Steelers WR Antonio Brown switched cleats after ref’s warning

The NFL was ready to sideline Antonio Brown for the second half of Sunday’s 34-3 loss to Philadelphia if he didn’t take off his baby-blue cleats emblazoned with the faces of his children, the Steelers receiver confirmed on his weekly radio show on WDVE.

John Clayton, senior NFL writer: New Orleans over San Diego. The Chargers are taking a lot of injury hits, and they might be vulnerable to the Saints’ offense. Plus, this is Drew Brees’ return to San Diego, the team that drafted him.

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: The Jets were brutal at Kansas City, but they could knock off the Seahawks. Todd Bowles knows Seattle well and has defended the Seahawks successfully in the past. The Jets’ defensive line matches up favorably, and with Russell Wilson less than 100 percent, Seattle could be vulnerable.

“The fact that we were winning kind of blew it under the rug, so to speak. Now that we’re 1-2 it feels like we just can’t get into a rhythm of winning. A lot of things have been magnified, from the protection, to the errant throws, to everybody’s responsibility.’’

Inconsistency has been the story of Carolina’s – and Newton’s – first three games. The Panthers have surrendered 12 sacks, seven more than they did in the first three games a year ago. They have committed eight turnovers, six more than a year ago.

“It’s ridiculous that I even had to go through that,” Tolbert said on Wednesday. “Y’all know me. I talk trash. I like to talk trash. So if you want to take it there, we can.”

Tolbert added that he initially tried to pay the shop with a personal check, but the owner wouldn’t accept it.

“So what kind of respectable establishment won’t take a check?” Tolbert said. “They said they won’t take my check, it wasn’t going to clear the bank. I was like, ‘Whew! You’re throwing shots. So I’ve got one for you.’

“The owner expected me to pay more because I’m ‘a millionaire’ !!! Charlotte beware they are crooks to the fullest extent!!!” Tolbert wrote on Instagram.

Seahawks lose draft pick for violating offseason rules

The Seattle Seahawks were once again penalized for violating NFL-NFL Players Association rules that prohibit excessive contact in all offseason workouts.

On Monday the NFL announced the team will be fined $400,000 and will forfeit its first week of 2017 organized team activities (three OTA days). Seattle will also forfeit its fifth-round selection in the 2017 draft. Coach Pete Carroll will be fined $200,000.

The NFL and NFLPA independently reviewed the Seahawks’ June 6 on-field practice video and agreed the team violated the “no-live-contact” rule of the collective bargaining agreement. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll shed some light on the violation, telling reporters Monday the penalties were related to two helmet-less players who “banged heads” and got injured during OTAs.

“There’s no comfortable way to change anything,” Jenkins said last week. “So if somebody gets upset, it’s probably because they’re not listening. That’s why I think if you look at guys around the league and all the guys that have been protesting or demonstrating, if you listen, the message has been the same across the board no matter what they decide to do. And I thought I was very clear when I said it’s not an anti-police thing — in fact, the police are a key part of the solution in this issue across the nation. It has nothing to do with the military or the flag itself. We understand that people will get upset, and that’s part of it — that’s what makes you guys put these cameras in my face, and that’s what keeps this conversation going. Sometimes you’ve got to rock the boat to get a little bit of change.

“The end goal is to get some real change. And I know somebody kneeling or doing something is not just going to create change. But when you look at the issue, a lot of it is systematic, and if you want to change a system, that comes with lawmakers, elected officials, things of that sort. And so that’s really just drawing attention to it, so your community pushes those things to the forefront, especially when you talk about elections and selecting presidents and who is going to do what. And when you start to talk about the changes that you want, you force those people in those positions to listen.”

Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott says focus now entirely on football

FRISCO, Texas — One day after the Columbus (Ohio) City Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue charges against him stemming from allegations of domestic violence toward a former girlfriend, Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott admitted he’s learned an important lesson.

“I’m a target,” Elliott said Wednesday in his first public comments. “That’s what I’ve realized from all of this, and I have to conduct myself that way, so I cannot have any distractions so I can just focus on ball.”

In July, Tiffany Thompson filed two police reports claiming Elliott abused her and struck her “several times … leaving bruises on her arms.” The former Ohio State star, however, told police that he never touched Thompson in “a harmful manner,” saying she suffered the bruises during a bar fight.

“I know you’re stressed out, if you need me, call me. Just do everything you can to pass your drug test tomorrow. You’ll be okay. I’m here for you,” the woman’s text read.

