The Daily Briefing Thursday, December 28, 2017

AROUND THE NFL 

NFC EAST

DALLAS

As WR DEZ BRYANT moves through the second half of his career, he seem unwilling to admit to diminishing skills.  Brandon George in the Dallas Morning News:

This wasn’t the first time Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant held an impromptu, public self-reflection at the end of one of his seasons.

But this one had a different feel to it.

Bryant, who has rarely spoken to the media during the week or after a game over the last two months, wanted to get some things off his chest Wednesday. He sat in front of his locker for 16

Bryant, however, wasn’t just trying to assure everyone he’s the same caliber of receiver who from 2012-14 averaged 91 catches, 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns. He at times seemed like he was trying to convince himself as well.

“All I can say is just watch the tape,” Bryant said. “I feel like at times I look damn good.

“I’m a hell of a football player. I know that. I believe that.

“It’s there. The proof is there.”

Bryant leads the Cowboys with 66 catches for 814 yards and six touchdowns. But Bryant and quarterback Dak Prescott have struggled to connect, with their completion percentage slightly better than 50-50 on 124 targets.

Bryant said, however, that his chemistry with Prescott isn’t an issue, but the Cowboys’ offensive scheme has been. That’s something, Bryant said, he plans to address in the offseason with owner Jerry Jones, coach Jason Garrett and coordinator Scott Linehan.

That might come too late. Bryant is scheduled to make $12.5 million in 2018 and count $16.5 million against the salary cap, and the Cowboys could ask him to take a pay cut in the offseason. The Cowboys could also decide to move on from Bryant. They can free up about $8.5 million if they release him or $12 million if he’s designated as a post-June 1 cut.

Bryant was asked if he’d be fine taking a pay cut.

“I haven’t heard no talks about that, but if it comes,” Bryant said, before pausing. “I don’t know, probably not. Hell, no! I believe in me!”

Bryant said he wants to return to the Cowboys — “I’m a Texas boy, all day” — but has he allowed himself to think about the possibility he could have to play on another team next year?

“[Expletive], I don’t know,” Bryant said. “If that came about, I’m still Dez Bryant. I’m still going over the top. If it’s there where I can grab it, I’m going to grab it. That’s just who I am.”

Ever since the Cowboys signed Bryant to a five-year, $70 million contract extension in July 2015, he hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Injuries have limited Bryant in recent seasons, but he’s played in every game in 2017. Bryant said, however, he hasn’t been healthy the last two months and has been slowed the last eight games by tendinitis in his knee.

“I’m a warrior. I consider myself a warrior,” Bryant said. “If I can walk, I can move, I’m going to go out there and try to play. That’s probably dumb, but hey, that’s just who I am. I love this game, and I try to push it, but for the most part, yeah, I have been pretty banged up.”

Bryant has a team-high 12 dropped passes. He had one of his worst games as a Cowboy on Sunday in a loss to Seattle. He dropped a pass that deflected into the air for an interception. He lost a fumble after another catch. Both led to Seahawks’ touchdowns.

Bryant said he has allowed personal and football distractions to impact his play, although he wouldn’t detail what those are.

“I let a lot of things get in the way that bothered me mentally,” Bryant said. “I wish I didn’t. I feel like that affected, I know for a fact, some of my play.”

Bryant said his frustrations affected his concentration.

“And I’ll take full blame in all of that,” Bryant said. “I’m a grown man, and I should be able to sit there and have my frustrations in check regardless of whatever the situation might be.

“I just got to focus on the things that I can control and only I can control. All I know is if my mind’s not cluttered, I can beat whoever, whenever, anybody at any time. It’s just sometimes I let certain things get to me that I shouldn’t.

“Hey, I’m Dez Bryant, baby, all day.”

Sometimes it helps to say these things out loud. They become more real.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Another day, another controversy regarding CB ELI APPLE.  He’s earned a suspension for Sunday’s game.  Pat Leonard in the New York Daily News:

The s–t has hit the fan.

The Giants swiftly suspended cornerback Eli Apple for the season’s final week on Wednesday afternoon, only two hours after Apple offered a disgusting no-comment by announcing, “I gotta take a s–t,” in front of reporters, and chuckling as he walked away.

NFL Network also reported that Apple had refused to take the field with the scout team during Wednesday’s practice, which was likely related to an ESPN report that Apple had gotten into an argument with coaches at practice, including defensive backs coach Tim Walton.

Apple subsequently was notified of the suspension in a meeting with interim general manager Kevin Abrams and interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo, the Giants said in a statement.

“We have suspended Eli for a pattern of behavior that is conduct detrimental to the team,” Abrams said.

Landon Collins, Apple’s teammate, had called Apple a “cancer” on ESPN radio on Tuesday. And though Collins tweeted that he had apologized to Apple in a Wednesday morning meeting with Spagnuolo, Apple still was expected to provide his side of the story after practice.

Instead, Apple, 22, flippantly dismissed reporters with his crude remark, concluding a disastrous second NFL season for the former 10th overall pick of the 2016 NFL draft.

– – –

As Apple vanishes, there may be a QB DAVIS WEBB sighting Sunday.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

The strange saga of the Giants’ quarterbacks is taking one final turn in the final game of the season.

The Giants are promoting rookie quarterback Davis Webb from third-string to second-string, ahead of Geno Smith, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.

That means Webb, who hasn’t played at all this season, could get some snaps behind starter Eli Manning in Sunday’s regular-season finale.

When former Giants coach Ben McAdoo benched Manning for Smith, it raised the obvious question of why, if the Giants were making a change, they would go to Smith instead of to the rookie who could use some experience. Now the Giants seem ready to give Webb a chance to get some playing time and to see what they have in their third-round draft pick.

