Eagles

Judge reinstates Ezekiel Elliott's 6-game suspension

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Judge reinstates Ezekiel Elliott's 6-game suspension

NEW YORK -- A federal judge cleared the way Monday night for the NFL to enforce a six-game suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott over domestic violence allegations.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla denied the request for a preliminary injunction from players' union attorneys working for Elliott. Failla put the ruling on hold for 24 hours to give Elliott's legal team time to appeal, a likely move.

It's the second time a federal ruling has overturned a reprieve that kept Elliott on the field. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court threw out a Texas court's injunction and ordered the dismissal of Elliott's lawsuit there.

The NFL briefly enforced Commissioner Roger Goodell's suspension before a judge sitting in for Failla in the Southern District of New York issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the punishment for the second time.

If the suspension holds this time, Elliott will be out starting Sunday at home against Kansas City. He will be eligible to return for the final three games, starting Dec. 17 at Oakland. The Cowboys (4-3), defending NFC East champions, are in second place in the division.

Elliott attended the roughly two-hour hearing in New York on Monday, a day after rushing for 150 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-19 win at Washington. Last year's NFL rushing leader left court without speaking to reporters.

One of Elliott's lawyers and an NFL spokesman didn't immediately respond to requests for comment after the ruling.

The 22-year-old Elliott was suspended in August after the league concluded following a yearlong investigation that he had several physical confrontations in the summer of 2016 with Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time.

Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, citing conflicting evidence. Elliott denied the allegations under oath during his NFL appeal.

The suspension's announcement led to weeks of court filings, with NFL Players Association lawyers contending league investigators withheld key evidence from Goodell and that the appeal hearing was unfair because arbitrator Harold Henderson refused to call Goodell and Thompson as witnesses.

Unlike three federal judges before her, Failla rejected most of those claims and backed the NFL's contention that it followed the collective bargaining agreement in suspending Elliott, and that those procedures were supported by federal labor law.

"Having negotiated with the NFLPA over the terms of a particular CBA, the NFL has an interest in obtaining the benefit of its bargain -- an interest that might well be eroded if courts such as this one were permitted to micromanage the disciplinary decisions of the commissioner," Failla wrote.

The judge also said some of the reasons for Elliott's claim that he would suffer irreparable harm with a suspension were speculative.

"And any individual honors Elliott might attain absent suspension depend on countless variables -- such as the Cowboys' overall offensive performance, his opponents' defensive performance, and Elliott's health -- that together render this alleged harm far too speculative to justify injunctive relief," Failla wrote.

Failla based some of her rulings on the NFL's successful appeal in the same jurisdiction in the Deflategate case that ended with New England quarterback Tom Brady serving a four-game suspension. Brady delayed the punishment more than a year by winning a district court ruling.

NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler argued before Failla that the hearing was "fundamentally unfair" because it downplayed the conclusion by an internal investigator that Thompson wasn't credible in her account.

Failla disagreed, writing that testimony from the NFL appeal hearing made it clear that Goodell was aware of the investigator's views.

She also backed the NFL's interest in timely penalties under its personal conduct policy, which three years ago was changed to stiffen penalties in domestic cases.

Elliott is third in the NFL in rushing with 690 yards in seven games. He's tied for the league lead with six rushing touchdowns.

The pick-six that 'everyone down Broad Street heard'

The pick-six that 'everyone down Broad Street heard'

Patrick Robinson was talking a little trash with some Eagles teammates before the NFC Championship, so when he came up with an interception, he sort of had to back it up.

“Two hours before the game, I was like, 'When I get a pick, I'm not going out of bounds,'" Robinson said. "When I got it, I was running down the sideline, and I was like, 'No, I definitely can't go out of bounds,' so I just cut it back upfield.”

The end result was a 50-yard return for a touchdown — a play that served to energize the Eagles, the home crowd and an entire fan base during the 38-7 win over the Vikings (see Roob's observations).

“I don't think it just pumped up the offense," Nick Foles said. "I think it pumped up the whole City of Philadelphia. I think everyone down Broad Street heard that.”

Not only did Robinson's pick-six tie the score at seven in the first quarter, it shifted the momentum in the Eagles' favor permanently.

There was an uneasy feeling over Lincoln Financial Field after the Vikings marched straight down the field on a nine-play touchdown drive. A penalty on the ensuing Eagles punt improved Minnesota's field position, while a conversion on third-and-long moved the offense close to midfield. Nothing was going right.

"We had to make a play because they drove right down and scored," Chris Long said. "If we didn't have believe in ourselves and a little toughness, you might've thought, 'Oh, man, it's gonna be a long night.' I know some people probably thought that watching on TV or whatever, but we know what we're capable of as a defense.

“On us, on defense, we had to go out and make a big play and create a turnover.”

