NFL Nation: Tatum Bell
There is some surprise from around the league that Bailey didn’t wait until he could see what he could get on the open market. Many people say it is a direct indication of Bailey’s loyalty to Denver and his preference to stay where he is comfortable rather than seeing what a contending team would offer.
Denver, which is going in a new direction for the second time in two years, is not close to being a legitimate contender. It was 4-12 last season and it is rebuilding. Still, Bailey decided to stay in Denver before free agency even started.
A few years ago, when I was working on a story on whether or not Bailey would be a Pro Football Hall of Fame selection, he told me his key to Canton would be to win a Super Bowl ring. He thinks that is the best way of getting into the Hall of Fame. Bailey has to know Denver is not close to being a Super Bowl team, so staying in Denver must mean that much to him.
There is a chance Bailey will end his career elsewhere. I could see him and the Broncos parting ways after the 2012 season under some circumstances. But the point is, Bailey will always be remembered as a Bronco. He is entering his eighth season in Denver after the blockbuster 2004 trade with the Washington Redskins that sent Bailey and a second-round pick (running back Tatum Bell) to Denver for running back Clinton Portis. Portis has had a nice career with the Redskins, but Bailey is a premier player.
He has long been Denver’s best player and he is the face of the franchise. Bailey is truly one of the better players in team history. He will definitely go into the team’s Ring of Fame along with the likes of Hall of Famers John Elway, Floyd Little, Gary Zimmerman and Shannon Sharpe.
By signing this deal, Bailey has cemented his legacy in Denver. He could have jumped ship in search of a quick-fix championship. Instead, he has committed to finishing what he started in Denver seven years ago.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
SAN DIEGO -- The lone bright spot for Denver Sunday night has been tailback Tatum Bell.
He is trying to keep Denver in the game. Bell broke a 37-yard run early in the third quarter to cut San Diego's lead to 24-13. Bell scored Denver's other touchdown on a 26-yard carry in the first quarter. He has 86 yards in seven carries.
Bell is Denver's eighth tailback. The Broncos have put seven tailbacks on the injured reserve.
Bell was signed as an emergency option in November. After three more Denver tailbacks went down, Bell became the starter this week.
Denver traded Bell in March 2007 to Detroit. The Lions cut him in September. Bell was managing a cell phone kiosk in a Denver area mall when Denver signed him. Sunday night, he is the only Bronco making a difference.
Meanwhile, it was just announced that San Diego star tight end Antonio Gates has an ankle injury and he is questionable to return.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
SAN DIEGO -- San Diego is leading Denver, 17-6, early in the second quarter.
- The Chargers offense is having success and is moving the ball with ease through.
- San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson had a big catch over Denver star cornerback Champ Bailey. Bailey hurt his ankle early in the game but he is still on the field.
- Denver kicker Matt Prater is continuing his late-season struggles. He had an extra point attempt clang off a crossbar. It will not be a surprise if Denver hunts for a more reliable kicker in the offseason.
- Denver running back Tatum Bell had an impressive 26-yard touchdown run. Bell is Denver's starting tailback due to seven season-ending injuries at tailback.
- Denver is using a three-receiver set often. In the first quarter, Denver threw the ball nine times and ran it five times.
|Denver quarterback Jay Cutler.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
DENVER -- No, Chargers fans, Ed Hochuli will not be officiating next week's game in San Diego.
John Parry's crew is scheduled to work the winner-takes-all game between the Broncos and the Chargers. Hochuli should now be off the hook in the minds of San Diego fans. The Chargers are getting a second chance at the AFC West championship.
Perhaps the weakest division in the NFL this season, the AFC West will be in the spotlight in Week 17 as Denver and San Diego play for the division crown next week and the right to face No. 5 seed Indianapolis in the wild-card round on the weekend of Jan 3-4. Because of the playoff implications, the game has been flexed to prime time Sunday night.
The under-the-lights holiday affair was made possible by a Denver choke job at home against Buffalo, which had nothing to play for. Denver blew a 13-0 lead in the second quarter and ended up losing 30-23 to a team it dominated in nearly every key statistic.
A win would have clinched Denver's first division championship in three years. San Diego had won earlier at Tampa Bay 41-24, setting up next week's clash. Denver players said they were unaware of the Chargers outcome until after their game.
