The Baltimore Ravens signed undrafted rookie running back Fitzgerald Toussaint on Saturday, which could be an indication the team is unsure of Bernard Pierce's availability for Sunday's game at the Cleveland Browns.

Pierce
Pierce, who has started the first two games of the season, is questionable with a thigh injury. He was limited in Thursday's practice and had full participation on Friday. Pierce has never missed a game in his NFL career despite battling numerous injuries.

If Pierce is unable to play, the Ravens would start Justin Forsett and use rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro as the primary backup. Forsett has rushed for 126 yards, which leads the Ravens, and one touchdown. Taliaferro has yet to receive a carry.

Toussaint would provide depth at running back. He flashed his explosiveness in the preseason finale with several big runs and finished with 103 yards at New Orleans.

Undrafted out of Michigan, Toussaint was on the Ravens' 53-man roster for the season opener but was among the team's inactives.

The Ravens released wide receiver Deonte Thompson to make room for Toussaint on the 53-man roster.
SAN DIEGO -- With Ryan Mathews out for an extended period with an MCL knee strain, the San Diego Chargers will have to figure out how to replace the production from a player who rushed for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns last season.

"We're definitely a better team with Ryan," Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said. "But we're also a darn good team without him, too. We've just got to find a way to get him healthy. To me, he's still one of the premier backs in this league."

Mathews
While Mathews works diligently to get back on the field, the arduous task of replacing his production will be a group effort by a cadre of running backs that are considered one of the strengths of the offense.

And that effort starts with Donald Brown. The top free agent signing by Chargers general manager Tom Telesco during the offseason, Brown inked a three-year, $10.4 million deal to serve as the complementary back for Mathews.

Brown rushed just nine times for 19 yards in two games. But now the University of Connecticut product will be pressed into the every-down back role for San Diego with Mathews out.

"It will be nice to get more opportunities," Brown said. "The way I look at it, whether it's one carry or all the carries, you just have to make the most of each and every one of them."

Brown
Brown, who grew up in New Jersey, said his parents and sister will drive to Buffalo for the game. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers likes the cerebral approach Brown takes to his preparation for game day.

"Donald's a super, super pro," Rivers said. "He often finds little intricacies in the plan, and asks me questions about them that I may not even have thought of, and that just tells you how hard he studies it."

While Brown handles the workload in the middle of the field, Woodhead maintains his role as San Diego's third-down and red-zone back.

Woodhead finished with 37 touches and seven touchdowns in the red zone last season -- San Diego's most productive running back inside the 20. Woodhead also leads the running back group with 67 snaps through two games.

Rivers trusts Woodhead will be in the right spot on the field, so expect his snap count and touches to increase with Mathews out.

Woodhead
"I'm approaching this week like any other week, and that's just preparing for whenever I may get an opportunity as far as plays or whatever it may be," Woodhead said, when asked about the possibility of an expanded role in the offense. "Whenever I'm supposed to be in, the coaches will tell me I'm in. And that's really what I'm focusing on."

Finally, with Mathews out undrafted rookie free agent Branden Oliver could see his first action during the regular season. Oliver finished with 35 rushes for 161 yards and a touchdown during exhibition play, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

The road trip is a homecoming of sorts for the cat-quick Oliver, who played at University at Buffalo. Also, if active, expect Oliver to contribute on special teams.

"It means a lot, man," Oliver said, when asked about the chance at playing time. "God is good just for allowing me to have the opportunity to go back there and possibly play for the first time in my career, in the city where I spent five years playing college football. So it's great.

"Buffalo is like my second home, so it's going to be a great feeling."

W2W4: Indianapolis Colts

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
3:00
PM ET
Is this the game that the Indianapolis Colts finally have a pass rush?

That’s the hope at least in the battle of winless AFC South teams in Jacksonville on Sunday. The Jaguars are playing their home opener.

