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New York Jets hope to end prime-time misery — no ifs, ands or butt fumbles

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A butt fumble and a butt wipe. Mangled ligaments. A ghost sighting. The return of a villain. Blowouts, lots of blowouts. Tears in the locker room. A regrettable Snapchat in the locker room. An enemy celebration that went long and high into the night, with margaritas, lots of margaritas.

Get ready, America: The New York Jets are back in prime time, which usually means night terrors for the franchise with the NFL’s longest active playoff drought.

“When the Jets are in prime time,” former quarterback Boomer Esiason said, “expect the unexpected.”

The Jets have lost six straight and 17 of their last 23 games at night, dating to the infamous Butt Fumble in 2012, but there’s more to their recent nocturnal history than the record. You see, they don’t just lose; they sometimes lose in calamitous fashion, with everything from quarterback injuries to embarrassing moments.

The franchise that delivered one of the greatest games — the Monday Night Miracle in 2000 — also is responsible for memorable clunkers. Desperate to change their losing culture, the Jets (2-5) hope to start a new trend Thursday night in their only scheduled prime-time appearance in 2021 — a matchup against the Indianapolis Colts (3-5) at Lucas Oil Stadium (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network).

New coach, (mostly) new team. New karma?

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction, but we’ve got to make sure that we don’t let a victory like (last Sunday) get to our heads,” said linebacker C.J. Mosley, referencing their upset over the Cincinnati Bengals led by quarterback Mike White. “When you do the right things, you’re supposed to win those games. That’s the next step we have to get to — don’t be satisfied because we got a big win. We have to keep going, keep going, keep going.”

There’s no better stage than a national game, but the Jets have a tendency to shrink under the glare of the lights.

Starting with the Butt Fumble game, their winning percentage in prime time (.304, 6-17) actually is lower than day time (.364, 43-75), although former linebacker Bart Scott argued there’s no difference.

“I don’t think it’s a prime-time thing; it’s a Jets-have-sucked thing,” he said. “You could put them at 1 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 5 o’clock … they’re losing all of them.”

Scott was playing for the Jets on Thanksgiving night, 2012, when quarterback Mark Sanchez ran into the rear end of guard Brandon Moore and coughed up the ball against the New England Patriots. The Butt Fumble was born. In some ways, it marked the end of an era of prosperity and introduced a decade of hard times.

“Every team has some type of blooper they’d rather get rid of,” said Scott, now an ESPN radio and TV personality. “The good thing about being in New York, things live forever. The bad thing about being in New York, things live forever.”

Esiason was at the game, working as a radio analyst.

“I knew the moment it happened that it was going to be something etched in eternity for the Jets fan,” he said. “If you had a headstone for the Jets, the Butt Fumble would be etched into it.”

A few weeks later, after a horrible Monday-night performance (four interceptions) against the Tennessee Titans, Sanchez wept in the locker room after being told by coach Rex Ryan that his time as the starting quarterback was over — a seminal moment for the franchise.

The Jets were laughed at again in 2018, when running back Isaiah Crowell scored against the Cleveland Browns — his former team — and pretended to wipe his backside with the football before tossing it into the Cleveland crowd. He was penalized and fined $13,000 by the league, also drawing the ire of coach Todd Bowles.

Crowell’s mother didn’t appreciate it, either. She had a watch party at her home in Georgia and was “totally shocked” by her son’s crude gesture, she told ESPN. Isaiah cleaned up, though, parlaying the incident into an endorsement deal with Dude Wipes, a product that billed itself as a toilet-paper substitute for men.

That night in Cleveland was a total disaster, as the Jets blew a 14-point lead and lost 21-17. The Browns, in quarterback Baker Mayfield‘s debut, snapped a 19-game winless streak.

In 2016, the Jets found themselves in the middle of another PR mess. Before a Saturday night game against the Miami Dolphins, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and safety Rontez Miles made a Snapchat video from inside the locker room that included profanity and derogatory comments about women. The fallout from the video overshadowed a blowout 34-13 loss.

No one suffered more embarrassment than quarterback Sam Darnold, whose “ghost” game moment on a Monday night in 2019 will live in infamy. In the middle of a four-interception nightmare against the Patriots, Darnold, miked up by ESPN and NFL Films, told a coach on the sideline, “I’m seeing ghosts.”

Quarterbacks sometimes use that expression when they’re confused and think they see defenders who actually aren’t there. Somehow, it got through the TV gatekeepers, made it on air and went viral within minutes. The Jets lost 33-0. In many ways, Darnold never lived it down.

