Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Smith Lobbying Browns to Draft Him

Ohio State's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith is lobbying his hometown team to select him in April's NFL draft, and he isn't missing any chance to remind the Browns that he'll be available to them soon.

Smith was named the area's outstanding collegiate athlete at Monday night's Greater Cleveland Sports Awards, and during a taped acceptance speech he thanked the city's fans for their support.

"Hopefully, I'll get a chance to represent you guys at the next level with the Cleveland Browns," he said.

Smith hasn't hidden his desire to play for the Browns, who after finishing 4-12 last season will pick either third or fourth in April's draft. During a recent halftime ceremony at an Ohio State basketball game, Smith wore a Browns jacket.

Last year, Texas quarterback Vince Young made a similar plea to Houston, hoping to play for his hometown team. However, the Texans took defensive end Mario Williams with the No. 1 overall pick instead. Young ended up going to Tennessee at No. 3 and was named the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year after leading the Titans to an 8-8 record.

Most draft experts have forecast Smith being taken in the second or third round. The knock on Smith is that he's not a prototypical pocket passer and that he's too small — he was listed at 6-foot-1 on Ohio State's roster and measured 6-foot at last week's Senior Bowl.

The Browns seem committed to starting either Charlie Frye or Derek Anderson at quarterback next season, so if they pick a QB, it probably won't be until the later rounds of the two-day draft on April 28-29.

Wide receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr., Smith's teammate at Glenville and Ohio State, is skipping his senior college season for the NFL. He, too, said he would like to trade a silver helmet for an orange one.

"It's always been a dream to play for the Browns," he said. "Why would I want to go anywhere else but Cleveland?"

Ginn still is wearing a protective walking boot after spraining his left foot in the BCS title game. Ginn said his injury, which happened during a celebration after he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, is getting better and that he'll work out for pro scouts once it's 100 percent.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

NFL News and Notes

Add Mike Singletary to the list of candidates to become coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

The Hall of Fame linebacker will interview Tuesday with team owner Jerry Jones. He'll become the eighth candidate considered to replace Bill Parcells.

Best known for his ferocious play with the Chicago Bears, Singletary is a Houston native who played college football at Baylor. He's been coaching in the NFL since 2003, spending two years with Baltimore and the last two with the San Francisco 49ers.

Another 49ers assistant, offensive coordinator Norv Turner, has been viewed as the front-runner in Dallas, but he returned to the Bay Area following his interview Sunday.

UCLA offensive line coach Jim Colletto accepted the same job with the Detroit Lions on Monday, joining a growing list of former assistants to Coach Karl Dorrell.

Colletto, who was with the Bruins for only one season, returns to the pro ranks, where he coached with the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2004 and Oakland Raiders in 2005.

This is the third time Colletto, a former football and baseball standout at UCLA, has left a Bruins' coaching staff. He also coached at UCLA from 1967-68 and 1980-81.

Colletto is the eighth coach to leave Dorrell's staff since the end of the 2005 season, including offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda, who was fired and replaced by Jay Norvell this month.

Former Cleveland Browns coach Chris Palmer was hired as quarterbacks coach of the New York Giants, taking over the job of making Eli Manning more consistent.

Coach Tom Coughlin said Palmer, 57, will contribute to the game plans, but his main job will be working with Manning.

Mike Tomlin apparently intends to make special teams a priority in his first season as the Pittsburgh Steelers' coach.

Tomlin completed his first staff by hiring five new coaches, including Bob Ligashesky as the special teams coach and Amos Jones as Ligashesky's assistant. The Steelers have never had two coaches devoted to special teams, with Chuck Noll once coaching them himself.

Also added were receivers coach Randy Fichtner, running backs coach Kirby Wilson and offensive line coach Larry Zierlein.

Arizona Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt hired Maurice Carthon as his running backs coach and Richie Anderson as his tight ends coach.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Turner Considered Front Runner for Dallas Job

Norv Turner got the best out of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin when he was the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator. He thinks he can do the same with Tony Romo, Terrell Owens and the rest of the club as their next head coach.

Turner interviewed for the job Sunday, becoming the seventh — and likely final — candidate being considered by owner Jerry Jones.

Turner was the offensive coordinator in Dallas from 1991-93. He called the plays that catapulted the Cowboys to Super Bowl titles his final two seasons. Along the way, he became so close with Aikman that Turner introduced the quarterback when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last summer.

Although Turner went 59-83-1 over nine years as a coach with Washington and Oakland, he's considered the front-runner to replace Bill Parcells because of his long relationship with Jones and the success they had together.

Turner had not been inside team headquarters since he was hired by the Redskins in February 1994.

Parcells retired Monday after going 34-32 the last four years. He went 0-2 in the playoffs, extending a postseason drought that dates to 1996.

Others being considered to replace him include defensive coordinators Wade Phillips of San Diego and Gary Gibbs of New Orleans, and Jason Garrett, Aikman's longtime backup who already has been hired for an undetermined job — maybe head coach, probably offensive coordinator.

Turner said he'd have no problem having Garrett on his staff. In fact, Turner tried getting Garrett on his staff in Oakland.

The 54-year-old Turner has had his greatest success as an offensive coordinator.

His skill was evident again last season, when the 49ers averaged 80 yards per game more than the previous year when he was coaching the Raiders. Turner got Alex Smith to show why he'd been a No. 1 overall pick and he helped turn Frank Gore into the third-leading rusher in the NFL.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Freeney Speaks Out For Tougher Drug Testing

Put Dwight Freeney in the Jason Taylor camp when it comes to banned substances.

The Indianapolis defensive end endorsed the NFL's tougher steroids policy, called for Olympic-style testing and said players who test positive should be ineligible for any postseason awards including the Pro Bowl.

"It's a shame guys get rewarded for that, and Shawne (Merriman) is a prime example," Freeney told The Associated Press. "I got to know him at the Pro Bowl, and I know he's a good guy. But what kind of message is that if you get away with cheating and you still reap the benefits?"

Taylor, a defensive end for Miami, won the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award after making similar comments last month on a conference call with Indianapolis reporters. Taylor edged Denver cornerback Champ Bailey and Merriman, the San Diego linebacker who was suspended for four games because of a failed steroids test.

"If you get caught cheating, you have to wonder how many plays did you make because of that? You don't really know," Freeney said. "If it makes you faster and stronger, that's what the game is about. It has to do with a lot of other things. If you're faster and stronger than the next guy and you run him over, that has a lot to do with it."

The NFL and players association announced an agreement on a stronger policy to winnow out violators. Under the policy, more players will face random drugs tests and they will be tested for more substances, too. It also adopted a new punishment -- including automatic forfeiture of a prorated portion of signing bonuses for suspended players.

Freeney did draw a distinction between using supplements, that might contain hidden substances such as ephedrine, which is banned by the NFL, and more obvious performance-enhancing drugs like steroids. Still, he acknowledged players must be held accountable for whatever they put in their bodies.

He acknowledged that the league has cleaned up since the 1980s when most believe steroid use was rampant in the NFL, although he said he was not sure how many players were using steroids now.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NFL News and Notes

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson will play in the Super Bowl — with court approval and a warning from a judge to stay out of trouble.

Cook County Judge John Moran granted a defense request Tuesday to allow Johnson to leave the state of Illinois as he awaits trial on gun possession charges. The Bears will play the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl in Miami on Feb. 4.

Moran set no special restrictions on Johnson, but said he must obey the law "or dire consequences will result."

Johnson was arrested Dec. 14 after police raided his home in Gurnee, about 40 miles northwest of Chicago. Prosecutors say officers found three rifles, three handguns and ammunition in Johnson's home. He faces 10 counts of possession of firearms without a state gun-owner identification card.

Arrested three times in 18 months, Johnson has pleaded not guilty to the most recent charges. The previous arrests involved a scuffle with a police officer, in which the charges were dropped, and a misdemeanor weapons charge.

Russ Grimm was hired as the Arizona Cardinals' assistant head coach and offensive line coach, two weeks after he interviewed for the head coaching position.

Grimm's hiring comes two days after erroneous reports that the Pittsburgh Steelers had chosen him to replace coach Bill Cowher, who stepped down this month. Grimm wanted the Steelers job, but said he was happy to reunite with Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt, a former Steelers staffmate.

Dallas' search for a coach to replace Bill Parcells is off to a slow start. Jeff Fisher, thought to be a candidate, had his extension picked up by Tennessee and the Titans won't grant the Cowboys permission to talk to him. Bob Stoops, another possible candidate, said he was staying at Oklahoma.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers won't play in the Pro Bowl because of a foot injury. Chargers spokesman Bill Johnston said Rivers sprained his right foot against Arizona on Dec. 31 and aggravated it in the Chargers' 24-21 playoff loss to New England.

The Houston Texans hired Jethro Franklin as their defensive line coach.

Franklin, 41, was the defensive line coach in Tampa Bay last season. He was the defensive line coach at USC during the 2005 season.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Raiders Hire Young Gun as Coach

Who says you need tons of experience to be a NFL head coach?

The Oakland Raiders hired Lane Kiffin on Monday night, making the 31-year-old Southern California offensive coordinator the youngest NFL head coach in the modern NFL era.

