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NFL source suggests intentional grounding call against Kirk Cousins was erroneous

An NFL source suggested Kirk Cousins should not have been penalized for intentional grounding Sunday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
The NFL apparently believes a key intentional grounding call made against Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins during Sunday’s deflating loss at New Orleans was erroneous.

A judgment call such as that is not subject to instant replay scrutiny during a game and cannot be reversed, under the NFL’s rules governing the use of replay. But officials are graded and judged by the league on the accuracy of the calls they make and future assignments can be affected.

Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications and public affairs, said in a conference call with reporters later Monday morning that teams regularly express displeasure with a particular call or calls and those conversations with the league’s officiating department are private.

Lockhart cited the provision of the rule that a quarterback be facing an imminent threat of being sacked, and said: That is a judgment call. In the judgment of the referee here, it was. And he threw the flag.

Helfrich praised Trubisky as a coachable quarterback. The new OC also sees a lot of similarities between Trubisky and quarterback Marcus Mariota, whom Helfrich helped develop at Oregon.

Mitchell has a tight release, Helfrich said, via the Chicago Tribune. He’s an accurate passer. They also have a couple of things similar that make them inaccurate. Their feet take them out of position. I sense from talking to a couple of offensive linemen, and this was unsolicited, when your offensive linemen are talking about how hard your quarterback works, that’s a great sign.

Helfrich spent Mariota’s freshman year at Oregon as the OC and quarterbacks coach under Chip Kelly. Helfrich then took over as head coach for Mariota’s final two seasons in Eugene.

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Injuries: Sam Bradford returns to Vikings practice

Sam Bradford’s long-awaited return to the practice field has become a reality.

The Minnesota Vikings quarterback returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in November. Coach Mike Zimmer told reporters last week he anticipated Bradford practicing again after the regular season ended.

What remains unclear is when or if the Vikings will have Bradford back in uniform for the playoffs. With Case Keenum excelling and Teddy Bridgewater a more than capable backup, there’s no need to rush Bradford back. He remains on injured reserve for now.

4. Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien said quarterback Deshaun Watson continues to make progress in his return from the surgically repaired torn ACL which derailed his rookie season. O’Brien said Watson is ahead of schedule in his ongoing rehabilitation and there’s a chance he will be available to participate in organized team activities in some format.

5. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said cornerback Richard Sherman, who is continuing to recover from a torn Achilles tendon, will undergo a surgical procedure to clean up bone spurs on his opposite leg.

6. San Francisco 49ers linebacker Brock Coyle underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum. He’ll be out for at least five months, general manager John Lynch said.

With the Buccaneers sitting at 4-11 heading into Sunday’s season finale against the New Orleans Saints, there was speculation regarding Koetter’s future in Tampa. Koetter admitted earlier this week that speculation about his job being in danger was a distraction.

In addition, there were reports that former Bucs coach and ESPN analyst Jon Gruden was interested in the job. Rapoport reported last week that Tampa was Gruden’s preferred destination for a coaching return.

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DeMarco Murray to undergo MRI on injured knee

The Tennessee Titans dropped a close game on Sunday. They might have suffered an even bigger loss during the contest.

Running back DeMarco Murray suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter of Tennessee’s 27-23 loss to the Los Angeles Rams and needed help off the field and to the locker room. He did not return to the game, and Titans coach Mike Mularkey told reporters after the game Murray will undergo an MRI. He added that the injury didn’t look good.

When asked Tuesday if he is a candidate, Gruden said, Well, I think I am being considered, yes. I hope I’m a candidate.

The head of the diversity group that works with the NFL on its hiring practices confirmed to NFL Network’s Steve Wyche on Thursday that Oakland is in compliance with the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority for any head coaching vacancy.

Wednesday’s news comes during a busy week of change in Green Bay. The Packers parted ways with longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers on Monday, and it was announced Tuesday that general manager Ted Thompson is transitioning to a role as senior advisor to football operations after running the team since 2005.

The Packers also have let go assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac.

Such a drastic coaching overhaul comes at a moment when the team currently has no official general manager in place, leaving McCarthy as the person in charge of football in Green Bay for the time being.