Here are three storylines to watch in the game:

Pressure the QB: This will be a weekly storyline until the Colts show they can put pressure on the quarterback on a consistent basis. They didn't get any sacks against Philadelphia in the previous game. The Jaguars, who will have two new offensive line starters, have given up 13 sacks, including 10 against Washington last week, in two games. You might as well throw your hands up if the Colts' defense can’t sack Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne at least once. Is that too much to ask?

Spread the ball around: The Colts have plenty of talent at receiver with Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks, tight end with Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener and in the backfield with Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. Now it’s up to quarterback Andrew Luck to spread the ball around. Luck still relies heavily on Wayne and Hilton, who have been targeted 20 and 22 times, respectively. Bradshaw, a running back, is next in line at 12 targets. “I feel like our scheme is comprehensive enough,” offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “Once teams adjust to try and take away one component or one person in our offense, we have other guys around that will make plays. The NFL season is a long season. We have 14 more games to go and it’s the ultimate chess match. Over the course of time, you’ll find out that there’ll be enough opportunities for guys to make plays throughout the offense.”

Protect the ball: Richardson ran for 79 yards against the Eagles, his highest total since the Colts acquired him on Sept. 18, 2013. But he has to do a better job protecting the ball. He fumbled twice, with Wayne diving on his first fumble. Richardson’s second fumble ended up costing the Colts, as the Eagles took advantage of the turnover to score a touchdown. Going back to the Kansas City playoff game last season -- four games total -- Richardson has fumbled three times. “Trent runs extremely hard and he’s always fighting for extra yards,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “When you put the ball on the ground, guys are going to point that out in other meeting rooms in other cities and say, ‘Hey look, this guy, you know, yada yada yada.’ Trent understands that and all our backs, all those guys that touch the football know how important ball security is and we harp on it every single day, and we’ll continue to harp on it. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the football.”
PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger dismissed comparisons with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton earlier this week, though not because the Steelers quarterback has won two Super Bowls while Newton has yet to win a playoff game.

“He’s a lot better athlete than I am. He can throw it further than I can,” Roethlisberger said. “So I don’t know where the comparisons are. I guess they just say [that] because he’s big, and he’s bigger than me, too. So I guess I’ll take that as a compliment, that coaches compare me to him.”

The Steelers gave the hard sell this week when it comes to Newton, the former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Mike McCarnCam Newton, at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, presents a big challenge to the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
And certainly containing the fourth-year veteran, who has been battling a rib injury, will be critical to the Steelers against the 2-0 Panthers on Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium.

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau called Newton the “quintessential modern quarterback” because he can beat teams with his arm and his legs.

Newton already has thrown for more than 11,500 yards, and the 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry for his career.

When veteran Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor refers to Newton as “Cam Mutant,” it is actually the ultimate sign of respect.

“It’s rare when you find a quarterback that has a basketball build, a LeBron [James] build,” Taylor said. “He can make all the throws, and it’s going to take more than one guy to get him down.”

What has drawn the Newton and Roethlisberger comparisons is that each is hard to get on the ground, even when the pocket collapses around them.

And Newton, as athletic and fast as he is, isn’t just a threat to run when teams blitz him.

The former Auburn star has improved steadily against the blitz, as he showed last Sunday. In the Panthers’ 24-7 victory over the Detroit Lions, Newton completed 9 of 11 passes when Detroit sent at least five pass-rushers after the quarterback, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“He’s a much better passer than maybe people give him credit for,” LeBeau said. “He can throw the pocket balls, but I would never call him a pocket passer. He can do it all, and he’s a big guy. We’ll have to play well to keep this offense in check. I think we can do it, but we’ll have to play well.”

Jerricho Cotchery is in his first season with the Panthers after playing for the Steelers from 2011-13.

The veteran wide receiver pleaded the fifth earlier this week when asked whether there are comparisons between Newton and Roethlisberger.

“You see the ball coming out of their hands, and they are both big guys,” Cotchery said, “But as far as comparing all of their other skills, I don’t want to get into that. I just want to be respectful when it comes to both of those guys.”