Kiffin, the son of Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, earned the job with a strong interview Monday after the Raiders failed to reach a deal last week with 32-year-old Steve Sarkisian, Kiffin's fellow assistant to Pete Carroll at USC.

The Raiders called a news conference for Tuesday to announce the hiring.

Raiders owner Al Davis quickly moved to land another up-and-coming offensive mind with sterling college credentials, but just one season of NFL experience — as a defensive quality control coach with Jacksonville in 2000.

At 31 years, 8 months, Kiffin is even younger than Harland Svare, who took over the Los Angeles Rams in 1962 at 31 years, 11 months. Svare is listed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Web site as the youngest coach in the modern era, though younger coaches — including George Halas — led teams during the league's founding years.

But Davis has ample reason to trust in young minds: Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan and John Madden all succeeded as Raiders head coaches in their 30s — as did Davis.

Kiffin is 14 months younger than Madden was when the Hall of Fame coach took over the Raiders in 1969. Davis was 33 years, 6 months when he took charge of the Raiders in 1963.

Kiffin, a former Fresno State quarterback, is younger than at least nine players who finished the season with Oakland during its NFL-worst 2-14 campaign, including defensive tackle Warren Sapp, fullback Zack Crockett and receiver Alvis Whitted.

Coach Art Shell was fired after the season, and Davis apparently was determined to hire another young offensive-minded coach in the mold of Gruden, his last successful hire. Davis has fired three coaches in the last four years: Bill Callahan, Norv Turner and Shell, whose return to the Raiders lasted just one year.

Kiffin had been at USC for six years, ascending from a job as tight ends coach to three jobs last season as offensive coordinator, receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. While former Raiders assistant Sarkisian coached from the sideline with Carroll last season, Kiffin called the plays from the press box for the Rose Bowl champion Trojans.

Sarkisian had two strong interviews with the Raiders last week, but decided to stay at USC on Friday night. Both claimed Sarkisian never was offered the job, though numerous media reports said Sarkisian turned the club down.

Davis first interviewed Kiffin on Thursday — apparently to explore the possibility of hiring Kiffin as the club's offensive coordinator. Kiffin returned to the Bay Area on Sunday for a second interview, this time to discuss becoming the Raiders' head coach.

Former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, San Diego Chargers receivers coach James Lofton and Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan also interviewed for the job.

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McNabb Unhappy With Eagles?

It seems that Donovan McNabb is bittersweet about the Philadelphia Eagles winning with Gracia too.

Citing people close to the injured star quarterback, The Trenton Times reported Tuesday that McNabb is unhappy with several things that have happened with the Eagles since his season ended with a torn ACL in his right knee.

Some of McNabb's reported gripes:

McNabb reportedly is unhappy that Eagles coach Andy Reid didn't allow him to travel with the team to New Orleans for the team's playoff game against the Saints. The Eagles have a rule that players on injured reserve don't travel with the team.

McNabb also reportedly might be getting the feeling that some with the Eagles might prefer Garcia as the team's starting quarterback after Garcia led Philadelphia to the playoffs and a postseason victory after McNabb's injury.

And McNabb also reportedly isn't happy with how his mother has been portrayed in the media and by Eagles fans for comments on her blog on his Web site. She wrote that watching the Eagles win without McNabb was "bittersweet."

Last week, Reid canceled a news conference scheduled for McNabb because he wanted him to concentrate on his rehab.

McNabb hasn't spoken at length to reporters since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Nov. 19.

Philadelphia's season began with so much promise after a 4-1 start. McNabb was back to playing at an MVP level after Terrell Owens and a sports hernia disrupted his 2005 season, and the rest of the team hopped on his broad shoulders.

Then came a three-game losing streak, including a last-second loss on a 62-yard field goal by Tampa Bay's Matt Bryant. It seemed to get only worse when McNabb tore a knee ligament in Week 11. Hardly anyone expected much from the Eagles after a 24-point defeat at Indianapolis a week later left them at 5-6.

But Garcia rallied his teammates to five straight wins, the NFC East title for the fifth time in six years, and an 11-7 finish.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Parcells Retires From Coaching

The Tuna has called it a day.

Bill Parcells could have returned to the Dallas Cowboys for one more shot at becoming the first coach to lead three teams into the Super Bowl.

He could have come back to try ending the longest playoff drought in the franchise's proud history. Or he could have come back to finish what he started in developing quarterback Tony Romo and a 3-4 defense.

Instead, 15 days after a gut-wrenching playoff loss in Seattle, Parcells decided Monday to call it a career, ending a four-year run in Dallas. Over 19 seasons in the NFL, Parcells led teams to three Super Bowls, winning two championships.

All four teams (Giants, Patriots, Jets, Cowboys) he coached had losing records before he arrived, but all four were in the playoffs by his second season. No other coach has taken that many franchises to the postseason.

"I am retiring from coaching football," Parcells said in a statement. "I want to thank Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones for their tremendous support over the last four years. Also, the players, my coaching staff and others in the support group who have done so much to help. Dallas is a great city and the Cowboys are an integral part of it. I am hopeful that they are able to go forward from here."

Known for a gruff demeanor and colorful quotes, Parcells leaves with the ninth most wins in NFL history and a career record of 183-138-1. He was 34-32 in Dallas, counting two playoff losses. He had one year left at more than $5 million on a contract extension signed last January.

Although he failed to make the Cowboys champions again, Parcells leaves the Cowboys better than he found it. The club went from three straight 5-11 seasons before he arrived to making the playoffs twice in four years: his first season, 2003, and his last.

The next coach will be only the seventh in team history and the sixth hired by Jones.

He's given no indication of what kind of coach he'd hire next, always saying he wanted Parcells back. While Jones waited for Parcells to decide, four other teams picked new coaches and a fifth, Oakland, is well into its search.

Parcells' influence will remain because of all the coaches who worked for him, from three-time Super Bowl champion Bill Belichick of New England to New Orleans' Sean Payton, this past season's coach of the year. Tom Coughlin of the Giants and Romeo Crennel of Cleveland also paid their dues under Parcells.

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Tomlin New Steelers Head Coach

Mike Tomlin, the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers -- the first black head coach in the team's 74-year history.

He accepted the job Sunday night and the hiring was announced Monday, with the contract to be completed later in the day. He was negotiating a four-year contract expected to pay him about $2.5 million a year. The Steelers will hold a press conference at 3:30 p.m. ET Monday.

Tomlin, the team's third coach in 38 years, was hired on the same day two black coaches made the Super Bowl for the first time: Lovie Smith in Chicago and Tony Dungy in Indianapolis. Tomlin was once an assistant under Dungy at Tampa Bay.

Tomlin's hiring completed a 2½-week search in which he was initially viewed as an unlikely choice behind perceived front-runners Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm, but Whisenhunt later accepted the Arizona Cardinals' job.

Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, the other finalist with Grimm and Tomlin, did not get a second interview because the Steelers would have had to wait until Feb. 5 to meet with him again. Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, recommended by Cowher, also didn't get a second interview.

Tomlin will be the fourth consecutive Steelers coach who was a defensive assistant coach in his 30s with another team before being hired by them. Bill Austin was 37 when he was chosen in 1966, as was Chuck Noll in 1969. Cowher was 34 in 1992.

Tomlin's hiring will likely bring a shakeup in the Steelers' coaching staff less than a year after they won the Super Bowl. Grimm won't return after being passed over, and 69-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and his renowned zone blitzes probably will be gone, too.

Tomlin's defense in Minnesota was best in the NFL against the run in 2006, allowing just 61.6 yards per game, but tied with Cincinnati for last against the pass, allowing 238.6 yards per game through the air.

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Super Bowl XLI: Colts vs. Bears

The Super Bowl will feature two teams who haven't been there for a very long time. The last time the Colts were at the big dance was 1970 and for the Bears, it was their magical season of 1985.

Here's a brief synopsis of yesterday's games:

Chicago 39, New Orleans 14
Rex Grossman and Da Bears are indeed good enough for this Super Bowl, and they've already made it a historic one. Few teams with such an impressive record have been as questioned, even maligned as the Bears. Yet after romping past the New Orleans Saints 39-14, they are headed to their first NFL title game since the 1985 team overwhelmed the league and shuffled in under Mike Ditka and Jim McMahon. This time, Lovie Smith will lead them there, the first black head coach to make it to the title game in its 41 years. All the worries about how genuine the Bears' outstanding season was disappeared thanks to running back Thomas Jones, All-Pro kicker Robbie Gould and a defense that, while not dominant, made enough decisive plays. Reggie Bush's electrifying 88-yard touchdown catch and dash to the end zone pulled the Saints within two points, 16-14. But from then on, Urlacher and the Bears' defense took over. Chicago, which has won nine NFL titles but has been an also-ran for much of the last two decades, later went 85 yards in five plays in the worst of the weather. Oft-criticized Grossman had four completions, including a 33-yarder to a diving Bernard Berrian that clinched it, sending the bundled-up fans in Soldier Field into foot-stomping hysteria and chants of "Super Bowl, Super Bowl." Jones had all 69 yards on an eight-play ground drive in the second quarter, scored twice and rushed for 123 yards. Gould nailed three field goals. The Bears, who led the league with 44 takeaways, forced four turnovers, and when NFC passing leader Drew Brees fumbled less than a minute after Berrian's TD, whatever karma the Saints (11-7) carried this season disappeared.