NFC WEST

SAN FRANCISCO

Rodger Sherman of The Ringer sees QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO as a cross between Joe Montana and Tom Brady.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s resident sculptor needs to begin working on a Jimmy Garoppolo bust now. This might seem unusual considering that Garoppolo has made only five career starts, but then again, this will be no ordinary bust. This has to be the handsomest hunk of bronze that Canton has ever seen. The artist needs to get the award-winning stubble just right; someone needs to mine special metals to capture the sparkle of Garoppolo’s smile. It’ll be a while before the quarterback makes the Hall — at this point, we can safely project that Garoppolo will play another 12 to 15 seasons, winning between five to eight Super Bowls, and then there’s a five-year waiting period — but the statue needs to be as perfect as Jimmy. We can’t risk a Cristiano Ronaldo situation.

When the 49ers made a deal with the Patriots to get Garoppolo — now known as Jimmy GQ — just before the NFL trade deadline in October, San Francisco was gambling on an unknown. He’d made only two starts in his three-plus NFL seasons, spending most of his time on the sideline as Tom Brady’s highly regarded backup. Sure, he looked great in those two games — I mean, he always looks great, but he looked especially great then — yet it’s virtually impossible to project greatness from a two-game sample size.

But now Garoppolo has started three more games, and OMG, WE CAN DEFINITELY PROJECT GREATNESS. After all, he’s been perfect in every single way. He’s now 5–0 as a starter, the first quarterback to win his first five starts since Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. It was one thing for Garoppolo to win two games for the Pats; New England went 12–2 and won the Super Bowl when Garoppolo wasn’t playing. For Garoppolo to suddenly begin winning games for the 49ers, though, who started the season 1–10 and had one of the worst offenses in the league before he started playing? Unreal.

Garoppolo has thrown for at least 293 yards in each of his 49ers starts, setting a franchise record for passing yards in a QB’s first three games. (Eat it, Joe Montana and Steve Young.) He’s averaging 8.92 yards per attempt, well ahead of any quarterback in the NFL this season. He’s thrown eight touchdowns and two interceptions in his career, and one of those picks came on a pass that was in the hands of his intended receiver before a defender ripped it away. The 49ers have gone three-and-out only once in his three starts.

And Garoppolo has piloted game-winning drives in two of the three games. He was mic’d up in last Sunday’s 25–23 victory over the Titans, and, holy hell, listen to this:

@49ers

Cool, calm and collected.@JimmyG_10 was wired for sound during the game-winning drive. Enjoy 🎙here

Less than two months after getting traded to this team, he’s out here instructing wide receivers on the specific routes they need to run in the two-minute drill, and then hitting them on those exact routes to win the game. This is leadership porn.

Marquise Goodwin, the Niners wideout previously best known for being an Olympic long jumper, has enjoyed the best three games of his five-year career in the three weeks Garoppolo has been under center. His previous career high in receptions was six; he’s reeled in six, eight, and 10 catches, respectively, in Garoppolo’s three starts. Goodwin had recorded only two 100-yard games before Garoppolo took over in San Francisco; he’s had at least 99 receiving yards in his past three outings. Goodwin genuinely loves Garoppolo. He gave up his seat on a bus so Garoppolo could take it, and he believes there’s a connection between the QB’s play and his handsomeness:

@Eric_Branch

Marquise Goodwin, discussing what Jimmy Garoppolo brings, gestured across the locker room to his QB: “Just look at him.”

And I’m inclined to agree. Garoppolo, as is plain to see, is the handsomest quarterback around. Quite frankly, Garoppolo has been the best QB in the NFL over these past three weeks, his first three as a full-time starter.

So now we apply the benefit of hindsight. If Garoppolo is truly as good at playing quarterback as he is at smiling, the Patriots are fools for letting him go in exchange for a measly second-round pick. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances: The Pats have Brady — a quarterback some have described as “Garoppoloesque” — and Garoppolo’s rookie contract is set to expire after this season. The 49ers now know they’ll have to pay him a near-infinite sum of money in the coming months, but the Pats would have been in a less clear scenario. If they hadn’t made a trade, Garoppolo could’ve walked this spring, and the team might have gotten nothing in return.

Still, in a quarterback-strapped league, New England gave up Garoppolo for a future second-rounder just months after also giving up Jacoby Brissett for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who has 12 catches this fall. How we remember those trades will come down to two main factors: how long Brady’s already historically improbable old-age performance can continue, and how good Brissett and Garoppolo look moving forward. Brissett looks as if he could emerge as a decent starter; Garoppolo looks damn near perfect. It seems impossible, but the Patriots might have made a mistake.

I am not the only person who believes that work should begin immediately on a Garoppolo sculpture.

David Lombardi

@LombardiHimself

Should the 49ers build a monument in honor of Jimmy Garoppolo?

Marquise Goodwin: “Hey man, if it’s up to me — I’m building the statue yesterday.”

LOS ANGELES RAMS

MVP candidate RB TODD GURLEY will be resting on his 15-game laurels and QB SEAN MANNION will try to stop the Great Garoppolo.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

Sunday’s regular-season finale for the Rams will come packed with a preseason vibe.

Locked in for a home playoff game, Los Angeles plans to rest a handful starters against the 49ers in Week 17, coach Sean McVay announced Wednesday.

Quarterback Jared Goff and MVP candidate Todd Gurley will sit out, McVay said. All Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, bookend Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan will also miss the tilt.

Sean Mannion will take over under center against San Francisco while running back Malcolm Brown is expected to see plenty of work in place of Gurley.

The Rams are guaranteed either the third or fourth seed in the NFC playoffs. If they beat the Niners, they’ll grab the No. 3 spot and play either the Falcons or Seahawks in the wild-card round. A loss would leave Los Angeles to host either the Panthers or Saints.

“There’s four potential teams we could play,” McVay said Tuesday per The Los Angeles Daily News. “All of them are very, very good football teams, and however it plays out, you’re going to be on the road the following week (if the Rams win). When you think about the risk-reward, we feel like that’s probably going to be the best decision, to rest some guys.”

