Biggs: Cadillac about to meet his goal

Cadillac Williams is running toward his goal and barring something totally unexpected, he’ll get there Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Atlanta Falcons in the season finale.

Williams set out this year with one goal in mind, according to Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune, play in 16 games this season. He’s almost there, and along the way he has led the team in rushing with 781 yards on 191 carries (4.1 average) and four touchdowns. He’s shared the load with Derrick Ward but proven to be much more efficient than the free-agent pickup.

“All I really wanted to do was play in all 16 games,” Williams told Cummings. “That was No. 1 for me. Play in 16 games and come out of the year healthy. That was my priority, and if nothing goes wrong this week, I’ll get there.”

Williams tore a patellar tendon in his knee for the second time in the season finale last season. That’s what made his focus squarely on being durable.

“I didn’t know how much (work) we could give him,” coach Raheem Morris said. “We wanted to ease him through the preseason to make sure everything was OK, and (eventually) you’re able to give him 15 carries and then 18 carries and then it’s like, ‘Let’s ride this out.’

“I’m sure he’s always felt in the back of his mind that he’s a 20-carry back. But at the same time I’m sure he had a little bit of doubt and question in his own mind, too, about what he could handle.”

Maybe Williams is getting better as he goes along. He had 24 carries for 129 yards in the Bucs’ upset at New Orleans last week.

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Bruschi: 'At least '07 Patriots had the guts to go for it'

From ESPNBoston.com:

Former Patriot and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi had some strong words for the Colts, who chose to rest starters in the second half of last week’s game instead of going for a perfect season.

“When you compare the ‘09 Colts to the ’07 Patriots,” Bruschi said, “I am going to say something that a lot of people are thinking but aren’t saying: At least the ’07 Patriots had the guts to go for it. That’s what they did, that’s what the Indianapolis Colts didn’t do, and that’s their problem.”

There’s pressure when you have a chance to go unbeaten, Bruschi said, but that makes the accomplishment that much sweeter.

“I know what it’s like to play when it feels like there’s a gorilla on your back of pressure, when you’re 15-0,” Bruschi said. “But it’s the most satisfying thing when you achieve that 16-0 mark.”

Bruschi played for the 2007 Patriots team that went 16-0 in the regular season but lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

“It is historic to go 16-0, because that means you have a chance to go 19-0. You only can go 19-0 if you go 16-0 first and 19-0 trumps every single team record ever.”

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Biggs: 49ers giving Bruce proper sendoff in St. Louis

Isaac Bruce will get a proper sendoff from the San Francisco 49ers, at least.

Although coach Mike Singletary recently said that the veteran wide receiver would be inactive for the remainder of the season, all signs point to Bruce getting the opportunity to play Sunday at St. Louis, where Bruce starred as a member of the Greatest Show on Turf. The future Hall of Fame receiver will play in the season finale with his contract set to expire after the season. He has not said if he plans to retire, or not.

Teammate Josh Morgan approached Singletary about the idea on Monday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I was kind of surprised, but if it had been me, I don’t think I would have done it,” Bruce said. “I’m a football player. I believe in players earning the right to play. I believe that if one player is better than another, the best player should play.”

Bruce has been comfortable taking a back seat to Morgan and rookie Michael Crabtree as the 49ers offense grows, but Morgan is making a strong case and he could wind up ceding his starting spot to Bruce.

“I had asked him earlier what his thoughts were on playing in the game. He said probably not,” Singletary said. “Then when I told him about his teammates asking me, I think it shocked him to hear. It was a matter of these guys he mentored … about what it is to be a pro, that group of guys made it known that they would like to see him play.”

It’s proof that Bruce’s career isn’t defined just by great numbers—he’s fifth all-time with 1,024 receptions, second in yards with 15,208 and he has 91 touchdowns. His career has also been defined by class.

“Going back to St. Louis is always special to me,” Bruce said. “It gives me a chance to see the guys who run the dome. It’s an opportunity to look at the banners in the rafters (and think about) some memories I have.”