Indianapolis 38, New England 34
The demons can relocate to some other team's locker room. Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy are Super Bowl material now. Manning led the Colts from 18 points down in the second quarter, and on a game-winning 80-yard drive late in the fourth, for a wildly entertaining 38-34 victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC title game. He took Dungy along for the ride, helping his coach finally get to the big game and make some history along the way. In two weeks, Dungy will join Chicago's Lovie Smith in the Super Bowl, where together they will be the first black head coaches to meet in the NFL's biggest game. Sunday's game was a show for the ages, and Manning was the star. He threw for 349 yards and one touchdown and brought his team back from a 21-3 deficit, the biggest comeback in conference title-game history. The Patriots (14-5) lost in the championship game for the first time in six tries and saw their hopes of winning four Super Bowls in six years -- a la the Steelers of the late 70s -- derailed by Manning and Co. Joseph Addai capped Manning's late drive with the winning score, a 3-yard run with 1 minute left to help the Colts (15-4) complete the rally and give them their first lead in the game. The Colts piled on 455 yards and scored on six of their final eight drives, not counting the one where Manning kneeled down.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

NFL Playoffs: Conference championships

New Orleans at Chicago
New Orleans is one win away from going to the Super Bowl after finishing 3-13 last season. And the Saints unleash their NFL-leading offense (391.5 yards a game in the regular season) against Chicago's injury-plagued defense, which has allowed an average of 25.8 points in its past five outings. That bodes well for QB Drew Brees, his wide array of talented receivers, and RBs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. The Bears, meanwhile, have scored at least 23 points in five of their past six games, but QB Rex Grossman has been inconsistent and has trouble when he's under pressure, so expect plenty of blitzes by the Saints.

Prediction: The forecast calls for the temperature to be in the low 30s, with a 90 percent chance of snow (1-2 inches). Definitely favors the Bears. Only one dome team has ever won a Super Bowl (the Rams in 1999) and despite the fact that a road team has taken at least one of the championship games the last nine seasons, New Orleans will struggle away from the friendly confines of home. Winner: Bears.

New England at Indianapolis
New England makes its fourth Super Bowl trip in six seasons if it wins this one, and it has a lot of things in its favor. It has the superior defense (No. 6 in the NFL in the regular season, whereas Indy was No. 21), and is 3-0 in AFC championships with QB Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick at the helm. The Colts' defense has improved immensely during the playoffs, bolstered by the return of safety Bob Sanders, who missed most of the regular season because of a knee injury. Indy has the swagger back and is playing like they did when the team started 9-0 this season.

Prediction: It's tough to go against the track record of the Patriots, but the Colts are playing their best football right now and Peyton Manning and company have won the last two meetings between the teams. Kicker Adam Vinatieri, who won three Super Bowls for the Patriots is now on the enemy sideline and look for him to put the dagger into the back of his old team. Winner: Colts

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cameron New Coach Of the Dolphins

San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has excepted the job to become the new head coach for the Miami Dolphins.

Cameron will try to succeed where Nick Saban failed. Cameron signed a four-year contract Friday and left his job as offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers to become the Dolphins' fifth coach since Don Shula retired in 1995.

Cameron was one of at least 13 candidates to interview with the Dolphins over the last two weeks.

Saban left for Alabama after a 6-10 season and missed the playoffs in both years with Miami. He left behind an aging defense and a feeble offense.

Cameron insisted he has great respect for Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, but said he will call the offensive plays.

Cameron was an assistant at the University of Michigan for nearly a decade before going 18-37 as a head coach at Indiana, then directed a high-powered attack in San Diego. Led by the NFL's most valuable player, LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers ranked fourth in the league in offense this season and finished 14-2, best in the NFL.

An offensive-minded coach appealed to the Dolphins, who averaged 16.3 points per game in 2006, their lowest figure since 1967.

Other candidates on Miami's list included Miami defensive coordinator Dom Capers, former Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora, Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey and former Alabama coach Mike Shula, son of Don Shula.

Gailey said Friday he will stay at Georgia Tech.

Cameron, 45, inherits one of the NFL's largest coaching staffs and general manager Randy Mueller, who will be given more responsibility under the new regime. He also will have Capers, who signed a new contract -- believed to be a three-year pact worth at least $8.1 million -- this week.

Cameron met with the staff Friday and will interview each assistant over the weekend.

Cameron also interviewed this month for top jobs with the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons. Arizona hired Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, and Atlanta hired Louisville coach Bobby Petrino.

Before joining the Chargers in 2002, Cameron was head coach at his alma mater, Indiana, from 1997 to 2001. He never finished a season above .500 but coached multitalented quarterback Antwaan Randle El, and in 2000 the Hoosiers ranked seventh in the nation in rushing.

That leaves Pittsburgh and Oakland as the only clubs left to fill a head coaching vacancy. The Steelers are expected to name offensive line coach Russ Grimm their new head coach shortly. Oakland, on the other hand, has been rebuffed by USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, former Cardinals coach Dennis Green and James Lofton.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Vick's Troubles Continue to Mount

Michael Vick is making headlines again - bad ones.

Vick reluctantly surrendered a water bottle to security at Miami International Airport that smelled like marijuana and contained a substance in a hidden compartment. He was not arrested and was allowed to board an AirTran flight that landed in Atlanta before noon Wednesday.

Miami police said Thursday it could be weeks before a decision is made on whether to file charges against the three-time Pro Bowl player, who this season became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, general manager Rich McKay and new coach Bobby Petrino met with Vick, who left team headquarters without speaking to reporters. McKay described Blank as being "upset" with the quarterback, whose $137 million contract was richest in the NFL when Vick signed it three years ago.

Last April, Vick settled a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed the player knowingly gave her herpes. In November, Vick made an obscene gesture toward Atlanta fans who heckled the team as it came off the field after a 31-13 loss to New Orleans. Vick apologized profusely, paid a $10,000 team fine and donated another $10,000 to charity.

On Wednesday, two Transportation Security Administration screeners recognized the 6-foot, 215-pound Vick when he was reluctant to turn over his 20-ounce bottle.

The bottle was found to have a compartment that contained "a small amount of dark particulate and a pungent aroma closely associated with marijuana," a Miami police report said. The compartment was hidden by the bottle's label so that it appeared to be a full bottle of water when held upright, police said.

It remains to be seen if new head coach Bobby Petrino will be a forgiving as former head man Jim Mora Jr. was?

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Football Fanatics Show: 17

The Football Fanatics Show is a podcast for college and pro football fans featuring hard-hitting commentary with a tell-it-like-it-is attitude. Hell, we may even offend some people. The show features myself, Rich 'Richie' Hagan and Damon Freed chatting about pro and college football.

Each week will preview the upcoming games and look back at the week before. We'll also be giving away some prizes and freebie stuff in future shows. So stop on in and check us out. The show will be on every Thursday during the football season and twice a month during the offseason.

This week the Fanatics talk about Michael Vick's problem, the coaching carousel and the NFL AFC and NFC championship games.

You can listen to the show in streaming media here.

Or you can download the podcast to your hard drive here. This is a big file so please be patient.

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Schottenheimer To Stay With Chargers

Marty Schottenheimer might be down to one last chance to get the San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl.

Three days after the Chargers melted down in a stunning 24-21 playoff loss to New England, President Dean Spanos decided Wednesday that bringing Schottenheimer back for the final year of his contract gives San Diego its best chance to win.

Schottenheimer, though, declined the team's offer of a one-year extension for 2008 worth $4.5 million, with a $1-million buyout.

The coach didn't offer specific reasons, but they could have to do with the spiraling salaries given to other NFL head coaches, and perhaps to his strained relationship with General Manager A.J. Smith.

With a regular-season record of 200-126-1 with Cleveland, Kansas City, Washington and San Diego, Schottenheimer is the most successful coach never to have reached the Super Bowl.

His 5-13 playoff record has taken on a life of its own. Sunday's loss was his sixth in a row in the postseason dating to 1993, and the ninth time a Schottenheimer-coached team lost its opening playoff game.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick reluctantly surrendered a water bottle to security at Miami International Airport that contained a residue "closely associated with marijuana," police said.

Vick entered a concourse Wednesday morning at the airport with the 20-ounce bottle. He eventually handed it over and boarded his flight to Atlanta. But his initial reluctance to turn over the bottle aroused suspicion among airport security screeners, a police report said.

No charges have been filed, but police said the bottle would be sent to a lab for analysis.

The Oakland Raiders brought in USC quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian for a second interview as the team intensified its search for a new head coach.

Sarkisian, the first candidate to interview after Art Shell was fired, met again with owner Al Davis and other team executives, a person in the league with knowledge of the search said on condition of anonymity.

San Diego Chargers receivers coach James Lofton interviewed Tuesday and his attorney said he expected the sides to continue discussions later this week.

Other candidates who have interviewed for the job are former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel and Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron arrived in Miami for a second interview with the Dolphins, a person familiar with the team's search said. Cameron, 45, first interviewed with the Dolphins shortly after coach Nick Saban left for Alabama on Jan. 3.

Russ Grimm, a Pittsburgh Steelers assistant for six seasons and their assistant head coach for three, met for six hours with owner Dan Rooney, President Art Rooney II and director of football operations Kevin Colbert. It was Grimm's second interview in a week.