One of the healthier teams league-wide, it’s hard to argue with McVay’s logic headed into Sunday.

AFC WEST

THE RAIDERS

The Rams and Raiders are home Sunday – and the most popular team in Southern California is also playing in Los Angeles County this week.  We found this from August by Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News:

The humor wasn’t lost on Mark Davis an hour or so before the Oakland Raiders took the field against the Rams on Saturday night.

Or hubris.

Like so many others around the NFL, the Raiders owner is keeping an eye on things down in Los Angeles. With the Rams trying to rebound from the shaky 4-12 step they took in L.A. upon returning home last year and the Chargers throwing down the gauntlet with their Fight for L.A. pledge as they prepare for year one in Tinseltown, Davis has to chuckle a little bit.

“You know, it’s kind of funny,” Davis said. “They’re talking about the fight for Los Angeles. And Raiders fans have been telling me we already won that fight, And that the Rams and Chargers are fighting for the No. 2 and 3 spots.”

Davis has a point, of course.

In spite of the Silver and Black finishing a distant third to the Rams and Chargers in the NFL’s race back to Los Angeles two years ago – an outcome that eventually pointed the Raiders to Las Vegas, where they, the state of Nevada and ultimately the NFL formulated and approved a $1.9 billion stadium deal – the Raiders remain hugely popular in Los Angeles.

And based on the robust response from the Southland on season-ticket deposits for the Raiders soon-to-be new home in Las Vegas, that doesn’t appear to be waning anytime soon.

“A good portion have come from Los Angeles and Southern California,” Davis said, “Without stepping on any toes, we’re going to market ourselves in Los Angeles area. And San Diego. We’re reaching out to Raider Nation in Southern California. It’s strong there.”

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

It looks like RB MELVIN GORDON will be available for Sunday’s big game with the Raiders.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn declared Melvin Gordon ‘day-to-day’ with an ankle injury. The running back was more positive than that, stating that he’ll play Sunday versus the Oakland Raiders.

“I’m good. I’ll be ready on Sunday.” Gordon said, via Eric D. Williams of ESPN.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday the swelling in Gordon’s left ankle was minimal, leading to the optimism the team’s top back could play in the pivotal season finale.

“Melvin’s a tough player, a tough guy,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “You know he’s going to do everything he can. This isn’t a Week 3 game. I know they all are important, but one where you think, ‘Gosh, is this something that could linger?’

“This is the game. Either you have a chance to extend the season or not, so you know he’s going to do all he can.”

The Chargers have a chance to sneak into the playoffs with a win, and some help elsewhere on the final Sunday of the 2017 season. Having Gordon, who earned his first career 1,000-yard rushing season, on the field will go a long way in L.A. doing its part.

AFC NORTH

BALTIMORE

The DB was in Tennessee Sunday where the Titans played a big game against the Rams, their biggest home game in years.  The crowd was loud, but the stadium was nearly half-empty, especially the cheaper seats in the upper deck.

Now we have the Ravens, struggling to get fans for a win-and-in game, concerned that a three-hour alteration in kickoff time by the league office will strip the crowd.

Matt Bonesteel in the Washington Post:

The Baltimore Ravens have been keenly aware of the no-shows at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Last week, team president Dick Cass called the empty seats “noticeable” in a letter sent to season-ticket holders, suite holders and sponsors and blamed the no-shows in part on the Ravens who took a knee during and before the playing of the national anthem.

Now Coach John Harbaugh is getting into the act. On Tuesday, he took issue with the NFL moving the kickoff time of Sunday’s regular season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals from 1 p.m. EST to 4:25 p.m. EST.

“I don’t think the NFL did us any favors by moving it back,” Harbaugh said, per ESPN. “But they don’t care about us. So, we just have to care about ourselves. We have to take care of our own business. That goes for our team, for our fans and for our city. Let’s go win the football game.”

Sunday is New Year’s Eve, and Harbaugh’s complaint seems to stem from the fact that moving the game to later in the day could interfere with fans’ long-standing party plans. The Ravens will clinch a wild-card berth with a win.

 “I don’t know what their considerations are at the league office, and why they do what they do,” Harbaugh said. “I really don’t care, other than the fact that I hope our fans are okay with it. I hope they’re into it. I hope people get there. The people who have plans, I hope they give their tickets to someone else so they get there. I want the place to be packed and loud.”

The NFL announced Monday that five Week 17 games would be moved from the early-afternoon time slot to the late-afternoon window Sunday so that all the games with playoff implications would be played at the same time.

This from Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com on what the Ravens believe to be the root of their problems:

The Baltimore Ravens sent a letter this week to season-ticket holders, suite holders and sponsors about the number of no-shows at M&T Bank Stadium this season, citing a protest during the national anthem as one potential reason.

The letter, which was signed by team president Dick Cass, mentions that there have been empty seats in the past when the Ravens have struggled on the field. But this year is different, with Baltimore in the midst of a playoff race.

“The numbers [of no-shows] are higher, and it is noticeable,” Cass wrote in the 656-word letter. “There are a number of reasons for the no-shows, but surely the one-time protest in London has been a factor.”

Ravens president Dick Cass acknowledged in a letter to fans that the team’s “one-time” protest during the national anthem in London on Sept. 24 has been a factor in the number of no-shows to home games this season. AP Photo/Matt Dunham

The Ravens’ first protest as a team occurred in London on Sept. 24, when more than a dozen players knelt during the national anthem before the first NFL game of the day. That began a daylong chain of protests in the wake of President Donald Trump’s critical comments and tweets about protests during the anthem.

The following week in Baltimore, the Ravens knelt in prayer before standing for the anthem. Fans at M&T Bank Stadium booed the players when they took a knee.

The team has not protested since.

“We have responded to your concerns about the protest by re-doubling the efforts of both the organization and our players to make the Baltimore area a better community,” Cass wrote.

