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For the second time in five years, Dion Jordan could be described as being a very intriguing NFL prospect.

Back in 2013, the University of Oregon standout was a physical specimen who would eventually become the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft. Five years later, Jordan has gone from wearing the label of first-round bust to being suspended for an entire season to battling multiple injuries to once against being viewed, as he was half a decade ago, as a pass rusher with a lot of upside.

After making his return to the NFL with the Seahawks midway through the 2017 season, Jordan recorded 4.0 sacks in five games, one more than he had in his career prior to this season. And given his long layoff from playing football—due to both suspensions and injuries, Jordan missed all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons and the first eight games in 2017—both he and the Seahawks feel like he is just scratching the surface of what he can become.

“He can be a legitimate factor,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “How good? I don’t know, I don’t know that, but I do know he should be a legitimate factor in the (pass) rush and in the run game. He’s a good pursuit guy, too. He is strong and big and all that. He just has a really unproven background and there is not much to go on there, so we’re having to piece it together with the few plays that we’ve got. But he made some real positive overtures and he’s an exciting prospect for us. Really exciting prospect.”

There’s plenty the Seahawks and their fans would like to change about the 2017 season, most notably the many factors that went into their missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011. But there were also a number of bright spots, coming both from obvious sources—star players like linebacker Bobby Wagner, safety Earl Thomas, quarterback Russell Wilson and receiver Doug Baldwin all had outstanding seasons—and from places people might not have been expecting heading into the year. Whether it was safety Bradley McDougald thriving in a starting role, or Justin Coleman grabbing ahold of the nickel corner spot and playing very well there all season, or perhaps most unexpectedly, Jordan becoming one of the team’s more productive pass rushers down the stretch, the Seahawks got significant contributions from a lot of newcomers this season, particularly on defense.

At 27, it’s a little bit odd to hear Jordan referred to as a “really exciting prospect” in the NFL—that’s usually an age at which a player is in his prime—but because he came into this season having missed so much time, it’s understandable that he and the Seahawks are both excited about what he can do going forward.

“Over the last few weeks, I just started to feel like myself again,” Jordan said. “I just started to understand what they needed from me here, and it just started to expand more and more.”

Added Carroll: “He was highly, highly regarded coming out of college for the right reasons. He just had three years of torment trying to get back to the game. The time he has been with us, he was just a remarkable example of diligence and grit and willpower and all of that, and when he made it back, it took him a little while to kind of knock the rust off. It took him a little while. And he is still coming, he is just getting started. He’s a brand new player coming up, and the opportunity now to be in this off season healthy—he’s healthy coming out of the season, so he can work hard to develop and get better—is really positive. We don’t know what the limit is, but we are really excited about it.”

Jordan’s teammates are equally interested to see in what kind of player Jordan can be with a healthy offseason under his belt.

“He was, what the third pick in the draft?” defensive end Frank Clark said. “I think he can be a Pro Bowl-caliber player in this league. He showed what he can do coming off of serious injuries, and that was just a little bit. He just showed a little bit. So imagine what he can give you in the full 16 (games), healthy with a full offseason to train—football training, not rehab. I’m just curious to see what he’s going to do next year.”

Jordan’s struggles, from how he failed to properly handle everything that came with being the No. 3 pick to substance abuse to injuries have been well documented, but as bleak as things looked for him at times, he never gave up on the idea that he could still enjoy a productive NFL career.

“I definitely could still picture it,” Jordan said a day after the season came to an end. “It all depended on what I wanted, how hard I worked. The opportunity to play for the Seahawks and be in this locker room just added that much more to it.”

Jordan credits the culture Carroll has helped build in Seattle as an important part of his comeback—as a recent Sports Illustrated profile noted, Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable as well as former Seahawk Marshawn Lynch influenced Jordan’s decision to sign with Seattle—and that fit he has found with the Seahawks is a big reason why he hopes to return next season. And to hear Carroll talk about Jordan, who will be a restricted free agent, it certainly sounds like the defensive end is in their plans.

While looking ahead to the future during his year-end press conference, Carroll talked about “a bunch of guys in the defensive line that I’m excited about,” and the first player he mentioned was Jordan.

“We’ve got issues to try to return guys, but Dion Jordan had a marvelous turnaround and showed an impact that could be really instrumental,” Carroll said.

Five years after being the No. 3 pick in the draft, Jordan is once again a “really exciting prospect,” but this time around, he’s much better prepared to handle those expectations.

