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Eric Weddle to come out of retirement to bolster Rams’ beleaguered secondary

Veteran NFL safety Eric Weddle, 37, who hasn't played in the league since 2019, will come out of retirement to rejoin the Rams secondary for the upcoming playoffs.Leila Coker/Associated Press

Veteran NFL safety Eric Weddle is coming out of retirement to rejoin the Los Angeles Rams for the playoffs, according to an announcement from his agent, David Canter, on Wednesday morning.

A person with knowledge of the deal confirmed the Rams plan to re-sign Weddle, who turned 37 last week and hasn’t played since the 2019 season, to fill their glaring need at safety. Jordan Fuller is out for the playoffs with a right ankle injury and fellow starting safety Taylor Rapp is in the concussion protocol.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Weddle has yet to sign his contract. The NFC West champion Rams (12-5) return to practice Thursday ahead of their visit from the Arizona Cardinals (11-6) on Monday night.

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Weddle retired in February 2020 after one season with the Rams and one year left on his contract. The Los Angeles-area native spent his first 11 NFL seasons with the San Diego Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens before joining the Rams and making 108 tackles for Wade Phillips’ defense.

The Rams missed the playoffs in Weddle’s only season with them. The two-time All-Pro selection and four-time Pro Bowler has appeared in just one playoff game since 2013, but the Utah product is seizing the chance to fill in for a defense that desperately needs help.

Eric Weddle is back for a second stint with the Rams.Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

Fuller, the Rams’ leading tackler and defensive signal caller, is out for the season after injuring his ankle late in the Rams’ overtime loss to San Francisco last Sunday, costing them the second seed in the NFC. Rapp played nearly the entire game, but went into the concussion protocol Monday.

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey is having an outstanding season for the Rams, but every defensive back except him and Fuller has had a rough year. Rapp, Darious Williams, Dont’e Deayon, Nick Scott and David Long have all struggled at various points in coverage and as tacklers. Los Angeles finished 17th in the NFL in total yards allowed this season after being the league’s stingiest defense in 2020.

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The Rams’ secondary and linebackers group are clear weaknesses to be exploited by capable offenses. Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray has already thrown for 651 yards against the LA defense this season. Arizona racked up 912 yards total offense while splitting its two meetings with the Rams this season.

Giants owner vows to get it right

New York Giants co-owner John Mara said his low point in more than three decades with the franchise was seeing the team’s struggles in a four-win season that led to the retirement of general manager Dave Gettleman and the firing of coach Joe Judge.

Speaking less than 24 hours after firing his third coach since early December 2017, Mara said Wednesday the Giants need to build from the ground up again after posting a 4-13 record and missing the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

“Honestly, I would have to say yes, yes, it is,” Mara said of the 2021 being his low point. “I kept thinking during this season that we had hit rock bottom, and then each week it got a little worse.”

While he’s certain Giants fans have little faith in his ability to pick the next general manager, he and co-owner Steve Tisch are confident they have assembled a good group of candidates. They are going to take their time, follow a process and find the right man.

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Mara said the new general manager would lead the search for a coach, but there would be no package deals, where an incoming GM was guaranteed to bring in someone he worked with this past season.

Panthers interview OC candidates

The Carolina Panthers have interviewed Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak and Indianapolis Colts wide receivers coach Mike Groh for their vacant offensive coordinator position, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team does not announce its interviews.

Both coaches were interviewed remotely. Finalists are expected to be brought in for in-person interviews.

Panthers coach Matt Rhule fired offensive coordinator Joe Brady midseason with the offense struggling. The Panthers finished 5-12 and ranked 30th on offense in yards and 29th in points scored.

League gains in TV ratings

An extra week of games, close finishes and a non-election year helped propel the NFL to its highest regular-season ratings in six years.

The 272 regular-season games averaged 17.1 million viewers across television and digital platforms, that is a 10 percent increase over 2020 and is the league’s highest average since 2015.

It was expected that the audience would increase after the 2020 season was played in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, with empty stadiums presenting a strange viewing dynamic, and many people’s viewing habits changing. The first half of that season also occurred in the midst of a presidential campaign, when many were watching cable news channels.

The NFL boasted big TV numbers again this year.David Richard/Associated Press

This was also the first season when the league played 17 regular-season games. Despite the extra games, there were not many blowouts. According to the league, 64 percent of all games this season were within one score in the fourth quarter.