The Houston Texans made assistant head coach Mike Sherman their offensive coordinator and promoted Kyle Shanahan to quarterbacks coach.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Another Shula Could Be In Miami

The latest candidate to emerge for the Miami Dolphins' coaching job has a big edge in name recognition: He's a Shula.

Mike Shula interviewed for the job Saturday and is one of at least five candidates still under consideration, the Dolphins said Tuesday. Shula's dad, Don, coached the Dolphins for 26 years, holds the NFL record with 347 victories and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hiring the younger Shula would mean a swap of coaches with Alabama. He was fired by the Crimson Tide in November and replaced by Nick Saban, who left the Dolphins on Jan. 3 after two seasons.

Other remaining candidates to replace Saban: former Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora, Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, Dolphins defensive coordinator Dom Capers and San Diego offensive coordinator Cam Cameron

Capers interviewed for the head coaching job, then agreed to a new three-year contract as defensive coordinator last week. His defensive unit ranked fourth in the NFL this season.

The Dolphins have met with at least 13 candidates, and that list could grow. There's speculation Miami will pursue Marty Schottenheimer if he's fired by the San Diego Chargers, who were eliminated from the playoffs Sunday.

Among those no longer under consideration is Schottenheimer's son, New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The younger Schottenheimer, at 33 Miami's youngest candidate, withdrew from consideration Monday.

Shula went 26-23 in four years at Alabama, but 0-4 against Southeastern Conference rival Auburn.

The Crimson Tide fired him after they went 6-6 during the 2006 regular season. Shula said he left Alabama in better shape than the program he inherited, which was weakened by NCAA sanctions.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

NFL News and Notes

The New York Giants hired Jerry Reese as their general manager, making him only the third black GM in NFL history.

Reese, who served as the team's director of player personnel the last four years, will succeed Ernie Accorsi, who held the post for nine seasons.

Reese, 43, will formally be introduced as general manager and senior vice president at a news conference today, the team said on its website.

The Baltimore Ravens promoted Rick Neuheisel to offensive coordinator, although Coach Brian Billick said he'll continue to call the plays next season.

Billick fired Jim Fassel as offensive coordinator Oct. 17 and took over the position himself, a move that rejuvenated the coach and the Ravens' attack.

Assistant head coach Russ Grimm has emerged as the front-runner for the Pittsburgh Steelers' coaching job, a search that was narrowed to three finalists after offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt left for Arizona.

The Steelers identified Grimm, a Pittsburgh assistant for six years, and defensive coordinators Mike Tomlin of the Minnesota Vikings and Ron Rivera of the Chicago Bears as the finalists.

The Carolina Panthers fired offensive coordinator Dan Henning and two other assistants, two weeks after finishing a disappointing 8-8 season.

Offensive line coach Mike Maser and secondary coach Rod Perry were also let go.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck revealed that he played the final eight games of Seattle's season with two broken fingers on his non-passing hand.

Hasselbeck said he sustained the injury in a Nov. 27 game.

Also Monday, Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck announced his retirement. Tobeck played in 176 games in 13 seasons — the first six in Atlanta.

The Green Bay Packers promoted Joe Philbin to succeed Jeff Jagodzinski as the team's offensive coordinator.

Philbin is in his fifth season with the team. He previously was Green Bay's assistant offensive line coach and tight ends/assistant offensive line coach.

London was chosen Tuesday to stage the first NFL regular-season game outside North America.

The NFL received interest from several German cities, but settled on London for the first game.

The venue and teams for next season's game will be announced later.

NFL owners voted in October to play up to two games outside the United States every season for the next five years. The international series will kick off with the game later this year in London.

Britain, Germany, Canada and Mexico have been identified as the top markets for NFL games outside the United States. China and Japan were ruled out of the running.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Pats Down Chargers; Bears Pull Out OT Wins

Chicago 27, Seattle 24 OT
Robbie Gould won it after Rex Grossman didn't lose it and the Chicago Bears are back in the NFC Championship Game for the first time in 18 years. Two swings of the foot by their All-Pro kicker - the final one a 49-yard field goal 4:58 into overtime - offset any shortcomings in Grossman's passing and pushed the Bears to the victory over the Seattle Seahawks. The Bears will now host the Saints in the NFC title game. Chicago has not been to the Super Bowl since January 1986 and New Orleans never has been that far. Seattle got the ball first in overtime, but Chicago's Israel Idonije forced an 18-yard punt by Ryan Plackemeier with a strong rush. Grossman hit Rashied Davis for a third-down pass of 30 yards to the Seattle 36, and the Bears (14-3) moved into position for the winning points. Gould, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and is now headed to the Pro Bowl, hit the 49-yarder, setting off a wild celebration at Soldier Field. Earlier, he tied the game at 24, with a 41-yarder with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter. He made his first 24 field goals this season, and 32 of 36 overall. The Seahawks (10-8), ravaged by injuries throughout the season, got a strong performance from Shaun Alexander. Alexander, who missed the first meeting between the teams, a 37-6 Chicago win in October, gained 108 yards and gave the Bears defense a tough time. He had a pair of touchdowns runs.

New England 24, San Diego 21
Tom Brady, as cool as ever, delivered every time the San Diego Chargers gave him another chance. Already a three-time Super Bowl winner, his shot at a fourth is very much alive after the New England Patriots shocked league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers on Sunday, winning to advance to the AFC championship game. Brady overcame three interceptions, his career playoff high, to lead the Patriots to 11 points in 3:26 late in the game. He and coach Bill Belichick now have a 12-1 postseason record together, and need to win at Indianapolis next Sunday to make their fourth Super Bowl trip in six seasons. As tough a win as it was for New England, it was a gut-wrenching loss for San Diego and its coach, Marty Schottenheimer, whose job could be in jeopardy after his career postseason record tumbled to 5-13. Tomlinson ran for 123 yards and two scores, and caught two passes for 64 yards. The winning points came on a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with 1:10 left. That capped a 72-yard drive highlighted by a 49-yard pass to Caldwell, who left the Chargers as a free agent after last season. With the Patriots trailing 21-13, Brady threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to the wide-open Caldwell with 4:36 to play. The Patriots tied it on a tricky 2-point conversion, snapping the ball directly to running back Kevin Faulk, who was standing next to Brady and ran through the middle of the line. San Diego's Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding was short on a 54-yard field goal try with 3 seconds left.

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Whisenhunt New Cardinals Coach

The Arizona Cardinals on Sunday hired Ken Whisenhunt, Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator, to replace coach Dennis Green, who was fired after a 16-32 record in three seasons.

Whisenhunt, 44, signed a four-year contract with a team option for a fifth. He is to be introduced at a news conference Tuesday.

"We felt that Ken was the best fit for this organization," said Rod Graves, Cardinals vice president for football operations, "and we felt that because of the leadership that he portrayed. He presented a well-organized and thorough plan moving forward. We liked it."

Whisenhunt becomes the Cardinals' eighth coach since the franchise moved from St. Louis to Arizona in 1988. He was one of eight candidates interviewed for the job, but one of only two who got a second interview. The other was former Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman.

Whisenhunt and fellow Pittsburgh assistant Russ Grimm had been considered leading candidates to replace Bill Cowher with the Steelers.

Whisenhunt spent six years on Cowher's staff, three as tight ends coach and three as offensive coordinator. He also had assistant coaching stints with the New York Jets, Cleveland and Baltimore. He played in the NFL for nine seasons with Atlanta, Washington and the Jets.

The Cardinals have had one winning season — and one playoff appearance — since 1984. They have one playoff victory since winning the NFL championship in 1947.

Former Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. has been invited to a second interview with the Miami Dolphins, who also plan to meet again with Georgia Tech Coach Chan Gailey and Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, a person familiar with the team's search said.

The person requested anonymity because the Dolphins have declined to identify candidates.

Last week, the Dolphins said they planned to narrow the list to five candidates, then to two before making an offer.

Mora was 26-22 in three seasons with Atlanta before he was fired after this season.

Gailey is a former Dolphins offensive coordinator and former coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

Schottenheimer, 33, is the son of San Diego Coach Marty Schottenheimer. He has been with the Jets only one season.

The Dolphins reached an agreement with their defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, on a new three-year contract.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

NFL Divisional Playoffs

Here's a brief preview and predictions for today's NFL Divisional Playoff games.

Seattle (10-7) at Chicago (13-3)
Seattle got its gift win last week, when Tony Romo mishandled the snap on a late and short FG attempt that could have sent Dallas to victory. Now the Seahawks go to the place where they were manhandled, 37-6, in Week 4, but a lot has changed since then. Seattle RB Shaun Alexander, who didn't play because of a broken foot, is back at full strength. And Chicago's defense is beat up: T Tommie Harris, who had two sacks in the last meeting, is out, and so is S Mike Brown. The once-fierce Chicago defense has allowed an average of 26.3 points in its past four contests. The Bears had a first-round bye, as they did last year. But they didn't take advantage then, losing to Carolina.

Prediction:Chicago's offense is a mystery; it's hard to tell whether QB Rex Grossman will shine or wallow. The weather could be a factor, as high winds, rain and a temperature in the upper 30s are in the forecast. Seattle will be without top receiver Darrell Jackson and possibly D.J. Hackett. Winner: Bears.

