Gronkowski left the Patriots’ AFC Championship win over the Jaguars after suffering a concussion in the second quarter.

Rob Gronkowski spent nearly two weeks in the NFL’s concussion protocol ever since the Patriots booked yet another trip to the Super Bowl. On Thursday, he was officially given the green light to play in his first Super Bowl since 2015.

Bill Belichick confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that Gronkowski was limited in practice, but he remains in the concussion protocol, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

Spagnuolo, whose defensive acumen helped him become Rams head coach from 2009-11, didn’t become dumb overnight. He believes New York’s decline stemmed largely from a problem that can cripple even the best of units.

“We hit the injury bug,” Spagnuolo told co-host Bill Polian and me recently on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “The most compelling thing to me was having to play five (middle) linebackers throughout the season.

“Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to sit back for a year. That may happen, it may not. There’s a slight chance of maybe working in 2018 still. But, if not, I’ll use this time wisely.”

Spagnuolo then cited one of his coaching mentors and former boss with the Giants.

“I know Tom Coughlin has done it twice in his career and bounced back,” Spagnuolo said. “Sometimes, I think you can learn more from sitting back and looking at the big picture, and then when you get back into it, things make a little bit more sense. You’re just a little bit more well-rounded.”

Brady started talking more with Kraft and Belichick this fall about wanting to play into his 40s, being the team’s franchise quarterback for years to come. Kraft was willing to accept that idea. But committing to Tom Brady indefinitely created a problem for the Patriots because Garoppolo, who Belichick viewed as Brady’s replacement, was scheduled to be a free agent after the 2017 season.49ers_122

Bill O’Brien expects to return as Texans’ coach in 2018

“I enjoy being the head coach of the Houston Texans. I have great relationships with these players here, and I’m going to continue to coach hard until they tell me I’m not coaching here anymore.”

O’Brien, 48, is 31-30 in the regular season as the Texans’ coach and 1-2 in the playoffs. The Texans won back-to-back AFC South titles in 2015-16 before stumbling this season.

In 2013, Jurich retained a former assistant football coach, even after the NCAA had sanctioned the coach for receiving and handing out thousands of dollars while at the University of Miami. In 2014, with Louisville about to join the ACC, Jurich brought back Bobby Petrino as football coach after he had been fired by Arkansas for lying about his own affair with a 25-year-old assistant.

According to a confidential memo obtained by ESPN, the Cowboys owner proposed a resolution to table the NFL commissioner’s contract talks for six months before an agreement was reached last week.

The report cited a segment of the 32-page agenda, titled Proposed Resolution 2017 G-7 and submitted Dec. 1, that called for a six-month “moratorium on any and all actions taken pursuant” to Goodell’s new contract, “specifically, that the Commissioner’s extension is not finalized during such moratorium.”

Goodell, who has served as commissioner since 2006, inked an incentive-based contract extension through 2023, a five-year deal worth approximately $40 million per year, to remain commissioner last week following a “nearly unanimous consensus” among owners to re-sign him.chargers_036

NFL ratings continue fall, latest Nielsen numbers show

Through the first six weeks of the NFL season, total viewership of games is down 7.5 percent, compared with the first six weeks of 2016.

Through six weeks (seven games), ESPN’s Monday Night Football viewership is averaging 11.2 million viewers, a 6 percent increase through Week 6, compared with last year.

Compared with the first six weeks of the 2015 season, NFL ratings are off 18.7 percent — a sharp drop, but a smaller decline when considering the general overall fall in television viewership due to people dropping their cable packages.

Last year, the NFL attributed part of its viewership decline during the first nine weeks of the season to competition from presidential election coverage. Viewership was indeed better for the second half of the season, after the election, but it still finished down 8 percent, compared with 2015.

This season’s challenges also include player protests during the national anthem, which have pitted the NFL against President Donald Trump, who again tweeted Wednesday that players should stand to honor the flag.

Floyd is returning from a four-game suspension for “extreme DUI.” Floyd had 446 yards and four touchdowns for the Cardinals last season before the team parted ways with him following his DUI arrest. He signed with the Patriots and played in two games for New England, racking up four catches for 42 yards and a touchdown.

Dalvin Cook ran for 354 yards and two touchdowns for the Vikings before his rookie season ended with a torn ACL. On Thursday, the Vikings signed veteran running back Stevan Ridley to round out the running back depth chart, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Sean McVay confirms DT Aaron Donald to miss Week 1 vs. Colts

The Aaron Donald saga in Los Angeles will carry on into the regular season.

Rams head coach Sean McVay confirmed Friday that his star defensive tackle will miss Sunday’s game against the Colts, as the Rams try to steal a win against an Indianapolis team playing without Andrew Luck.