“It was huge for me,” Jordan said of his comeback season with the Seahawks. “Just proving that all my hard work paid off. It was great to be able to do it with the players who I had the opportunity to play with this season. I’m excited about what’s next.”

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Blake Bortles

Blake Bortles

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Blake Bortles wasn’t having a whole lot of success with his arm, so the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback decided to try to make a few plays with his legs.

That’s not exactly the formula the Jaguars want to use, but it worked Sunday in their 10-3 AFC wild-card victory over the Buffalo Bills at EverBank Field. Bortles rushed for more yards (88) than he had passing (87) to become the first quarterback to win a playoff game with fewer than 100 passing yards on 20-plus attempts since Steve McNair in the 1999 AFC wild-card game against the Bills.

All that matters for the Jaguars, though, is Bortles found a way to win a playoff game, which hasn’t been done around here in a long time. The last time that happened was in the 2007 season. The last time it happened at home was after the 1999 season. Whether Bortles is still the franchise’s long-term answer at quarterback is a debate that can be put off for another week because the Jaguars still have at least one more game to play.

“Going into a game, there’s no secret recipe on how to win,” said Bortles, who completed 12 of 23 passes. “There’s no number that says you’ve got to score this many points to beat them. You’ve got to score one more than they score, regardless of it’s 50 or if it’s three, you’ve got to find a way to outscore them.”

That seemed unreachable with the way Bortles played in the first half. It appeared that the significant strides he made in 2017 were going to be wasted and the offseason was going to again be filled with questions such as, “What do the Jaguars do at quarterback?” Yet Bortles was able to rebound and proved to his teammates and coaches that he can be relied upon to win games.

It doesn’t matter that Bortles did a large part of it with his feet.

“He found a way,” cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “That’s what we talk about. It’s the main reason I played today [despite being ill]. You’ve got to find a way. Whatever it takes. We’ve got to get to these goals that we’ve talked about.

“All this work we’ve put in the offseason is for moments like these, and for him to find a way and do it with his legs, man, I have the utmost respect for him.”

Bortles was having by far his worst game of the season until he started scrambling and getting free. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Bortles gained 71 of his 88 rushing yards via scrambles. In the past 10 postseasons, only Colin Kaepernick has scrambled for more yards in a game (85 in the 2013 wild-card round).

“I kind of reference it to a pitcher,” Bortles said. “You go out and something’s not on. You don’t have a fastball or you don’t have a curveball, and you’ve got to find another pitch to be able to win and be successful and get guys out. That’s kind of the same thing playing quarterback.

“I’m kind of fortunate to be able to run around and be able to do that stuff and have kind of an Option B to kind of help this offense move the ball and put up points. Trying to do really whatever I can to help this team win [and] help this team score points.”

Bortles’ rushing performance doesn’t overshadow that the Jaguars won’t be around in the playoffs much longer if the offense doesn’t start producing. Outside of Bortles, the run game was terrible: Leonard Fournette managed 57 yards on 21 carries. Dede Westbrook was the only receiver to catch a pass against the Bills.

That certainly won’t be good enough when the Jaguars play at Pittsburgh next Sunday with a berth in the AFC Championship Game on the line.

“We never really got into a rhythm and weren’t able to get anything on third down,” Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said. “I’d be a fool to sit here and say I’m not concerned, but I’m going to take a step back and go ahead and look at it again. Obviously, if you want to continue to keep playing, you’re going to have to do a better job.”

That includes Bortles’ arm and legs.

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Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan

ATLANTA — Every week, Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn emphasizes the importance of winning on third down and in the red zone. Sunday’s loss showed exactly why Quinn harps on it all the time.

The Falcons felt good about themselves entering the matchup with the Minnesota Vikings as they had the league’s top third-down offense, converting 48.1 percent of those opportunities. Plus, the defense made some big stops in last week’s win over Tampa Bay.

But it all went for naught, as third-down struggles on both sides and settling for field goals on offense eventually led to the Falcons’ demise in a 14-9 loss.

Not only did the Falcons’ three-game winning streak come to an end, but now the playoff picture becomes a little fuzzier. The Falcons are 7-5 and among the group of teams trying to hold on to a wild-card spot right next to the Seattle Seahawks, whom they beat in Week 11. It won’t be easy for the Falcons to secure a postseason berth with the league’s toughest schedule to finish, which includes two games against the rival New Orleans Saints and a rematch with a defense just as tough and physical as the Vikings’ in the Carolina Panthers.

