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Atlanta Falcons place LB Dante Fowler Jr. on IR because of knee injury



ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons placed outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. on injured reserve Friday after he suffered a knee injury in a Week 5 win over the New York Jets.

Fowler, who has turned into Atlanta’s best edge rusher and has two sacks and two forced fumbles on the season, did not practice all week.

“It’s not necessarily next man up. That’s the old conventional wisdom,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Friday. “Like, you know, you go into these things and maybe some people do it like that, but I always kind of, ‘Oh, you got this guy out, you got your depth chart out.’ That’s the beauty of coaching and how to problem solve.

“If you want to go one-for-one, OK, good for you, but we got a lot of ways to fill holes. It’s next man up in theory, but there’s a lot of different ways you can plan things and attack, so that’s kind of how we look at it.”

The Falcons could look at a plethora of options to replace Fowler, likely starting with a combination of rookie Adetokunbo Ogundeji and veterans Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Brandon Copeland. Steven Means, who has already been playing a large majority of snaps at outside linebacker, could see even more work.

Fowler and Tuioti-Mariner are tied for the team lead in sacks with two each.

Fowler, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, will miss at least three games. The earliest he could return is Week 10 against the Dallas Cowboys.

Atlanta listed cornerback/returner Avery Williams as doubtful to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Additionally, right tackle Kaleb McGary remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list. If McGary can’t play, Jason Spriggs would likely start at right tackle against the Dolphins.

The Falcons are set to get back Russell Gage — the first time the team’s No. 2 wide receiver will be available since Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because of an ankle injury.

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Cincinnati Bengals DE Trey Hendrickson clears concussion protocol, OK to play Saturday



Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson has cleared the concussion protocol and will play in Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game against the Tennessee Titans, coach Zac Taylor announced Thursday.

Hendrickson, who led the Bengals with 14 sacks this season, suffered the concussion in the Bengals’ 26-19 wild-card game victory over the Las Vegas Raiders last Saturday.

Hendrickson had a strip sack of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr before leaving that game.

His 14 sacks in the regular season were a career high. He had 13.5 sacks in 2020 for the New Orleans Saints, helping him to earn a four-year, $60 million contract in free agency with the Bengals last March.

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NFL Playoffs – Top moments from the San Francisco 49ers-Green Bay Packers rivalry



The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers are set to meet again in the NFC divisional round.

It’s the latest game in a postseason rivalry that rose to center stage in the 1990s, with both teams led by legendary quarterbacks in Steve Young and Brett Favre. The rivalry has been renewed multiple times in the 21st century.

Saturday will be the ninth playoff meeting between these teams, tied with the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams as the most common playoff matchup in NFL history. The squads have split the previous eight meetings, with the 49ers riding a three-game postseason win streak that dates back to 2012.

Here are some defining moments between the familiar foes, selected by NFL Nation reporters Rob Demovsky and Nick Wagoner.

1995 NFC divisional round

The team’s first postseason meeting was also the first time Green Bay head coach Mike Holmgren coached against San Francisco, where he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 1986 to 1991 and won two Super Bowls.

This game was all Green Bay.

The Packers’ defense tallied four turnovers. The party began when LB Wayne Simmons forced a fumble on San Francisco’s first offensive snap that CB Craig Newsome returned for a touchdown. The Packers used their hot start to build a 21-0 lead in the first half. San Francisco QB Steve Young attempted a playoff-record 65 passes, but it still wasn’t enough to come out on top as the defending Super Bowl champions lost 27-17.

1996 NFC divisional round

Nicknamed the Mud Bowl because of sloppy conditions at Lambeau Field, this was the Packers’ first postseason win on the way to winning Super Bowl XXXI. Similar to their last divisional-round meeting, Favre & Co. jumped out to a three-touchdown lead in the first half. But this time around, two Green Bay turnovers aided San Francisco’s efforts at a comeback and the lead shrunk to 21-14.

Once again, the Packers’ defense helped the scoring efforts by recording five takeaways against a Niners offense that was without Steve Young for most of the game because of cracked ribs.

Green Bay scored the final 14 points and won 35-14.

1997 NFC Championship Game

Green Bay was the reigning Super Bowl champion but had to travel to Candlestick Park in the postseason.

The visiting team held a 13-3 lead at the half, but a scoreless third quarter kept the game within reach for San Francisco.

The Packers added 10 points in the fourth quarter before their opponent found the end zone for the first time via RB Chuck Levy’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

It was too little, too late, as Green Bay cruised to its third consecutive playoff win over San Francisco 23-10.

Packers safety LeRoy Butler, creator of the Lambeau Leap, grew fond of meeting a familiar face in the postseason.

