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Answering the biggest injury questions for NFL conference championship playoff teams

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While backup quarterback Chad Henne inspired hashtags on social media in helping the Kansas City Chiefs hold off the Cleveland Browns in the divisional playoff round this past Sunday, all eyes in K.C. (and the NFL, for that matter) have been watching the Chiefs’ injury reports, wondering if All-Pro quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be available for Sunday’s matchup with the Buffalo Bills.

As far as the other three teams are concerned, the Bills have questions at wide receiver and could be promoting a veteran off the practice squad, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hopeful about Antonio Brown and a key defensive player who has been out since October, and the Green Bay Packers could have all hands on deck.

Our NFL Nation reporters update the top injury question for every team heading into conference championship weekend:

No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 1 Green Bay Packers, 3:05 p.m. ET, Fox

Buccaneers: An MRI revealed no major structural damage to the knee of wide receiver Antonio Brown, and he will be “day-to-day” this week, a source told ESPN. Brown had become Tom Brady‘s most targeted receiver in the final five weeks of the regular season. Also, in a surprise move that virtually no one saw coming, the Bucs activated defensive tackle Vita Vea from injured reserve this week. Vea suffered a fractured ankle against the Bears in Week 5 but has made such encouraging progress that the team is contemplating using him this week, which would provide a huge boost in pressuring Aaron Rodgers and making the Bucs’ top-ranked run defense even more stout against Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. Tampa Bay will get a better feel for Vea’s progress and readiness as the week goes on. — Jenna Laine

Packers: The Packers didn’t have a single DNP among their active-roster players Wednesday, which was good news for their running back depth after rookie AJ Dillon couldn’t finish Saturday’s divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams because of a quad injury. The same goes for kicker Mason Crosby, who injured his shoulder after a bad snap on an extra-point attempt led to holder JK Scott trying to throw a pass to Crosby for the conversion. So long as the Packers don’t have any fakes planned with Crosby as either the passer or the receiver, they should be OK. — Rob Demovsky


No. 2 Buffalo Bills at No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs, 6:40 p.m. ET, CBS

Bills: How serious is Gabriel Davis‘ ankle injury? The rookie receiver left Saturday’s win over the Ravens before returning but did not practice in Buffalo’s first practice of the week Wednesday. Arguably the Bills’ most versatile receiver besides Stefon Diggs, Davis’ absence creates a hole in the Bills’ offense that could possibly be filled by recently signed practice squad wideout Kenny Stills. It’s too early to guess whether or not Davis will play, but Buffalo will need all hands on deck if it wants to capture its first AFC championship since the 1993 season. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes‘ work week couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. He practiced Wednesday, though he remains in the concussion protocol. The Chiefs listed Mahomes as a limited practice participant, though coach Andy Reid said he took all of the snaps in practice. — Adam Teicher

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh pays the bill for entire seafood restaurant during a Baltimore charity event

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BALTIMORE — Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh scored big with fans, and the NFL season doesn’t kick off for another seven months.

Harbaugh quietly paid for everyone’s dinner at Jimmy’s Seafood Restaurant on Tuesday night. While Harbaugh wouldn’t reveal the exact amount, WJZ-TV in Baltimore reported the total bill was at least $2,000.

Harbaugh said the credit for paying for the meals goes to his wife. “It was 100 percent Ingrid’s idea,” Harbaugh told ESPN.

The winningest NFL coach in Baltimore football history, Harbaugh went to the popular seafood restaurant for a charity fundraiser. He took photos with every fan who asked him as well as the restaurant staff.

Before leaving, he secretly picked up the bill for all seven families eating there.

“[Restaurant owner] John Minadakis is the hero for the fun he’s doing for local businesses hit by the pandemic,” Harbaugh said.

Jimmy’s Seafood has raised more than $430,000 in an effort save Baltimore bars and restaurants struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Dez Bryant plans to play two more years, but it won’t be with Ravens after his six-game stint in Baltimore

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dez Bryant wants to play two more seasons but it apparently won’t be with the Baltimore Ravens.

In a series of tweets Tuesday night, Bryant explained why he never broke out of a limited role with the Ravens last season.

“I realized quick Baltimore wasn’t the place for me,” Bryant wrote. “No bad blood. That’s their way of doing things so you gotta respect it.”

Bryant, 32, returned after sitting out two seasons and totaled six catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns in six games with Baltimore.

A three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver during his time with the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant lacked explosiveness with Baltimore and never got consistently open. He finished as the No. 4 wide receiver for the league’s worst passing attack, ranking below Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin and Willie Snead on the depth chart. He managed a total of 129 snaps, or 21.5 per game.

Responding to a fan’s comment that he should’ve been given a better opportunity, Bryant wrote: “It’s hard. I’ve been off almost three years. I flashed my abilities to the point [Ravens coach John] Harbaugh asked was I ready to play because he thought I was ready …You have to learn the playbook …chemistry with the QB have to be on point.”

Asked if his chemistry was off with quarterback Lamar Jackson, “Our chemistry was good on and off the field. But it was guys there before me who understood the offensive concepts better than me. You can’t jeopardize that.”

Bryant became the second Pro Bowl wide receiver to miss two full seasons and return to the NFL since the 1970 merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Josh Gordon was the first.

The Ravens first worked out Bryant in August, but he left without a contract because he was told to improve his conditioning. Baltimore brought him back and signed him to the practice squad on Oct. 28.

After being elevated off the practice squad twice, Bryant was signed to the 53-man roster on Nov. 28. He never eclipsed more than 28 yards receiving in a game and was held without a catch in the Ravens’ two playoff games.