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Chuck Pagano calls Sunday ‘last rodeo’ for 2017 Colts

It’s no state secret that Chuck Pagano’s future with the Colts rests on dangerously thin ice.

No final decision has been made on his fate in Indianapolis, but he spoke Wednesday like a man preparing for sweeping change.

At the time of that report, Jim Irsay told Rapoport that no decision had been made on Pagano, with the Colts owner saying he planned to sit down with first-year general manager Chris Ballard after the season.

Asked Wednesday if this campaign has felt unusually unique, Pagano quickly agreed.

To say the least. There’s been a lot of changes since the beginning of 2017, right? Been a ton, Pagano said. I mean, there’s a lot of this stuff that you can’t make up, but it’s the National Football League, so expect the unexpected. We dealt with it. That’s what you do. You just keep picking yourself up, whatever it is.

With the Colts just days away from shutting down their disappointing season, Pagano’s future won’t be a mystery for long.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, after throwing two interceptions in 432 passing attempts during the regular season, threw two on Saturday night. Running back Dion Lewis had a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a touchdown on a kickoff return for New England. But he also lost a first-half fumble on a kickoff return to hand the Texans a touchdown. Houston was within 17-13 at halftime and 24-16 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.

But the Texans weren’t good enough to make things more than marginally interesting. Brock Osweiler, their failed-so-far $72 million quarterback, threw three interceptions. His best pass of the night was dropped by rookie wide receiver Will Fuller to squander what should have been a touchdown. Coach Bill O’Brien benched Osweiler in favor of Tom Savage during the regular season but never made a quarterback switch Saturday.

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NFL announces three enticing London 2018 matchups

The NFL’s 2018 London slate includes three playoff teams, a perennial contender, and two potential risers next season.

The league announced the matchups, locations and potential dates for its U.K. series Thursday.

The Eagles and Jags will each be coming off postseason runs, and will again boast two of the best defenses in the NFL. All indications are MVP candidate Carson Wentz will be back on the sideline for the Eagles’ trip to London.

The Titans and Chargers matchup pits a surging young quarterback (Marcus Mariota) versus an aging star trying to make one final postseason run before the sun sets (Philip Rivers). Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram trying to chase Mariota will be one of the better clashes of 2018.

While much will change among each team before they reach the field in London in October, on paper the NFL is sending three enticing matchups overseas.

Four of the eight teams that played in London in 2017 went on to win their respective divisions: New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars. Each won their overseas tilt. The three winners in 2018 hope to repeat that success on their way to a playoff bid next season.

DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, will attend next week’s owners’ meeting in New York along with players, the league and union announced in a joint statement Wednesday in which they pledged to work cooperatively to address the issue of players’ protests during the national anthem.

Commissioner Roger Goodell reached out to NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith today and both he and player leadership will attend the League meetings next week, the statement said. There has been no change in the current policy regarding the anthem. The agenda will be a continuation of how to make progress on the important social issues that players have vocalized. Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military, and we are coming together to deal with these issues in a civil and constructive way.

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Deandre Ayton was always supposed to be basketball’s next big thing.

Williams has taken the flashes of Ty Montgomery earlier in the season and fellow rookie Aaron Jones in the middle of the season and put them all together as a more complete feature package. Since scoring at the end of the Lions game on his only carry, Williams has been unleashed as a workhorse back, averaging just fewer than 23 touches over his past five games.

The rushing yards haven’t been easy to grind out, given defenses were stacking up to stop the run and forcing Hundley to pass. But Williams has compensated with an amazing impact as an outlet receiver.

The Packers have remained committed to the run, all the way through the red zone �� and in back-to-back overtime victories. In the six games with Rodgers, the Packers ran an average of 22.2 times per game, averaging 4.0 yards per attempt with four rushing TDs. In the seven games Hundley started, those numbers were up to 26.1 and 4.7, respectively, with nine rushing TDs. Granted, some of that is tied to Hundley running more than Rodgers would, but there’s no doubt Williams has been a more effective all-around back than either Montgomery or Jones.

As a sophomore, Ayton was named the best long-term prospect at the high school level by Scout.com �� over seniors like Ben Simmons and Jaylen Brown and juniors like Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson.