Two weeks ago, Denver was 8-5 and San Diego was 5-8. Yet, thanks to a three-game winning streak by the Chargers and back-to-back Broncos losses in games where a win would have clinched the division, it will be a dramatic Christmas week in the AFC West. If San Diego wins, it will win the division based on a better division record than Denver.
The turn of events gives San Diego new life. Chargers fans have been up in arms since their team was the victim of an incorrect call by officials. In the final seconds of the team's first 2008 clash in Denver, Hochuli blew a call on a Cutler fumble that San Diego recovered. The Broncos then scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion to beat the Chargers, 39-38. The NFL later admitted that it was a blown call. "Hochuli" has essentially become a dirty word in San Diego ever since.
Now, the Chargers, among the biggest disappointments in the NFL this season after being preseason Super Bowl contenders, have a chance at redemption. If Denver wins the division, it will become the fifth NFL team to go wire-to-wire without ever being tied for the division lead. That milestone looks tenuous at this point, though.
The Chargers, who are in this position thanks to a wild comeback win at Kansas City in Week 15, will enter Sunday's game playing as well as they have all season.
For Denver, this game is a shock to its system. Two weeks ago, the division looked like a done deal. And for much of Sunday it looked like a done deal. Now, Denver will head to San Diego as a clear underdog.
The Broncos were trying to erase the Bills loss from their minds moments after the game and focus on their chance in San Diego.
"It's been a roller coaster for us all year," Denver quarterback Jay Cutler said. "This is pretty normal for us. We win a few and then we lose a few ... It's par for the course at this point."
Added Denver cornerback Champ Bailey: "Our season is still in front of us. We have a one-game chance in San Diego."
Here are other key elements to Sunday's game:
All passing Broncos: The Broncos, long a premier run-first outfit, threw the ball 45 times Sunday. They ran the ball 27 times.
However, the major disparity came in the fourth quarter, when Cutler threw 22 times and the Broncos ran three times. One of the runs was by Cutler, who led Denver with eight carries.
The Broncos' battered running game took another big hit Sunday when starter P.J. Pope went out in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. He didn't return and his status for Sunday's game is unknown. He is Denver's seventh injured tailback this season.
Pope was running hard when he was hurt. He had 44 yards on six carries. Now, Denver's running backs are Tatum Bell and Selvin Young. It was clear in the second half that Denver coach Mike Shanahan doesn't trust either player to get tough yards.
Denver has to find a way to get a running attack going at San Diego or it will have no chance.
Red-faced in the red zone: A quick glance at the statistics from Sunday's game might make it look like Denver won easily. Denver outgained Buffalo 532 yards to 275. It owned the time of possession battle by six minutes, 22 seconds. It gained seven more first downs than Buffalo did.
But the killer statistic for Denver was its lack of efficiency in the red zone. Buffalo scored touchdowns on three of its five trips inside Denver's 20-yard line. The Broncos, though, scored touchdowns on two of six trips to Buffalo's red zone. The Broncos had to settle for two short field goals in the first half.
"Our inability to score touchdowns hurt us," said Denver receiver Brandon Stokley, who had the ball knocked from his hands on Denver's final play, a fourth-and-5 play in the end zone from Buffalo's 15 with 39 seconds remaining in the game.
Bailey battles: Bailey was clearly not completely ready to play. He was playing for the first time after missing seven games with a torn groin.
He had to leave the game twice. Bailey said there's no way he won't play against San Diego.
"I have to," Bailey said. "I have to be out there next week."
|Harry How/Getty Images|
|Chargers receivers Vincent Jackson (83) and Chris Chambers (89) celebrate a come-from-behind win against Kansas City, 22-21, that delayed the Broncos title hopes for at least another week. Denver lost to Carolina, 30-10.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
"For real?" a still bemused Bailey recalled several hours later.
For real, indeed. It was so real that the Denver Broncos will have to wait at least another week to clinch their first AFC West title in three years.
The Broncos all but had the title hats and shirts rocking in the locker room -- before they even hit the field to face the Panthers. And you couldn't blame them. Kansas City had a 21-3 lead in the third quarter and it led 21-10 at the two-minute warning. However, two San Diego touchdowns in the final 79 seconds delayed the party.
The Broncos did their part to extend the drama until at least Week 16 by falling flat and being drubbed by Carolina 30-10.
Bailey said the team knew what had happened in Kansas City early in the game. It was being updated on the scoreboard. The proceedings in Kansas City garnered Bailey's full attention, who missed his seventh straight game with a torn groin.