According to Cass, the Ravens reached out to a number of fans who wrote to the team or called about the protest. Cass also personally made a number of phone calls and met with some fans, the letter stated.

“We want the Ravens to continue to be a strong, unifying force and source of pride in our community,” Cass wrote. “When the Ravens win, we can bring families and the community together. We’ve done that before, and we can do it again.

“In light of recent events, we are also reminded that winning alone is not always enough to make the Ravens the unifying force we want to be. We don’t take your support for granted, and we know that we must continue to earn your respect and investment in us.”

In the letter, Cass underscored the history of success, including two Super Bowl championships, and the team’s commitment to the community.

The letter was sent before Baltimore finishes out the regular season with home games against the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals. If the Ravens win out, they will clinch their first playoff berth since 2014.

“I think they’re starting to get excited about this football team,” coach John Harbaugh said after last Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns. “So it should be fun in our stadium against the Colts next Saturday night.”

CLEVELAND

Coach Hue Jackson will own up for his failure to improve on last year’s 1-15 season.  Nick Shook of ESPN.com:

Get out the swim trunks, water wings and sunscreen — Hue Jackson is going swimming.

A year ago, another 1-15 finish seemed outlandish for a Browns team that had just posted such a record. Surely, the only way this team could go was up. Jackson was so confident in this belief, he vowed to jump into Lake Erie if the team finished anywhere near 1-15 again.

The Browns are 0-15. Someone, grab Hue a towel.

The coach was asked about the promise on Wednesday and said he’d honor his word.

“Heck yeah,” Jackson said when asked if he’d jump into Lake Erie. “I have to.”

My weather forecasting sources tell me it’s very, very cold there, as in single-digit cold, enough to freeze the lake’s surface if it remains that frigid for long. It would probably be wise for Jackson to wait until the wind chill at least ascends above zero degrees Fahrenheit. It sounds like he’s taken that into account.

“How? You just jump in,” Jackson said with a laugh when asked how he’d jump into the Great Lake. “When? It is going to be at my convenience, and hopefully, I could get a lot of people to come out. It would be something that we are going to make special.”

Jackson didn’t mean special as in yes, the head coach of the Cleveland Browns wants to celebrate the special moment he confirms he’s only won one game in two seasons. He means special as in let’s make an event out of it, possibly raise some money for charity in the process and use it as a point to reinforce that he and his team never want to be at such a low point again.

“I don’t like it,” Jackson said. “I don’t like to do it for the reason I am having to do it, but I have to make do on my word. I just think that is what you do. I do get that. I made a statement. I have to back it up. That is the type of person I am, so that is what we have to do.”

In a stretch of ineptitude unbelievable even for the Browns, who have posted just two winning seasons since the franchise’s return to the NFL in 1999, seeing the team’s coach take a dip in a frigid lake would be the capper. With his job security recently ensured by owner Jimmy Haslam but rumblings that could change with an 0-16 finish, Jackson isn’t guaranteed to be around long enough to go for a swim. But if he is, expect the cameras to be rolling as the coach — hopefully in a wet suit, for his own safety — cleanses himself of a most forgettable season before turning the page to 2018.

PITTSBURGH

The Steelers players are saying the idea that crusty LB JAMES HARRISON was a pro’s pro who made the locker room a better place with his sage advice, leadership and passion is a myth.  At least the 2017 version.  Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:

According to his now former teammates, everything went according to plan for Harrison, who was unhappy with a limited role that included 40 snaps in 14 games.

However, Harrison said that while he anticipated a reduced role, he was unhappy that he was playing even less than expected.

“After the first week of the season, I said to them, it’s clear you want to play your younger guys, and I understand, so why don’t you release me? You go on your way, and I’ll go on mine,” Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “They said, ‘No, no, no, we got a role for you.'”

Harrison added that he stopped asking for his release after he played only 15 snaps in a Week 6 win over Kansas City. Although he says he was told by the team to “be ready” to play a lot of snaps in a Week 15 loss to the Patriots, Harrison again did not play at all.

“If I didn’t play in the biggest game of the year, that told me I wouldn’t get any more snaps,” Harrison told the newspaper. “So all that lip service you gave me before didn’t matter.”

Coach Mike Tomlin briefly explained Harrison’s release Tuesday, citing the need for a corresponding roster move with Marcus Gilbert’s return from suspension.

“If you didn’t want to be here, come out and say it. Don’t make it look like it’s the team’s fault …You think the team and the organization wanted to get rid of James Harrison? Come on now. If I wanted out, I wouldn’t let the team take the blame for it.”

Teammates were not as calculated after Wednesday’s practice, with Pouncey calling out Harrison for not addressing frustrations publicly.

“If you didn’t want to be here, come out and say it,” Pouncey said. “Don’t make it look like it’s the team’s fault. … You think the team and the organization wanted to get rid of James Harrison? Come on, now. If I wanted out, I wouldn’t let the team take the blame for it.”

Added linebacker Bud Dupree: “I don’t want the media to portray that we’re the reason he left. That ain’t the reason. He chose to leave. He made certain decisions, and his actions got him to this circumstance.”

Cornerback Artie Burns said Harrison’s “energy” showed the team that he was upset about a lack of playing time, which created “a whole thing with him and the guys upstairs,” leading to his release on Saturday.

“I guess [New England is] where he wanted to be,” Burns said.

One team source said Harrison went to great lengths to get himself released.

Players witnessed Harrison sleeping in a recliner during position meetings and snoring loudly while outside linebackers coach Joey Porter tried to teach, the source said. Sometimes, Harrison would skip meetings altogether, and when he missed practices for various injuries, player suspicions would rise when Harrison conducted his famous power-lifting sessions the same week or day, the source said.

Harrison left the building at random times, would leave stadiums before or during games on days he was inactive and told teammates he was trying to get traded, released or placed on Injured Reserve, the source said.