New England (13-4) at San Diego (14-2)
San Diego had the best record in the NFL this season, and the Patriots have won three of the past five Super Bowls. San Diego has LaDainian Tomlinson, the league's leading rusher and MVP, but New England counters with the NFL's fifth-best run defense, permitting just 94.2 yards a game. Coach Bill Belichick is 12-2 in the postseason, but the Patriots face a team with 10 straight victories and an 8-0 mark at home. New England counters with only one loss in its past eight games, and it was 7-1 on the road this season.

Prediction:It's tough to pick against New England, but road teams face monumental tasks in this round, because they played the previous week while their foes were off. Entering this weekend's play, home teams were 49-15 in this round since the current playoff system began in 1990. The biggest concern with San Diego is how QB Philip Rivers will play in his first postseason contest. Winner: Chargers.

Indianapolis 15, Baltimore 6
The Indianapolis Colts signed Adam Vinatieri because of his playoff experience, his accuracy under pressure and his ability to supplement an offense that usually has no trouble moving into field-goal range. Vinatieri justified the move in record-setting style, kicking five field goals to carry the Colts past the Baltimore Ravens 15-6 and into the AFC Championship Game. Peyton Manning couldn't get Indianapolis into the end zone, and for once it didn't matter. That's because Vinatieri provided the Colts with all the offense they needed. Vinatieri won two Super Bowls with late field goals and scored 117 points in the postseason for New England. He was signed by Indianapolis as a free agent to replace Mike Vanderjagt, who missed a 46-yard field goal with 17 seconds left last season in the Colts' 21-18 playoff loss to Pittsburgh. Vinatieri justified the acquisition with a flawless performance against the Ravens, connecting on field goal tries of 23, 42, 51, 48 and 35 yards. The fourth kick gave him an NFL-record 33 career postseason field goals.

New Orleans 27, Philadelphia 24
Deuce McAllister and rookie sensation Reggie Bush gave this battered city a reason to throw itself a party, carrying the New Orleans Saints where they've never been before -- one game from the Super Bowl. The Saints are the first team in NFL history to make a conference championship after losing 13 or more games the previous season. It was the veteran McAllister with his two touchdowns and team playoff mark of 143 yards rushing, and the rookie Bush with his collection of magnificent moves, that made the difference in the raucous Superdome. The Eagles, who won six in a row after losing quarterback Donovan McNabb, got a superb performance from Westbrook, who rushed for 116 yards and scored twice, including a 62-yard run that was a franchise playoff record. Quarterback Jeff Garcia's run of success ended, but he combined with former Saints receiver Donte' Stallworth on an Eagles-record 75-yard touchdown in the first half. McAllister became the first Saints player to rush for more than 100 yards in the playoffs.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Football Fanatics Show: 16

The Football Fanatics Show is a podcast for college and pro football fans featuring hard-hitting commentary with a tell-it-like-it-is attitude. Hell, we may even offend some people. The show features myself, Rich 'Richie' Hagan and Damon Freed chatting about pro and college football.

Each week will preview the upcoming games and look back at the week before. We'll also be giving away some prizes and freebie stuff in future shows. So stop on in and check us out. The show will be on every Thursday during the football season and twice a month during the offseason.

This week the Fanatics talk about the antional championship game, the need for a playoff system and a preview of this weeks NFL divisional playoff games.

You can listen to the show in streaming media here.

Or you can download the podcast to your hard drive here. This is a big file so please be patient.

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NFL Divisional Playoffs

The second round of the NFL playoffs begins today with two games - the Indianapolis Colts meeting the Baltimore Ravens at 4:30 p.m. and the Philadelphia Eagles travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints at 8:00 p.m.

At stake - a berth in the conference championship games. Here's a preview of each game.

Indianapolis (13-4) at Baltimore (13-3)
The Colts answered questions about their run defense by holding Kansas City's Larry Johnson to 32 yards last week. Now they must answer questions about their ability to win on the road. They lost their last four road games this season and are 1-6 in their last seven playoff road games. They averaged 26.7 points a game this season — second in the league — but only 18 in their last four road games. The Ravens defense was No. 1 in the league in fewest yards given up (264.1 a game) and points given up (12.6). The offense, led by quarterback Steve McNair, was effective and efficient, after Coach Brian Billick assumed the role of offensive coordinator. Since then, they are 9-1 and have averaged 24.3 points. Before that, they averaged 18.3. Running back Jamal Lewis had 1,132 yards rushing.

Prediction:It's a classic offense vs. defense battle, with Peyton Manning and the Colts looking to shed their reputations as playoff underachievers against one of the top defenses in the league. Also, the Colts angered Baltimore fans when they left for Indianapolis in 1984. Indy will jump out on Baltimore and the lack of a consistent Ravens offense gives Manning and company the advantage. Winner: Colts.

Philadelphia (11-6) at New Orleans (10-6)
The Eagles enter with a six-game win streak, the longest in the NFC, and have the NFL's No. 2 offense at 381.4 yards a game. Brian Westbrook, who set career highs with 1,217 yards rushing and 699 receiving this season, had a career-high 141 yards rushing last week against the New York Giants. Defensive back Lito Sheppard will sit out the game because of a dislocated elbow. The Saints had a first-round bye for the first time in team history thanks to an offense that led the league with 391.5 yards a game. Their weakness is experience: The Saints have only one playoff victory in their 39-year history and receiver Joe Horn, who may not play because of a groin injury, is the only skill position player who has played on a team that won a playoff game.

Prediction:The Eagles are trying for their fifth NFC championship game appearance in the last six years. The Saints are trying for their first. The Saints defeated the Eagles, 27-24, Oct. 15 on a last-second field goal. Philadelphia has the playoff experience, but Drew Brees and company will have the Superdome loud and proud. In the end though, experience always wins out. Winner: Eagles.

The Corner Lowdown
Last week: 3-1
Overall: 155-82

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Whisenhunt Gets Second Interview With Cardinals

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt will get a second interview for the head coaching job of the Arizona Cardinals.

Whisenhunt was to be in Tempe for the session today, joining former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman as the candidates to get a second meeting with Cardinals officials. Sherman had his second interview yesterday.

It was not known whether there were any other finalists to replace Dennis Green, who was fired after three losing seasons. Whisenhunt and fellow Steelers assistant Russ Grimm are considered leading candidates to replace Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh.

Georgia Tech Coach Chan Gailey will be interviewed tomorrow for the Steelers' coaching job, the fifth coach to meet with the team since Cowher resigned last week.

Denver hired former Green Bay defensive coordinator Jim Bates as assistant head coach-defense and promoted defensive backs coach Bob Slowik to defensive coordinator.

Thomas Tapeh, the only fullback on the roster, is questionable for tomorrow night's playoff game at New Orleans because of a knee injury.

Defensive end Robert Geathers's breakout season earned him one of the biggest contract extensions in franchise history.

Geathers signed a six-year extension that will pay him $14 million next season in various bonuses and salary, making him one of the team's top-paid players. He can earn $32.5 million in salary and bonuses over the six-year deal.

Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones can have public intoxication and disorderly conduct charges against him dismissed if he stays out of trouble the next six months.

Rutherford County (Tenn.) General Sessions Court Judge David Loughry agreed to dismiss the charges stemming from a nightclub incident in Murfreesboro last August if Jones meets the conditions.

Jones attended the hearing but declined to talk to reporters.

Jones will have to stay out of trouble and complete the anger management counseling he is already enrolled in through the NFL.

He was also ordered to pay court costs on the disorderly conduct charge. The judge set a new court date for July 5. If Jones meets all those conditions, the misdemeanor charges would be dismissed and the case would be expunged

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

17 Among Hall Finalists

Recently retired NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and former Buffalo Bills star running back Thurman Thomas are among 17 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2007.

Also making the cut is Bruce Matthews, one of the game's most venerable blockers who played every position on the offensive line for the Oilers/Titans from 1983-2001.

Matthews is in his first year of eligibility, while Thomas is in his second year, as is former Dallas receiver Michael Irvin.

The other 11 modern-era finalists are defensive ends Fred Dean and Richard Dent; guards Russ Grimm and Bob Kuechenberg; punter Ray Guy; wide receivers Art Monk and Andre Reed; linebackers Derrick Thomas and Andre Tippett; cornerback Roger Wehrli; and tackle Gary Zimmerman.

Joining them are senior committee nominees guard Gene Hickerson and tight end Charlie Sanders.

To be elected, a finalist must receive a minimum of 80 percent of the total votes by the panel of media members. The panel will vote on Feb. 3, the day before the Super Bowl in Miami.

Enshrinement of the class of 2007 will take place on the weekend of August 4-5.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Coughlin Remains Giants Coach

Tom Coughlin was given another year to coach the New York Giants on Wednesday after he convinced owners he can make Eli Manning a better quarterback and the team a winner.

"He has a vision and he understands how that vision can now move forward," co-owner Jonathan Tisch said during a conference call to announce Coughlin's one-year contract extension. "He did not have to save his job. He did not have to talk us into anything."

Coughlin, 60, seemingly was on the hot seat after weathering a disappointing 8-8 regular season, fan and player unrest and a second straight first-round loss in the playoffs on Sunday.