Browns, Gordon release statements

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
9:38
PM ET
A statement from Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer on Josh Gordon's season-long suspension being reduced to 10 games:
"We are aware of the new NFL policy related to the reduction of Josh Gordon's suspension to 10 games. We will continue to support and work with him under the NFL guidelines throughout this process. Our team's focus right now remains on preparing for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens."

Gordon released this statement through the NFL Players Association, pointing toward his return for the stretch run and making clear he's permitted to be back with the team during this suspension:
""I''m happy that the NFLPA and NFL worked hard to agree on a new Substances of Abuse policy. I''m very thankful to my union for fighting for a significant reduction in my suspension. I''m glad I can go to the facility during my suspension. I look forward to going to meetings, working out individually, and learning from my coaches and teammates. I can''t wait until game 11 to get back on the field!""
METAIRIE, La. -- Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan reiterated Friday that the New Orleans Saints' early struggles are "on us" as a defense -- and "on me" in particular.

"Hey, those are the facts," Ryan said during his weekly visit with the media. "You don’t like to admit ‘em standing up here, but it’s the damn truth. ...

"We want to be great on defense, we want to be a little tiny part of our success. And we’ve been a big part of our failure right now. It’s not how we’re going to roll."

[+] EnlargeRob Ryan
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSaints coordinator Rob Ryan on his defense after the Saints' 0-2 start: "We've been a big part of our failure right now. It's not how we're going to roll."
Ryan said that improvement will come through hard work and long hours of "looking for any kind of edge you can get."

It’s unlikely that drastic changes will be called for, since the Saints thrived on defense last season with the same coordinator and most of the same players. But there will almost certainly be tweaks.

The most likely switch is at the No. 2 cornerback spot, where the Saints replaced starter Patrick Robinson with Corey White during last week’s 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Saints have not announced whether that will be a permanent change, but it’s obviously a possibility. Safety Rafael Bush could also see more snaps as the fifth defensive back in nickel packages -- the role he played for most of last season.

Some scheme tweaks could also be in store.

Even though the secondary is loaded with experienced veterans, it’s hard to ignore the fact that they have struggled with communication and assignment errors after releasing three longtime starters in the offseason (safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper, and cornerback Jabari Greer).

When asked if that takes time to develop with new guys working together (like new safety Jairus Byrd and Robinson returning from a year-long injury), Ryan said, "Obviously it does."

"Those guys played with each other for a long time," Ryan said of Jenkins, Harper and Greer. "They know the system inside and out. So the communication was obviously excellent. But obviously these guys will take a little bit of getting used to each other and getting on the right page and the same page.

"That can also be helped with our plan. Doing things one way instead of three ways, and things like that. But we have to improve, we know that, we’re working on it and we have to get there."

When I asked Greer to scout the Saints’ secondary heading into this season, he agreed with the outside consensus that the Saints might be "as talented as they’ve been in a very long time." But he quickly brought up the importance of things like communication and chemistry with new players.

"Talent doesn't necessarily equal success," Greer said at the time. "Communication and leadership and understanding each other's roles, working together with each other's strengths and safeties covering up the corners' weaknesses, that equals success. And that is yet to be determined. ...

"Because given the departure of the veteran leaders in the secondary, that was the big question coming into the season. So I'm interested in seeing who's taking that leadership position, how they're going to rally the troops, and really how they're gonna communicate effectively."

Greer said typically the safeties take over that leadership role because they are known as the "quarterbacks" of the defense, responsible for making calls and checks.

Kenny Vaccaro has talked often about embracing that type of leadership role, even though he is in just his second year. But he said this week that leadership should be a collaborative effort rather than a forced one.

"I think the worst thing that can happen is when you anoint a guy and not just let him prove himself," Vaccaro said. "You don’t want to just give a guy that position. It’ll happen on its own, honestly. And I think we’ve got a lot of leaders in the secondary. So I don’t know if a guy will get kinged as a leader of the secondary.

"I think everybody has their own qualities, and we all just bring that together. ... We gather each other together."

Vaccaro said Jenkins (a former defensive captain) used to be known for his "powerful speeches" before games. He said that neither he nor Byrd is a "speech guy" and that they are both guys who prefer to lead by example.