“It’s safe to say that he (Donald) won’t be a part of this game,” McVay said, via

“He’s coming down because he’s well-aware of the Texans’ involvement in all of these support activities, relief activities,” McNair said. “He’s well-aware of what JJ’s (Watt) doing.”

“Also, the league contributed a million dollars to the relief effort. He’s just coming down to let people in Houston know that the league is concerned about what has happened, and they want to be helpful.”

While the Texans are just getting over the damage inflicted on their city by Harvey, the Jaguars are preparing for a similar situation with Hurricane Irma making its way toward Florida. The Jaguars are scheduled to remain in Houston until they are clear to return to Jacksonville.

Goodell was also in attendance for Thursday night’s season opener between the Patriots and Chiefs. bears_018-223x223

Nunez could very well move all over the diamond

There has never been an anniversary patch for a uniform design (that would be very meta, right?). But it’s tempting to think that the Broncos should wear one for their uniform, which marks its 20th anniversary this season. Love it or hate it, it was revolutionary when it debuted in 1997, and there’s still nothing quite like it in the NFL. Thanks to some judicious use of the Flyswatter, it will look better this year than it did last year.

Kittle, Ward and defensive end Aaron Lynch (back) were the only players limited Wednesday, according to the official participation report.

Ed McCaffrey, Chrisitian’s dad played in offenses under Mike Shanahan, Kyle’s dad, with the 49ers (1994) and Denver Broncos (1995-2003). Kyle Shanahan said Ed McCaffrey was his childhood hero and why he wore No. 87 in college.

In Nashville, Nunez played the corner infield positions and left field, spots on the diamond currently occupied by Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Khris Davis.

“We’ll see,” manager Bob Melvin said when asked where Nunez will play with his club. “Maybe try to fit him in there somewhere against some left-handed pitching, not really sure. We’ll talk about it more as a group.

“But just the reward for him being here is significant because he deserves to be here. We’re a little muddled as far as where those at bats will come from, but we’ll have to get him in there at some point in time.”

Over the last 25 games of the season, Nunez could very well move all over the diamond, but in the long run, the most obvious fit seems to be left field.raptors_137

LB Thomas Davis gets another contract extension from Panthers

Thomas Davis has long said he plans to spend his entire career with the Panthers, but he’s in no hurry to leave.

The All-Pro linebacker has signed an extension that takes his contract through the 2018 season, the team announced Tuesday. NFL Media reported the new deal will net Davis an additional $3 million in guaranteed money between 2017 and 2018.

Davis, 34, has torn the ACL in his right knee three times, most recently in September 2011, but has been at his best the last few seasons. He was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2015 as he led a suffocating Panthers defense that helped the team reach the Super Bowl, and has been picked for the Pro Bowl the last two years.

Davis carries immense respect in the Panthers locker room and was named the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2014 for his charitable work off the field.

“I started trying to pull them out, but I couldn’t because my hands were so weak. The nurses came running in to stop me. You ever had a really bad dream, where you’re trying to run away from a monster or some shit, and you just can’t run? Your legs don’t work like they should, and the monster is coming right behind you, and it’s like you’re in slow motion. That’s what it felt like.”

“At that point in my life, I was doing coke every day. Pretty much every second of free time that I had, I was doing coke. I couldn’t control it. … I didn’t want to control it.”

The rival Bengals swept Cleveland last season, so a victory against Cincinnati would be a big statement for Cleveland. Since beating the Bengals 24-3 on Nov. 16, 2014, the Browns have lost five consecutive two-score games against their in-state rivals. The can’t-miss games on the schedule are home games against the Jets and Titans. The Browns have to win those. Will Brock Osweiler be Cleveland’s starter at Houston? If so, that’s an interesting storyline.

Jimmy Graham’s comeback isn’t over

When all is said and done, Jimmy Graham will surely go down as one of the best tight ends of his generation. He was a crucial element in the New Orleans Saints offense for years, racking up touchdowns and dunking on goalposts for fun (until the NFL banned his signature celebration, because No Fun League).

Easley was the first inducted during the Enshrinement Ceremony on Aug. 5 and it ended with Warner:

Again, Tomlinson is one of the bigger highlights of the class. It’s his first year of eligibility, and he was a no-brainer as he was consistently the best running back in the league for the majority of his career with the Chargers’ organization.

Everyone is a big name, really. Taylor was a defensive end for 15 years in the league, spending 13 of them with the Miami Dolphins. He finished his career with a massive 139.5 sacks. He and Tomlinson were the only players in their first year of eligibility to make the cut down to be among the 15 modern-era finalists. And now both have made it.

Davis is far from being a first-ballot Hall of Fame player. He’s had to wait an awful long time and was consistently passed over, with many suggesting his short career as a reason for him not making it. But Davis was arguably the best back in the league for the seven-year stretch he played in the NFL, and though many thought it would be difficult for two running backs to make it in the same year, he’s in.