"I was watching it and I couldn't believe it," Bailey said. "We left the locker room and the score was 21-10 Kansas City. We were feeling good. Then it was 21-16, then right away it was 22-21 San Diego and then it was over."
"Now, we just have to go out and handle our own business," Bailey said. "We should have done it this week. It's on to next week."
Denver losing to Carolina and San Diego beating Kansas City was not a difficult combination to imagine. However, the way San Diego won the game could make the next two weeks interesting.
San Diego is still a long shot to win the division, but the Chargers will hit their facility Monday morning feeling quite good about themselves. They made a huge comeback to stay alive. Now, only three things need to happen to salvage this disastrous season. If they can beat Tampa Bay on the road and Denver loses at home to Buffalo, the Chargers will have the setup they desire.
San Diego plays host to Denver on Dec. 28 in the regular season finale. Denver beat the Chargers in controversial fashion by one point in Week 2. If San Diego wins that game under the above scenario, both teams will finish 8-8. The Chargers would win the division because of a better division record. San Diego is 4-1 in the AFC West and Denver is 3-2.
"It's a must-win for us next week," Denver cornerback Dre' Bly said. "We need to get it done. We could have done it [Sunday] but we didn't take advantage of it. We need to close it out next week."
Here are some other key elements from the game:
|AP Photo/David Zalubowski|
|Tight end Tony Gonzalez believes Tyler Thigpen, above, should be Kansas City's quarterback next season and beyond.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
If he does return to Kansas City for a 13th season, it had better be a package deal with Tyler Thigpen. The star tight end emphatically put his support behind the Chiefs' gutsy, young quarterback Sunday after another close call in Denver, where the Broncos moved to the doorstep of the AFC West championship with a 24-17 win over the feisty Chiefs.
In a candid interview, Gonzalez left no doubt about what he thinks the Chiefs' brass needs to do at quarterback in the offseason: Make Thigpen the long-term answer.
"It would be a disgrace if they don't," Gonzalez said. "We've been playing well since he came in."
The quarterback situation has and will be the biggest topic of discussion as the 2-11 Chiefs stumble toward 2009. The Chiefs have many needs -- Gonzalez said he believes the team is foru to five players away from being a legitimate playoff contender -- starting with the front seven on defense. There has been much speculation the Chiefs, who will very likely have a top-five pick in the draft, will pursue a quarterback through the draft, a trade or free agency.
Gonzalez has advice for the team, if they're listening or not.
"You already got your quarterback," Gonzalez said. "You get something else to help us."
With Gonzalez, who owns every significant receiving record in the NFL by a tight end, firmly behind Thigpen, does that mean he wants to return to Kansas City? Back in October Gonzalez asked the team to trade him and he was upset when a trade didn't happen by the deadline. Back then, the 32-year-old Gonzalez said he would evaluate whether he wants to return after the season.
He maintained that stance Sunday.
"I don't know what I will want to do in two months," he said. However, Gonzalez did say he can see himself finishing his career in Kansas City with Thigpen as the quarterback. Thigpen had already left the locker room when Gonzalez made his comments.
"We're close on offense, we're close," Gonzalez said. "I think they are going to get some pieces on defense so the defense can catch up with us, but we're close. Right now, I'm a Kansas City Chief and I know we're close."
Gonzalez did say he feels better about being a Chief than he did in October, "but we're still losing." Gonzalez talked Sunday as he did prior to the trade talk. He said his window is closing and he doesn't have a lot of time remaining in his career. He wants to win now.
He is very happy Kansas City has been competitive in the past several weeks. He said the team is only one or two plays away from winning games. But he expressed the losing "hurts" him.
Still, Gonzalez kept going back to Thigpen. He said the Chiefs became competitive when Thigpen took over Oct. 26 against the New York Jets. Kansas City blew three straight games during a stretch in October and in November, and the Chiefs still are not winning. Yet, Gonzalez did say he can see the Chiefs quickly turning around their fortunes next season.
"I could see this being a playoff team next year," Gonzalez said. "I could see us turning it around."
Whether he will be a part of it is yet to be seen, but it is clear Gonzalez wants Thigpen to be part of it. Thigpen, 24, has thrown for 1,926 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gonzalez said he sees weekly improvement from Thigpen.