"We talked about that (Wednesday)," Vaccaro said of him and Byrd. "We talked about we’re gonna have to just ride with each other and we’re gonna have to get out of our comfort zone. ... Definitely, though, I think we work all together."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The avalanche of off-field stories continued for the Arizona Cardinals when running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested Wednesday on assault charges.

Being asked about contracts, injuries, play-calling and, now, a teammate’s legal issues, has become routine for the Cardinals.

Foote
Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
"We move on," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "It’s not a distraction. It will not be a distraction. Our team’s kinda gotten used to what everybody else would consider a distraction, and get ready for a huge football game this Sunday."

The Cardinals have answered a lot of questions, but not many about the 49ers, who come to University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

The series of off-the-field stories came full circle Friday when linebacker John Abraham was put on injured reserve because of a concussion he suffered in Week 1. Abraham started the list of off-the-field stories when his June arrest on suspicion of DUI in Atlanta was reported during the first few days of training camp.

Since then:
Veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t think he has seen this many off-field stories this early in a season in the first 10 years of his career.

"Adversity, it comes in all different sizes, shapes and forms," Fitzgerald said. "You have to be able to deal with it. Everybody’s dealing with it in some way or form. We got this type of issue here. Washington’s dealing with injuries.

"It’s all different. But come Sunday, it doesn’t matter. The best team has to come out there and win."

As far as Arizona’s on-field performance goes, the Cardinals are 2-0, having won with two different starting quarterbacks. Arians said the off-field issues haven’t strayed onto the Cardinals’ practice field this week. He called Wednesday and Thursday’s practices "great."

Larry Foote, a 13-year veteran, said Arizona needs to approach Dwyer’s absence like an injury: Next man up.

"We just got to keep rolling,” he said.

Fitzgerald said Arizona’s focus hasn’t waned.

"It hasn’t changed one bit," Fitzgerald said. "If anything, it’s even sharper.

"You come in the locker room (Thursday), I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this kind of media contingency here at the Cardinals, Thursday, Week 3. It’s just like the Super Bowl a couple years ago. We understand that there’s a lot of eyes on us. We have to [home] in. We have to have that bunker mentality. We got to just rely on each other and fight for each other."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio knows all about bend-but-don’t-break defense.

It’s just he’s not all that interested in either.

“I’m not looking for any bend," Del Rio said this week. “But at the end of the day, we want to make plays. It just so happens that we’re giving ourselves a chance and then coming up with plays to stop people from scoring in key moments. So that’s the good part: The resiliency, the determination, those are the good things. And we want to clean it up and not let it get like that. But it’s a constant battle … So like I said, we’re hard at work. We’re aware of things that need to be better. We’re working hard to make sure they get better."

When the Broncos take the field Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, the plan was for the Broncos’ remade defense to have shown itself ready for a Super Bowl rematch, for the defense to have shown it can be what both Del Rio and the players have said they believe it could be, and that’s a top-five unit. And two weeks into the regular season, the new faces have had plenty of impact, and the group has made a fourth-down, game-clinching play in each of the first two victories, over the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.

But the Broncos also find themselves 28th in the league in yards allowed per game -- how the NFL ranks defenses statistically overall -- at 394.0 yards allowed per game and 14th in points allowed per game (20.5). The Broncos are tied for 10th in sacks (five), tied for ninth in interceptions (two) and have not yet recovered a fumble.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware and the Denver Broncos' defense are looking to make a bigger impact.
“I wouldn’t say we’re searching for anything," Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “I always say there is room for improvement. We have all the players here, and we’re playing good enough to win games. But you’ve got to have those shutout games, those games you want to have on defense -- those big turnover games, interceptions, getting more pressure on the quarterback, keeping the quarterback in the pocket and not having those big games."

Against the Seahawks, it means having all of the above. It’s about keeping quarterback Russell Wilson under duress, limiting his escape routes. It’s about keeping running back Marshawn Lynch from controlling the tempo with yard after yard after contact. It’s about, for the Broncos, being far better than they were in the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The defense received most of the attention in the offseason with the signings of Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward to go with first-round pick Bradley Roby this past May. But new faces, to go with the Broncos returning from stints on injured reserve -- linebacker Von Miller, safety Rahim Moore, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive end Derek Wolfe -- means the Broncos are still working to fit the pieces together.

