Craig: NFL scoring soars, with no end in sight

More than a century’s worth of rule changes have merged with today’s exceptional skill players to form the perfect storm of NFL point production. With two weeks left in the 2013 season, the NFL is averaging 47.5 points per game. The record is 46.5, set in 1948, when there were 10 teams playing a 12-game schedule. “It’s starting to feel like if you don’t score a touchdown every time you get the ball, you’re losing serve,” Vikings left guard Charlie Johnson said. “I know with us [Sunday], that was the emphasis. It wasn’t an indictment of our defense, either. That’s just how the Eagles had been playing. Like a lot of teams have been playing.” The Vikings scored 48 points. The Eagles scored 30 and became one of a record five teams to reach that many points and lose in the same week. An NFL record for most points in a single day (763) was set Sunday. Six days earlier, the record for most touchdowns in a single week (90) was set. “I know the NFL says scoring is well-liked among fans,” Johnson said. “So I don’t think high scores are going anywhere. It may get worse. It may get to the point where it starts looking like Arena Football.”To understand where the league is going, let’s look at where professional football has been. The American Professional Football Association was formed in 1920 and changed its name to the National Football League in 1922. But pro football dates to 1892, when the Allegheny Athletic Association paid William “Pudge” Heffelfinger $500 to play a game against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. Oct. 25, 1906: Massillon’s George Parratt took advantage of that year’s new rule by completing the first forward pass to Dan Riley in a victory over Benwood-Moundsville. Feb. 25, 1933: Capitalizing on innovations made necessary from having to play the 1932 title game indoors, the NFL adopted the first hash marks and legalized passing from Continue Reading

Atlanta Falcons still hoping for offensive breakout in NFL playoffs

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Time is running out for the Atlanta Falcons to regain their identity as one of the most explosive offenses in the modern era of the NFL.Or maybe, after 16 regular season games, there’s simply enough data to indicate this is a fundamentally different team than 2016, when the Falcons scored the seventh-most points in a season in NFL history and were on the verge of a Super Bowl title before a stunning collapse against the Patriots. But for the Falcons, who are the only NFC playoff team from last season that made it again this year, there’s a still a lurking hope that their offense — which largely has the same personnel — can break out at any point. Saturday night’s NFC wild card game against the Los Angeles Rams would be a good place to start. “When we get our chances as players, we’ve got to make plays,” quarterback Matt Ryan told reporters this week.  Wild-card picks: Which NFC South club(s) prevail? Bell Tolls: Subplots going into wild-card round There are plenty of differences for Atlanta going into these playoffs compared to last year, when their offense caught fire in late November and stayed hot, scoring 36 and 44 points against Seattle and Green Bay to win the NFC. This year, the Falcons have done it a different way, winning six of their last eight games but scoring 30 or more points only twice in that span (and only four times all season).Though Atlanta’s young defense has matured into a top-10 unit this season, scoring nearly 12 points per game fewer on offense (33.8 to 22.1) has made it feel like far more of a grind to get to this point. The Falcons are hoping last week’s 22-10 win over the Carolina Panthers was the kind of breakthrough performance to launch them into a playoff run.“In the grand scheme of things, we’ve developed a great deal of resiliency as a team and fought through a lot to get to this point and Continue Reading

Are Eagles cursed with Nick Foles? Key question for each NFL playoff team

Wondering about a few things as the NFL playoffs approach … Are the Eagles cursed with Nick Foles?The energy that fueled Philadelphia’s offense before Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL has largely vanished, clearly a reflection of the challenge to maintain rhythm with Foles. During the final two games, the Eagles converted three of 25 third downs. Just as bad, Foles lacks the athleticism that allowed Wentz to extend plays, run for the sticks or so often create something out of nothing. The Eagles still have a shot at going all the way, given the supporting cast, but that’s assuming mistake-free quarterbacking from Foles. Will James Harrison provide the Patriots with championship impact?If his New England debut was any indication, Harrison still has enough fuel in his tank to make a difference. In 27 snaps against the Jets, the man buried on the Steelers bench all season collected two sacks, five tackles, two quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Harrison may give Bill Belichick’s improved defense exactly what it needed at the perfect time – instant pass rush – in its bid to repeat as Super Bowl champs. Should the Rams worry if it comes down to a last-minute field goal?A few weeks ago, it would have been no sweat with NFL scoring leader Greg Zuerlein in the midst of a record season. But Zuerlein is now rehabbing from surgery for a herniated disc, so suddenly L.A. no longer possesses the most reliable kicking game in the playoffs. The Rams’ spectacular season of revival could very well hinge on a first-year kicker, Sam Ficken, who owns the Penn State record for consecutive field goals but missed a field goal and a PAT in his first NFL game in Week 16. More: NFL head coaching openings ranked: Which job is most appealing? More: Five questions on Jon Gruden's potential Raiders return Will Antonio Brown return to pre-injury form for the Steelers?The Steelers may have their best chance Continue Reading

