Ravens safety Matt Elam had plenty of praise for Calvin Johnson (his opponent Monday night). Then he said something odd coming from a guy who supposedly doesn't want the all-world WR going off — and something that's likely headed for the bulletin board.
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) It takes quite the sales job to explain why a medically cleared Robert Griffin III won't play for the rest of the season.
Embattled Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan realized that and gave it his best shot Wednesday, speaking passionately at times in a 28-minute news conference that included references to the team's "circus atmosphere" and insistences that the move isn't a ploy to get himself fired.
The upshot is that Griffin will be the inactive third quarterback for the Redskins' final three games, behind starter Kirk Cousins and backup Rex Grossman. Shanahan's reasoning is that he fears Griffin, who has taken a pounding in recent weeks, will get hurt, and that would ruin the franchise player's offseason - a reversal of Shanahan's oft-stated position that Griffin needed as much game experience as possible and would play to the end of the season.
"You've got to take a look at the risk and reward," Shanahan said. "And with Robert I thought that his hits were piling up on him, giving him his toll, and I was afraid that we would set him back."
Griffin, who publicly clashed with Shanahan at times this year, clearly wasn't happy with the decision. He gestured, shrugged and shook his head throughout his turn at the podium, and he declined to answer when asked if he believes Shanahan's rationale for the benching, saying: "At this point, I just have got to leave it up to Coach."
"I expressed my desire to play," Griffin said. "Of course, I want to be out there and finish the season with my guys, see it through. He explained to me his reasoning, and at the end of the day Coach's decision is what we go with."
Asked if he'd rather play for a different coaching staff next year, Griffin said: "I think that's the general misconception, that players in our locker room want people gone."
Still, the move only serves to stoke the turmoil surrounding the Redskins (3-10) in general and Shanahan in particular. The team has lost five straight, giving the coach his third season of double-digits losses in four years in Washington. It appears increasingly unlikely he'll return for the final year of his five-year, $35 million contract.
Shanahan went into great detail about his decision to sit Griffin, to the point that he made a quote that he no doubt wishes he could re-word because it will rank high in all-time Redskins infamy: "What I'm trying to do is be as honest as I can. And I don't normally do that."
Shanahan conceded for the first time that his decision to keep an obviously injured Griffin in last year's loss to Seattle cost the Redskins the game. Griffin had major knee surgery a few days later and was sidelined for all of the offseason practices, the kind of vital development work that Shanahan says he doesn't want Griffin to miss for a second straight year.
Shanahan said he first broached the topic of benching Griffin with owner Dan Snyder last week, even though the coach has contractual say-so over all personnel decisions. He said both Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen offered their "100 percent" support.
Shanahan cited that consensus as evidence that he's not trying to get fired. If he should resign, he would forfeit the final year's salary of his contract.
"Somebody said, `Hey, the reason why you're going with Kirk is you're trying to get fired and get a year left on your contract,"' Shanahan said. "If I want to try to get fired, I'm not going to call up Dan Snyder and ask his opinion on a player (when) I don't have to. And if he says no, I'm not going to go in that direction."
Shanahan said he doesn't discuss most player moves with Snyder, but he did so this time "because we're going to have a circus atmosphere any time you make a decision like that."
Nevertheless, Shanahan, whose regular season record is 24-37 in Washington, again conceded he might not return for a fifth season.
"I don't know until I sit down with Dan," Shanahan said. "Then we'll find out what I think. I'll give him my opinions, and he'll give me his opinions. Maybe we just hit it off and everything and I get that 12-, 15-year contract."
"Well, maybe three-year," he added with a smile. "Whatever it is. That's where grown men talk at the end of the year and you find out, `Hey, what's the best way to go?"'
Snyder was not available for comment. A person with knowledge of the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that one of the options "on the table" for the owner is firing Shanahan with cause to keep from having to pay the final year of the deal. The person said Snyder is concerned that Shanahan's recent actions have embarrassed the Redskins.
Griffin hasn't been the same player who won the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. With defenses taking away the read-option, he has struggled as a drop-back passer, ranking 26th in the NFL in passer rating with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The lingering effects of the knee surgery cost him some explosiveness, and he is taking a pounding - 24 sacks over the last five games - but both coach and quarterback say Griffin is healthy enough to play.
Cousins has appeared in six games over two seasons, including a winning start last year at Cleveland while Griffin was injured.