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Biggs: Tillman released from hospital

Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was released from the hospital Wednesday night.

Tillman left Northwestern Memorial Hospital after a 48-hour stay. He suffered cracked ribs on his right side and a bruised lung in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field.

Tillman and safety Craig Steltz were converging on Visanthe Shiancoe. The tight end got low and instead of hitting him, Steltz went helmet-first into the side of Tillman. The blow shifted his rib cage, causing the lung injury. Tillman was on oxygen as he was carted off the field and to a waiting ambulance.

Tillman, who underwent surgery in the offseason for back and shoulder issues, will require four to eight weeks to heal. The Bears are expected to start Corey Graham in his place Sunday at Detroit.

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Biggs: Cutler delivers for his linemen

Jay Cutler is going to send his offensive linemen off into the offseason in style.

The Chicago Bears quarterback presented his blockers with airline tickets as a thank you during the holiday season.

It’s been a rough go for Cutler and the Bears’ offense this season, and the group came together for its best performance of the season on Monday night in the upset of the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field. It was a gift that was appreciated by the men in the trenches.

The Bears look to have the line sorted out, for the most part, with an eye toward 2010. Chris Williams, the first-round draft pick from 2008, has been moved from right to left tackle. He held his own vs. Jared Allen in the win with a lot of help in the form of chip blocks. Frank Omiyale, a free-agent signing, has settled in after a midseason benching. Kevin Shaffer looks like he will be the right tackle moving forward.

The big question right now is whether Olin Kreutz, a six-time Pro Bowl center, will be back. He’s entering the final year of his contract, and he recently angered some in the organization with a critical assessment of things as the team finishes its third consecutive season out of the playoffs.

Stay tuned.

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Biggs: Will Favre show for Pro Bowl?

Just because Brett Favre has been named to the Pro Bowl doesn’t mean Brett Favre will show up for the Pro Bowl.

The Minnesota Viking was selected to the all-star game for the 11th time in his career this week, more than any other quarterback in NFL history, but whether or not the 40-year-old shows up in Miami for the game remains to be seen. Of course, if the foundering Vikings can right their ship, they could e putting final preparations on a Super Bowl appearance that weekend. Of course, that looks less likely now that they have lost three of their last four.

Then, consider that in the last 10 times Favre has been picked for the all-star game, he’s shown up four times. The last time? 1996, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. That was when the game was played in Honolulu. Players are already grumbling about the new format.

“Our goal is to get to Miami and the other game,” Favre said.

Players who skip out on the game need medical documentation, but that’s a loose requirement that is easy for them to fulfill if they have no interest in playing in a game that doesn’t matter.

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Reid, McNabb imply Romo better without T.O.

By JAIME ARON, AP Sports Writer

IRVING, Texas (AP) Eagles coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb both see big changes in Tony Romo’s leadership ability this season.

Hmm. What might’ve changed from previous seasons?

“It was that hole in the dome,” Reid said.

In separate conference calls with Cowboys writers Wednesday, Reid and McNabb both brought up Romo’s growth as a quarterback and seemed to make veiled references to his improvement stemming from the absence of Terrell Owens – something the folks in Philadelphia understand as well as anyone.

“It’s obvious (Romo) is the leader of the offense,” Reid said. “Not that he wasn’t before, but there were a couple of distractions there and he doesn’t have any of that. He’s just playing great football.”

Asked specifically what those distractions might have been, Reid made his snickering reference to the architectural shift in going from Texas Stadium to Cowboys Stadium (which, by the way, has a retractable hole in the roof). When asked if McNabb grew as a leader after losing his own distractions, Reid said: “Well, we didn’t have the hole in the dome.”

Speaking earlier, McNabb was asked about the differences in the Cowboys this year and last year. He went straight to how Romo has asserted himself.

“It’s Tony’s team,” McNabb said. “The good thing about playing the quarterback position, when you have the reins and you have command of the guys, and the guys are following along with everything they tell them and show them, good things can happen. You’ve seen in recent weeks, the team has really played well and Tony’s played well as well. That’s part of the difference you see on that whole ball team.”