Long did exactly that. The 32-year-old pass rusher beat the protection and reached Vikings quarterback Case Keenum mid-throw. The result was a pass that came up woefully short of its intended target — what Robinson described as "an easy pick."

Far less simple was the return. Robinson began by running down the sideline with a convoy of Eagles defenders. Then, with precious little room to maneuver and a promise not to run out of bounds, he cut all the way across to the opposite side of the field, outracing the remaining Vikings players to the pylon.

It was a runback worthy of a certain Eagles All-Pro punt returner.

“Pat, man, he was unbelievable out there," Long said. "He was like Darren Sproles with the ball.”

Robinson was happy to play the part, at one point directing fellow cornerback Ronald Darby to throw a key block that ultimately allowed him to get into the end zone.

“A lot of times you get a pick, there's always one guy that slips through the pack and gets a guy who has the ball," Robinson said. "But this time, all our guys were running hard and trying to make blocks for me.”

For a team that's leaned on home-field advantage all season long, winning nine games in their own building, you better believe that play came at a critical juncture in the contest.

"It got the crowd into it," Malcolm Jenkins said. "Defensively, that first drive, we were kind of uncharacteristic in the run game, missing tackles, just kind of leaky and unsettled. Once we got that, we evened the score back up, it was, 'OK, that was our restart.'

“The crowd is into it. Our offense got going. Defense started getting stops. That was a huge play in the game.”

Doug Pederson's 'tricks up his sleeve' keep coming

Doug Pederson's 'tricks up his sleeve' keep coming

A few hours before the Eagles played the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game Sunday night, the Jaguars doled out a free lesson about being timid in the playoffs.

The Jaguars were clinging to a 14-10 lead when they got the ball back with 55 seconds left in the second quarter, with two timeouts, on their own 25. Head coach Doug Marrone had Blake Bortles take a knee twice, happy to head into the locker room with a slight lead.

You know what eventually happened. The Patriots hung around and came back to win (see story). They'll see the Eagles in the Super Bowl (see Roob's observations).

Watching that scenario unfold, plenty of Eagles fans were probably thinking if the Eagles were in a similar situation, "Doug Pederson would never stay safe like that," and they'd be right. Because the Eagles were faced with a situation like that … and Pederson didn't play it safe.

In the first half of their 38-7 romping over the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game (see breakdown), the Eagles got the ball back with 29 seconds in the first half, when they already had a 21-7 lead. So they marched down the field to kick a 38-yard field goal.

The aggressive Pederson never let his foot off the gas (see report card).

"I just told myself before the game I was going to maintain the aggressiveness in this ballgame," Pederson said. "Listen, it was, a: you win, you keep playing. You lose, you're going home. I didn't want to go home and regret any decision."

Perhaps no play exemplified Pederson's aggressive nature more than the flea flicker early in the third quarter that yielded a 41-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith and put the Eagles up 31-7.

The Eagles had their foot on the Vikings' throats and Pederson gave the signal to step down.

"We love it," said Nick Foles, who admitted he couldn't remember ever running a flea flicker before. "I think he just has such a great feel for the game. He played quarterback and he's coached for a long time. He can feel it."

The flea flicker was a play the Eagles just started practicing and they ran it just a few times during practice this week. Pederson said they used it against the Vikings because they saw opportunities to exploit them down the field. Pederson was dead on.

Rookie Corey Clement was the running back who took the handoff and then pitched the ball back to Foles. After the game, he thanked his position coach Duce Staley for allowing him, a rookie, to be in that situation.

What was Clement thinking when the play got called in?

"S---, I'll do it," Clement said. "You just don't flinch."

After Clement tossed the ball back to Foles, the quarterback unleashed a deep pass to Smith down the sideline. Smith redeemed himself after an earlier drop and hauled it in.

"I didn't know they were going to call it," Smith said. "Coach P has some tricks up his sleeve."

Pederson has had tricks up his sleeve all season. While he hasn't necessarily run gadget plays like the one he pulled out Sunday night, he has been somewhat of a mad scientist when it comes to play-calling. Last week, offensive coordinator Frank Reich described Pederson's play-calling style as "unorthodox."

A week after putting together a gem of a game against the Falcons, Pederson seemingly coached circles around Mike Zimmer and put together a game plan that helped Foles lead his team to the Super Bowl (see story).

One thing is for sure: Pederson is aggressive. And it seems like his entire team feeds off of it.

"I think they do. I hope they do," Pederson said. "Because I've got a lot of trust in them and I think they've got a lot of trust in me that I'm going to make the right decision. It ultimately comes down to the players on the field. But I do believe they feel that. As long as I'm doing it and the decision is right by them and I'm not putting them in a bad situation, then, yeah, I think they feed off of it and start believing in that."