"To start this game in Atlanta on Sunday is not the first time that I've had to face something that is a little unique," Cousins said. "It's just one more time where you've got to dig deep. You've got to work hard. You've got to be tough."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings know who'll be giving the handoffs this week, even if they're not sure yet who'll be taking them.
Running back Adrian Peterson has shed the walking boot on his sprained right foot, but he wasn't ready for practice Wednesday. He probably won't participate until Friday at the earliest, and coach Leslie Frazier said he's more optimistic about the condition of backup Toby Gerhart than he is with Peterson. Gerhart's hamstring injury will also likely keep him from practicing until Friday.
Matt Cassel will start at quarterback again, though. That's settled for the week. Christian Ponder, cleared to play following his concussion, will be the backup. Cassel had 265 yards and two touchdowns passing in a turnover-free game at Baltimore, so he'll get another chance against Philadelphia.
"He did a good job on the ballgame on Sunday. He's done a good job when he stepped in a backup role and had to finish games. I just decided to give this him opportunity to see if he can continue to build on some of the play that he had."
Josh Freeman, once the starting quarterback for Tampa Bay, signed for $2 million two months ago and still only 25, is stuck as the third-stringer. With three games left and the Vikings (3-9-1) eliminated from playoffs contention, Frazier was asked if the Vikings are wasting the chance for further evaluation of Freeman. He played once, an abysmal performance on Oct. 21 at New York.
"That's a good question. But we made the decision that we're going to give Matt this opportunity," Frazier said. "Hopefully, things will work out. But Josh, he's working hard. He's doing everything he needs to do."
The Vikings aren't any closer to figuring out who their quarterback will be in 2014 and beyond, but they've been competitive in all but a handful of games, losing four and tying one in five contests they've held late fourth-quarter leads in. Cassel has played well enough to suggest he can help maintain some momentum.
"This year has been ups and downs and all kinds of crazy stuff going on. But at the same time, if you keep a level head and continue to work hard and not let that frustrate you - because I think frustration is a self-inflicted wound a lot of times - you can continue to get better each and every week and be ready to play when your number is called," Cassel said.
Matt Asiata could be that guy this week, if Peterson and Gerhart don't make enough progress. Frazier was asked again if simply shutting the franchise player down for the rest of the season was the wisest move the team could make.
"If it seems to be a problem, for sure we'll err on the side of caution with him," Frazier said, adding: "In talking to our trainers and doctors, they haven't talked to me about further injury. It's more about pain tolerance, and can he do some of the things he needs to do to be able to protect himself?"
Safety Harrison Smith is on track to play this week, though he's not eligible to be reinstated to the active roster until Friday. Frazier said Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo will continue to start, and Smith will be eased in. He suffered a turf toe injury on Oct. 13 against Carolina.
"All the other stuff that comes with playing in the NFL is nice, obviously, but getting to play on Sundays is what it's all about. So when you can't do that, you just feel kind of lost, I guess," Smith said. "It's obviously going to take a long time for it to get back to where it was, but it's structurally sound. I can move around, I can do what I want to do, so it feels good."
NOTES: RG Brandon Fusco (knee), CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and TE John Carlson (concussion) were all held out of practice. It's still too early in the week to tell if they'll be able to play on Sunday. ... The Vikings signed RB Bradley Randle, who was with the team in training camp, to the practice squad for more depth.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Quarterback Jay Cutler looks just about ready to play for the Chicago Bears. For linebacker Lance Briggs, the wait might go on.
Coach Marc Trestman is optimistic Cutler will return from an ankle injury this week against the Cleveland Browns. He was set to work with the receivers after Wednesday's walkthrough, and Trestman said the Bears will know Thursday if he's ready to start.
"We're not going to let it hang through the week," he said. "The starter tomorrow has got to get the work. So we'll make that decision tomorrow."
Cutler has missed the past four games with a high left ankle sprain and also sat out one with a groin injury. Veteran Josh McCown has played well in his place, but the Bears have repeatedly said they will go with Cutler once he's ready.
Briggs, meanwhile, has missed the past six games because of a broken shoulder, and the odds that he'll suit up against the Browns appear slim.
Briggs' return would be a huge lift for an injury-ravaged defense that can't stop the run. He was expected to sit out about six weeks after he was injured against Washington on Oct. 20, but the recovery has stretched longer.
The Bears clearly miss him.