That can be more difficult on defense, as teams rarely do in any practice what just might be the most important job on defense -- tackle at game speed. They can simulate, they can work on form and positioning, but they don’t get to see how they close the deal until the games get played. From the Seahawks' perspective, the group in front of them Sunday won't be close to the unit they faced in the Super Bowl, given at least seven projected starters on defense for the Broncos on Sunday did not play in the Super Bowl, and just two of the usual starters on defense -- defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams -- will be playing in the same spots as they did in the title game.

“We’re a real good unit," Del Rio said. “It’s early in the year. We’ve played well in spurts. We’ve played well in big moments. We’ve contributed to two wins. But we feel like there’s a lot of work yet to be done, and our guys all understand that. But we have a good group, and we’re working hard."

Said Moore: “We know what we have; we know what we can do. I’m not sure the last couple weeks we win both those games all the time in the past. We feel like we want to be on the field with the game on the line, we want that. We can play better, and we will. Every guy in here wants to show what we can do and keep getting the W's."
video

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints and coach Sean Payton continued to be referenced Friday by critics of Roger Goodell, suggesting that the NFL commissioner is not holding himself to the same standards that he held the Saints to during the 2012 bounty scandal.

Goodell held a news conference Friday, during which he again admitted that he made mistakes in his handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence investigation and the ensuing punishment.

The circumstances of this situation and the Saints’ alleged bounty program are different. But the parallel being made by many is that Goodell held the Saints’ leaders accountable at the highest level -- including Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and owner Tom Benson -- and his punishment was swift and severe.

Former Saints linebacker Will Smith, who was suspended as part of the bounty punishments, made his thoughts known on Twitter:

 

 

ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi made one of the strongest comparisons, saying, “One of the only ways Roger Goodell could’ve lived up to the standards that he placed on us as players when I was in the league and players right now, the high standards of accountability towards those players and towards the owners and coaches, was to step down because he’s the ultimate in the NFL. The mistakes he made, if someone else made those, there would’ve been heavy repercussions. But there’s nothing for Roger Goodell. Absolutely nothing. It’s contradictory to what he’s done to us as players, coaches, the New Orleans Saints, everything. Right now, I just don’t know what his direction is, if he even believes what he’s preaching.”

And former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman tweeted, “Can only imagine how upset Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints must be watching Commissioner’s press conference.”

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell
AP Photo/Jason DeCrowComparisons between Roger Goodell's punishment of the Saints in 2012 and his current handling of domestic violence controversies plagued the NFL commissioner at his news conference Friday.
Payton was referenced in a question during Goodell’s news conference Friday, when the commissioner was reminded that he held Payton accountable for allowing mistakes to be made under his watch. (The reporter used the quote, “ignorance is not a defense.” It’s unclear if Goodell ever actually used that exact phrasing, but he repeatedly made that point to the Saints while explaining his punishments in 2012.)

At the end of that question, Goodell was asked if he had considered resigning.

“I have not,” Goodell said. “I'm more focused on doing my job. And doing it to the best of my ability. I understand when people are critical of your performance, but we have a lot of work to do. That's my focus. We've been busy the last couple of weeks. We have results to show for it ... I'm proud of the opportunity that we have to try to make a difference here and do the right thing. We've acknowledged that we need to change what we're doing. Now we have to get to what are those changes going to be."

Earlier Friday, Payton was asked what he thought about the changing policies in the NFL when it comes to punishing players like Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy. And Payton reiterated that he hasn’t paid close attention to the specific details of those cases.

Last week, when asked if it feels good that people seem to be coming to his defense, in a sense, while suggesting that Goodell should be held to the same standard that he held the Saints to, Payton said, “It’s immaterial. In other words, we said at the time what we had to say, and we’ll leave it at that.”
BALTIMORE -- By all accounts, the Ray Rice jersey exchange organized by the Baltimore Ravens was a tremendous success. The lines outside M&T Bank Stadium rivaled the longest ones for the latest iPhone.