In the two days that followed, Tisch and fellow co-owner John Mara talked football and coaching philosophy with Coughlin, who had a year left on the deal he signed in 2004.

The owners didn't ask Coughlin to make any changes and they said they were satisfied he was the right man to lead the Giants.

Terms of the one-year extension were not immediately available. Coughlin was to earn $3 million in 2007.

Mara said a major part of the interview process was listening to what Coughlin had to say about Manning, and he was satisfied with the answers. Mara would not detail what was said about the former No. 1 draft pick who did not improve in his second full season as a starter.

The Giants started the year with expectations of contending for the Super Bowl. After compiling a 6-2 record, that hope turned into a season of discontent, injuries and a second-half collapse that saw New York lose seven of nine games.

Fans were so upset by the team's performance in a 30-7 home loss to the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 24 that they shouted "Fire Coughlin" before walking out early in the fourth quarter.

The problems started with a 23-0 loss to Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs a year ago. Halfback Tiki Barber said after the game the Giants were outcoached. The halfback and coach settled their differences quickly.

The complaint, however, resurfaced early this season when Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey also said the team was outcoached after a one-sided loss in Seattle.

While it created headlines, the stir was short-lived when New York went on a five-game winning streak to reach the halfway point in first place. A second division title was on the horizon.

Then injuries to receiver Amani Toomer, seven-time Pro Bowler Strahan and offensive tackle Luke Petitgout contributed to the free fall that saw New York lose four of its final seven games despite having the lead or a tie in the fourth quarter.

Coughlin made one move down the stretch, relieving offensive coordinator John Hufnagel after the Saints game and giving quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride the play-calling duties.

Barber carried New York to a playoff berth days later with a team-record 234-yard rushing performance in a win over Washington. It gave New York a .500 record, good enough for the postseason in the weak NFC. The season ended this past Sunday with a last-second 23-20 loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Before joining the Giants, Coughlin was Jacksonville's head coach from 1995-2002 and went 72-64.

Coughlin is 25-25 with the Giants.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

NFL News and Notes

The Philadelphia Eagles will be without cornerback Lito Sheppard for Saturday night's NFC semifinal at New Orleans.

Coach Andy Reid confirmed that during a news conference yesterday but said it's possible that Sheppard could play again during the postseason if the Eagles advance. Sheppard suffered a dislocated elbow during Sunday's triumph over the New York Giants in a first-round NFC playoff game in Philadelphia.

Rod Hood replaced Sheppard against the Giants and likely will start at the cornerback spot opposite Sheldon Brown in New Orleans.

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Darrell Jackson "probably will play" in Sunday's NFC semifinal at Chicago, according to Coach Mike Holmgren, who said during a radio show that Jackson aggravated a toe injury during last Saturday's win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Miami Dolphins officials, including owner Wayne Huizenga, reportedly met with University of Southern California Coach Pete Carroll on Sunday in Costa Rica to see if he was interested in the team's head coaching job. Carroll coached the Patriots and New York Jets but has said in the past he's not interested in leaving USC to return to the NFL.

The Dolphins lost their coach, Nick Saban, when he returned to the college ranks last week by accepting a $4 million-a-year contract offer from the University of Alabama.

The club also has interviewed Georgia Tech Coach Chan Gailey, just-fired Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora and NFL assistant coaches Ron Rivera and Ron Turner of the Chicago Bears, Cam Cameron of the San Diego Chargers, Ken Whisenhunt of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mike Tomlin of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Dolphins are among four NFL teams looking for coaches, along with the Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals and Steelers.

The Jacksonville Jaguars hired Dirk Koetter, fired in November as Arizona State's head coach, as their offensive coordinator and the league narrowed the list of potential hosts for its regular season game overseas next season to two, Germany and England. Six teams are under consideration to be the home team in the game -- the Seahawks, Dolphins, Saints, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

AP 2006 All-Pro Team Announced

LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor and Champ Bailey capped superb seasons by unanimously making The Associated Press NFL All-Pro team announced Monday.

Tomlinson, San Diego's record-setting running back, also won the AP Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year awards. Miami end Taylor was the Defensive Player of the Year.

Bailey tied for the league lead with 10 interceptions even though opponents tried to avoid throwing to the Broncos cornerback's side of the field.

Two others, both Chicago Bears, came close to sweeping the vote. Devin Hester, who set a league mark with six kick returns for touchdowns, was the only rookie on the team, earning 48 1/2 votes. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, a repeater from last year, got 48.

In all, the Chargers had the most All-Pros with five: Tomlinson, tight end Antonio Gates, fullback Lorenzo Neal, defensive tackle Jamal Williams and linebacker Shawne Merriman, who made it despite serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's steroids policy. Merriman still wound up with a league-best 17 sacks.

The Bears were next with four All-Pros: Urlacher, Hester, center Olin Kreutz and kicker Robbie Gould.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees edged the Colts' Peyton Manning 25 votes to 24 for the quarterback spot. It was the first time since 2002 that Manning was not the first-team quarterback.

Brees engineered the turnaround in New Orleans from 3-13 to 10-6 and an NFC South division title.

He was joined on the All-Pro squad by Saints second-year tackle Jammal Brown.

Kansas City's Larry Johnson was selected in the backfield with Brees, a former Charger, and the two San Diego backs.

The wideouts are Marvin Harrison of Indianapolis and Chad Johnson of Cincinnati.

Another Bengal, tackle Willie Anderson, is on the offensive line, where he's joined by Philadelphia guard Shawn Andrews and Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca.

Taylor anchors a defense also featuring end Carolina end Julius Peppers, Minnesota tackle Kevin Williams, Baltimore linebacker Adalius Thomas, Miami linebacker Zach Thomas, Jacksonville cornerback Rashean Mathis, Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins and Baltimore safety Ed Reed.

Buffalo's Brian Moorman is the punter.

Repeaters from 2005 are Gates, Chad Johnson, Anderson, Faneca, Jamal Williams, Urlacher, Bailey and Moorman.

In all, there are 18 AFC players and 10 from the NFC.

AP All-Pro First and Second Teams
The Associated Press 2006 NFL All-Pro team selected by a national panel of media members:

Quarterback: Drew Brees, New Orleans.
Running Backs: LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego; Larry Johnson, Kansas City.
Fullback: Lorenzo Neal, San Diego.
Tight End: Antonio Gates, San Diego.
Wide Receivers: Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis; Chad Johnson, Cincinnati.
Tackles: Jammal Brown, New Orleans; Willie Anderson, Cincinnati.
Guards: Shawn Andrews, Philadelphia; Alan Faneca, Pittsburgh.
Center: Olin Kreutz, Chicago.
Kicker: Robbie Gould, Chicago.
Kick Returner: Devin Hester, Chicago.

Ends: Jason Taylor, Miami; Julius Peppers, Carolina.
Tackles: Jamal Williams, San Diego; Kevin Williams, Minnesota.
Outside Linebackers: Shawne Merriman, San Diego; Adalius Thomas, Baltimore.
Inside Linebacker: Brian Urlacher, Chicago; Zach Thomas, Miami.
Cornerbacks: Rashean Mathis, Jacksonville; Champ Bailey, Denver.
Safeties: Brian Dawkins, Philadelphia; Ed Reed, Baltimore.
Punter: Brian Moorman, Buffalo.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis.
Running Backs: Frank Gore, San Francisco; Steven Jackson, Rams.
Fullback: Mike Karney, New Orleans, and Ovie Mughelli, Baltimore.
Tight End: Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City.
Wide Receivers: Torry Holt, Rams; Andre Johnson, Houston.
Tackles: Walter Jones, Seattle; Jonathan Ogden, Baltimore.
Guards: Steve Hutchinson, Minnesota; Will Shields, Kansas City.
Center: Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis.
Kicker: Matt Stover, Baltimore, and Nate Kaeding, San Diego.
Kick Returner: Justin Miller, New York Jets.

Ends: Aaron Kampman, Green Bay; Aaron Schobel, Buffalo.
Tackles: Richard Seymour, New England; John Henderson, Jacksonville.
Outside Linebackers: Lance Briggs, Chicago; DeMarcus Ware, Dallas.
Inside Linebacker: Al Wilson, Denver; Bart Scott, Baltimore.
Cornerbacks: Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland; Ronde Barber, Tampa Bay.
Safeties: Kerry Rhodes, New York Jets; Adrian Wilson, Arizona.
Punter: Mat McBriar, Dallas.

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Petrino Named Coach of the Falcons

Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino agreed Sunday to coach the Atlanta Falcons, moving to the NFL less than a week after the firing of Jim Mora.

Petrino, 45, joins the Falcons after guiding Louisville to a 12-1 record, capped by a 24-13 victory over Wake Forest on Tuesday night in the Orange Bowl.

A Louisville spokesman said Petrino met with players Sunday night to say he was leaving. The Falcons planned a formal announcement today, but issued a statement announcing their new coach.

"This is an exciting day for the Atlanta Falcons franchise," owner Arthur Blank said. "Bobby Petrino is an extremely talented football coach who has done some tremendously innovative things as both an offensive coordinator and head coach, and he brings to us a record of success at the collegiate and professional levels."

Petrino said he was leaving for what "I truly feel is the best job in the National Football League."