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NFL games ranked in the top 16 and 91 of the top 100 telecasts on television during the season, according to Nielsen.

The Dallas Cowboys were involved in five of the 10 most-viewed games, including the Week 12 Thanksgiving Day match with the Las Vegas Raiders, which averaged 40.8 million viewers. That was the most-watched regular-season game on any network in 31 years and one of only two since 1988 to average at least 40 million.

ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” saw the biggest increase as its 19-game package was up 16 percent over last year, averaging 14.18 million. It is the network’s best regular-season viewership since 2010 and third best since 2006, when the package moved mainly to cable from ABC.

Offensive production declined

The NFL’s steady increase in offensive production took a step back this season.

The average points per game for teams dropped from a record 24.8 in 2021 to 23 this season as improved defense, some quarterback-related COVID absences, more holding calls and visiting teams dealing with crowds likely made an impact.

The drop of 1.8 points per game per team was the second biggest single-season decline since the merger, behind only the 2.0 points per game from 1976 to 1977.

The scoring across the league was more back in line in what it was before the pandemic-impacted 2020 season. The NFL averaged 22.8 points per game per team from 2013-19.

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Passer rating league-wide dropped from 93.6 to 90.8, the 5.43 yards per play were the second-lowest in eight seasons.

But the biggest impact might have been with penalties, which increased 18 percent per game for offenses this season as teams were penalized 36% more often per game for holding and nearly 10 percent more often for false starts.

Terrific in Tampa, too

Tom Brady showed no signs of slowing down at age 44, leading the NFL in yards passing (5,316) and touchdowns (43), breaking Drew Brees’ record with 485 completions. Brees had 471 in 2016.

Brady had his second 5,000-yard passing season, joining Brees as the only players to do that more than once. Brees did it five times.

Tom Brady had plenty of reasons to smile this season.Alex Menendez/Associated Press

Brady also helped two of his teammates hit milestones as receiver Mike Evans became the first player to top the 1,000-yard receiving mark in his first eight seasons and Rob Gronkowski had his 32nd career 100-yard game, breaking the mark for tight ends held by Tony Gonzalez.

Rams’ Kupp runneth over

Rams receiver Cooper Kupp completed the rare feat of winning receiving’s triple crown.

Kupp became the fourth player since the merger to lead the NFL in receptions (145), yards receiving (1,947) and TD catches (16). Kupp joined Jerry Rice (1990), Sterling Sharpe (1992) and Steve Smith Sr. (2005) as the only receivers to do that since 1970.

When it comes to the receiving triple crown, Packers Hall of Famer Don Hutson is the true king, having won it five times in the 1930s and 40s.

Kupp’s 1,947 yards receiving were the second most in season, 17 shy of Calvin Johnson’s record set in 2012 and his 145 catches were four shy of the mark set by Michael Thomas in 2019.

Kupp’s 11 100-yard games were tied with Michael Irvin (1995) and Johnson (2012) for the most in a season.

Grounded runners

Even the addition of a 17th game couldn’t provide a boost to number of 1,000-yard rushers in the NFL. Because of injuries, COVID-19 absences and teams relying more on the pass than ever, only Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, Najee Harris, Dalvin Cook, Antonio Gibson and Ezekiel Elliott topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark this season. That tied the previous low from a 16-game season of seven 1,000-yard rushers in 1991 and 2015 . . . The 272nd and final game of the 2021 regular season ended in appropriate fashion as the Raiders won their record-tying fourth overtime game on a walk-off field goal by Daniel Carlson in a 35-32 win over the Chargers. That was the record 34th game decided by a game-winning score on the final play this season with the Raiders accounting for a record six of them. Carlson had the game-winning kick in five of those games. The 49 games with a game-winning score in the final minute of regulation or in overtime tied the 2013 and 2015 seasons for the most ever . . . The Eagles became the eighth team in the past 20 seasons to get into the playoffs despite failing to win a single game against another playoff team. Philadelphia lost all six games against playoff teams, while going 9-2 the rest of the season. The last team to do it was the 2016 Lions, who then lost their first playoff game. Of the other six teams to do it in the past 20 seasons only the 2008 Chargers and 2004 Vikings broke through with a postseason win.