Their defense ranks 27th overall and last against the run, and they've allowed 198 yards rushing or more in five of the past seven games.
"It's not just the intangibles that he brings in terms of leadership and experience and things like that, in confidence," defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "But he can actually make plays. He can win one-on-one; he can get off blocks. He can run sideline to sideline. He can win one-on-one on running backs on blitzes and things like that. He's an excellent blitzer.
"In the pass game, he's quick, very instinctive. He's quick to diagnose and because of ... his experience, there's not a whole lot of plays he hasn't seen at some point in time."
Whether the Bears have missed Cutler is open to debate, the way McCown is playing.
With a 109.8 rating in seven games, McCown trails only Philadelphia's Nick Foles (120) and Denver's Peyton Manning (114.5), and his performance in Monday's romp over Dallas might have been his best yet.
He became the first player in franchise history with three straight 300-yard passing games, throwing for 348 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. He also ran for one, getting spun like a helicopter as he leaped into the end zone, and the Bears scored on their first eight possessions to jump back into the playoff race.
They're tied with Detroit for the NFC North lead at 7-6, although the Lions swept them for the tiebreaker, and there have been some calls for the Bears to stick with the hot hand at quarterback.
After all, McCown has thrown for more than 1,800 yards and completed nearly 67 percent of his passes. He has 13 touchdowns and just one interception, but Cutler's numbers aren't shabby, either.
He's thrown for just over 1,900 yards, and his 88.4 rating is the highest since he arrived from Denver before the 2009 season. The message the past few weeks has been consistent.
Trestman and McCown have repeatedly said Cutler will start when he's ready. It could be this week.
PITTSBURGH (AP) Ben Roethlisberger's numbers have never been better. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is on pace to smash most of the team single-season passing records he already owns.
Last week he broke Terry Bradshaw's franchise mark for career touchdown passes. Sunday night against Cincinnati he has a chance to go over 4,000 yards for the third time. A recent commitment to the no-huddle offense has given him a newfound freedom that has quieted critics who wondered if he was cerebral enough to call his own plays.
Oh, and his wife is expecting the couple's second child in the spring.
And yet, in some ways Roethlisberger has never looked or sounded more frustrated, at least when talking about his job.
The Steelers (5-8) are all but eliminated from the playoffs with three long weeks to go, and Roethlisberger has spent the last month on the defensive. If he's not denying a report he may ask for a trade in the offseason, he's defending his relationship with offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Though Roethlisberger insists he's still focused on avoiding the first losing season of his football career - college, high school and Pop Warner included - he also offered an olive branch of sorts on Wednesday that could resonate into 2014 and beyond.
Amid the mounting losses and the almost weekly fending off of rumors and innuendo, Roethlisberger and the offense he controls have found a rhythm.
"I think the numbers speak for themselves," Roethlisberger said. "I think we're getting better every week. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to win the game, but offensively our goal is to get better every week and we've done that."
The Steelers have gone over 20 points in six straight games, the team's longest streak since 2009. Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell is becoming the reliable and versatile option the team envisioned when it took him in the second round of the draft. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is challenging Hines Ward's club record for receptions in one season. Jerricho Cotchery already has nine touchdown catches, one less than the veteran wide receiver entire total from 2008-12.
All this behind an offensive line has featured six different starting combinations in 13 weeks.
"I think we've got a lot of pieces in place that can make that next step," Roethlisberger said. "I think the cohesiveness that we have on offense is a good thing and hopefully it can translate into these last couple games and then into the offseason."
Roethlisberger would prefer not to talk too much about the future, particularly what could happen this spring as he and the team figure out what to do about his contract status. He has two years remaining on his current deal, though Pittsburgh often reworks quarterback contracts two years out. With a base salary of $12.1 million, he's a bargain for a two-time Super Bowl winner.
Despite speculation he may look for an out, Roethlisberger insists he is committed to Pittsburgh. There's little doubt he remains dedicated in meeting rooms, where the competitive guy who has spent the last decade putting together a resume that is Hall of Fame worthy remains as intense as ever.
"He's been razor sharp making sure young guys understood what's at stake, making sure every man to a man knows their job, making sure every o-lineman comes in new or old understands protection and what needs to be done," Brown said.
The Steelers hardly resemble the team Cincinnati smothered in a 20-10 victory back in September. Bell was out and the line, playing its first game without injured All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey was a mess.