In that sense, the flat-out dominance Ayton has shown at Arizona two months into his college career is a formality, not a revelation.

There isn’t a more physically imposing player in the sport. It’s not just that Ayton is 7’1, 260 pounds and with a near 7’6 wingspan. It’s not just that he’s incredibly light on his feet, a vacuum on the glass and able to finish anything remotely near the basket with a merciless dunk. It isn’t only his burgeoning skill level and his supreme confidence in a rapidly improving jump shot.

For Ayton, it’s the total package. There is no one in college basketball this big, this athletic, and this skilled. In June, he’ll be one of the top three picks in the NBA draft. For now, he’s laying waste to one NCAA frontcourt after another.

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Allen didn’t have any FBS offers out of high school and had only two after a freshman season at Reedley College.

But he landed at Wyoming and became the starter in 2016, and fans of the draft might remember his name from the time when ESPN’s Adam Schefter said after the 2017 draft: There was one personnel director who told me this week that you can put it in the books, Josh Allen will be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft next year.

Scouts look at Allen as a high-end talent, but it’s all projection. He has tremendous size and a huge arm, and he made plenty of plays in 2016, when Wyoming had a strong veteran team around him. His numbers didn’t show any improvement this season, but his coaching staff and the NFL scouting community seem to blame that on the deterioration of the rest of the Cowboys’ roster due to the departures of so many of his weapons prior to the season. What scouts and evaluators see with Allen is elite potential — the kind for which you’re willing to overlook little things, such as a poor season at Wyoming.

Kiper’s draft ranking: No. 3 QB and No. 11 overall prospect. From Kiper’s Big Board: Allen is super raw, but he can really sling it. … I think Allen’s numbers will be much better in an NFL offense with NFL players.

McShay’s draft ranking: No. 3 QB and No. 15 overall prospect. From McShay’s Top 32: He has an elite arm and frame and can make every throw. The postseason process will be key for him.

The prohibitive favorite for Dunk of the Year, ladies and gentlemen: Anthony Davis literally destroying Ron Baker.

(Russell Westbrook has a nice candidate on Thon Maker, though.)

Well, this is weird. Isaiah Thomas will make his season debut on Tuesday against the Blazers. But the Cavaliers won’t let him play back-to-backs yet, so he won’t play against the Celtics on Wednesday. I feel like we’d all understand if Cleveland decided to keep Isaiah out on Tuesday so he can play Wednesday.

James Harden, who has seemed to be sore in recent weeks (despite some crazy scoring exploits), is out two weeks with hamstring strain. This could cost him front-runner status in the MVP race. LeBron, five-time MVP? Hello.

Harden was injured late in a New Year’s Eve thriller against the Lakers, by the way. Well, late in regulation — the game ended up being a gonzo double-overtime thriller. Shout out to P.J. Tucker.

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Kiper’s draft ranking: No. 2 QB and No. 5 overall prospect.

Darnold couldn’t beat out Max Browne as a redshirt freshman in 2016, but when Browne was benched after three games, people in the NFL took notice. There was at least some can-he-do-it-again sense about Darnold early this season, after a dazzling 31-touchdown, nine-interception 2016 season and a fantastic Rose Bowl performance against Penn State. Some early-season struggles in 2017 pointed to the concerns NFL evaluators had (and still have) about his footwork and some of his decision-making.

But those same evaluators recognize that USC was affected negatively by graduation and injury issues this season, and the way Darnold has played since Halloween has affirmed what scouts love about his abilities and makeup. It’s not certain he will even come out — and some in the league believe he could benefit from another year in college. But if Darnold does enter the draft, the overall package of potential and college performance makes him a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick. He went first in McShay’s debut mock draft.

From Kiper’s Big Board: I think Darnold has a chance to be special, and I believe in his talent long term. Darnold has a big frame, makes quick decisions and is an accurate, natural passer.

McShay’s draft ranking: No. 2 QB and No. 3 overall prospect. From McShay’s Top 32: His accuracy is terrific and he has special intangibles, but there is definitely a question now as to if he’ll declare for the draft.