The two have become close on and off the field. The future hall of famer has mentored Thigpen and the two, along with other offensive teammates, watch film together on Fridays. It clearly has paid off. Gonzalez had five catches for 73 yards Sunday, including a 13-yard touchdown catch. Gonzalez has 57 of his 78 catches this season in the eight games since the trade deadline. It is clear that he has stayed focused during the tough time and it is clear Thigpen has re-energized him.
"Maybe I like him because he throws to me," Gonzalez joked. "He's a good kid, he's humble. He listens. He's not like a lot of young players today who thinks they are the best. He wants to get to better and he will."
Here are some other elements from Denver's win, where the Broncos cut their magic number in the AFC West to one game. A Denver win or a loss or tie by San Diego in the final three weeks gives the Broncos the title.
Denver's running game takes a hit: Denver rookie running back Peyton Hillis suffered a hamstring injury late in the second quarter and did not return. Hillis has flourished since becoming Denver's lead tailback a month ago. Hillis, a rookie fullback, got the job after three Denver running backs were lost for the season with injuries.
The only healthy Broncos tailback after Hillis was hurt Sunday was Tatum Bell, who signed three weeks ago. Bell did have a key 28-yard run in the second half as the Broncos finished off a win in which they had to score 17 unanswered points.
The Broncos will need Hillis down the stretch to keep balance to the offense. He had 58 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown run, on eight carries before his injury. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said the injury Hillis suffered often costs a player a month. However the team's trainer said through the PR staff that is premature. Hillis said after the game that he doesn't think the injury is overly serious.
Marshall has a big game: Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall hadn't caught more than six passes in a game for the past six games. However, he broke out big time Sunday, catching 11 passes for 91 yards. He had two touchdowns and he made a huge catch on third down on the final drive as Denver ran out the clock.
Marshall has 83 catches for 1,033 yards. With Denver probably heading for the postseason, Marshall will be a key, especially if Hillis is out for a while. Marshall has been dealing with leg ailments, and quarterback Jay Cutler said his performance Sunday was significant.
"That was big for him," said Cutler, who completed 32 of 40 pass attempts for 286 yards.
Denver shows some consistency: The Broncos have now won four of their past five games and ended a three-game losing streak at home.
While it wasn't an easy win, it was important because the Broncos showed some consistency. Denver has had t
rouble beating lesser opponents this season while it has played up to its competition. A perfect example was the previous two weeks, when Oakland won 31-10 in Denver and then the Broncos cooled off the Jets, 34-17, on the road last week.
"I think we're clicking at the right time," Denver cornerback Dre' Bly said. "We're fighting our inconsistencies."
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
DENVER -- Mid-fourth quarter notes from Denver where the Broncos lead 24-17:
- Denver receiver Brandon Marshall is having a big game. He had nine catches for 72 yards and he has two touchdown catches. Marshall eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in receiving this season with a reception in the fourth quarter.
- Denver receiver Brandon Stokley is out with sprained right ankle. His return is questionable.
- Denver kicker Matt Prater continued his rough second half of the season. He missed a 49-yard fled goal in the third quarter,
- Denver running back Tatum Bell's 28-yard run just keyed a Denver touchdown drive. Cutler hit Marshall with a 6-yard touchdown pass to cap the drive. It was Bell's best play since being signed by Denver last month.
- Denver has scored 17 unanswered points.
- Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles is back in the game. He was out with an ankle injury.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Bell spent his first three seasons with Denver before being traded to Detroit in 2007. He knows Denver's running system and that's what the Broncos need. They don't have time to teach anyone a system. They need someone to come in and play in Atlanta on Sunday.
The Broncos have put three running backs on the injured reserve in the last week. They are down to rookie fullback Peyton Hillis and P.J. Pope, who was just promoted from the practice squad. Selvin Young is also on the roster but he has a groin injury and he may not be ready to play Sunday at Atlanta.
Enter Bell, who was living in Denver. The Broncos worked him out on Tuesday and signed him. He will likely play against Atlanta. Atlanta's defense is good against the pass and the Broncos will likely go with a heavy dose of Hillis and Bell.
Will Bell, 27, stick around all season? If he is impressive, yes. But right now, Denver is going week-to-week with its running backs. It's an emergency situation and Bell's familiarity with the team gave him another chance to resurrect his career.
|AP Photo/David Zalubowski|
|Rookie Ryan Torain could be the solution to Denver's problems in the running game.|
Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson
Coming off a rushing effort in which they compiled 14 yards rushing (the second lowest in team history) Sunday against Miami, the Broncos have to replace half their running back crew.