When Mingo was acquired by the Patriots on Aug. 25, Belichick explained how Mingo’s former team, the Browns, had been in Tampa, Florida, for joint practices with the Buccaneers. Mingo, according to Belichick, flew directly from Tampa to Charlotte, North Carolina, to meet the Patriots without ever returning to Cleveland.

When the Patriots returned home, players had an off day, but Mingo “spent the whole day in the facility with the coaches going through material to get caught up.”

“He’s shown a lot of commitment to try to pick up the new information and try to understand what we’re doing, watching the films of games we played to understand the techniques and how we’re playing things and all that,” Belichick continued. “He worked really hard, took a lot of plays in practice to get somewhat comfortable with what we’re doing. It’s obviously going to be a work in progress here, it’s only been a week, but he’s smart, he learns well, and he works hard. So check all those boxes.”

The hard work produced some notable results Thursday, as Mingo played 56 snaps (tied for third highest on defense) and was all over the field while playing against the Giants’ backups. His athleticism and ability to close ground quickly was impressive as he played on defense and special teams.

Mingo (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) had reason to smile after, saying, “It’s a new team. These guys want to see what I can do. I want to see what I can do in this defense.”

All signs point to Blaine Gabbert claiming 49ers’ starting QB job

SAN DIEGO — What was supposed to be one of the most hotly contested quarterback competitions of the preseason instead turned into what seems more like a delayed coronation. From the first day of this training camp, San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly made it known that he wanted to split the work between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick right down the middle, giving both an equal opportunity to win the starting quarterback job.

Last season, Yeldon quietly ranked ninth among running backs in fantasy points during the 12 weeks he was active. He struggled to rack up touchdowns (three), but was effective as a rusher and was on pace for 48 receptions, which would’ve ranked 10th at the position. Yes, Chris Ivory is a threat for carries and goal-line work, but Yeldon very well could be the better player at this point in their careers. Especially if you spent a lot of cash on wide receivers, Yeldon is a terrific upside target at running back.

Newton revealed his latest project this week during an interview with WCCB-TV anchor Morgan Fogarty. He said the truck, which contains an image of him doing his iconic Superman pose on one side, was painted by California-based artist Mark Paul Deren.

It will be called “Smokn’ Aces,’’ a play on Newton’s nickname, Ace Boogie.

The menu, naturally, will include fish since Newton is a pescatarian. It also will have chicken.

The plan is to debut the truck for Carolina’s Sept. 18 home opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

The truck will be parked in the Goodyear Arts lot by the Duke Energy Building, where Deren painted it.

Newton told Fogarty the truck will be there Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with all of the proceeds from the first week going toward a program for at-risk individuals in Charlotte.

Newton also said he won’t be inside the truck; he’ll be outside eating.

“I wanted to be closer to the people,’’ Newton said.

“As a competitor you know you’re disappointed things went the way that they did,’’ Sanchez said after Tuesday’s practice. “But at the same time you understand there’s an emotional side to it, a competitor’s side, but there’s also a teammate. And me, enjoying my time here and really respecting this organization, respecting Trevor as a friend, and as a player, and as a teammate, the most important thing to do is move forward and help this team.’’

Broncos reportedly trying to do the impossible: Trade Mark Sanchez

After less than six months, it look likes the Mark Sanchez era in Denver is already coming to a close. According to Pro Football Talk, the Broncos are expected to dump Sanchez by the end of the week.

Boldin and Boone are a good example of the divide in opinion that Kaepernick’s actions have created across the NFL. Coaches and players have been coming out on both sides of the issue ever since Friday when Kaepernick decided not to stand for the national anthem.
Kaepernick has said that he’s going to continue to sit until there is “significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent in this country … I’ll stand,” which means this is an issue that’s likely only going to get bigger and bigger as long as he remains on an NFL roster.

However, Jones played in a West Coast offense his entire, 10-year career, and had concerns about picking up the new verbiage in offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s scheme.

Jones also would likely have been the fifth receiver on the roster and does not play special teams, so he potentially would not have been active on game days.

Trevor Siemian, a former seventh-round pick, will start at quarterback for the defending Super Bowl champions when the season opens.

The Denver Broncos announced Monday that Siemian will be the starter in the Super Bowl rematch with the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 8.

Siemian started the third preseason game, which intimated he was in line for the regular-season start, with veteran Mark Sanchez sitting the entire contest.

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak praised Siemian throughout summer workouts, noting the second-year player’s grasp of the offense and mental acumen.

“It’s tough to make it about me right now,” Siemian said. “We’ve got a special group and a great offense.”