Romo is over 4,000 yards for the second time in his career, needing just 40 yards passing in the finale Sunday against the Eagles to break the club record he set two years ago when Owens was his prime target.

This time last year, the Cowboys were fractured as stories swirled surrounding Owens’ deteriorating relationship with Romo. Dallas lost to Philadelphia 44-6 in the season finale to miss the playoffs, and Owens was cut a few months later.

Romo’s improvement this season includes far fewer interceptions and the development of Miles Austin into a Pro Bowl receiver.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Wednesday he’s not surprised that Romo has developed as a leader. He said it comes with age and experience; asked whether Owens’ absence helped, Jones said, “Not necessarily.”

“He’s not the same guy he was three years ago or four years ago,” Jones said. “He’s better technically as a quarterback, his knowledge bank has dramatically improved and I give (offensive coordinator) Jason Garrett credit for a lot of that as well. He’s a different guy in a positive way than he was three years ago.”

212 players may lose unrestricted status

By HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Sports Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) Miles Austin of the Cowboys, Brandon Marshall of the Broncos and six other Pro Bowl picks are among more than 200 NFL players who would lose their status as unrestricted free agents this offseason if the league and its union can’t agree on a new labor contract.

According to a list obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday, there are 212 players who would be considered restricted free agents – instead of unrestricted – if there is no salary cap in 2010. There is at least one player from each of the NFL’s 32 teams on the list.

Pro Bowl linebackers Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos and DeMeco Ryans of the Texans are in the group of potentially affected players. So are dozens of other starters from across the NFL, including quarterbacks Kyle Orton of the Broncos and Jason Campbell of the Redskins.

“Free agency’s always been something for the players, always been a great thing. If you get one crack at free agency as a player, that’s what you dream of,” Orton said before Denver practiced Wednesday. “How it stands right now … guys aren’t going to be able to have that dream, to be a free agent. That’s a shame for the players, I think.”

In an uncapped year, a player would need at least six years in the NFL, up from the current minimum of four years in the league, to be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team.

Dallas receiver Austin was aware his free agency status could change, but said he wouldn’t consider his breakout season bad timing.

“I can’t control any of that,” he said. “I’ve just got to stay focused on the things I can control, and that’s playing this week and playing hard.”

The other players announced Tuesday as selections for this season’s Pro Bowl who could find themselves missing out on a chance to cash in this offseason are Packers safety Nick Collins, Patriots guard Logan Mankins, Saints guard Jahri Evans and Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver.

In addition to the NFL’s sacks leader (Dumervil), and the NFC’s leader in yards receiving (Austin), other prominent names on the list include Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, Jets receiver Braylon Edwards, Colts safety Antoine Bethea, Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown and Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

“If you’re a guy that’s been in the league a long time, and you know you’re pretty much set, you probably have a different opinion about it. But if you’re a guy that’s in my position, it’s going to affect us not just short term but long term,” Washington’s Campbell said.

If they lose out on the chance to become unrestricted free agents this offseason, players might not get as big a payoff as they could have been expecting. They also won’t have the luxury of moving freely anywhere in the league.

A restricted free agent’s old club gets a chance to offer the player a one-year contract at different levels of pay which determine what level of draft-choice compensation the old club would receive for losing the player. And the old club has the right to match any offer another club makes to a restricted free agent.

“If you’re a free agent, of course you’ve got a lot of options, but if you’re a restricted free agent, it’s pretty much the team’s choice, depending on what they want to do,” Campbell said.

Other rules changes would go into effect if there is no salary cap in 2010. There would be no minimum or maximum amounts teams could spend on payroll, and each club would get an extra “transition player” tag. A “transition player” must be offered a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of the prior season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater.

“All of a sudden, your rules change,” said Campbell, one of seven Redskins players on the list. “That’s the situation I’ve been dealt and so have other guys on the team.”