Denver put starter Michael Pittman and backup Andre Hall on the injured reserve. Pittman has a neck injury and Hall has has a hand injury. Now, the Broncos' only running backs on the roster are second-year player Selvin Young, who has missed the past three games with a groin injury, and rookie Ryan Torain, who made his NFL debut on Sunday and he had one yard on three carries. Torain broke his elbow in training camp.
And making matters worse, Denver, which has lost four of the past five games, have to play Thursday at Cleveland.
Expect Torain and Young to carry the load against the Browns on a short week. The plan was to ease Torain into the offense against Miami and he may be ready for more action Thursday. Young was close to being healthy last week and he could be ready to help Thursday.
Still, Torain isn't ready to help in the passing game and Young has had major durability issues.
It is clear Denver will try to add a running back or two to the mix. But the rest of the season depends on Torain and Young, probably in that order. Torain will be given every chance to become the go-to back. When he was injured, the team was devastated. Denver coach Mike Shanahan, one of the most successful running coaches in the history of the NFL, compared Torain, a fifth-round pick from Arizona State, to Denver great Terrell Davis.
The Broncos think Torain, who nearly stole the starting job in camp before he was hurt, has the perfect size-speed combination to excel in their zone-blocking offense. The Broncos certainly need him to excel. The run game has been stagnant. The Broncos are ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing as it is averaging 105.2 yards a game. That is way before Denver's standards.
Another reason why Torain is being asked to produce is because there aren't many running backs remaining on the open market. So help isn't necessarily on the way. Former Denver running backs highlight the list of available rushers. They include Tatum Bell, Mike Bell and Ron Dayne. Other running backs available are Anthony Thomas, Vernand Morency and Wali Lundy. Denver has visited with both of those players in the past. Morency visited Denver a few weeks ago. The team could also promote running back P.J. Pope from the practice squad.
Denver could also potentially use rookie fullback Peyton Hillis at tailback. He has experience there and he is an emergency tailback for Denver. He is coming off his best NFL game. The seventh-round pick, who blocked for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in college, has seven catches against Miami.
Still, expect Torain to be given the ball and given the opportunity to knock the banged-up Broncos out of their malaise.
At least the Detroit Lions are having a little fun. (Or at least, an ex-Lion. We understand that's a big distinction).
Former Lions receiver Roy Williams, traded earlier this month to Dallas, returned to Detroit on Monday to attend the team's annual Halloween party/charity fundraiser. How was he dressed? As former Lions running back Tatum Bell, who was involved in the well-documented disappearance of tailback Rudi Johnson's bags during the preseason.
If you recall, Bell said he grabbed the bags after mistaking them for those of another former teammate -- whom Bell had agreed to deliver to a local friend's house. Playing off that story, Williams wore a bellhop uniform to the event (with a "T. Bell" nametag in case someone missed the joke), and a pair of boxer shorts with "Rudi" on the front and "Johnson 32" on the back, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
There apparently is video of an interview with Williams but I couldn't locate it Tuesday morning. If anyone sees it, hit the mailbag and I'll post a link for everyone.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Chicago linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer had surgery last week on his thumb, reports Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Hillenmeyer didn't practice Monday and his status for Sunday's game is uncertain. Nick Roach would replace him in the starting lineup if necessary.
- Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune checks in with Bears legend William "The Refrigerator" Perry, who is in a wheelchair while he rehabilitates from a bout with Guillain-Barré syndrome. Perry was hospitalized for five months with the illness, which causes extreme weakness and numbness in the extremities.
- Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune writes that Brad Childress is "in the biggest week of his three-season tenure as Vikings coach." A home loss to Houston would drop the Minnesota to 3-5. That record, combined with the prospect of losing defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams thereafter, could scuttle Childress' tenure, according to Reusse.
- Ah, here's the reason: Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said he hasn't dropped a pass since changing the style of gloves he wears during games. Shiancoe's new gloves have no webbing between the fingers, according to Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Newsflash: For the first time this season, Green Bay could have all five of its receivers healthy for a game. That's assuming James Jones (knee) is ready to play Sunday at Tennessee. Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette assesses the situation. "It's a great package," receiver Donald Driver said. "If we ran it, there's no five [defensive backs] in the National Football League that can stop us."
- Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he "definitely" feels better after resting his sore throwing shoulder during the bye week, according to Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.
