (1,287) and touchdowns (12).

Shields had two regular-season interceptions and another in the playoffs. He became the first Packers cornerback to be selected to the Pro Bowl since Charles Woodson in 2011.

Five Packers were initially voted in. They were: quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Jordy Nelson, guard Josh Sitton, fullback John Kuhn and linebacker Clay Matthews.

It's unclear if Rodgers will go, considering he has been dealing with the strained left calf for nearly a month. Sitton said Monday that he was undecided. He has been listed on the injury report with a toe injury ever since the bye week in November.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – A day later, not much has changed for Brandon Bostick. The Green Bay Packers tight end remains devastated by his special-teams mistake that proved costly in Sunday's NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks in overtime.

"I'm just trying to deal with this," Bostick said Monday as the Packers cleaned out their lockers for the offseason. "I'll just move on from it, come back here and just work hard and just try to put that behind me."

Bostick was gracious enough to relive the botched onside kick recovery for the second time since he failed corral the loose ball with 2:07 remaining in regulation. Again, he discussed how his responsibility was to block so that receiver Jordy Nelson could field the ball. When he went after it and it bounced off his hands, the Seahawks recovered and scored the go-ahead touchdown.

"I guess I just reacted to it," Bostick said. "I just saw the ball and went to get the ball, which wasn't my job. That's all I can say about that.

"I'm human. I made a mistake. But if I would've made the play, we wouldn't have been in this [situation] or if I would've made the block, we wouldn't be talking about this. But it's over now, so I'll just try my best to get over it."

Bostick said the last day has been difficult. He hasn't watched the play and probably won't for a while.

He doesn't need to. All he has to do is close his eyes and he sees it.

"I just keep replaying that play in my mind over and over, just trying not to think about it, just trying to get over it," Bostick said. "I did my best, but I'll be all right."

He just doesn't know when.

"I don't think there's a timeline on it," he said. "I definitely don't want to watch it on TV for a while or even watch the Super Bowl. I wouldn't put a timeline on it."

His teammates have been supportive. Randall Cobb was one of the first to console him on the sideline, a gesture Bostick said he appreciated.

Even former teammates have reached out either privately or on social media.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett was named to the Pro Bowl on Monday as a replacement for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is unable to participate due to his club advancing to the Super Bowl.

Bennett becomes the franchise’s first tight end since Hall of Famer Mike Ditka received Pro Bowl recognition after the 1965 season, and marks the first time the seven-year veteran was named to the league’s annual all-star game.

Bennett led all tight ends in the NFL with a career-high 90 receptions, finished third at his position in receiving yards (916) and tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns (six), setting career highs in all three of those statistical categories.

Bennett set a single-season franchise record for receptions for tight ends and joined guard Kyle Long among the club’s Pro Bowlers.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Among the multitude of questions that went unanswered following Sunday's shocking overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game was this: Why in the world did Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett declare himself down rather than trying to return his fourth-quarter interception?

Burnett
Burnett was not seen in the locker room after the game, but he answered questions on Monday, when the Packers cleaned out their lockers.

Here's how he explained it:

"I saw Julius Peppers look at me and give me the 'No Mas' signal,' Burnett said. "That means get down. We were just more so concerned about securing the possession of the ball, getting our offense back on the field for another possession."

Indeed, the film showed Peppers giving Burnett the safe sign as soon as he caught the ball.

It gave the Packers possession at their own 43-yard line with 5:04 remaining and a 19-7 lead. However, Burnett easily could have gotten more yards and with a juke move or a broken tackle, he might have gotten well into Seahawks' territory or possibly even scored.

What followed was a conservative offensive approach with three straight running plays -- losses of 4 yards and 2 yards by Eddie Lacy before he gained 2 on third-and-16 -- and a punt. The Seahawks then scored touchdowns on their next three possessions (not including a kneel down to end the fourth quarter) -- the final two of regulation and in overtime.

"I don't take nothing back that I did," Burnett said. "It's easy to sit here after it happens to sit here and say, 'You should've done this or should've done that.' If the outcome was different, we wouldn't even be talking about it."

Burnett had an otherwise stellar game with two sacks plus his interception.

"That play was an interception, it's not like that was the determining factor in the game," Burnett said. "We had a lot of things go on throughout the course of the game. Like I said, if we come away with the win, we wouldn't even be sitting here talking about that. It's nothing that I would change or nothing that I would take back."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As bad as it was that the Green Bay Packers got burned by the Seattle Seahawks' fake field goal in the third quarter of Sunday's NFC Championship Game overtime loss, what's worse is that they never even saw it coming.

Safety Sean Richardson, who allowed backup offensive lineman Garry Gilliam to get behind him and catch a 19-yard touchdown pass from holder/punter Jon Ryan, said he never heard anyone on the field or from the Packers' sideline give the call to be aware of a possible fake.

"We have an alert if we think that they're going to fake it," Richardson said after the game. "We have calls for that."

To Richardson's knowledge, there was no alert call made.

"We were expecting a kick," said Richardson, who led the Packers in special-teams snaps played (321) during the regular season.

It was one of two major special-teams gaffes that proved costly in Sunday's 28-22 loss. The other was the botched onside kick recovery with 2:07 remaining, when tight end Brandon Bostick blew a blocking assignment and then tried to field the kick, only to have it bounce to the Seahawks.

Given how badly the Seahawks were struggling on offense at the time of the fake, it should not have been out of the question.

"It didn't enter my mind," Richardson said. "I was pretty sure they were going to kick it. Great call. Great play by them."

However, linebacker A.J. Hawk said he knew a fake was a possibility.

"It's an option, for sure, especially that deep in their zone," he said. "They definitely executed it."

Special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, like all Packers assistant coaches, was off limits to reporters after the game. But he will have to answer to Mike McCarthy about why those two plays happened and perhaps will have to convince the Packers coach not to get rid of him.

"You know, it's a well-orchestrated play," McCarthy said. "It was well executed. They were having trouble, obviously, generating point production. The awareness there and the execution by them, that was obviously a big play. I mean, the big plays on special teams were definitely a factor."

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