Quarterback Kurt Warner has made it, and it was considered only a matter of time. He bounced around like a journeyman quarterback, but he still took two different teams to the Super Bowl.

Fan yelled at non-Russian Goran Dragic, ‘Go back to Russia’

After the Miami Heat’s win over the Hornets Wednesday, Goran Dragic walked back to the tunnel where he was greeted by a “fan.” This person from the crowd yelled down to Dragic, “Go back to Russia!” to which Dragic responded, “I’m not from Russia.”

The comment happened Wednesday night, but video of the moment didn’t surface until Friday morning. According to a Reddit user who uploaded the video, he attended the game with the fan who yelled out the phrase and claimed he knew Dragic was not from Russia.

The user claims the person was just trying to get in a creative heckle. Considering he got Dragic’s attention, I think it’s safe to say he succeeded.

It’s also worth pointing out that the team was not playing Casspi within its rotation, but that he has proven himself to be a useful NBA player in the past. In fact, it’s possible that he could finish the season as the second-most useful short-term player in this deal for either team. He’s hit over 40 percent of his 3-pointers over the last three seasons, averaging nearly 10 points per game in that time to pair with a versatile defensive skillset due to his ability to guard multiple positions.

Given that the trade would have worked under league rules as just Evans, Hield and picks for Cousins, it seems likely the Pelicans wanted Casspi in this deal. That the Kings just tossed him in is a real question mark, even if he does only have this season remaining on his contract.

This deal was made with the decision in mind that the organization did not want to move forward with Cousins as their franchise player, meaning it changes the entire course of the team’s direction. Earlier in the season, there had been reports of a plan for the Kings to sign Cousins to a “Designated Veteran Player Extension” coming into the new collective bargaining agreement, a deal that allows a team to start a player’s salary at 35 percent of the salary cap in effect at the time of the deal.

Former Cal star, NBA veteran Darrall Imhoff dies at 78

Former NBA player and Cal Bears star Darrall Imhoff died Friday of a heart attack in Bend, Ore. He was 78.

After his retirement from the NBA, Imhoff did radio commentary for the Trail Blazers, who announced the news of his death on Saturday.

Kaelin, 58, is a Milwaukee native and was home for the July 4 holiday. He told the Associated Press his brother, Bob, bought the raffle tickets for their group, which will split $12,411 before taxes.

“My brother said it’s a great thing that the Brewers do for charity,” Kaelin said. “I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ He’s a very lucky guy.”

The Brewers hold a 50/50 raffle at every home game, with the Brewers Community Foundation, an organization that supports more than 200 local nonprofits in the area of health, education, recreation and basic needs, also receiving half of the money from tickets sold.

“Bob took the ticket and started reading each number,” Kaelin added. “He said, ‘You guys, you won’t believe this. We have the first six numbers. If the next one is a six, we’re the winners.’”

Why he’s here: Correa is tied for fourth in the majors in WAR at 3.4 (by Baseball-Reference’s formula) and the biggest question for this rising star isn’t really when he’ll make his All-Star debut but how many All-Star Games he’ll play in by the end of his career. He’s comfortably ahead of the voting for the starting AL shortstop nod, by the way.

Why he’s here: You’re forgiven if you didn’t anticipate Smoak’s breakout season at 30 years old in his eighth big-league season. Nobody did. But Smoak has been brilliant, already matching his career-best with 20 homers and far exceeding his career bests in average, on-base percentage, OPS and pretty much everything else.browns_035

Gronkowski was on the cover of Madden NFL 17 last year

One of the things that stands out is how clean his mechanics are. He has close to what I would call the ideal throwing motion. This is one of the traits his Los Angeles comrade and fellow first overall pick wannabe, USC’s Sam Darnold, doesn’t have.

First, look at how high his elbow gets. He’s causing zero stress on his shoulder blade, and that’s good.

He “slashes” a bit on his follow through, meaning his arm comes a little bit across his body after he releases, but that’s normal. No one is going to have a straight up-and-down motion with the elbow starting from that good of a position.

We see Darnold’s elbow is much closer to his head, so he ends up going almost straight down. So yes, it looks better than the slashing motion of Rosen, but I feel like he’s causing more stress on that shoulder.

Tom Brady’s so convinced he’s not going to be cursed by the Madden cover that he’s smashing mirrors and walking under ladders.

Gronkowski was on the cover of Madden NFL 17 last year, which is a big deal and an accomplishment for any player. It means you are one of the more visible and recognizable players in the league, and one of the best.

Though, with the Madden glory comes a perceived curse. Many players who have graced the front of the video game since they were first allowed to in 1999 have suffered awful seasons, whether it be just a regression in play or an injury.

Tom Brady was announced as the cover athlete for Madden NFL 18, and will be hoping to avoid his own version of the Madden curse.

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