“That was unfair,” Esiason said. “That should’ve never happened to him.”

Prime time hasn’t been kind to the Jets’ quarterbacks. In 2019, Trevor Siemian, starting for the ill Darnold, suffered a season-ending ankle injury at the hands of Cleveland’s Myles Garrett in a 23-3 loss. In 2020, Darnold was body-slammed to the ground by Denver Broncos linebacker A.J. Johnson, causing him to miss four games with a shoulder injury and expediting the end of his Jets’ career.

The Jets wound up losing 37-28 that night to a third-string quarterback named Brett Rypien, who was making his first career start. It effectively ended Adam Gase’s coaching tenure even though he was allowed to finish the season, which made the fan base apoplectic.

Perhaps the ultimate indignity occurred in 2015, when Ryan — fired by the Jets — returned to his old home as the Buffalo Bills‘ coach and stuck it to his former team in a highly-anticipated grudge match. Fueling the acrimony, Ryan made backup linebacker IK Enemkpali a game captain — the same Enemkpali cut by the Jets a few months earlier after punching quarterback Geno Smith in the face.

Ryan celebrated that night. Oh, boy, did he celebrate. His favorite New Jersey Mexican restaurant catered the Bills’ postgame spread, which included margaritas for the flight home. The drinks flowed freely for Rex and his staff, which toasted their 22-17 victory.

Why are the Jets so bad in prime time? Night games require a change in the weekly practice schedule, which requires players to manage their bodies and mental preparation differently than in a normal week. That can be problematic for inexperienced players, according to Scott.

“The prime-time games are much more about your preparation and the routine, which is difficult because a lot of people don’t have routines because they don’t play in prime-time games that often,” he said.

The bottom line is, the Jets just haven’t been good enough. Get this: They topped the 30-point mark only twice in the last 23 games, the highlight of which was Darnold’s NFL debut in the 2018 opener — a 48-17 win over the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. The Jets haven’t been over .500 since that night, 54 games ago.

The new Jets want to change the bad mojo. Half the players on the roster weren’t on the team last season, and that includes nine rookies. They were teenagers when Sanchez crashed into his teammate’s butt, so they don’t know about the history. Ignorance is bliss, right?

On the night of the Butt Fumble, White — the Jets’ one-game quarterback sensation — was preparing for a high-school playoff game in Florida. Now, after an unlikely series of events, he hopes to change the Jets’ dark history.

“It’s pretty cool to be watching,” coach Robert Saleh said of White’s sudden rise.

Mike White, ghost buster? Tune in.

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San Francisco 49ers WR Deebo Samuel, LB Fred Warner out 1-2 weeks, coach Kyle Shanahan says

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday after receiving important injury news on two of their best players.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday that receiver Deebo Samuel and linebacker Fred Warner suffered groin and hamstring strains, respectively, in San Francisco’s 34-26 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings.

The bad news is that both will miss at least Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. But Shanahan was more pleased by the fact that both players aren’t expected to miss more than a game or two as the 6-5 Niners make their push for an NFC playoff spot.

“That’s what I was kind of telling you guys last night that I hope for that it was just a strain,” Shanahan said. “And strains usually [last] anywhere from one to two weeks. I think it was very good news considering what it could have been.”

According to Shanahan, both Samuel and Warner could return as soon as the Dec. 12 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Barring a setback, both would be expected back in time for a Dec. 19 home game against the Atlanta Falcons.

While the Niners got relatively good news in the big picture, the loss of Samuel and Warner even for one week is significant.

Samuel has been the team’s most productive offensive player, establishing himself as the league’s premier multidimensional weapon.

On Sunday, Samuel became just the third player in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving yards, five rushing touchdowns and five receiving scores in the same season.

Without Samuel, the Niners will look to second-year receiver Brandon Aiyuk to continue building on his recent surge, as well as the likes of tight end George Kittle, wideout Jauan Jennings and a burgeoning running game.

“He’s been a big part of our offense,” Shanahan said. “But I think we’re in a spot right now that we can overcome that.”

Replacing Warner also won’t be easy, especially since it’s something the Niners haven’t had to do at any point in his three-plus seasons. When he misses Sunday’s game against the Seahawks, it will be the first contest Warner has missed since he came into the league in 2018, snapping a streak of 59 consecutive regular-season starts.

When Warner departed in the third quarter against the Vikings, the Niners turned to Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles to step in at middle linebacker with Azeez Al-Shaair remaining at weakside linebacker.