“I probably liked playing San Francisco more than anybody else,” Butler told Forbes in 2020. Beating them was so satisfying, because I knew all those guys would be in the Hall of Fame. The quarterback, the receivers, the linebackers, the coach, the owner.”

1998 NFC wild-card round

Unlike their previous postseason matchups, the fourth meeting was a back-and-forth battle. It all came down to the final drive.

Jerry Rice’s first and only reception of the game came with less than 40 seconds remaining. Despite clearly losing possession of the ball, the officials missed the call and instant replay was not in use at the time, so the drive continued.

Young found Terrell Owens for a 25-yard game-winning toss that was nicknamed “The Catch II” as an ode to Joe Montana and Dallas Clark’s connection known as “The Catch” in the 1981 NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys.

San Francisco ended its three-year postseason skid against Green Bay with a 30-27 victory, and it was a moment that helped make Owens a superstar.

2012 NFC divisional round

This game was the playoff debut of Colin Kaepernick.

In just his eighth NFL start, Kaepernick rushed for a quarterback-record 181 yards and two touchdowns and threw two more TDs to pair with his 263 yards through the air.

San Francisco came out on top 45-31.

2013 NFC wild-card round

The 49ers and Packers faced a frigid kickoff temperature of 5 degrees at Lambeau Field. It turned into a duel between Aaron Rodgers and Kaepernick as well as the teams’ kickers.

Rodgers led the offense downfield for a tying field goal by Mason Crosby in the final quarter, but it left over five minutes on the clock for Kaepernick’s squad. San Francisco’s ensuing drive included four consecutive carries by Frank Gore that forced Green Bay to exhaust all three timeouts.

Phil Dawson’s 33-yard, go-ahead field goal was the difference-maker that lifted the Niners over the Packers 23-20.

2019 NFC Championship Game

This matchup was decided early as the 49ers led 27-0 at halftime.

Raheem Mostert ran all over Green Bay, gaining 220 rushing yards with four scores. As a result of the dominant run game, Jimmy Garoppolo threw only eight passes, tied for the second-fewest passes thrown in a playoff game. He even went 24 minutes of game time between his sixth and seventh passes.

San Francisco’s 37-20 win sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl, where they eventually lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.

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Jimmy Graham, Andrew Beck, Jarret Johnson finalists for Salute to Service Award



Chicago Bears tight end Jimmy Graham, Denver Broncos tight end/fullback Andrew Beck, and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson are finalists for the NFL’s Salute to Service Award.

The award recognizes people who demonstrated exceptional effort to honor and support members of the military community. It will be recognized on Feb. 10 at NFL Honors, when The Associated Press reveals its individual award winners for the 2021 season.

“From advocacy and support to our currently serving military to ensuring our veterans successfully transition with employment after their service as well as supporting military children, all three finalists for the 11th annual ‘Salute to Service Award presented by USAA’ should be recognized for their commitment to America’s military community,” said Vice Admiral (Retired) John Bird, USAA’s senior vice president of military affairs. “We thank and deeply appreciate Jarret, Jimmy, and Andrew for joining USAA in always honoring and serving our military, veterans, and their families, and encourage all Americans to follow their lead in participating in acts of service and support for our military.”

This season, NFL clubs nominated coaches, active and retired players, team executives and personnel who best demonstrated support for the military community.

USAA will contribute $25,000 in the award recipient’s honor to the official aid societies representing each of the military branches. The NFL will match that donation, which will be donated to the award recipient’s military charity of choice.

Last year’s award recipient was Atlanta Falcons executive Steve Cannon.

The mission of The Jimmy Graham Foundation is to provide life changing and impactful experiences through the freedom of flight. To recognize the accomplishments and sacrifices of veterans, Graham takes veterans airborne in his two US Army aircraft restorations, a 1957 de Havilland Beaver and 1967 UH1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter. He also provides flights for underprivileged youth as an introduction to aviation.

With the goal to employ veterans, Johnson recently partnered with a service-disabled Air Force veteran to start a Black Rifle Coffee franchise in Niceville, Florida. The franchise employs more than 40 veterans, active-duty servicemen and women, veterans’ spouses and children of military members from all around the world. He is an annual sponsor of SOF Missions, a non-profit that provides care to veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) with the goal of ending veteran suicide.

Over the past three years, Beck has partnered with a variety of military service organizations. In total, he’s reached more than 425 military families through his outreach. In November of 2020, he assembled care packages for military bases across Colorado and helped host a virtual visit with Wounded Warrior Project veterans. He hosted a barbecue for Fort Carson military families in partnership with USO Colorado, and helped host a pizza party and game night for kids at the Buckley Space Force Base Youth Center.

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