In order to make a playoff push, the Falcons can’t fall back on bad habits like they did against the Vikings. They were 1-for-10 on third down a week after going 11-of-14 against the Buccaneers. Some of the seven penalties the Falcons picked up contributed to their third-down woes.

“I thought we had too many third-and-7s,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I think one of the points of emphasis for us during the week was to try and be efficient on first and second down. We didn’t do a good job of that.

“They are a very good defense. We knew it was going to be tough sledding at times, but we’ve got to be more productive and put ourselves in better positions. When we get our chances on third downs, we’ve got to make some plays.”

The Falcons were 0-for-1 in the red zone and settled for three Matt Bryant field goals for the entire day — and Bryant even missed a key 45-yarder late. The players totally backed Quinn’s decision to go with that field goal with 5 minutes, 4 seconds remaining and the Falcons facing fourth-and-4 from the Vikings’ 27 rather than gamble and go for it. Besides, they needed as many points as possible with touchdowns hard to come by against a stingy Vikings defense.

The only other time the Falcons scored in single digits this season was a 23-7 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 7.

“We just have to get back in rhythm,” Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones said. “Today, we were just missing offensively. … From our standpoint, we’re way better than nine points. We just have to get it fixed.”

Defensively, the Falcons missed tackles and let the Vikings go over 100 yards rushing. The defense allowed NFC Offensive Player of the Month Case Keenum to complete 25 of 30 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns and a 120.4 passer rating. They allowed the Vikings to convert 6 of 12 third downs, including a crucial third-and-4 in the late stages that resulted in Keenum’s 22-yard connection with Adam Thielen, a conversion that all but sealed the victory. Allowing the Vikings to convert those third downs was a reason Minnesota had the ball almost 10 minutes longer.

“That ain’t good at all,” Falcons defensive back Ricardo Allen said of the Vikings converting 50 percent on third down. “That kept a lot of their drives going. We just have to get off the field on third down.

“They didn’t really throw any challenging balls. [Keenum] took what we gave him. It wasn’t like they were out there dicing us up or anything. Whatever we gave them, they took. And if they had to punt the ball, they punted the ball.”

Back on offense, Ryan couldn’t find that connection with Jones, who had just two catches for 24 yards on six targets while matched up a lot against Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Devonta Freeman rushed for 74 yards on 12 carries in his return from a concussion, which is a positive sign for the Falcons for the remainder of the season. But it didn’t help the cause Sunday.

The Falcons’ next challenge is a quick turnaround, with not much time to prepare for Thursday night’s NFC South showdown with the rival and division-leading Saints. One aspect the Falcons do have in their favor is the game being at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the final part of a three-game homestand.

“It’s already preparation for Thursday night,” Allen said. “We’ve got to go get it.”

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Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND — DeShone Kizer was a glum fellow as he strode to the podium following the Cleveland Browns’ 10th loss in 10 games this season, a 19-7 drubbing by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“It hurts,” Kizer said.

Clearly.

Because Kizer struggled badly in this loss, personally accounting for four turnovers — one that gave the Jaguars a defensive touchdown, another that set up a touchdown.

“I am trying to do whatever I can to string together some games and continue to prove my development to my teammates and to continue to earn the respect of them,” Kizer said. “This is the first game that I have come off of the field feeling as if I didn’t prove that I have developed yet.”

This was a candid admission from a proud player. But as his rookie season continues, Kizer is not approaching the level of consistency that the Browns would like to see. With the team almost assured of the first overall pick in the draft in April, the likelihood that they select a quarterback is becoming cement-like solid with each game.

Kizer’s two interceptions give him 14 for the season, a league high. He twice lost the ball while being pressured by the Jaguars’ relentless pass rush. The second gave Jacksonville a defensive touchdown.

Kizer’s second interception was a short throw to Rashard Higgins toward the sideline that sailed high.

“You get paid not to miss in this league,” Kizer said.

The first followed a run fake when Kizer did not see middle linebacker Telvin Smith slide into the throwing lane.

“It was one heck of a play by the backside linebacker for playing through his coverage into where the ball was going,” Kizer said.

“He needs to see that guy,” coach Hue Jackson said. “He knows that. It is something he has to work through.”

Kizer did come back with a nice 27-yard throw to Duke Johnson for a touchdown, but the Browns had nine possessions (and one kneel down to end the half) after they cut the deficit to 10-7. They gained a total of 124 yards and had eight first downs on those nine possessions — and 36 of those yards came when the game was out of reach and less than a minute remained.