How that plays out this week will depend on the status of fellow linebacker Dre Greenlaw. Greenlaw also left Sunday’s game with what Shanahan described as an “irritation” of the core muscle injury that had kept him out since Week 1. Greenlaw is considered day-to-day this week.

And with strongside linebacker Marcell Harris in the concussion protocol, the 49ers figure to enter the Seattle game woefully thin at linebacker. That puts even more onus on Al-Shaair, who had an interception and a fumble recovery in the win against Minnesota.

“Azeez has been ready for anything we’ve asked him to do,” Shanahan said. “He always runs around and plays like his hair is on fire and he loves playing the football game. That’s not changing, but he’s just getting more and more confident of where to be, what to anticipate … He’s been playing at a high level all year and whether he’s inside or outside, I expect it to continue, we need it to continue, because he’s one of the reasons we’re playing pretty good right now.”

Elsewhere on the injury front, running back Trey Sermon suffered an ankle sprain that Shanahan said will keep him out “for a little while” and makes him a candidate to head to injured reserve with a chance to return later in the season.

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Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers not expected to have surgery to repair broken toe during bye week

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are expected to use rest — not surgery — to help the quarterback’s fractured pinkie toe heal.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday that Rodgers is “gathering other opinions, so we’ll see where that goes,” but a source said those opinions are not expected to lead to surgery during this week’s bye.

The Packers (9-3) are off until Dec. 12, when they’ll face the Chicago Bears in a Sunday night prime-time game.

“The most important thing is healing and taking care of my toe,” Rodgers said Sunday when asked about his bye-week plans.

NFL Network reported earlier on Monday that Rodgers does not plan to have surgery.

Rodgers said he fractured the toe during his COVID-19 quarantine earlier this month, and he has played in the past three games since with almost no on-field practice preparations.

The only full-fledged practice he took part in during that stretch was on Nov. 19, two days before the Packers’ loss at Minnesota. He said he received a pain-killing injection at halftime of the game against the Vikings but did not need one to play in Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Rams.

“The difference is I didn’t have to get shot up again at halftime, so definitely the healing this week not practicing [helped],” Rodgers said after he threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 36-28 win over the Rams.

“Last week, I tried to do some stuff on Friday, felt like we needed maybe a little jolt and that kind of impacted Sunday a little bit from a pain standpoint. This week, I just did a walk-through on Saturday and obviously all the walk-throughs during the week, but no practice time, I think really helped. It definitely helped looking at the scans. The healing, kind of get to a better spot, so I’ve definitely felt better, but third quarter, late third, early fourth and I got stepped on early in the game, there was definitely some pain I was dealing with.”

Rodgers even had a rushing touchdown on Sunday, beating Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey around the edge for a 1-yard score. In the past two games combined, Rodgers has thrown for 692 yards and six touchdowns without an interception.

He said after Sunday’s game that he would make a decision about surgery after additional tests on Monday.

“The toe felt good most of the game,” Rodgers said. “Was just actually in talking with the docs. Not sure at this point; we’re going to do some more testing in the morning and get a better view of what’s going on in there, and then make a decision at that time.”

LaFleur said previously that he would leave the decision up to Rodgers and the medical staff.

“I’m not involved in any of those decisions, so I just take any information and hear it,” LaFleur said. “I don’t have ‘M.D.’ after my name. So I’ll let them handle that.”

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Dallas Cowboys DT Trysten Hill suspended two games for punching Las Vegas Raiders OG John Simpson

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The NFL suspended Cowboys defensive tackle Trysten Hill without pay for two games on Monday for punching Raiders guard John Simpson following Dallas’ Thanksgiving Day loss to Las Vegas.

The suspension was issued by NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan for violations of unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct rules.

“After the Las Vegas Raiders-Dallas Cowboys game on November 25, you engaged in conduct that this office considers unnecessary roughness and displays a lack of sportsmanship. Specifically, as both teams were shaking hands, you waited more than 50 seconds for your opponent at the 50-yard line. When you located him, you then walked toward him in the opposite direction of your locker room. You both engaged in a verbal chest-to-chest confrontation which you escalated by throwing an open hand punch to his facemask, forcible enough to cause your opponent’s helmet to come off,” Runyan wrote in the letter to Hill.

Hill is appealing the suspension, a source told ESPN’s Todd Archer. Derrick Brooks or James Thrash, who are jointly appointed and paid by the NFL and the NFLPA, will issue a ruling on the appeal.

If Hill’s suspension stands, he would be eligible to return to the Cowboys’ active roster on Monday, Dec. 13. He would miss games against the New Orleans Saints this Thursday and against the Washington Football Team on Dec. 12.

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