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NFL notebook: Rivera says Newton pro-bowl worthy

Associated Press
The NFL notebook …
CHARLOTTE ó Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes dynamic rookie quarterback Cam Newton is deserving of the Pro Bowl.
Heís not alone.
Newton ranks third in the fan balloting at quarterback in the NFC behind Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, two players who are viewed as locks to make the team. Three quarterbacks from each conference are selected to participate in the Pro Bowl.
Newton set a league record this season for touchdown runs by a quarterback with 13 and is needs just 167 yards passing to break Peyton Manningís rookie passing record.
ěI think heís deserving, I really do,î Rivera said. ěIn light of everything heís gone through I think the young man has proven himself. Itís just another process in his development. I think there are a lot of deserving players in this league and weíll see how it goes.
ěBut I do believe his work this year speaks for itself and speaks to what weíve done offensively and as a team I think the young man has been tremendous.î
Newton ranks just ninth in the NFC in the passer rating, but third in the fan voting with 508,522 fans, about 57,000 more than the Lionsí Matthew Stafford and nearly 190,000 ahead of Eli Manning of the Giants.
But while Newton has been remarkable and fun to watch, not everyone believes he should be the NFCís third quarterback in the Pro Bowl.
CBS analyst and former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon said if he were choosing heíd probably take Manning because heís made fewer mistakes and put his team in position to win the NFC East despite a rash of injuries to the wide receiver and tight end positions.
He thinks that while Newton can be great, he still has areas to needs to improve, most notably with taking care of the football.
He points out that Newton has thrown more interceptions (16) than touchdown passes (15), which makes it hard to consider him as a Pro Bowl.
ěI think you really have to earn that Pro Bowl nod,î Gannon said. ěBut you start talking about Eli and I think heís had a better job as far as bringing his team back in games.î
HURD ARRESTED
CHICAGO ó Chicago Bears wide receiver Sam Hurd was locked up in federal custody Thursday as his stunned teammates learned he had been charged with trying to set up a drug-dealing network following his arrest with more than a pound of cocaine.
U.S. Magistrate Young Kim ordered Hurd held until at least Friday while prosecutors and defense attorneys work out bond details before he is sent to Texas to face charges.
The handcuffed Hurd declined to comment on the charges. Asked before the hearing if he was still a member of the Bears, he said: ěAs far as I know.î He shook his head when asked if he had talked to anyone on the team.
ěSam intends to fight these charges, and we intend to defend him fully,î said high-profile defense attorney David Kenner, one of Hurdís lawyers. ěWe have complete confidence in him.î
RYAN VOWS TO FIX DALLAS DEFENSE
IRVING, Texas ó Rob Ryan is taking the blame for the Dallas Cowboysí defensive meltdowns at the end of the last two games.
Heís also vowing to fix it.
The defensive coordinator says communication breakdowns have been partly to blame, so heís working on a new system using signals from the sideline. Heís also having the defense go over video together instead of breaking into smaller groups.
He adds that heís going to scale back some of the game plan because he may be overloading players with information.
Ryan remains as supportive of his guys as he was the day he took over, saying: ěIíve got better players than everybody else and thatís just a fact.î
PATS PREPARE FOR TEBOW
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. ó The New England Patriots say theyíre preparing for Tim Tebow like they do for any other quarterback ó learn what he does well and what he does poorly and take advantage of that knowledge.
Thereís a big problem, though. Tebow isnít like any other quarterback.
ěHeís a very unique person,î said Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who played with Tebow at Florida. ěHeís a leader.î
Tebow has led the Denver Broncos to a 7-1 record in his eight starts since they opened at 1-4. Their 8-5 mark going into Sundayís home game against the Patriots leads the AFC West.
New England has allowed the most yards in the NFL despite a 10-3 record thatís tied for the best in the AFC. Theyíll have to be very disciplined to deal with the scrambling Tebow. He has flaws in his footwork and throwing mechanics but can run around and over defenders with his 235 pounds.
ěHeís a big strong guy and heís fearless,î said Patriots defensive back Nate Jones, a teammate of Tebowís last season. ěYou donít want to blow it out of proportion, but you want to take it in stride and prepare how you do every week and know what his strengths are, know what his weaknesses are.
ěBut anytime you have a quarterback thatís mobile, it definitely is a challenge for a defense.î
GATES ON THE BRINK OF RECORD
SAN DIEGO ó Antonio Gates is five catches away from lifting Charlie Joinerís San Diego Chargers team record for receptions.
Joiner is convinced the record couldnít be headed for a more sure set of hands.