Through three preseason games, the Northwestern product has looked steady, if unspectacular, guiding the Broncos’ offense. The 6-foot-3 quarterback stands tall and maneuvers the pocket well, has the athleticism to run Kubiak’s bootleg offense and has enough arm to make throws into tight windows.

Siemian completed 27 of 43 preseason passes in three preseason contests — two starts — for a 62.8 percent completion rate, one touchdown pass and two picks.

Trevor Siemian said Peyton’s preparation Monday-Saturday is what sticks out the most from what he’s learned from watching Manning.

Fun fact from NFL Media research: the last Northwestern QB to start in Week 1 was Otto Graham in Week 1, 1955.

Kubiak is clearly comfortable with Siemian’s ability to run the offense and not turn the ball over. As they displayed in their Super Bowl run, the Broncos have the ground game, receiving weapons and defense to buoy below-average quarter play, so long as the signal-caller takes care of the ball.

Falcons first-round pick Keanu Neal to have knee scoped, miss 3-4 weeks

Atlanta Falcons rookie safety Keanu Neal will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery Monday and will be sidelined three to four weeks, meaning he is expected to miss the Sept. 11 season opener against Tampa Bay.

Neal, the Falcons’ first-round draft selection, suffered the right knee injury in Thursday night’s preseason loss to the Miami Dolphins. He missed a tackle attempt on running back Arian Foster, then went to the ground in pain.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn hopes that the worst-case scenario is for Neal to miss three games.

“When he first got here last year, he was terrible, he really was,” Marshall said Thursday. “He was coming off a broken leg. I’d run a 5-yard hitch route and he’d throw it in the dirt. Everybody felt that way. We were like, ‘What the heck? If Geno [Smith] goes down, we’re in trouble.’ That’s how everybody felt. But he proved us wrong. He’s pretty good.”

Smith did go down, punched out by then teammate IK Enemkpali. He missed six weeks because of a broken jaw, allowing Fitzpatrick to start.

Marshall’s reaction?

“I was scared,” he said, smiling. “It was over, season’s over. We’re done.”

They weren’t done. The Jets finished 10-6, almost reaching the playoffs. Marshall and Fitzpatrick developed a strong relationship, so they can look back and laugh about it now.

“I actually think he’s better this year,” Marshall said. “He’s throwing the ball with more velocity, he’s throwing the ball deeper. He’s comfortable back there. He’s really good right now. He’s impressive.”

One reason to be concerned: Ezekiel Elliott had success running against the starting defense. He had seven carries for 48 yards and keyed an early scoring drive. Granted, the Cowboys figure to have one of the league’s best rushing attacks, but that’s something defensive coordinator Kris Richard will likely focus on with his players in the days ahead.

Lions’ Eric Ebron (ankle) practices for the first time since Aug. 6

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since injuring his ankle on Aug. 6 during the franchise’s mock game at Ford Field.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell declined to give a timeline on Pettigrew’s return Tuesday, saying “we’ll see” when asked if he’ll start the season on the PUP list.

“What can you expect in terms of when he’ll be ready, we’ll see,” Caldwell said. “What do you expect in terms of what he can do, he’s big, strong, he’s proven he can block you on the run game. He can catch passes for you. He’s caught a number of passes around here. He’s effective in that area and he’s a very good pass protector, so there’s certainly a lot of things he can do for us.”

The Lions got some more good news in Tuesday’s practice as receiver Golden Tate also returned to practice after sitting out both practices during the weekend.

Irvine Police Cmdr. Mike Hallinan said Monday that Marinovich was arrested Friday night after a call saying a naked man was on a hiking trail near homes. The officers found him in a backyard holding a brown bag containing marijuana and a substance that appeared to be meth but police are awaiting lab results.

He was booked for cocaine possession a month after the 1990 Sun Bowl and entered the NFL draft, where he was drafted in the first round by the then-Los Angeles Raiders.

He was released by the Raiders after two seasons for repeated drug use, cementing his legacy as one of the biggest NFL busts in history.

According to the Orange County Register, Marinovich’s rap sheet includes pleading guilty in 1997 to felony charges for cultivating marijuana.

In 2005, he was charged again with drug possession. Two years later, Marinovich was booked for felony possession of a controlled substance, unauthorized possession of a hypodermic needle and resisting arrest.

In recent years, he has focused on his arts career.