We can't claim to have noticed in the postgame madness Monday night at Lambeau Field, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reviewed video and reported Tuesday that the head coaches never shook hands.
According to the report, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy made it to midfield but couldn't find Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress. McCarthy eventually shook the hand of a Vikings assistant coach and headed to the locker room.
According to the Journal Sentinel, Childress was speaking with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson at the time. McCarthy told the paper he and Childress exchanged phone calls Tuesday and there were no hard feelings.
Conspiracy theorists might connect the oversight with the emotions developed over a summer of Brett Favre-related acrimony. Childress' meeting with reporters Monday came before the Journal Sentinel published its report.
The rematch is Nov. 9 at the Metrodome.
Continuing a Wednesday stroll through the NFC North:
- Packers running back Ryan Grant played with a "very sore" hamstring Monday night. The game represented Grant's first extended playing time since the NFC Championship Game in January. He didn't play after a 57-yard run in the fourth quarter, but McCarthy said the team was just being cautious.
- Vikings defensive end Jared Allen gave Packers left tackle Chad Clifton plenty of credit for his quiet performance Monday night. "He does a great job of getting you to rush down the middle on him," Allen said.
- As of Tuesday, the Detroit Lions had 4,500 tickets remaining for their home opener Sunday against the Packers. The deadline for avoiding a blackout is Thursday at 1 p.m. ET. An extension is always possible.
- The Detroit Free Press spoke with the woman involved in the Tatum Bell bag caper. She provided a third and somewhat contradictory account of the incident. The beat goes on.
- The Lions should consider firing coach Rod Marinelli if he loses Sunday to the Packers, writes Drew Sharp of the Free Press. Talk about hitting the panic button.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune combed through Bears history to find examples of an unexpected result in Week 1. On the three occasions that the Bears won in an upset, they finished the season with a losing record each time.
The Tatum Bell story has snaked into its second week of drama.
Tuesday, DeGrate himself told the Detroit Free Press: "I had nothing to do with it."
Bell has admitted to taking the bags from the Lions locker room last week after he was released, but he has told numerous media outlets that he believed the bags were DeGrate's. According to Bell's account, DeGrate had asked him to pick up his bags and drop them off with a female acquaintance.
Johnson has said he doesn't believe the story, and DeGrate refuted the account as well.
"The way I just figure, he got caught up in a jam and that was the best thing going at the time, was to say what he said," DeGrate told the Free Press.
We're not really sure where this story can go from here. Bell has made his case aggressively, but so far no one has stepped forward to corroborate. No one is pressing charges, so there isn't likely to be any legal ramifications. Ultimately, Bell will have to convince another NFL team that he is innocent, or is he going to have a hard time extending his career.
APPLETON, Wis. -- We're packing up here in Wisconsin while also working on an extended post set to publish later in the day. In the meantime, let's take a quick spin around the NFC North now that Green Bay's 24-19 victory over Minnesota has established a hierarchy in the division:
- After watching Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers lead Green Bay to victory, Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal wrote: "Rodgers showed that the Packers still have the best quarterback in the NFC North." Faint praise, but it's accurate -- after Week 1, at least.
- Rodgers resisted baiting techniques from the Vikings' secondary, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Vikings defensive end Jared Allen called his performance "one of the least productive games I've had in my life," according to the Star Tribune.
- Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press appreciated Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's honesty in explaining his mistakes Monday night. "Accountability is good," Powers wrote. "Not screwing up in the first place is better."
- Chicago running back Matt Forte said Monday he "pretty much" met his goals by rushing for 123 yards in his debut Sunday night at Indianapolis, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Chicago players were entitled to crow about their victory, according to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
- Lions center Dominic Raiola to Detroit reporters Monday: "I hope this loss humbled the locker room." Raiola believes the Lions might have gotten ahead of their hype.
- The mother of former Lions defensive end Victor DeGrate told the Detroit News her son had nothing to do with the disappearance of running back Rudi Johnson's bags. Former Lions running back Tatum Bell has said he took the bags because he thought they were DeGrate's.
Tatum Bell found himself talking in circles as he spoke via telephone Thursday morning.
He knows the contents of the bags -- $200, credit cards and clothes -- are missing.
He knows Johnson, a prominent and respected veteran player, has publicly accused him of stealing the contents and that the Lions have done nothing to counter Johnson's claims.