Not so much at the moment. Roethlisberger, who was sacked 36 times in the first nine weeks, has been dropped just four times in the last four games. A defensive stop here or there and the Steelers are in the mix instead of playing out the string.
The pain of missing out is palpable throughout the locker room, no more so than on the face of the franchise, the one who is simultaneously having the best and worst season of his life.
"I'm not going to look back yet," Roethlisberger said. "We're still looking forward ... Maybe in the offseason we'll look back and scratch our head."
NOTES: DE Brett Keisel (foot), T Marcus Gilbert (ankle), DE Ziggy Hood (ankle), DT Steve McLendon (ankle) and S Troy Polamalu (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday. .... T Kelvin Beachum (knee), Cotchery (shoulder) and G David DeCastro (foot) were limited.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Ravens safety Matt Elam nearly ran out of breath trying to come up with words to describe wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the main object of focus for Baltimore's defensive backfield Monday night in Detroit.
Curiously, Elam went in another direction when asked how best to cover the 28-year-old Johnson, who's amassed a club-record 9,184 yards receiving and 67 touchdowns in less than seven years.
"He's pretty old, so I don't know how physical he'll be," Elam said. "He's a big guy, but he's older. I guess when they get older they're not going to be as physical, you know what I'm saying? We're going to have to be physical, make him uncomfortable."
Elam is six years younger than Johnson, but he's also seven inches shorter and around 25 pounds lighter. So he might not want to test his theory about Johnson's physicality in a 1-on-1 situation in the open field.
The misinformed rookie can only hope the rest of the defensive backfield does its part to prevent that from happening.
"You've got to know when it's time to double him, when it's time to triple-team him," Elam said. "You've got to keep your eye on him, because (Detroit quarterback Matthew) Stafford wants to get the ball to him."
Ravens defensive back Chykie Brown, who's used as a backup, says the Ravens can't afford to let Johnson's reputation get in the way of their effort to keep him from having an impact on the game.
"We're not going to get scared because of the name on the back of his jersey," Brown said. "He puts his pants on just like we do. We've got to out there and do us - get physical on him, play tough on him."
Johnson is arguably the most dangerous receiver in the NFL, and the Ravens have yielded 18 plays this season of at least 40 yards - including a 79-yard touchdown last Sunday to Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson, who finished with 141 yards in the snow.
Baltimore's pass defense will be severely tested by Johnson, who, despite of Elam's assessment, does not appear to be anywhere close to being over the hill.
"Megatron. Anytime someone has a nickname like that, you know, kid's real," said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who's been around long enough to know the value of showing Johnson his full respect. "He's probably, arguably the best receiver in the game, and it's going to take all 11 guys to tend to him."
If Suggs can put the pressure on Stafford, then Johnson will have a more difficult time getting free.
"The pass rush is going to be key," Suggs said. "But it's also fun. You get to play against a guy like that, so I think we're definitely looking forward to the challenge. And not only that, it's going to be a big stage, and this guy has a tendency of having big games on big stages. So we get to see how we fare."
Cornerback Jimmy Smith is expected to draw the assignment of covering Johnson off the line of scrimmage, and Suggs intends to see that Smith gets some help.
"The front four, us, we're going to do our job in making sure he don't have to cover him for long periods of time," Suggs said.
If Johnson gets free, the Ravens (7-6) will have a difficult time extending their three-game winning streak.
"He can be a problem, a game-wrecker," Elam said. "We've got to do our job and execute."
COMMENTARY | Week 14 was a game the Oakland Raiders would like to forget. They were clobbered by the New York Jets, and only managed to force one Geno Smith turnover. After playing tough, competitive football for most of the season, the Raiders dropped a stinker on Sunday. With three difficult divisional opponents to close out the season, it's hard to imagine Oakland finishing the year with more than five wins.
Torn apart: So last night, I’m sitting at home watching the Panthers take on the Saints. Jonathan Stewart takes a play near the sidelines and gets hit low as he goes out of bounds. I swear to you on my soul that my very first thought was “Oh, no … for a guy who has suffered a ridiculous amount of foot injuries, that hit looked like a dangerous one to take. I hope he’s OK.” Nope. Wrong. Stewart limped off the field, and it turns out he has a torn MCL in his right knee. I feel badly for Stewart owners who took a chance on him, but I wouldn’t trust this guy to order a pizza without picking up […]