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NFL notebook

Associated Press
The NFL notyebook …
PITTSBURGH— Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison has carved out a niche as one of the NFL’s most feared defenders over the last five years by straddling the line between clean and dirty play.
After one dangerous hit too many, the league apparently has seen enough.
The NFL suspended Harrison for one game following his helmet-to-facemask hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy last Thursday, making Harrison the first player to miss game time as a penalty under the league’s revamped policy on such collisions.
They’ll have to determine Harrison’s intent when he laid out McCoy late in the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh’s 14-3 victory. The 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year was penalized for roughing the passer on the play and said Monday he believed the hit didn’t warrant further punishment.
JETS
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets have signed veteran safety Gerald Alexander, adding depth to the position two days after Jim Leonhard was lost for the season because of a knee injury.
Alexander, a former second-round pick of Detroit in 2007, was waived by Miami last month after spending last season with Carolina and Jacksonville.
SURPRISED DOLPHINS
DAVIE, Fla. — A number of key Dolphins players expressed their surprise Tuesday that coach Tony Sparano was fired with only three games remaining in the season.
Chad Henne, Will Allen, Davone Bess, Dan Carpenter, Brian Hartline and Brandon Fields spoke with the media while taking part in the annual Fins for Kids Holiday Toy Event at the Dolphins training camp. More than 160 local children attended the party.
Sparano was told he was being let go on Monday, a day after the team lost to the Philadelphia Eagles to go 4-9 on the season.
“It’s like losing a family member,” said defensive back Allen, who like many of the other Dolphins was wearing a Santa Claus hat.
COWBOYS
IRVING, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys were all set to put a stranglehold on the NFC East.
With a 12-point lead, the Cowboys were only a few minutes away from a two-game division lead with three games left. They would have then only had to win their regular season finale to get into the playoffs — until the New York Giants scored two touchdowns and then blocked a potential tying field goal.
So Dallas (7-6) is now tied with New York, which had lost four in a row before that. And if the playoffs began this week, the Cowboys wouldn’t make it.
“It’s going to take a lot to put this behind us mentally because it was like having your heart ripped out,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said Tuesday, after the Cowboys practiced for the first time since their second consecutive close loss. “We can’t go back and turn the clocks back. … We’re going to be better, I promise you.”
The Cowboys do still have time to regain control.
While coach Jason Garrett prefers to keep his focus on the current day and upcoming opponent, that being Saturday night’s game at Tampa Bay (4-9), even he quickly offered some playoff perspective for his players when they got back together.
“We don’t talk too much about it, to be honest with you,” Garrett said. “Every so often you want to provide your team with perspective about where you are, where you’ve been and where you want to go. … We still control our own destiny. I think our players understand.”
Though it could have been much easier by holding on Sunday night, Dallas still would clinch the NFC East by winning its last three games. That includes a New Year’s Day rematch against the Giants to end the regular season, which would have been the only game the Cowboys would have had to win for the division title had they beaten New York the first time.
After going to Tampa, which has lost seven in a row, the Cowboys play the division rival Eagles at home Christmas Eve with a chance to avenge a 34-7 loss in Philadelphia nearly two months ago.
The Cowboys, 0-2 in December after sweeping through four November games, go into the closing stretch with a banged-up secondary and without rookie sensation running back DeMarco Murray because of a broken right ankle he sustained against the Giants.
Murray and safety Barry Church

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