The source said Harrison exhibited the behavior throughout the season, but players really started to notice Harrison checking out on game days after a Week 4 win over the Ravens.

Dupree said on his weekly radio show Wednesday night that Harrison showed no interest in mentoring him or rookie linebacker T.J. Watt.

“I don’t know how many secrets about the playbook Harrison could give to [the Patriots] because I never saw him in meetings,” said Dupree, according to host Paul Zeise.

Bill Parise, Harrison’s agent, said Saturday that the parting was amicable, but Harrison was “clearly” frustrated over his role in the defense.

Pouncey spoke strongly about the responsibility of a longtime Steeler to carry out what’s best for the team, including mentoring young players.

Watt and Dupree — both first-round picks — replaced Harrison on a full-time basis this season. When asked whether Harrison was a mentor to him, Dupree laughed while walking out of the interview scrum.

“We’re going to speak the truth. That’s what it is,” Pouncey said. “I want [backup B.J. Finney] to be the best offensive lineman. If he comes and takes my position, it is what it is. … I’m not going to complain about that. I’m very thankful for everything. I’m a man about everything. Any time I messed up, every time I never did anything, I stood up to everybody and told them. It is what it is. I’m not going to run from no one.”

This is a strange ending to Harrison’s career in Pittsburgh. He spent all but one of his 15 seasons with the Steelers, making five Pro Bowls and winning two Super Bowl rings and a Defensive Player of the Year award. Teammates had lauded Harrison’s ability to lead by example.

Safety Mike Mitchell said Harrison is a friend, but he added about Harrison’s going to New England, “I probably wouldn’t have done it for $59,000.” Harrison is due $58,823.50 in Week 17 salary. Playoff games are paid by share.

Harrison said there was “a little hesitation” in signing with the Patriots, but the Steelers never reached out to him after waiving him.

“I cleared waivers, New England had called and said they wanted me to come up, and we talked,” Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday. “At 4:30 that afternoon, I flew to Boston, and there was no communication from the Steelers about anything.”

Harrison added that he expects to play in the Pats’ regular-season finale against the Jets on Sunday, but he has not been asked “one thing” about the Steelers since joining his new team.

Asked whether Harrison became a locker room distraction toward the end, Pouncey sent a message to the pass-rusher.

“I don’t care. Bye. Have fun,” Pouncey said.

AFC SOUTH

INDIANAPOLIS

Mike Wells of ESPN.com on the concept of RB FRANK GORE returning to the Colts.

Who the quarterback is and how good the offensive line is will be deciding factors on who running back Frank Gore will spend his 14th NFL season with next year.

The 34-year-old Gore reiterated Wednesday what he has said several times already this season in that he wants to continue his playing career next season.

“Quarterback, O-line, have to be my type of style of team,” he said. “Nasty, physical, punch you in the mouth. I don’t want to finish like this. I know I can still play. I want to help a team.””

Gore will be a free agent this offseason, and he’s shown that although he’s not the same dominating running back he once was earlier in his career, he can still be an effective player. He’s been one of the few bright spots in a disappointing season for the Colts (3-12). He’s 139 yards shy of recording back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and the 10th such season of his career.

Gore is leaving open the possibility of returning to the Colts — if they’ll re-sign him — because of quarterback Andrew Luck. Gore signed with the Colts in the spring of 2015 believing he would team with Luck and be one of the key pieces to help Indianapolis get to the Super Bowl. But Gore and Luck will end up only playing 22 out of a possible 48 games together during their three years as teammates because of constant injury problems for the quarterback.

The Colts also will have missed the playoffs in all three of Gore’s seasons. Gore believes Luck will be healthy again and that general manager Chris Ballard will get things turned around in Indianapolis.

“(Luck’s) going to be fine,” Gore said. “Me being around Ballard and little pieces he’s put in since I’ve been here are way better than from when I first got here. I can tell his mindset just talking to him. It’ll be a different Colts team whenever our quarterback comes back, and Jacoby (Brissett) playing this year helps.”

Gore has run through defenses to move ahead of four Hall of Fame running backs to fifth on the NFL’s career rushing list this season. He said opposing players and coaches, including Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin and Tennessee defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, have sought him out after games to praise him for still being able to produce at his age. Gore has the chance to pass Curtis Martin, who is 175 yards ahead of Gore, for fourth on the career rushing list next season.

“One of the best to play at his position,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “… He keeps breaking record after record and climbing the charts, but great teammate, great pro, warrior. He’s a football player, just as he always says, ‘I’m a football player.’ And if you looked up football player in the dictionary, you’d see his picture in there.”

Here is the current all-time rushing top 10.  Those in the Hall of Fame have been boldfaced:

1          Emmitt Smith                  18355                                                                   

2          Walter Payton                 16726                                                                    

3          Barry Sanders                 15269                                                                   

4          Curtis Martin                    14101                                                                  

5          Frank Gore                      13926                                                                    

6          LaDainian Tomlinson       13684                                                                 

7          Jerome Bettis                   13662                                                                  

8          Eric Dickerson                 13259                                                                              

9          Tony Dorsett                    12739                                                                              

10        Jim Brown                        12312                                                                              

Yet, and we don’t mean this as a slam, more as an observation – Gore has never won an NFL rushing title.  In fact, only once, in 2006, has he ever been within 300 yards of the rushing leader.  On the average, he trails that season’s rushing leader by more than 600 yards. Only once has he finished in the top 5 on a season rushing list.