There are contributing factors to Kizer struggling.

The Browns played the league’s top-ranked scoring defense and the group is also tops in sacks. The Jaguars have a dominant, nasty, relentless defense.

Jackson said the Browns are a young team prone to inconsistency. He’s right about that, and Kizer is one of the youngest players in the league.

And Jackson reiterated that his team needs to be “almost perfect” to win a game, which is a statement on his roster.

“That means no turnovers,” Jackson said. “Fundamentally we have to do everything right to have a chance.”

In consecutive weeks since the bye, the Browns had chances. But they lost to Detroit when they scored 24 because the defense didn’t play well. Against Jacksonville, the defense played well but they lost because the offense scored seven.

Six games remain and Jackson emphasized that Kizer will absolutely start against the Bengals on Sunday and for every game he can after that.

“Let’s let him play,” Jackson said. “Let’s let him play this thing out. As long as he is healthy, let’s keep putting him out there. I want to walk away from this season knowing exactly what DeShone Kizer is top to bottom. I think he deserves that.

“I know this is tough on him.”

Tougher, no doubt, than Kizer ever imagined.

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Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA — Before the suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott became official, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins channeled his inner Ric Flair when asked if he would rather face the Cowboys with or without Elliott in the lineup.

“I’d rather play Zeke,” he said, “because we want to be the best. And to be the best, you’ve gotta beat the best.”

Instead, the 8-1 Eagles will face a 5-4 Cowboys team that will be without their star back and potentially their star left tackle, Tyron Smith, who missed Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons with a groin injury. Smith’s replacement, Chaz Green, was responsible for allowing four sacks. Byron Bell took over midway through the fourth and yielded two sacks of his own. Smith is a question mark for Sunday night’s game against Philly.

“Absolutely, I would say,” responded Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox when asked if Dallas missed Smith more than Elliott. “The guy[s] gave up six sacks. Obviously they’ll try to get their best O-lineman back on the field for Sunday.”

One thing the Cowboys do have going for them is quarterback Dak Prescott, who was sacked a career-high eight times versus Atlanta while dealing with the two key offensive losses but has otherwise been playing at a high level. He has 16 touchdowns to four interceptions on the season, upping his impressive career TD-INT ratio to 39-8. Whether Dallas’ offensive front is at full strength or not, the Eagles know they have their hands full in trying to contain Prescott.

“I’ve been around the NFL for a pretty long time now. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better thrower on the run than Dak Prescott,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He can throw scrambling to his left. He can throw scrambling to his right. There are not many quarterbacks that can do that. He can threaten the whole field on the run. He doesn’t have to reset the throw, and he’s very accurate on the run.

“For a young player, he makes very few mistakes, and that’s impressed me also.”

According to offensive coordinator Frank Reich, the Eagles brought Prescott in for a visit and evaluated him a good bit during the pre-draft process in 2016. Though they ultimately traded up for Carson Wentz, Prescott had some pretty big fans in the building.

“You can ask anybody; I had very, very high grades on Dak in every aspect,” Reich said. “I thought his college tape was really, really good. I really liked the way he threw the ball, his timing and anticipation. When he came in here and we sat down and interviewed him — a hardcore interview as far as digging down into protections and X’s and O’s and pass concepts and what his understanding of what the pass game was and protections — it was really high in all areas. And then you could just tell he had that X factor, as far as natural leadership ability.”

Prescott fell to the Cowboys in the fourth round, 131 picks after they selected his backfield partner, Elliott. Assuming Elliott’s six-game suspension holds, Prescott will be the opposition’s primary focus for the next five games, including the Eagles’ Sunday night in Dallas.

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HOUSTON — After rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his ACL last week, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien and general manager Rick Smith discussed adding free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“We talk about the roster and what’s out there every day, Rick [Smith] and I,” O’Brien said.

When asked specifically about whether Kaepernick was discussed, O’Brien said, “Oh yeah, I mean everybody gets discussed.”

Last month, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL for collusion, which said the NFL and its owners “have colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States.”

Kaepernick’s protest began before a preseason game in 2016, when he did not stand during the national anthem, which has led other NFL players to follow in protest of racial inequality and police brutality.

On Nov. 10, ESPN The Magazine reported that Texans owner Bob McNair commented during an October owners meeting that “we can’t have the inmates running the prison.” McNair’s comments angered Texans players, and left tackle Duane Brown, who has since been traded, was vocal on the subject. The following Sunday against the Seahawks, the majority of Texans players took a knee during the national anthem. On Sunday, every Texans player appeared to stand during the anthem.