Carson Wentz leads NFL-leading Eagles past Bears, 31-3

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Carson Wentz tossed three touchdown passes and the NFL-leading Philadelphia Eagles beat the Chicago Bears 31-3 Sunday for their ninth straight win.The Eagles (10-1) reduced their magic number to clinch the NFC East to one with their fourth consecutive win by at least 23 points and third in a row by exactly 28. Philadelphia would secure its first division title since 2013 if the Cowboys (5-6) lose or tie Washington on Thursday night.Wentz had 227 yards passing, LeGarrette Blount ran for 97 yards and Zach Ertz caught 10 passes for 103 yards and one TD.The defense dominated rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the inept Bears (3-8), holding them to zero first downs in the first half and 140 total yards in the game.The Bears won the turnover battle (3-2), but couldn't do anything with excellent field position.RAIDERS 21, BRONCOS 14OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Derek Carr threw two touchdown passes after losing starting receiver Michael Crabtree to an ejection for his role in a brawl, and the Raiders spoiled Paxton Lynch's first start of the season.The story coming into the game was about the upheaval for the two teams after Denver (3-8) fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and made another quarterback change and Oakland (5-6) fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr .But the fight between Crabtree and cornerback Aqib Talib that led to three ejections ended up overshadowing the recent disarray even as the Raiders recorded their long-awaited first interception of the season in their first game under defensive play-caller John Pagano. The Broncos lost seven games in a row for the first time in 50 years.The fight was a continuation of a dispute that started last season when Talib ripped Crabtree's chain off during the season finale. Crabtree missed the first game between the teams this year, but wasted little time seeking revenge.Oakland guard Gabe Jackson pushed an official while trying to join in and got ejected for his actions, along with Continue Reading

Wentz leads NFL-leading Eagles past Bears 31-3

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Carson Wentz tossed three touchdown passes and the NFL-leading Philadelphia Eagles beat the Chicago Bears 31-3 Sunday for their ninth straight win.The Eagles (10-1) reduced their magic number to clinch the NFC East to one with their fourth consecutive win by at least 23 points and third in a row by exactly 28. Philadelphia would secure its first division title since 2013 if the Cowboys (5-6) lose or tie Washington on Thursday night.Wentz had 227 yards passing, LeGarrette Blount ran for 97 yards and Zach Ertz caught 10 passes for 103 yards and one TD.The defense dominated rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the inept Bears (3-8), holding them to zero first downs in the first half and 140 total yards in the game.The Bears won the turnover battle (3-2), but couldn't do anything with excellent field position.BENGALS 30, BROWNS 16CINCINNATI (AP) — Rookie Joe Mixon ran for a career-high 114 yards in the Bengals' best offensive showing since the last time they faced Cleveland.The result sent the Browns into December still winless for the second year in a row.The Bengals (5-6) won back-to-back games for the second time this season. They hadn't scored so many points since they won 31-7 at Cleveland on Oct. 1.Mixon also had an 11-yard touchdown that put it away in the fourth quarter. The Bengals came into the game with the worst rushing offense in the NFL, making it to 100 yards only once before.At 0-11, the Browns are starting to run out of chances for that breakthrough win. Last year, they waited until their 15th game to get their only victory and avoid the second 0-16 season in NFL history.RAMS 26, SAINTS 20LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jared Goff passed for 354 yards and hit Sammy Watkins and rookie Josh Reynolds for touchdowns, and the Rams snapped the Saints' eight-game winning streak in a meeting of NFC division leaders.NFL scoring leader Greg Zuerlein kicked four field goals for the Rams (8-3), who earned their fifth victory in six Continue Reading