[+] EnlargeRay Rice jersey exchange
Jamison HensleyWith their Ray Rice jersey exchange, the Ravens are going too far in distancing from a player they publicly backed just a short time ago.
The only problem is that it should never have occurred. Nobody is condoning Rice's act of domestic violence, but this event was excessive. The Ravens made the point that they disapproved of Rice's actions by cutting him on Sept. 8. It's time to let it go. In football parlance, the Ravens are piling on with the jersey exchange.

Some will see this as a good, and costly, gesture by the Ravens. It allows fans to trade in a jersey they might be uncomfortable wearing and get one that they can proudly sport on game days.

This just feels more like a mea culpa by the Ravens, or a grand public symbol that they're further distancing themselves from Rice.

What's next? Should the Ravens remove Rice's name from their record book? Do they plan to take down any picture of Rice at the stadium or team headquarters?

Yes, that's extreme. But the biggest misstep by the Ravens is that they've acted in an extreme manner at every turn.

For seven months, the organization went out of its way to make sure everyone knew it supported Rice. Since the summons came out Feb. 20 that stated Rice "struck his fiancee with his hand, rendering her unconscious," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh all publicly backed Rice. The Ravens allowed him to hold a news conference with his wife at the team facility in May, and they allowed him to dress in a Ravens polo when he spoke to reporters during training camp.

The team's website even posted a piece entitled "I Like Ray Rice," in which Rice was described as a family member. The jersey exchange doesn't fall in line with what someone would do with a player whom they cared about. Releasing a player is business. Holding a two-day event at the stadium is excessive.

The Ravens recently built a statue for Ray Lewis, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in connection to the stabbing deaths of two men. The Ravens made room in their Ring of Honor for Jamal Lewis, who served four months in prison as a result of a a plea bargain stemming from federal drug charges.

As for Rice, he receives banishment -- and a very public one at that.
BEREA, Ohio -- Josh Gordon will be on the field for the Cleveland Browns for the stretch run -- that as a result of the new drug testing and punishment policy agreed to and announced Friday by the NFL and NFL Players Association.

Now it’s up to the Browns to make sure the final six games of the season mean something.

Gordon's suspension for marijuana use officially was reduced from the entire 2014 season to 10 games, the NFL and NFLPA announced.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
DavidDermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesWith his suspension reduced, Cleveland's Josh Gordon will be eligible to play Nov. 23 in Atlanta.
Gordon’s penalty is the new penalty for a fifth positive test. Because one new stage has been added to the league’s policy, Gordon evidently has four failed tests since he joined the NFL.

His next failed test for marijuana would result in a one-year ban.

The level for a positive test, though, has been raised from 15 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter) to 35.

Penalties for a positive marijuana test will have five steps leading to the ban: entrance into the program, a two-game fine, a four-game fine, a four-game suspension, a 10-game suspension and then a one-year ban.

Gordon’s situation is complicated slightly by his guilty plea this week in his DWI case Tuesday in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The new penalty for a first DWI conviction is a two-game suspension. But Gordon’s arrest came under the previous policy. Gordon pled guilty before the agreement in order to avoid the two-game suspension, sources told ESPN the day he pled guilty.

The 10-game suspension means Gordon will miss both games against Pittsburgh.

He’ll miss opportunities against Jacksonville, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Houston.

His first game would be Nov. 23 in Atlanta. He would then face Buffalo, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Carolina and Baltimore.

Whether it matters obviously depends on the way the Browns play leading up to those games. But the latter part of the schedule is very tough, with games against three playoff teams from a year ago and two other very, very good teams in the Falcons and Ravens.

Of course, none of this is fair to Browns fans.

Gordon was disciplined under a policy that was being changed. He took a chance after three previous positive tests (not all of which have been made public) and was penalized for testing positive for a drug that is legal in some states. Gordon said in a video interview on the website ondecker.com that he does not believe he has a substance abuse problem, and he said in his appeal that the 16 nanogram test result was caused by secondhand smoke.