Petrino had a 41-9 record in four years at Louisville, leading the school to the Big East Conference title and its first Bowl Championship Series victory in the Orange Bowl. He had just completed the first year of a 10-year, $25-million contract. said he agreed to a five-year, $24-million deal with the Falcons.

The Falcons moved quickly to replace Mora, who was fired two seasons after leading Atlanta to the NFC championship game. The Falcons did not reach the playoffs the last two years and finished 7-9 this season.

Petrino's previous NFL experience includes three years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He then returned to the college ranks, taking over as Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2002 before heading to Louisville.

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Akers Kick Lifts Eagles; Patriots Down Jets

Philadelphia 23, NY Giants 20
David Akers made a 38-yard field goal with no time left to give the Philadelphia Eagles a 23-20 victory over the New York Giants in a wild-card playoff game Sunday. A day after Dallas lost to Seattle when quarterback Tony Romo fumbled the hold on what could have been a go-ahead field goal, snapper Jon Dorenbos and holder Koy Detmer executed the seemingly routine play that has cost teams important games in recent weeks. Brian Westbrook, playing through stomach cramps that often sent him to the sidelines, had 141 yards rushing, including a spectacular, slashing 49-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. His 65-yard punt return for an apparent score in the third quarter was nullified by a penalty on rookie Torrance Daniels. Jeff Garcia threw for 153 yards and one touchdown and played efficiently enough to win for the sixth time in seven starts since replacing an injured Donovan McNabb. Eli Manning threw two touchdown passes to Plaxico Burress, including an 11-yard strike that tied the score, 20-20, with 5:04 left. In his last game, Tiki Barber ran for 137 yards for the Giants. The three-time Pro Bowl running back plans to retire after 10 seasons in the NFL. Counted out after a knee injury ended McNabb's season in Week 11, the Eagles (11-6) have won six straight games. They'll play at New Orleans (10-6) next Saturday night.

New England 37, NY Jets 16
Tom Brady capped long scoring drives with short touchdown passes to Daniel Graham and Kevin Faulk, and Asante Samuel sealed it with a 36-yard interception return for a score with 4:54 left as New England beat Mangini's New York Jets, 37-16, on Sunday. New England (13-4), the only team to win a playoff game in each of the last four seasons, will play at San Diego (14-2), the AFC's top-seeded team, next Sunday. The Patriots are going for their fourth Super Bowl title in six seasons. The loss ended a surprising run by the Jets, who won their last three regular-season games to get into the playoffs. This was supposed to be a rebuilding season under Eric Mangini, their rookie coach. New England, which has won seven of eight since that loss to New York, improved to 9-1 at home in the playoffs.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

NFL Playoffs

The regular season is over, the formalities out of the way and now the real show begins.

Here's the Corners preview of today's Wild Card playoff games.

NY Jets at New England
The New York Jets surprised many by reaching the playoffs in their first year under Eric Mangini. A bigger surprise would be if they defeat the New England Patriots on the road for the second time this season when the AFC East rivals meet in a wild-card game. Mangini, a former assistant under Bill Belichick at New England (12-4) before leaving to become the youngest head coach in the NFL with the Jets (10-6), was able to get veterans and young players to buy into his system of high-percentage, disciplined football - a strategy that has been quite successful for the Patriots. New York is in the playoffs for the fourth time in six years and trying to win its third consecutive first-round matchup. Tom Brady is 9-2 as a starter against the Jets, throwing for 2,357 yards and 12 touchdowns with only five interceptions. New England's defense matched a franchise record by allowing only 237 points, but will be without a key player. Safety Rodney Harrison suffered a torn MCL in his right knee in the season finale. Winner: Patriots.

NY Giants at Philadelphia
Less than two months ago, it seemed the Philadelphia Eagles' playoff hopes were lost and the New York Giants were a favorite to reach the Super Bowl. Now, Philadelphia is possibly the league's hottest team entering the postseason and New York hardly deserves to be a part of it. A funk that lasted into late November saw Philadelphia drop five of six to fall below .500, but more importantly, the team lost star quarterback Donovan McNabb to a season-ending knee injury. Garcia, though, went on to lead the Eagles to four consecutive victories - he barely played in Week 17 while Philadelphia won a fifth straight - and a 10-6 record to win the NFC East. The Giants seemed to lose that focus in the second half of the season en route to an 8-8 finish, and many feel it could cost Coughlin his job, especially with a loss today. New York was 6-2 in early November before losing six of seven, but pulled out a 34-28 win at last-place Washington last week to qualify for the playoffs. New York has won its only two playoff meetings with Philadelphia, in 1981 and 2001. While the Eagles will next head to New Orleans if they win, New York would visit top seed Chicago. Winner: Eagles.

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Cowboys Fumble Away Win; Colts Defense Shines

Indianapolis 23, Kansas City 8
Peyton Manning and the Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 23-8, on Saturday, and although the star quarterback's numbers were good — 30 for 38 for 268 yards — his performance was mediocre. He had three passes intercepted, didn't complete a deep pass and was bailed out by his defense. The beleaguered Indianapolis defense was so good — or perhaps more accurately, Kansas City's offense was so bad — that Manning's miscues didn't stop the AFC South champions from advancing to the next round at Baltimore on Saturday. A defense that yielded 173 yards rushing a game this season gave up 44 to Pro Bowl back Larry Johnson and the Chiefs. Kansas City's initial first down came with 3 minutes 34 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Indianapolis had four sacks, two by Dwight Freeney, and two interceptions. The Chiefs managed 126 total yards. The Chiefs, who haven't won a playoff game in 13 years, had no first downs and 16 total yards in the first half.

Seattle 21, Dallas 20
All Tony Romo had to do was put the ball down and let Martin Gramatica make an easy kick — just 19 yards, even closer than an extra point. That's where it all slipped away from the Dallas Cowboys. The Pro Bowl quarterback who saved their season ended it, too. Romo's bobble on the field-goal try with 1:19 left led to a scramble that ended 2 yards shy of the end zone and a yard short of a first down, preserving a 21-20 victory for the Seattle Seahawks in the wildest of wild-card games Saturday night. Seattle will play on the road next weekend, its foe determined by the Philadelphia-New York Giants game Sunday. If the Eagles win, the Seahawks play at Chicago. If the Giants win, the Seahawks play at New Orleans. The Cowboys are 0-for-2 under Parcells in the playoffs and might have played their last game for him. If so, his four-year tenure would end with three straight losses and four in his last five games. Matt Hasselbeck was 18-of-36 for 240 yards with two touchdowns, both to Stevens, and two interceptions, both of which resulted in Dallas field goals. Dallas is 0-5 in the playoffs since winning a wild-card game at Minnesota on Dec. 28, 1996. The Cowboys had never lost more than three straight postseason games.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Football Fanatics Show: 15

The Football Fanatics Show is a podcast for college and pro football fans featuring hard-hitting commentary with a tell-it-like-it-is attitude. Hell, we may even offend some people. The show features myself, Rich 'Richie' Hagan and Damon Freed chatting about pro and college football.

Each week will preview the upcoming games and look back at the week before. We'll also be giving away some prizes and freebie stuff in future shows. So stop on in and check us out. The show will be on every Thursday during the football season and twice a month during the offseason.

This week the Fanatics talk about NFL coaches coming and going, award winners and a preview of this weeks NFL playoff games.

You can listen to the show in streaming media here.

Or you can download the podcast to your hard drive here. This is a big file so please be patient.

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Payton Named Coach of the Year

Sean Payton might have had the toughest coaching job in football this season, making his selection Saturday as The Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year that much more impressive.

Payton, in his first year as a head coach, didn't just lead the New Orleans Saints to a 10-6 record, the NFC South championship and a first-round playoff bye. He helped revitalize a battered city's spirit.

With New Orleans ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005, the Saints became nomads that year, winding up 3-13 under Jim Haslett. Payton, an assistant coach in Dallas, was hired to revive one of the NFL's historically unsuccessful franchises.

Payton and his team gave the city -- indeed, the entire Gulf Coast -- something it desperately needed: a reason to smile.

And hopes for the Saints' first Super Bowl appearance.

Payton received 44 votes in a season when there were a half-dozen outstanding coaching performances. Eric Mangini of the New York Jets, another first-year head coach, got three votes, while San Diego's Marty Schottenheimer, the 2004 winner, received two. Jeff Fisher of Tennessee got one.

Payton became the third Saints coach to win the award, joining Haslett (2000) and Jim Mora (1987). Last year's winner was Chicago's Lovie Smith.

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NFL Playoffs

The regular season is over, the formalities out of the way and now the real show begins. The NFL playoffs begin with two games on tap today and two on Sunday.

The Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts (12-4) at 4:00 p.m. ET and the Dallas Cowboys (9-7) pay a visit to the Seattle Seahawks (9-7) at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Here's the Corners preview of today's Wild Card playoff games.

Kansas City (9-7) at Indianapolis (12-4)
The Chiefs won their final two games of the regular season, then sneaked into the final playoff spot when Tennessee, Cincinnati and Denver all lost season finales at home. They have relied heavily on running back Larry Johnson, who set an NFL record with 416 carries this season and gained a team-record 1,789 yards, second in the league. Kansas City has not won a playoff game since 1994. The Colts are in their fifth consecutive postseason but come in having lost three of their last five games. They are last in the league against the run, giving up 173 yards rushing per game. Peyton Manning was second in the league with 4,397 yards passing, and the Colts averaged 26.7 points a game, second in the NFL.