Local NFL players: Six on NFL Pro Bowl ballot

Six Lee and Collier county football players are on the ballot to play in the 2018 Pro Bowl.Fans can vote for their favorite players to make the game, which will be played in Orlando on Jan. 28.The local players on the ballot are:• LA Chargers safety Tre Boston, a former North Fort Myers High star. He is tied for third in the NFL with four interceptions. He also has made 52 tackles and has seven passes defensed.• Jacksonville Jaguars fullback Tommy Bohanon, a North Fort Myers High grad. His blocking has played a big role in the Jaguars leading the NFL with 160.6 rushing yards per game.• Atlanta Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, a Cypress Lake High grad, has 44 tackles and two sacks.• San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde, a Naples High grad, ranks 11th in rushing. He has 592 yards on 141 carries. He also has four touchdowns.• Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater, an Estero High grad, ranks No. 6 in NFL scoring with 89 points. After he had a 52-yard field goal in Detroit’s 27-24 win over the Chicago Bears, he has made 21-of-26 field goals.• LA Rams wide receiver Sammy Watkins, a South Fort Myers High star, has 38 catches for 408 yards. He also has four touchdowns.Among other local NFL players:• Minnesota Vikings Mackensie Alexander, an Immokalee High grad, has been dealing with an ankle injury.After having his first career interception in Week 10, he followed that with two tackles and a defended pass, giving him five on the season. That total ranks him fourth on a Vikings defense that is among the league’s best in yards allowed per passing attempt and passer rating.• Teammate and safety Jayron Kearse, a South Fort Myers High grad, has six tackles on the season.• Denver Broncos tight end Jeff Heuerman, a Barron Collier High grad, has caught six passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.• Miami Dolphins safety Nate Allen, a Cape Coral High grad, has 14 tackles on the season. He was placed in Continue Reading

San Francisco federal judge dismisses most claims in painkillers lawsuit filed by retired players against NFL

The NFL scored a major legal victory Tuesday, when a San Francisco federal judge dismissed most of the claims in a suit filed by retired players against the 32 clubs, where the plaintiffs allege that team personnel gave prescription painkillers to players to keep them on the field without warning them about the possible long-term health risks. In an order signed Monday by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup in the Northern District of California, Alsup reamed the plaintiffs in Evans vs. Arizona Cardinals, blasting their second amended complaint as “extensive, disorganized, frequently boilerplate,” and which at times includes “contradictory statements.” Alsup also granted the defendants summary judgment, which means that he deems that there are no issues of fact in the case. The original complaint was filed in November, and made RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) and conspiracy claims in addition to misrepresentation and concealment allegations. But Alsup dismissed the RICO and conspiracy claims in February. Alsup writes in the Monday order that the plaintiffs in the Evans v. Arizona suit filed a second amended complaint “which exceeds its predecessor in length and asserts claims only for intentional misrepresentation and concealment.” Alsup also barks that “only a fraction of the allegations” in the second amended complaint “actually pertain to plaintiffs; the rest concern putative class members…But as the undersigned judge has repeatedly noted, this is not yet a class action.” “Additionally, the second amended complaint is replete with extensive and incendiary allegations of conspiracy and general illegality, openly flouting the parameters set by the February 3 order,” Alsup writes. Steve Silverman, one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs, could not be reached. The NFL declined comment. Last month, the NFL Players Association filed a non-injury grievance Continue Reading