ěI love it,î said Joiner, a Hall of Famer whoís the Chargersí wide receivers coach. ěI donít think thereís a better person in the world to do it than Gatesy ó great professional, great athlete, great player. All the good adjectives you can describe Gatesy … magnificent. Heís all of them.î
The star tight end has 582 career catches going into Sunday nightís home game against the Baltimore Ravens and their tough defense. Joiner had 586 catches from 1976-86, the final 11 seasons of his 18-year NFL career.
ěBelieve me, records are made to be broken,î Joiner said. ěThatís why theyíre out there, for people to come after them. Like I said, I canít think of a better person to do it than Gatesy.î
Gates would have had the record weeks ago if not for painful plantar fasciitis that sidelined him for several games late last season and earlier this year. Heís starting to look like the Gates of old, a three-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler. Heís tied with Vincent Jackson for the team lead with 53 catches, and is second with 601 yards and six touchdowns, including two in Sundayís 37-10 victory against Buffalo. All that despite being held without a catch in a loss at New England on Sept. 18 and then missing three straight games with the foot injury.
True to form, Gates isnít making this about himself.
It is quite a feat, though, for a guy who was a college hoops star at Kent State and then joined the Chargers in 2003 as an undrafted rookie because he felt he had a better chance in the NFL than in the NBA.
ěAnytime you have any type of accomplishments, itís a testament to the people around you who help you get to this point,î said Gates, who led the Chargers in receptions from 2004-09 and was second last year to Darren Sproles. ěYou couldnít do it all by yourself. Iíve always felt that way. The Chargers are first and foremost with them giving me the opportunity to play and me making the most of it, and it goes down the line to Norv (Turner) giving me the opportunity to make plays. When you look back at all that, I just canít believe itís happened so fast because youíre in the moment and it never sinks in. Like, you hear about it, but once youíre actually playing, youíre still in the moment.î
Once the record is his, Gates will have caught more passes in nine seasons than Joiner did in 11.
ěAnytime youíre mentioned in the category with someone of that stature itís always a privilege,î said Gates, who has 7,606 yards receiving ó a 13.1 average ó and 75 touchdowns in his career. ěI think thatís an honor itself, let alone passing his record. Just being mentioned in the same category of a guy whoís in the Hall of Fame is an honor.î
Gatesí teammates know what heís gone through with the plantar fasciitis and other foot injuries in previous seasons.
ěNumbers like that reflect the willingness to perfect your craft, to gut through some times when maybe you shouldnít have been on the field but you were anyway, and dedication to your career and your teammates,î center Nick Hardwick said.
ěThe plantar fasciitis, the toe a couple years back, heís played through a ton for a position thatís all footwork,î Hardwick said. ěHeís been impressive and a good example for young guys of how to know your position inside and out and impose it on your opponents.î
Gates was a target for Drew Brees for three seasons and has been one of Philip Riversí favorite targets for the last six.
ěIíll be happy to be a part of it,î said Rivers, whoís had his locker next to Gatesí for years.
ěHeís a special player and heís earned every reception heís gotten,î the QB said. ěItíll mean a lot to him now, but itíll mean a great deal more when heís done and he can look back and think, ëI went from a guy who didnít play college football and here I am a franchise leader in receptions.í Thatís pretty impressive.î
Despite being affected by injuries, Gates has never gone down the woe-is-me road.
ěI think what happens is when you deal with injuries and you deal with pain you learn to appreciate the game itself,î Gates said. ěYou learn to appreciate the abilities God has given you. Personally, to be able to get back out there and do the things I know Iím capable of doing, it gives me a sense of appreciation of this league, and of the abilities I was given to go out and run and catch and make plays with the football.î
Said Rivers: ěHeís the ultimate competitor. And in saying that, the ultimate competitor not in competing to get records like this, but just in wanting to go out and play and help us win. When you approach it that way, usually things like this get accomplished. So heís done it the right way.î
Gates was on the Kent State team that came within one win of the 2002 Final Four.
ěI canít say I remember him necessarily shooting the ball or whatever, but I remember that team when he was at Kent State, playing Indiana and I think Alabama,î said Rivers, who grew up in Alabama before playing at North Carolina State.
Rivers and Gates were just talking about playing each other in hoops a few years ago.
ěWe played a little H-O-R-S-E and a little light one-on-one. But I didnít fare too well in the one-on-one. I was OK in H-O-R-S-E,î Rivers said. ěHe definitely lives up to the hype. He can still shoot it and play. Heís just so quick. I couldnít guard him. That was the thing. It wasnít the post-up. It was just how quick he was with the ball in his hand.î
The Associated Press
12/15/11 19:55

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