Year     NFL Leader                  Total              Gore      Rank       Difference

2017    Todd Gurley                  1,305                861         13             444

2016    Ezekiel Elliott                 1,631 1,025         12             606

2015    Adrian Peterson             1,485               967           9             518

2014    DeMarco Murray            1,845           1,106           9             739

2013    LeSean McCoy              1,607           1,128           9             479

2012    Adrian Peterson             2,097            1,214         10             883

2011    Maurice Jones-Drew      1,606           1,211           6             395

2010    Arian Foster                    1,616             853          21             763  (11 games)

2009    Chris Johnson                 2,006          1,120          11             886

2008    Adrian Peterson              1,760          1,036          13             724

2007    LaDainian Tomlinson      1,474           1,102         13             372

2006    LaDainian Tomlinson      1,815          1,695           3             120

2005    Shaun Alexander            1,880              608        32          1,272

                                                           

                                                                                                          Avg 631

Still, there is something very positive to be said for a running back who played at least 14 games in 13 consecutive season, who gained 1,000 yards in 9 of them, who finished outside the top 15 only one time after his rookie year, and that was the season in which he played only 11 games.

– – –

And this from Wells on the upbeat ending for Coach Chuck Pagano.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

The amount of turnover from season to season in the NFL means that each year’s team takes on a shape of its own, something that Colts coach Chuck Pagano referenced while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.

In the case of Pagano, though, the comments had a double meaning. The Colts are 3-12 and there’s a widespread belief that Pagano will be fired at the end of the season, which gave his words the tint of a farewell address.

“It’s the last rodeo, is what I told them,” Pagano said, via the team’s website. “I had a picture of a guy on a bucking bronco with the spurs on it. It’s our last ride together. No team that I’ve ever been a part of has ever been the same, regardless of the record. That’s just the National Football League. This is our last rodeo together. We’re going to enjoy and embrace every single second of it and get obsessed with completion. That’s what successful people do — they get obsessed with completion. We need to complete this season. No better way than to go out with a win.”

Andrew Luck‘s injury all but sank the 2017 Colts before the season even started, but three straight years out of the playoffs and the hiring of a General Manager with no ties to Pagano provide further reason to believe that this won’t just be the last rodeo for the players on the 2017 roster.

If you had to give one of this year’s fired or likely to be fired coaches a second chance, the DB would be inclined to go with Pagano.

JACKSONVILLE

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com says the Jaguars are going to leave the tarps in place when they host their first playoff game in a decade next week:

In 2005, the Jaguars installed tarps to block off thousands of seats at EverBank Field because the team simply couldn’t fill its stadium. For years, those tarps became a symbol of futility in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars are futile no more: This year they’ve won the AFC South and have already sold out their playoff game next weekend. That raises the question, Will they remove the tarps to sell more tickets?

The answer is no. Mike Kaye of First Coast News reports that the tarps will remain in place, in part because there are corporate sponsors who have already paid to have their logos on the tarps.

The Jaguars have removed the tarps for individual regular-season games when ticket demand was high in the past, but they’re not going to do it for this season’s playoffs.

EverBank Field hosts the Florida-Georgia game every year and sells out with 84,000 fans, many of them in temporary seats put in just for that game. So there’s no question that the stadium can hold more fans. But the Jaguars have capped capacity at about 65,000 and aren’t planning to change that. Perhaps winning a Super Bowl would create the kind of buzz around the Jaguars that would let them get rid of the tarps for good.

It will be the 4th playoff game to be played at EverBankField.  The first was in the 1998 season, the next two (including the AFC Championship Game) were the following year.

Since that championship game in JAX, the last 17 AFC Championship Games have been played in only five cities, the last 14 in only four, the last six in two.

1999    Jacksonville

2000    Oakland

2001    Pittsburgh

2002    Oakland

2003    Foxborough

2004    Pittsburgh

2005    Denver           

2006    Indianapolis

2007    Foxborough

2008    Pittsburgh

2009    Indianapolis 

2010    Pittsburgh       

2011    Foxborough

2012    Foxborough 

2013    Denver 

2014    Foxborough

2015    Denver           

2016    Foxborough

How about the NFC in that span?

1999    St. Louis

2000    East Rutherford

2001    St. Louis

2002    Philadelphia

2003    Philadelphia

2004    Philadelphia

2005    Seattle

2006    Chicago

2007    Green Bay

2008    Glendale

2009    New Orleans

2010    Chicago

2011    San Francisco

2012    Atlanta

2013    Seattle

2014    Seattle

2015    Charlotte

2016    Atlanta

We count 11 cities in 17 years and in 1998 it was Minneapolis.  The teams in the NFC that have not hosted an NFC Championship game since 1998 are Tampa Bay, Detroit, Dallas and Washington.

THIS AND THAT

HUH

If this is true…

Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar not only helped the Boilermakers squeak into a bowl game, he was also offensive MVP in winning that game — all with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Coach Jeff Brohm revealed the nature of the sophomore’s injury after the 38-35 win over Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl.

“For somebody to play almost four games with that, three and a half, that’s amazing,” Brohm said. “I couldn’t be A, prouder of his performance but to perform with that serious of an injury? How many people can do that? It’s less than 1 percent.”

When he first found out about the injury, Brohm planned to sit Sindelar down, but the QB convinced him to let him try to play.

“My first thing was no,” Brohm said. “There’s no way he should play. I think he’s had his knee operated on more than a few times. I thought if he can wear that brace and keep it stable and if he feels like he can go, we can give it a try. I was very leery at first, but Elijah wanted to do it. We went through our trainers and doctor. He was able to pull it off.”

Sindelar was injured in a loss to Northwestern Nov. 11, a game in which he threw for 376 yards. After Purdue fell to 4-6, he helped lead the Boilermakers to wins over Iowa and Indiana to qualify for a bowl.

He then threw for 396 yards and four touchdowns Wednesday.

Brohm said Sindelar will undergo surgery before the end of the year.

BROADCAST NEWS

Ken Fang of Awful Announcing tries to make sense of the decision to deny NBC a final primetime game this season.

It seemed to be an annual rite that the NFL would flex one of its Week 17 games into primetime for NBC. In past years, it meant a game that would have playoff significance and/or entail a “Win or Go Home” scenario. However, we won’t see that this year. As we told you earlier this week, the NFL decided to forego a primetime game saying there wasn’t a game that met its criteria for Week 17.