“I wasn’t bothered about playing time,” Bryant wrote. “I enjoyed myself. I met some great teammates, guys I feel like I will be keeping in contact for a long time. I’m thankful for the opportunity Baltimore gave me.”

The Ravens weren’t expected to bring back Bryant. Upgrading the wide receiver group in free agency and the draft was considered one of Baltimore’s priorities.

Bryant, the No. 24 overall pick of the 2010 draft, played eight seasons for the Cowboys. In 113 games, he caught 531 passes for 7,459 yards and a Cowboys-record 73 touchdown catches before his release after the 2017 season.

When asked if he plans to play in 2021, Bryant wrote: “I plan on playing two more years and that’s it for me.”

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Alex Smith says his return put ‘wrench’ into Washington Football Team’s plans at QB

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Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith said his comeback threw a “wrench” into the team’s plans this season and that he didn’t feel wanted by the organization this summer.

Smith, the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, told GQ Magazine that he surprised the organization by being able to play.

“They didn’t see it, didn’t want me there, didn’t want me to be a part of it, didn’t want me to be on the team, the roster, didn’t want to give me a chance,” Smith told the magazine. “Mind you, it was a whole new regime, they came in; I’m like the leftovers and I’m hurt and I’m this liability.

“Heck no, they didn’t want me there. At that point, as you can imagine, everything I’d been through, I couldn’t have cared less about all that. Whether you like it or not, I’m giving this a go at this point.”

Smith’s words call into question his desire to remain with the organization and how much frustration he still harbors. Washington is open to retaining Smith and building up more of the offense, but the team is also exploring other options at quarterback because of the question of whether Smith can remain healthy for a full season.

Smith has a $24.4 million cap hit and Washington would save $13.8 million if it released him.

“We’re still in a situation where we are looking at all of our options,” coach Ron Rivera said earlier this month.

Smith has not said for certain that he’s going to return, but sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that he wanted to continue playing. And Smith’s own words in multiple interviews strongly suggest that’s the case. He and Rivera had multiple conversations earlier this month, although neither has said much about them.

“I got more left,” Smith said in the GQ interview. “I got more to get there, too. So I really do really wanna get in the meat of this offseason and see where I’m at and push it. I want to push my body harder. I want to push my leg harder. The harder I push it, it does respond. At some point, I’m obviously going to have to sit down with my wife and have a very real conversation, and do we want to do this? She deserves a ton of input. So we’ll see.”

The team declined to respond to Smith’s comments.

In training camp, Rivera said he was going by what doctors told him about Smith’s recovery. Also, Washington was entering what it thought was going to be a rebuilding year and a 35-year-old quarterback in Smith’s situation, coming off a broken right tibia and fibula, did not mesh with trying to plan for the future. Rivera inherited a 3-13 team and wanted to see if second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins could develop into a long-term starter.

Washington wanted to place Smith on injured reserve before final cuts, which would have ended his season. That week, Smith and Rivera had a long meeting, and then Smith met the next day with Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner to convince them he should be on the roster.

The doubts were widespread. Smith admitted there was a “very small group” of people that thought he could do this. Multiple sources in the organization said after watching his documentary on ESPN that they didn’t think a doctor would clear him for contact.

Smith opened camp on the physically unable to perform list, although his personal doctors had cleared him to return. One of those doctors, Robin West, serves as Washington’s head orthopedist.

Slowly, their minds changed. Smith stayed on the PUP list until Aug. 16 as he was showing coaches that he was no longer injured and simply needed to test himself on the field. Still, there were sources close to him at the time who also wondered if Smith would be able to play — or to what level. His injury left him with drop foot, which cause his foot to drag at times. It also required special orthotics in his cleats.

Washington gradually had him do more in practices, but did not put him in 11-on-11 full-padded workouts until late in training camp — after he pressed the coaches to give him a chance.

“I felt like I still hadn’t had my fair shake at that point,” Smith told GQ. “I wanted to see if I could play quarterback and play football, and I feel like I hadn’t been given that opportunity yet to find that out. It’s like getting this close to the end line of a marathon and they’re telling you that you can’t finish the race. It’s like, f— that. I’m finishing this thing. At least I’m going to see if I can. So, I’m thankful we worked through all that stuff but no, it wasn’t like open arms coming back after two years.”

Smith was the No. 3 quarterback for the first four games but was elevated to No. 2 when Rivera benched Dwayne Haskins. Smith returned to the field after Kyle Allen suffered a concussion against the Los Angeles Rams and was sacked six times. Allen suffered a season-ending ankle injury three weeks later against the New York Giants, forcing Smith into the starting lineup the next week against the Detroit Lions.

Washington went 5-1 in games started by Smith. His stats were modest — he threw five touchdowns to five interceptions as a starter. It was six and eight, respectively, overall. But his impact was evident to a young team in need of on-field guidance. Smith was a near unanimous pick as the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

Smith suffered a bone bruise on Dec. 13 and played only one more game, a division-title clinching win over Philadelphia in the regular-season finale. He lobbied hard to play in the wild-card playoff game against Tampa Bay, but Rivera opted for Taylor Heinicke, fearing that Smith’s lack of mobility with the lingering leg issue would result in problems vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ defense.

Whatever the coaches felt about Smith in August, their thoughts evolved as the season unfolded.

“When you see what Alex has gone through and just his desire and drive to get back and the joy and thrill he gets from playing, it’s been very inspirational for me to watch him,” Rivera said in December.

He also praised Smith’s leadership.

“There’s an intangible that some guys have and possess,” Rivera said. “Alex has it. Can it be replaced? Well, you’re going to have to find a guy that has those same types of intangibles. Those guys are special. They only come around every once in a while.”

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