But the test registered positive, and the rules were the rules and were agreed to by the players and the league. They have been updated, but Gordon somehow put himself in a position to test positive -- and did.

Gordon said in the videos that he more or less felt he was a carrot being used to bring the two sides together to agree on HGH testing. But part of the delay in Gordon's hearing and then in the final ruling was the effort by arbitrator Harold Henderson to get the sides to work out a compromise.

That didn’t happen, and the league went to the letter of the law, which had been negotiated and agreed to with the union.

Ten games are fewer than 16, and if the Browns are even close to .500 at that time, his return for the final six could be a boost.

In the first two games, the Browns have shown the offense can be productive without him. With him, it should -- in theory, at least -- be better.
CINCINNATI -- As I watched the Atlanta Falcons recover turnover after turnover and score touchdown after touchdown Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I kept seeing Cincinnati Bengals fans chiming in on social media about how advantageous the blowout was for their team.

Personally, I think they're right.

SportsNation

What did the Falcons blowout win Thursday mean for the Bengals?

  •  
    53%
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    8%
  •  
    23%
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    16%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,427)

If the Falcons, a team the Bengals seemed to get by with relative ease without their best playmaker (A.J. Green), can perform as well against another team as it did in that game, then it has to mean that not only are the Falcons pretty good, but by association the Bengals are, too.

In now two of the three games the Falcons have played this season, their offense has rolled. In Week 1, they put up more than 500 yards of total offense in a 37-34 overtime win over a now 0-2 Saints team that is better than its record indicates.

On Thursday, Atlanta was even more prolific scoring-wise, beating the Bucs 56-14. They were 12 yards shy of 500 on the night and got out to such a large lead that quarterback Matt Ryan and the starters left early.

So what does this have to do with the Bengals?

Well, so far, Cincinnati has been the only team to tame the Falcons' high-powered scheme. Last week, the Bengals' defense held the Falcons to just 212 yards passing and fewer than 100 yards rushing. They also appeared to completely own Atlanta at the line of scrimmage and hounded Ryan to the point that he was sacked three times and knocked down twice as he threw. Two of Ryan's three interceptions in the game also were thrown in spots where Bengals safety George Iloka was in proper position to pick the passes off with few Falcons pass-catchers all that close to him.

The 24-10 final was actually a lot closer than the flow of the game indicated.

Can we then, take the Bengals' performance in that game and apply it to what the Falcons did to the Buccaneers? Can we consider the Bengals a top-3 team (they rank No. 3 in ESPN's Power Rankings this week) because of that? Or have this season's early results simply been a matter of consequence, and it's too early to say if they have any bearing on who the Bengals or Falcons (or Bucs, for that matter) will be this year?

Those are questions I'd like for you to answer in our SportsNation poll. As always, feel free to expand upon your vote in the Comments section below.

Let the voting commence.
CINCINNATI -- Vontaze Burfict should not play Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Tennessee Titans at Paul Brown Stadium.

There. It's been said.

Burfict
Because the third-year Pro Bowl player was listed as doubtful on the Bengals' injury report released Friday, chances already were strong that he wasn't going to suit up. Still, since he wasn't declared as "out" for the game, the possibility that he could play one week after suffering his second concussion of the two-week-old season exists.

It shouldn't.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told reporters Friday that Burfict was still under concussion protocol and that he would continue to get evaluated over the weekend. Although Burfict didn't practice at all this week, he could end up playing as long as he clears the protocol. He's one of those rare players who the Bengals would let play even if he didn't practice in the few days leading up to a game.

The fact Burfict wasn't allowed to take a step on the Bengals' practice fields seems to suggest he won't come off the protocol by 1 p.m. ET Sunday. But you never know.

It's one thing to have concussions. They are part of football. They are going to happen. But it's altogether when concussions come seven days apart.