Tempers erupt during most heated practice of Panthers’ training camp

“The competitive nature got carried away, got more physical than it should have been. The thing we’ve got to understand is we’re in pads, but it doesn’t give us the liberty to do some of the things that happen like that.”

Rivera gave players a similar speech last season when cornerback Josh Norman and Newton got into a scuffle. The coach wanted to stress that maintaining composure in practice is just as important as it is in a game.

“This was really the result of overenthusiastic play, which at this time in training camp we really don’t need,” Rivera said.

Rivera initially wanted to talk to Benwikere immediately after the incident, but he let Davis handle the situation because the team captain asked to. One of the strengths of the Panthers during last season’s Super Bowl run was the leadership players like Davis showed in dealing with such issues.

Rivera talked to Benwikere after practice.

“The big thing that we have to understand is how to practice, and at the same time when we defend one another we have to be careful,” Rivera said.

Rivera made it clear the Benwikere situation had nothing to do with the trash talking that happened earlier in practice between Newton and Davis after outside linebacker Luke Kuechly picked off the reigning NFL MVP.

Newton said one of his goals coming into camp was to not be intercepted by Kuechly or Davis. Davis let Newton hear it after the pick, shouting, “We got him! We got him!” as he followed Kuechly to the end zone.

One play later, Newton completed a touchdown pass to second-year wide receiver Devin Funchess over the middle. Funchess responded by shouting, “We got him! We got him!”

“That had more to do with a couple of shots that were given and taken on the field,” Rivera said. “We had a couple of guys took shots, and a couple of guys took exception to it.”

Rivera isn’t rethinking his plan to practice with pads on Monday because of what happened Sunday.

“Oh, heck no. Are you kidding! Wear them out,” he said jokingly. “Freaking make everything live. We’ll stick to the schedule. Tomorrow is planned padded practice.”

The latest imposition of NFL power over its players goes something like this:

If someone, anyone, makes a public allegation, substantiated or otherwise, recanted or supported, of possible improper conduct, the player must submit to an investigation on the league’s terms or face suspension.

That’s essentially what the NFL said Monday in a letter to the NFL Players Association as a final warning to four players named in an Al-Jazeera report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The source for the report has since retracted his information, and the league already has cleared the name mentioned most prominently: retired quarterback Peyton Manning. But if the Green Bay Packers’ Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison and free agent Mike Neal don’t play ball with the NFL — if they don’t step forward to prove their innocence, as it were — then they will be suspended as of Aug. 26.

It would be easy to say that a rule-abiding player has nothing to worry about, but I’m going to guess that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and retired defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, among others, might not agree.

As I said Monday night on SportsCenter, there has been — to put it diplomatically — plenty of gray area in previous NFL investigations. Based on recent history, at least, these players are more likely to be disciplined for their conduct during the investigation than for any of the allegations that spurred the investigation in the first place.

Cleveland Browns name Robert Griffin III starting QB

The decision is not a shocker for those reading the tea leaves. Despite Cleveland drafting a quarterback in 2016 (USC’s Cody Kessler) and Josh McCown’s presence on the roster, a majority of the focus was on hoisting Griffin, a fallen star once thought by some to be the preferred alternative to Colts quarterback Andrew Luck just five years ago. Instead, a rash of injuries and an intense pivot away from a scheme that fit Griffin’s playing style resulted in just five wins over Griffin’s last 20 starts. He was relegated to inactive on game days throughout 2015 with the Washington Redskins.

This is the type of high-upside gamble that could make the Browns more competitive than initially expected in 2016 — or allow them to settle at the bottom of the AFC North like a few analysts have projected. Jackson has been marketed as a quarterback whisperer and is hell-bent on developing Griffin into an effective option both on and off the field.

“Tickled pink,” Jackson said of the thought of what Griffin could do for the Browns this season.

His quote in the statement was telling in that Jackson expects Griffin to do a majority of the heavy lifting. With questions about leadership ability and locker room relatability prevalent, Jackson’s hope is that a true face-of-the-franchise personality can bloom.

Jackson also praised McCown and Kessler, even if the competition never really felt like one from the outside looking in.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t also commend Josh, Austin and Cody. Josh in particular has been outstanding throughout this process and all of our quarterbacks have worked well together,” Jackson said. “Their play, professionalism and work ethic has pushed the room to really improve the level of play at the position for our team.”

Some 90 minutes before kickoff, doubts about whether the Hall of Fame Game could be played because of shoddy field conditions began to make the rounds on social media. But for the thousands of fans at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton, Ohio, they had no idea. Instead, they eyed the scoreboard “countdown until kickoff” clock fully expecting the Packers and Colts to face off in a mostly meaningless game that, at the very least, signified the return of football.