When asked if Texans ownership would sign Kaepernick if O’Brien wanted him, the head coach did not answer the question but said that Kaepernick is “a good football player.”

“I’ve studied him from when he was coming out of college,” O’Brien said. “When we scrimmaged against them and then obviously when he was in professional football when we scrimmaged against them last year when we went out to San Fran.

“Again, these things are discussed basically daily, and it’s not just one guy. Colin Kaepernick’s a good football player [but he] hasn’t played football in a while. But these things are discussed daily and they’ll continue to be discussed.”

Texans quarterback Tom Savage started in Sunday’s 20-14 loss to the Colts and was 19-of-44 for 219 yards and a touchdown. Most of those yards came on the final two drives after the Texans’ offense did not score a point until there were 6 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the game.

O’Brien said as of now, he expects Savage to start on Sunday against the Rams.

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Blake Bortles

Blake Bortles

Let’s go ahead and put the notion of the Jacksonville Jaguars bringing in a quarterback to replace Blake Bortles in the middle of the season. It’s not going to happen.

Jacksonville’s brain trust of Tom Coughlin, David Caldwell and Doug Marrone had a chance to bring someone in during free agency to challenge Bortles. It didn’t happen.

The NFL Draft came and went, where the team could have bypassed Leonard Fournette and taken Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes. It didn’t happen.

The team announced just days after the NFL Draft it would pick up Bortles’ fifth-year option, which they can still void if they are not satisfied with the former first round pick’s play. They showed a commitment to him for at least this season.

Even when Bortles has looked like the Bortles of old, giving the Tennessee and New York Jets games as examples, the team did not bench him. And when he has looked good, in games against Houston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, the team has won their four games by blowout margins.

Trading for another signal caller would be more of a detriment than a help. The middle of the season is not when a team should shake up a potential playoff team. It is successful on few occasions. The San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick because Alex Smith got injured during the season.

Bortles may not throw for 3,000 yards this season. He may not throw 25 touchdowns and he may throw for only 12 interceptions. Those are victories for this quarterback. His decision making is better because offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett hasn’t had to lean on him to carry this offense. The running game is to thank for that. The improved offensive line has kept him clean, with only 11 sacks in the first seven games. More importantly, the Jaguars have been able to start games at a faster pace and they are scoring early and in winning football games – often.

“I just think it’s a matter of when you go out there and get off to a good start it’s like two-minute [drill],” coach Doug Marrone said. “You make that first completion and you get on a roll. If you miss the first one then it’s very difficult when you study all the two-minute stuff. I think it’s a matter of that. Knowing that, listen if something doesn’t work out and it doesn’t go well and you go back to the sideline, correct it, get refocused and get back on the field and let’s go.”

Bortles’ fast start has also given him confidence to make plays in and out of the pocket. While the passes he throws looks like a wounded duck at times, he has found his targets on short and intermediate passing routes. This might be as much to do with the loss Allen Robinson as anything else. With rookie Dede Westbrook coming of injured reserve, the team may have another target to rev the engine up in the second half of the season.

Marrone has been able to preach progress over regression from past mistakes. The lesson has worked – so far. This is a more fluid offense, which relies on the run first, the pass season.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Jaguars have scored more points (51) than any other team, are averaging the most yards (115.6) and rushing yards (49.1), and have not committed a turnover in the first quarter. They’ve scored touchdowns on their opening drive in four games and kicked field goals in two others.

With it, the Jaguars are running over teams with the run game and stiff-arming them on the defensive side of the ball.

For now, Bortles is the best option for this team moving forward until the end of 2017.

After this season, the Jaguars will decide if they will bring BB5 back for his fifth season. The 19-million price tag is highly unlikely, but a new deal with a reduced rate could be on the table. It’s also possible – almost a guarantee – Jacksonville brings in a veteran signal caller (Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, Kirk Cousins) to lead this team in 2018 or they draft a quarterback to forge the future.

Now that they team has brought in Marcell Dareus to help defending the run, quarterback is the team’s weakest position. It’s hard to say that with a 4-3 team and a possible playoff berth. Bortles isn’t as bad as many would think, he’s just not the elite passer they want. Jacksonville needs him to be the same player he has been this season to get to the playoffs. Any improvement would be gravy. Any regression would be disaster.