This leaves NBC without a Sunday Night Football game to close out the regular season next week. At first glance, it’s a good thing as this year, New Year’s Eve falls on a Sunday and traditionally, it’s a low-rated night for broadcast and cable networks. People are usually out celebrating the New Year and as we have seen with the College Football Playoff, scheduling live sports on New Year’s Eve doesn’t work.

In its official announcement late on Christmas Eve, NFL vice president of broadcasting and scheduling guru Howard Katz used the “competitive balance” card to explain why NBC wasn’t getting a game this Sunday:

“We felt that both from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective, the most fair thing to do is to schedule all Week 17 games in either the 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. ET windows.”

That meant CBS and Fox would air the games in those windows. At face value, that makes sense. Katz continued:

“This ensures that we do not have a matchup on Sunday Night Football on New Year’s Eve that because of earlier results has no playoff implications for one or both of the competing teams.”

This decision prevents a dog matchup from being flexed into primetime, prevents NBC from airing a low-rated game, and also gives us more Carson Daly this Sunday than we ever need.

But aside from Carson Daly, the NFL has a situation with NBC where it may have to give the Peacock something in return for taking away a game this Sunday. It’s too late for this NFL season, unless the league gives NBC Sports two primetime playoff games in January. But the NFL also has to do deal with its other TV partners, CBS, ESPN, and Fox. The other networks, CBS and Fox in particular, will want to have favorable timeslots for their playoff games.

Let’s say this season is out to make good for NBC. The NFL would need look at the 2018 regular season. One possibility is to give NBC a game involving a marquee team, like either Dallas or New England. Or if NBC bids on Thursday Night Football for next season, put that marquee matchup in that package.

NBC isn’t commenting publicly about the non-flex on Sunday, but it might be actually relieved that it doesn’t have to air a game that might not have playoff implications. There’s also the possibility of a potential blowout, but that’s not a situation unique to Wk 17.

When it puts together the schedule for the upcoming regular season, the NFL has to find a way to make all of the television partners happy. They’ll try to give CBS, ESPN, Fox, and NBC the games they want, and provide that competitive balance in the schedule so one network doesn’t appear to be favored over another.

NBC will likely use its “No Game in Week 17 in ‘17” card to put some pressure on the NFL next spring and rest assured, it will remind the league of this in the coming months.

2018 DRAFT

Now that the Browns are all set to draft a franchise QB, the franchise QB does not want them.  Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen seemed to confirm a report over the weekend that he’ll try to avoid playing for the Cleveland Browns, who have the No. 1 pick in the draft.

“I’d rather be a lower pick at the right team than a higher one at the wrong team,” Rosen said Saturday at the Cactus Bowl media day as the Bruins prepared to play Tuesday in the Cactus Bowl tonight against Kansas State, per Josh Weinfuss of espn.com.

The answer came in response to a question about whether he feels strongly about playing for certain teams, but not specifically about the Browns.

“I think the teams know more than I do in the sense of where I’d best fit,” he said. “I might be a bit of a unique personality, so hopefully they can pick me a part and if a team really feels that I’m their guy, hopefully they’ll go and get me.

On Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Rosen would prefer to play for the Giants over the Browns, and that he’d even consider staying in school to avoid coming to Cleveland.

By the end of the game, a 20-3 loss to the Bears, the Browns had clinched the No. 1 pick in the draft, and have a clear shot at Rosen, widely regarded as one of the top college QBs. Rosen, who will sit out tonight’s game with a concussion, will confer with his parents after this game to decide what to do, Schefter reported.

The Giants currently have the No. 2 pick in the draft, but could slip to No. 3 if they win their finale and the Colts lose.

Sources told Schefter that Rosen prefers the Giants because they’re “more stable” than the Browns. Cleveland has started 28 quarterbacks since their return in 1999, and have had only two winning seasons in that 18 years.

Hue Jackson admitted last week that the Browns will upgrade the position and that it’s “fair to question” if 2017 second-round pick DeShone Kizer “will ever get it.”

“The quarterbacks on our football team, in general, just all of them, they all understand that we’re always trying to better our position,” Jackson said. “We did not draft a quarterback in the first round and say, ‘This is our quarterback of the future.’ We took a quarterback. We’re trying to grow him.

“We have a very young quarterback room. We need to continue to improve that room as much as we can as we move forward for it to be the best it can be. I understand when you take a guy in the second round, everybody suspects that that’s the guy. We wish it is. I mean you hope it is. But if it isn’t, that’s OK, too. And hopefully the guy will continue to grow and get better, but you also have to continue to get better at the position.”

Former Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins, who has stayed connected to the team, had something to say about Rosen’s declaration.

@Hawk

I dont care Josh. Youre going to be a Brown. And u better come in and ball!

– – –

Rosen isn’t the first college QB this season who supposedly wants to avoid the Browns. USC’s Sam Darnold, who will face Ohio State Friday night in the Cotton Bowl, was rumored to be considering staying in school rather than come to Cleveland.

But he denied that after a recent Trojans practice. “I didn’t say anything about the Browns,” Darnold told reporters. “I’ve never said anything bad about (an NFL) team. They know I would never say anything.”

With Rosen seemingly confirming the report about him Tuesday, Jackson and new Browns GM John Dorsey apparently have some damage control to do before the draft in April.

COLLEGE COACHES FOR NFL JOBS

The NFL is going to need a lot of head coaches soon, and Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports scans the college ranks to see who might be a good choice to make the jump:

With Week 17 of the NFL season upon us, the annual Black Monday flurry of coaching firings will commence after this weekend. NFL executives are bracing for an unusually busy season in the coaching market, with at least a quarter of the league’s 32 head-coaching jobs expected to open.