In fact, according to the Indianapolis Star’s Gregg Doyel, those in charge Saturday night didn’t notify the crowd of the game had been scrapped until Pro Football Hall of Fame president took the microphone just after the scheduled 8 p.m. ET kickoff.

“What happened to the fans at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium over the next 80 minutes was no accident,” Doyel wrote. “It was intentional. It was deceitful. It was the Pro Football Hall of Fame keeping alive the fa?ade, using its scoreboard to show a countdown to an 8 p.m. kickoff that would never happen, because there was money to be made.”

The results were predictable.
Crowd booing HOF president David Baker. Well done.
— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelStar) August 8, 2016
“I’ve spent $50 since I got into the stadium,” a Colts fan told Doyel 30 minutes before kickoff. “You’re damn right I’m mad. I’m (expletive).”

A Packers fan added: “I spent $65 on this food,” Liu says, gesturing to hot dogs and pizza and drinks he bought for his party of four. “How (expletive) do you think I am?”

Griffin had his moments during the Orange and Brown Scrimmage over the weekend and has peppered in some dazzling throws with the not-so-dazzling throughout camp. Will it be enough to keep the gig? Friday will provide the first opportunity at answering the question.

Sean Payton gets choked up, gets grief from Steve Gleason at ‘Gleason’ premiere

The film also digs deep into the highs and lows of Steve’s relationship with his own father and with his wife as they try to balance the brutal daily struggles with the disease against Gleason’s growing role as a nationally-celebrated “hero” for those suffering from ALS.

Among many other accomplishments of the Team Gleason foundation, Gleason was the inspiration behind a bill signed into law last year by President Barack Obama, making critical technology available to patients through Medicare and Medicaid.

“It’s pretty incredible what he’s been able to accomplish,” said Brees, who said it was “heart-wrenching” when he and others found out that Gleason was diagnosed with ALS, “because you felt like this is the last guy on earth who deserves something like this. And yet he’s one of the only people on earth that could do with it what he’s been doing.”

Payton recalled that Steve and Michel were always the kind of people who were going to “change the world,” long before Gleason was diagnosed with ALS. Payton cracked that he used to think it would be through something like alternative energy using “french fry oil.” But he said a “higher power was saying, ‘Sit tight, we’ve got bigger plans for you.'”

Gleason spoke to the audience after the film, saying Tuesday’s premiere was more special and nerve-wracking than any of the other times he had seen the film. He said his exact quote before the premiere was, “I’m so nervous I need to take a dump.”

But Gleason quickly comforted the audience — which got to see his very real struggles with such issues on film — by saying, “Don’t worry, I didn’t go in my pants.”

Gleason also began his comments by cracking, “I hope you enjoyed our film. I need some tequila.”

But as he did repeatedly in the film, Gleason also got deep and heartfelt with his audience, saying, “If it weren’t for this city and the people in this theater, there would be no Team Gleason … no changing the world. Thank you.”

It was the morning of some long-ago, forgotten, preseason road game in the late 1970s, and the Oakland Raiders were gathered for the pregame meal in a nameless hotel ballroom.

The monotony of camp was subsiding, and jobs could be on the line in that day’s exhibition, so yeah, there was tension at breakfast.

“Everybody’s looking around like, ‘Where’s Snake at? Where’s Snake?’” Rod Martin recalled this week. “Nobody knew where he was.”

Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler was MIA, in a manner of speaking.

“Then all of a sudden, you see him come in with his shades on in the morning, bloodshot, been up all night long, and then he went out there and played a good game,” Martin said with a giggle that turned into a full-throated chortle.

“It didn’t interrupt what we had to accomplish. He was our leader. We all respected him, and he just showed us, all of us, how to keep the Raiders tradition going, on and off the field.”

No one represented the badass Raiders of the era more than Snake. No one.

Author of such signature plays in NFL history as the Sea of Hands, Ghost to the Post and the Holy Roller, Stabler’s predilection for the night life — who else bragged about reading the playbook by the light of a jukebox in some honky-tonk bar the night before a game — often overshadowed what he accomplished on the field.

“Everybody’s metabolism is different,” Stabler told NFL Network. “Some people need eight hours. Some people need three hours. I don’t really need an awful lot of sleep.”

“I thought, ‘He’s the coolest guy,'” Oscar-winning actor and Bay Area native Tom Hanks said in an HBO special on Oakland’s professional sports teams of the 1970s.