Fans began chanting M-V-P at DeRozan late in overtime, and his play this year may warrant some consideration. The Raptors’ all-star is averaging about 25 points on 48 percent shooting from the field and a much-improved 33 percent from downtown. He is also averaging a career-high five assists per game in a season where he is facilitating for the Raptors more often than not.

DeRozan’s play has propelled the Raptors to a 25-10 record, five wins behind the Celtics and just a few hairs above the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers. And if Toronto keeps playing this good all season, their playoff fate could be just a little bit brighter than last season’s second-round sweep at the hand of LeBron James and the Cavs.

Any time a player sets a new team record in scoring, it can be easy to overlook other stat lines. But Giannis Antetokounmpo battled DeRozan’s career night with a monster game of his own.

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The Bucs (4-10) entered the season with high hopes, but the plethora of injuries this season thwarted playoff aspirations.

The Buccaneers resemble a M.A.S.H. unit �� The Bucs played without running back Doug Martin, who was a healthy scratch because of a team rules violation. The Tampa defense was also without several injured players �� Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (biceps), linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring) and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (hamstring).

The Bucs then lost tight ends Cameron Brate (knee) and O.J. Howard (ankle), guard J.R. Sweezy (ankle), and wide receiver DeSean Jackson (ankle) in the first half. Howard was injured when he was hit while diving into the end zone for Tampa Bay’s first score.

Adarius Glanton �� David’s replacement at linebacker �� was carted off the field in the third quarter after breaking his left leg. The defense also had linebacker Devante Bond (stinger), safety Justin Evans (ankle) and defensive end Robert Ayers (stinger) leave the game.

Winston was the only reason Monday’s game was close �� Winston did all he could to will his team to a win, but he was playing with a makeshift offensive line and lost his top two tight ends. Winston was directing traffic like a sandlot quarterback would do in a pickup game. It actually worked for a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Adam Humphries.

Likewise, Vikings offensive linemen didn’t sound inclined to talk tough about shutting up Jordan. They deferred to a more respectful approach.

He’s had a great career, great year, and it’s going to be a tough battle, Vikings offensive tackle Mike Remmers said. The first thing that we’d like to do is just block him. … He’s just fast, physical, just a smart player. He’s really got a little bit of everything.

Vikings QB Case Keenum called Jordan a really talented player who creates a lot of havoc in the backfield in the run or pass game �� a guy that we need to know where he’s at at all times.

Odds are, they’ll hear him coming.

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USC QB Sam Darnold would be ‘honored to play for any team,’ including Browns

Sam Darnold wouldn’t have a problem playing for the Browns.

In fact, the USC quarterback would be humbled to play for any team in the NFL.

The win by Notre Dame (10-3) is its first in a New Year’s Day bowl since the 1994 Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M and snaps a nine-game skid in January postseason games.

He looked at me like I had two heads. But I felt like he had a chance, said Kelly about his prediction. He’s got the ability, if we could get him the football. And Ian got him the football and Miles made a great individual play and, lo and behold, I’ve got the MVP sitting next to me.

Boykin had only nine catches for 151 yards and a TD coming into the game, but he got his first start after starters Chase Claypool (shoulder injury) and Kevin Stephenson (suspension) were ruled out.

Yeah, it’s frustrating we’re not doing exactly what we want to do and we’re not playing up to expectations, Prescott said of his connection with Bryant Wednesday, via the Dallas Morning News. But we’re going to learn from it and we’re going to keep going.

Shattenkirk, who also grew up a Rangers fan, has five goals and 17 assists in 38 games for New York. He’s on pace for his lowest offensive production since 2013-14, when he finished with a 0.56 points-per-game average.

The Rangers’ blue line has struggled as a group, and Shattenkirk is no exception, with a 47.4 Corsi for percentage at 5-on-5. The difference is that Shattenkirk, by reputation and renown, was expected to be a difference-maker.

I expected it would be sunshine and rainbows, he said, laughing, But the start put me in check.

Shattenkirk began the season with seven points in 11 games, but he struggled defensively. He has now gone 22 games without a goal.

Does he think he’s a work in progress, as his coach indicated?

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