What’s the best guess for the number of NFL openings? A safe target to set an over-under is 9.5. There’s already four jobs that are considered sure things to open – New York Giants (open), Cincinnati Bengals (open), Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears. There’s five jobs that are considered likely – Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals. Then there’s five jobs where there’s a chance of an opening – Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans. (Plus, there’s always a curveball job – Seattle Seahawks? – that no one expects to open.)

“I don’t think there’s enough candidates to fill the jobs,” said one veteran NFL coach. “Who do you hire to coach? Who’s left? Who do you hire?”

There will be some heavy recycling in NFL circles, as coaches like Eagles assistant Jim Schwartz and New England Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels appear in line to get another shot. In a copycat league, there will be a youth movement to attempt to hire the next Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan. There will also be hot names like New England’s Matt Patricia, Houston’s Mike Vrabel and Detroit’s Teryl Austin and Jim Bob Cooter.

So where does that leave the college space? The odds are that an NFL franchise will at least kick the tires on a handful of college coaches.

There’s a surprise college job that opens in virtually every coaching cycle. Think Bob Stoops suddenly stepping down at Oklahoma in 2017 or the departures of coaches like Chip Kelly, Bill O’Brien and Greg Schiano to the NFL. (And you can dig deeper to Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh and Bobby Petrino.)

The most obvious college opening that could pop this offseason is Kansas State, as Bill Snyder is defying age, health and his own legacy if he returns to Manhattan for the 2018 season. (He’d turn 79 next season and said after the Cactus Bowl on Tuesday that his future “hasn’t been decided yet.”)

There’s no obvious coach ripe to jump, as Stanford’s David Shaw is the No. 1 candidate but has shown no signs of wavering from his commitment to his alma mater. Let’s assume Nick Saban still has no interest and Jimbo Fisher isn’t movable because he just signed a guaranteed contract for $75 million. We’ll throw Washington’s Chris Petersen in that category, too, as it would be stunning if he held a job other than Washington’s head coach.

Where does that leave us? Well, here’s a look at potential top NFL targets in the college game for both this season and beyond.

1. David Shaw, Stanford

Let’s be clear here. There are no signs that Shaw has any interest in leaving Stanford. He has built the program to historic levels, the university has followed through with pristine facilities and perks like housing for assistant coaches. This may be the best coach-university marriage in all of college football. But Shaw is on this list because he is the NFL’s top target of interest, which was affirmed by Shaw being the only college coach recommended by the NFL’s career development advisory panel.

Someday, Shaw may take that call. But not soon.

2. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

His professional pedigree from both playing and coaching is better than any college candidate. But Harbaugh comes with a warning label from administrators at Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers: Doesn’t play well with others.

Harbaugh is a tortured genius who some think would be a perfect match with eccentric Colts owner Jim Irsay. General managers in Chicago and Indianapolis may be a bit more hesitant, considering the strife with the front office in San Francisco.

His name will always be on these lists, as his track record isn’t one of longevity at one spot.

3. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

Kelly has revived Notre Dame back from its 4-8 hiccup in 2016, and the rejuvenated staff has translated to the No. 6 recruiting class for 2018. Kelly has previously received NFL interest from the Eagles in 2013 but ultimately stuck around South Bend. He’s hitting the point entering Year 9 at Notre Dame next season where something different may be intriguing. It’s hard in modern college football, especially at a fish bowl like Notre Dame, to stay anywhere more than a decade.

4. Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Few have been more consistent and done more with less than Whittingham. His 11-1 bowl record is also comically good. He has pro-style roots and the right demeanor to handle NFL players. He’s 111-56 over 13 seasons at Utah, a remarkable run considering the Utes jumped leagues and have still managed to consistently compete at the highest level.

5. James Franklin, Penn State

Not likely to happen anytime soon, as Franklin has a contract through 2022 at Penn State and appears to finally have his roster stocked fully post-NCAA sanctions. Franklin has NFL experience, a strong reputation and has been interviewed previously for NFL head jobs. Franklin, 45, served as the Packers’ wide receivers coach in 2005. There seems to be a lot of career runway for him to eventually return to that level.

6. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

He has given little indication he’d like to leave Iowa. The NFL has knocked on his door before, as he had a great reputation as an assistant coach with the Browns and Ravens. There’s nothing particularly sexy about Ferentz as a candidate, but he has run an NFL system, his teams are hard-nosed and he has as strong of a personal reputation as anyone in the business.

7. Greg Schiano, Ohio State DC

If he jumps up to the NFL to become a coordinator soon, he has a much better chance at becoming an NFL coach in the next few years than he does a college coach. The Tennessee debacle will be hard to overcome in college circles, as it unfairly shamed his name. The NFL could end up being an easier path to navigate.

8. Kirby Smart, Georgia

Before Georgia fans begin hyperventilating, this is another name for down the road. Smart money is on Smart sticking with his alma mater for a long time. But he’s only 42, which means a long and meaningful run could still yield plenty of time for Smart to try the NFL. He has a year of NFL experience with the Dolphins in 2006.

9. Matt Rhule, Baylor

NFL teams aren’t exactly pining for a coach who went 1-11 in college, as Rhule did at Baylor this past season. But Rhule went 20-7 the two previous years at Temple and runs a pro-style system. His public handling of cleaning up the off-field mess at Baylor has earned rave reviews in college circles. It’s easy to see him as the face of an NFL franchise, with old-school football chops and a personality that can connect with the new generation. He made a strong impression on the Giants’ brass during his year there as an assistant in 2012.

10. Matt Campbell, Iowa State

He’s got just a 10-14 career record at Iowa State. (He did go 35-15 at Toledo.) But Campbell is one of the hottest names in college and could soon generate NFL buzz. Campbell fits the NFL in style and presence. And his Mount Union pedigree will go a long way with NFL brass, considering that school’s recent success in churning out coaches. If he keeps winning in Ames, he’ll have boundless options.