Prediction: Manning and the Colts are trying to shed their reputation as postseason underachievers. They are 3-6 in the playoffs since Manning arrived and have made the AFC title game only once. Their defense will face a stiff test against Johnson, one of the NFL's best running backs. Johnson should have a field day against the Colts and their 32nd ranked run defense. Winner: Chiefs.

Dallas (9-7) at Seattle (9-7)
The Cowboys stumbled down the stretch, losing three of their last four games — a skid that cost them the NFC East title. Blame a defense that gave up 33 points per game during that span. The Cowboys gave up only 18.1 in their first 12. They are fourth in the league in scoring at 26.6 points per game, but quarterback Tony Romo has six touchdowns and eight interceptions in the last five games. The Seahawks enter the playoffs having lost three of their last four games, including their last two at home. Their defense gave up only 903 yards passing in the last five games, but cornerbacks Kelly Herndon and Marcus Trufant are injured. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had 15 passes intercepted, a career high, despite missing four games because of an injury.

Prediction: Both teams are trying to put late-season struggles behind. The Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since 1996. Seattle won, 13-10, when these teams met last season. They have never met in the playoffs. The Dallas receivers could have a big day with Trufant and Herndon out, but in the end, the raucous Seattle crowd will be the difference in this game. Winner: Seahawks.

The Corner Lowdown
Last week: 12-4
Overall: 152-81

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Friday, January 05, 2007

L.T. Sweeps; Taylor, Pennington Get Awards

With a handful of records and an MVP award already in his 2006 collection, LaDainian Tomlinson added The Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year to his resume Friday.

Tomlinson, voted Most Valuable Player on Thursday, broke Shaun Alexander's league record for touchdowns by scoring 31 (28 rushing) and also threw for two scores. The brilliant running back not only surpassed the mark Seattle's Alexander established last year in also winning the MVP-offensive player double, but Tomlinson surpassed Paul Hornung's 46-year-old record for points by getting 186.

And LT rushed for a league-high 1,815 yards on 348 carries, had 56 receptions for 508 yards and was 2-for-3 as a passer, both completions for scores, giving him six in his six-year career, tying him for second among non-quarterbacks.

It paid off with 38 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league. Next was Tomlinson's former quarterback with the Chargers, the Saints' Drew Brees with eight, followed by Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning with three and St. Louis RB Steven Jackson with one.

Brees also was second and Manning third in the MVP balloting.

Tomlinson rushed for at least 100 yards 10 times this season, including nine in a row, and scored two or more TDs in 10 games.

This is the third successive season with an MVP who also won top offensive player. Before Tomlinson and Alexander, Manning did it in 2004. In all, it has occurred 19 times since the first offensive player award was given in 1973.

Quarterback Dan Fouts in 1983 was the only other Chargers player to win the award.

Jason Taylor's superb all-around performance for the Dolphins earned him The Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, announced Friday. While Miami finished just 6-10 in 2006, the dynamic Taylor was having the best season of his nine-year pro career.

The end who sometimes lines up at linebacker or inside had 62 tackles, 13½ sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, two interceptions - both returned for TDs - 11 passes defensed, 10 fumbles forced and two fumbles recovered. Yes, 10 fumbles forced, making Taylor a takeaway machine.

While dozens of defenders were doing it well this season, Taylor outdistanced five who received votes, in particular Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. Taylor earned 22 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL, and Bailey got 16.

It is a measure of how effective Taylor was that he took the award playing on a losing team. But Miami's defense ranked fourth in the NFL.

He is the first Dolphins player to win the award since DE Doug Betters in 1983. Ten years before that, safety Dick Anderson won it.

San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman, who missed four games for violating the NFL's steroids policy, got six votes. Last week, Taylor said he didn't believe any player who served such a suspension should be considered for league awards.

Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher received four votes, followed by two Baltimore Ravens with one apiece: LB Ray Lewis and lineman Trevor Pryce.

Urlacher won the award last year.

Chad Pennington spent two nerve-racking weeks at home in Tennessee last fall wondering if his right shoulder would ever be the same.

Pennington overcame a second torn rotator cuff in as many years - and incredible odds - to win The Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.

The seven-year veteran has led the Jets to a surprising 10-6 record and a wild-card berth one season after they went 4-12 -- most of it with him sidelined -- and changed coaches. He started all 16 games in a season for the first time, finished second in the AFC with a 95.7 passer rating and threw for a career-high 3,352 yards, along with 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Most importantly, he re-emerged as a leader.

Pennington earned 27 votes in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. He finished ahead of two other quarterbacks, Drew Brees of New Orleans (8½) and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer (5½). Pennington, the fifth quarterback to win the award in its nine years, is the first Jet to receive the honor.

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Cowher Resigns; Shell Fired Again

Bill Cowher resigned as the Pittsburgh Steelers' coach Friday, stepping aside to spend more time with his family one year after winning the Super Bowl title he had chased since 1992.

The 49-year-old Cowher left with one year left on his contract following an 8-8 season that was a disappointment, especially after last season: The Steelers became the first team to win three playoff games on the road and then win the Super Bowl as a sixth-seeded AFC team.

One of the NFL's rarest events now will occur -- a Steelers coaching search. They have had only two coaches since 1969, when they still were playing in Pitt Stadium: Chuck Noll (23 seasons) and Cowher. The Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts have had 15 coaches during that time.

Cowher, who led the Steelers to the playoffs 10 times, the AFC title game six times and the Super Bowl twice, said his most vivid memories are of the five AFC title games at home -- even if four of them were losses during the 1994, 1997, 2001 and 2004 seasons.

Two strong contenders to replace Cowher -- Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm -- already are interviewing with other teams. Whisenhunt met Thursday with the Atlanta Falcons and Friday with the Cardinals.

Cowher, if he coaches again, has signaled he wants to be one of the league's highest-paid coaches. His current $4 million-plus salary is about half that of Mike Holmgren, whose Seahawks lost to the Steelers in the Super Bowl last season. The Steelers have given no indication they are willing to pay any coach an $8 million salary.

Cowher is the NFL's longest-tenured coach with his current team; Tennessee's Jeff Fisher, with 13 seasons, is second. Cowher, a former Pittsburgh-area high school player, is third among active coaches in regular-season victories with a 149-90-1 record, and fourth overall with a 161-99-1 record counting postseason games.

Al Davis lamented firing Art Shell more than a decade ago, often calling the decision a mistake. He evidently felt the same way about his move to bring Shell back for a second stint with the Raiders.

Shell was fired as Oakland's coach Thursday, just four days after finishing up the franchise's worst season in more than four decades. After he met with Davis, the team announced Shell would not return as coach for the final season of his contract.

Shell's departure from the sideline marks the third coaching change for Davis in the past four years. Oakland has just a 15-49 record in that span, including a 2-14 mark this season that was the Raiders' worst since 1962.

The only other coach Davis fired after one season was Joe Bugel, who was let go after going 4-12 in 1997.

Shell, a Hall of Fame offensive tackle in his playing career with the Raiders, was previously fired by Davis following the 1994 season after posting a 54-38 record in five-plus years and leading the team to three playoff berths.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

NFL News and Notes

Jeremy Shockey's swollen left ankle has improved considerably, and there is a good chance the Pro Bowl tight end will play for the New York Giants on Sunday in the NFC wild-card game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I want to play every Sunday," Shockey said Wednesday. "I felt bad I couldn't play last week. It's the nature of this sport, being hurt. You have to deal with the injuries. It's the one thing I don't deal with very well. It's getting better every day, and hopefully I'll be able to do something this week."

Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said that Shockey, who had a team-high 66 catches for 623 yards and seven touchdowns, would do some individual work Wednesday and possibly practice today.

The Detroit Lions hired Coach Rod Marinelli's son-in-law, Joe Barry, as defensive coordinator.

Barry, the linebackers coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, takes over for Donnie Henderson, who was fired Tuesday.

The San Francisco 49ers fired defensive coordinator Billy Davis and defensive line coach Gary Emanuel.

Davis joined Coach Mike Nolan's staff in 2005 after one season as New York Giants linebackers coach and three previous seasons in the same position with Atlanta.

Though Nolan was involved in defensive game-planning and meetings, Davis took much of the criticism as the 49ers' defense had several terrible games, most notably giving up 41 points by halftime in a blowout loss to the Chicago Bears.

Emanuel spent 24 seasons as a college coach before joining the 49ers along with Davis in 2005.

Receiver Reggie Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark and safety Bob Sanders all practiced for the Indianapolis Colts, making it more likely the three starters would play in Saturday's wild-card game against Kansas City.

New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison will miss Sunday's playoff game against the New York Jets.

Coach Bill Belichick made the announcement but didn't say whether Harrison would be available for future games if New England moves ahead in the playoffs. Harrison's right knee was injured last Sunday when he was blocked by receiver Bobby Wade in a 40-23 win at Tennessee.

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker David Pollack underwent surgery for a bone he cracked in his neck in a game nearly four months ago.

There were no complications in the surgery performed by a spine specialist, Dr. Anthony Guanciale, and Pollack was resting comfortably, the Bengals said. "No forecast of Pollack's eventual return to football will be made at this time," the Bengals said.

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