Twitter gets off to solid start with debut NFL live-stream of Jets vs. Bills

The NFL scored big with Thursday night’s debut broadcast on Twitter. The game between the Jets and Bills was the first to be streamed on the platform, which secured the rights for the 10-game package in April for about $10 million. It was hard to watch and not think: This is the future. If you already had Twitter on your phone, you didn’t have to download a new app. You didn’t have to share information about your cable provider (like with the Watch ESPN app). You didn’t even need to have a Twitter account to watch. The quality of the free stream was top-notch (I was watching while connected to my home WiFi, and the buffering some users complained of wasn’t an issue) and I didn’t have to leave the app to watch, which was the case during the summer’s political conventions when Twitter users were bounced to YouTube to watch those streams. There were moments where the stream was ahead of the broadcast on CBS — like when Darrelle Revis got toasted by Marquise Goodwin for an 84-yard touchdown — but when I closed Twitter and re-opened it minutes later, it was behind the broadcast. No biggie. If I didn’t have the TV on I wouldn’t have noticed. The sound quality was on-point; there was none of that annoying mismatched audio/video that sometimes accompanies streamed events. The big gripe from most users seemed to be the body of tweets attached to the stream. I watched on my phone — though you can watch on an iPad or through apps on Apple TV, Amazon and Xbox One — and if I held it horizontally, the game filled the entire screen — without tweets. But users who held their devices vertically had a river of tweets paired to the stream, and if you wanted to tweet the #TNF hashtag was auto-populated into your armchair analysis. But it was just a random collection of tweets — not from the people that you follow who were Continue Reading

With Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson leading the way, here are the 10 best NFL touchdown celebrations that drew fines

Any receiver can celebrate a touchdown — it takes an artist to create a memorable one. With three games remaining in the NFL playoffs, Butterfinger — yes, you read that correctly — is challenging players to attempt some modern-era masterpieces, offering to pay up to $50,000 for any excessive celebration fines they incur in the process. The candy bar company's "Bolder than bold" promotion even got a boost from the founder of the movement, Terrell Owens, who was filmed with comedian Billy Eichner asking New Yorkers to show off their best moves in a video released Thursday. To inspire players on the four remaining teams as they get ready for championship Sunday, here are the 10 best fined touchdown celebrations from recent memory (and how much they cost to perform): Antonio Brown — $11,576 Do these two know each other? Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown punctuated a punt return TD this season by leaping into the goal post, embracing it at full-speed the way a child might jump into a parent's arms after a long time apart. Yes, he acted with the innocence of a child. Let's stick with that. NFL'S MOST ICONIC TOUCHDOWN CELEBRATIONS Doug Baldwin — $11,025 When you gotta go, you gotta go. Seattle's Doug Baldwin was not about to let the occasion of Super Bowl XLIX alter his bathroom habits, so after he found the end zone, the receiver pretended to drop trou and poop out the football. What a bummer it must have been when New England won the game. Lance Moore and Kenny Stills — $7,875 apiece Hingle McCringleberry would be proud. After scoring a TD in 2013, New Orleans receiver Lance Moore did his best impression of the "Key & Peele" character who was flagged for one too many pelvic thrusts after scoring. Teammate Kenny Stills even got in on the act, Continue Reading

NFL Draft: Giants’ new TE Engram earned everything

EAST RUTHERFORD - Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze will never forget the day he made Evan Engram cry.Then a high school football player desperate to earn a college scholarship, Engram was invited to a camp where he would essentially try out in an attempt to convince Freeze to give him one.And man, the teenage tight end whom years later the Giants made their first-round pick Thursday night sure did put on a show by dominating whichever defensive back lined up across from him that day.Still, Freeze remembers sending Engram away from campus and home to Georgia in tears without the one thing he admits now the player truly earned. Two days later, a change of heart kicked Engram’s journey to the NFL into high gear when the Ole Miss coaching staff reconsidered.“Should have offered him right there, but thank the Lord I wised up,” Freeze recalled Friday, adding: “He came and he earned the scholarship. He earned his improvements in speed and size, and crafting his skill, and he earned being a first-round draft choice.”The Giants celebrated their selection of Engram, the first tight end taken in the first round by the franchise since Jeremy Shockey in 2002, lauding his potential as a game-changing playmaker within an Eli Manning-helmed offense that already featured Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard.Twenty-five teams in the NFL scored more points last season than the Giants, who believe fixing their offensive ineptitude will be an enormous piece to what they hope can be a Super Bowl puzzle.“He’s a matchup nightmare. I don’t care what [position] you call him. Forget the label,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “He can block on the perimeter. He’ll be an immediate impact player. He’s also one of the smartest and cleanest players in this draft. His skill set, I think, is closer to [Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver] Mike Evans as a wide receiver. He runs routes like a wide receiver. He Continue Reading