On Monday, during his news conference following the Bengals' 24-10 win against Atlanta, Lewis said he couldn't be concerned with Burfict's status. At the time, it was still believed Burfict had a simple stinger. He left in the third quarter of last Sunday's game after his head collided with teammate Emmanuel Lamur's knee.

Specifically, Lewis was referring to how the team had to put more focus on preparing for life without the intimidating tackler instead of dwelling on his injury.

"We have to play with what we've got," Lewis said Monday. "Vontaze will have to overcome whatever he has, and we'll keep moving on. It's football."

But here's why there should be some concern about Burfict. Concussion science is far from exact, but at this stage it's better to err on the side of caution given how close together his concussions happened.

With the heightened focus the NFL has placed on its concussion policy, it just seems odd that a player on concussion protocol would even be able to entertain thoughts of playing the week after suffering a concussion.

The following is from a lengthy conversation about head injuries Friday with ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell.

"When you suffer that type of injury a second time so closely after the first time," Bell said, "it raises the level of concern."

That makes sense. So does this in response to a question regarding the benefit of resting Burfict this week ahead of next week's bye.

"No doubt the bye week is beneficial, but it does not guarantee that he will suddenly be back in Week 5," Bell said. "These things evolve at their own rate and each one is unique. Even the same name of injury to the same athlete can have a very different presentation that second time."

Meaning, just because Burfict had a concussion in one spot of his brain at Baltimore in Week 1, it doesn't mean he suffered one in the exact same spot last week against Atlanta. It also means he's far from a lock to play Week 5 at New England.

Bell's best advice for us all, Burfict included?

"To sit back and see how it evolves."

If the Bengals care about having a comparatively healthy Burfict by the end of the season, they won't play him this week.
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (hand) and linebacker David Hawthorne (ankle) were officially ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings after suffering injuries last week. Fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) and safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) were also ruled out for the third straight week.

Center/guard Tim Lelito was a new addition to the Saints’ injury list Friday. He did not practice with a back injury and is listed as questionable.

Center Jonathan Goodwin (elbow), linebackers Curtis Lofton (shoulder) and Kyle Knox (ankle) and receiver Joe Morgan (knee) are listed as probable after fully participating Friday. However, Morgan was a healthy inactive last week and could be again this week.

As we’ve written throughout the week, Ingram will be replaced by a combination of more snaps for Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet. Although Ingram is off to the best start of his career, Thomas and Robinson have also started strong while the entire run game has played well.

And Hawthorne will likely be replaced by veteran backup Ramon Humber, with outside linebacker Parys Haralson also capable of sliding over to help fill the void.

UF's Donovan tells Jaguars to trust

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
4:30
PM ET
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley has had Brian Urlacher and Rick Pitino speak to his team over the past several months.

On Friday, it was University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan’s turn, and he spoke about the players developing a deeper relationship with teammates.

"His message was about trust and really a deep love for your teammate," Bradley said. "I think that is something that resonated with our players. I think that our players really are connected and are close and I think he challenged them to take it to another level."

Donovan
Running back Toby Gerhart called Donovan’s speech "fantastic" and said he was touched by Donovan’s challenge to really get to know all of his teammates, not just a select few.

"We come in here and we always say, ‘I trust my guy next to me,’ but he said, ‘How far does that trust go?’" Gerhart said. "’Do you really know intimate details about that person? Do you know about his family life? Do you know if he’s having any type of issues?’ He said everybody is a broken and fractured individual on some level and he said, ‘Can you be there for that person and they can trust you on that level?’ It was a really interesting conversation.

"It’s definitely a bigger challenge when you have 53, 63 guys on a team, but I think you can break it down into units. You could be running back or offense or whatever it may be, and I think it’s something that we can take into consideration and listen and see, get to know people a little better."

Safety Josh Evans has heard Donovan speak before. Donovan addressed the UF football team several times during Evans’ four years with the Gators. Donovan’s message on Friday was similar and it stuck with the Jaguars players the way it suck with him, Evans said.

"As a matter of fact we just kind of talked about some of those things in our last meeting as a team, pretty much building on that and finding a way to being [connected] to one another and play hard for each other,” Evans said.

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