And Bell knows that no NFL team is interested in signing an accused thief. But every time he tells his version of the story -- which, he says, neither Johnson nor the Lions have been willing to hear -- he casts doubt on a friend and former teammate. (Bell believed the bags belonged to former Lions defensive end Victor DeGrate, who had asked Bell to pick them up and bring them to a female acquaintance. He said he was not aware they were Johnson's bags until the Lions called him Tuesday night.)
"I want to defend myself," Bell said, "but every time I do, it's like I'm throwing Victor under the bus and I don't want to do that. So I'm almost like, 'I've got to stop bringing his name into it.' But that's what happened. I'm not lying. And right now, everyone's putting it out there that I'm a thief. They're acting like I got released, and I was mad, so I took the bags of the guy they brought in behind me.
"But it's not true, and that's what's hurting me so much right now. I woke up this morning and I pretty much don't know what to do about it anymore. It's frustrating."
For Bell, the worst consequence of his predicament is that the phone is silent. Several teams expressed preliminary interest in him earlier this week. (According to Bell, the Houston Texans were one of them.) But since the story broke, his agent hasn't heard from anyone.
"I'm very, very concerned that this is my career here," Bell said. "The teams that were interested before, they've already got players for that role now. And as long as it's out there that I'm a thief, it's going to be hard. I guess I need to go to Plan B, which is just to find a way to take care of my family."
As we posted Wednesday, it's not our place to take sides in this story. But we did ask Bell to flesh out his account, especially why he assumed the bags were DeGrate's.
Bell said that DeGrate told him he left his bags in the players lounge of the Lions' locker room. When Bell went to look for them Monday, he saw two bags sitting by a set of computers -- "three or four steps away" from the lounge, Bell said. There were no other bags in the area. He picked them up, left the facility and dropped them off with the woman.
"They weren't in anybody's locker or anything," Bell said. "I saw two bags on the ground and I never thought twice about it. Now, I just hate that I even did it. Victor is a friend of mine and I was doing what he asked me to do. I should never have even picked them up. But it's too late for that. I've tried to reach out to Rudi to tell him that, but I guess he's not interested."
Will this incident leave Bell effectively blackballed from the NFL? His best hope is for the contents of Johnson's bag to turn up with someone else -- and for Johnson to exonerate him publicly.
"If I was in his shoes, I'd be upset, too," Bell said of Johnson. "But that's why I'm trying to explain to him what happened. He doesn't want to hear it, and so I don't know where to go from here."
It's a good thing we're a little slow on the uptake today. (Long story.)
We were halfway through a post suggesting that former Detroit running back Tatum Bell was either the most naïve or the most brazen NFL player we had ever heard of. How else could you have explained his broad-daylight swipe of Rudi Johnson's bags Tuesday from the Lions' locker room, an incident the Lions' security staff captured on video?
NFL practice facilities are more secure than your local bank. Surveillance cameras, locked doors and 10-foot-high fences are standard. Teams usually provide an escort to all visitors. Player entrances are as obscure as a presidential hideout, and even the FedEx guy is viewed with suspicion.
A five-year veteran, Bell would have to know that someone is always watching when you're in an NFL locker room. We couldn't understand how a rational person could be so brazen. But thanks to the Detroit Free Press, we now have what is at least a reasonable explanation, one with enough details that it could be checked out pretty easily.
According to the Free Press, Bell said he had agreed to pick up two bags for ex-Lions defensive end Victor DeGrate, who was released Saturday. Bell said he saw two bags sitting on the floor, assumed they were DeGrate's and grabbed them. He denied opening the bags, let alone taking anything from them.
Bell dropped the bags off with a female friend of DeGrate's. The woman returned the bags to the Lions on Wednesday morning, but they were empty. Johnson is still missing $200, his identification, credit cards and clothes.
Plenty of questions remain. What made Bell think the bags were DeGrate's? Where are Johnson's belongings? And what kind of an omen is it for Johnson that he was cleaned out on his first official day with the Lions?
Johnson has made clear he isn't buying Bell's story. It's not up to us to take a side one way or the other, and in fact the Lions might be the biggest loser in the deal. This incident is the kind of flashy, transcendent story that figures to dominate public attention for at least a couple of news cycles.
Instead of talking about a 4-0 preseason, their explosive pair of wide receivers and a very winnable game Sunday at Atlanta, the Lions are addressing a possible player-on-player crime. I think we have an early nomination for next season's "Hard Knocks" series. You can't find better reality TV than this.
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