Packers QB Aaron Rodgers dealing with illness

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers did not want anyone to compare this to the Michael Jordan flu game in the 1997 NBA Finals, but the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback said he has caught the illness that has made its way through some team members this week.

Rodgers sounded hoarse Friday during his final news conference before the NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said receiver Jordy Nelson, who is trying to return from broken ribs, stayed at home because he was sick. Kicker Mason Crosby did not practice on Wednesday because of an illness.

Rodgers said he plans to get plenty of “rest, fluids, all that stuff” between now and Sunday’s game.

“We’ll be OK,” Rodgers said. “It’s kind of going around. I know Jordy had it. Mason had it. I got it. So we’re all … we’re going to be OK and deal with it.”

He was not listed on Friday’s injury report.

Rodgers, a noted NBA fan, scoffed at a reference to Jordan’s 38-point performance in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

When a reporter prefaced a question by saying he did not want to turn this into the Jordan flu game, Rodgers replied: “Then don’t.”

Comments ‘regrettable,’ Antonio Brown ‘selfish’

PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin called his postgame locker room language “regrettable” but will punish Antonio Brown internally for streaming the coach’s message to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Facebook Live on Sunday night.

Tomlin took a hard line with Brown, the electric receiver who streamed footage of Tomlin saying how the Steelers “spotted those a–h—- [the New England Patriots] a day and a half” of AFC Championship Game preparation after the team’s divisional-round win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

“It was foolish of him to do that,” Tomlin said during his weekly news conference Tuesday. “It was selfish of him to do that. It was inconsiderate for him to do that.”

Tomlin said he hasn’t spoken to Brown yet but will do so when he sees him. Brown’s punishment won’t be tangible on the field Sunday against New England. Brown violated team policy and the NFL’s social media policy that prohibits posting messages 90 minutes before kickoff through postgame interviews. Violation of the league policy could elicit a fine.

Tomlin said certain star players bounce from team to team because of off-the-field distractions, alluding to a recurring theme with Brown’s antics.

“I definitely don’t want that to be his story,” Tomlin said. “I’m sure he doesn’t want that to be his story. So he has to address these things that put him and us in positions from time to time, in settings such as this that need to be addressed.”

When asked to clarify the “from time to time” comment, Tomlin said he addressed everything in his opening statement.

Brown was in the back of the locker room talking to the camera while Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger addressed the team and urged players to stay “low-profile.” Roethlisberger told 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday that the situation is “unfortunate” and he’s “a little disappointed” in his top receiver.

“Coach talks and then I talk, and you just don’t want everyone to know what’s going on in there with the family,” Roethlisberger told the show. “And also, I wish AB would have been listening to Coach and myself instead of being on the other side of the locker room filming.”

While addressing the “elephant in the room,” Tomlin pointed to himself as needing to clean up his language in all settings and said this matter would not be a distraction for his team.

“This thing that is the National Football League, this platform that we have, is a precious and awesome thing,” Tomlin said. “Not something we take very lightly. The responsibility associated with being in this thing just from a role-model standpoint is something I personally embrace.”

Dak Prescott credits his rise to the Cowboys’ village

FRISCO, Texas – More than 20 years after “It Takes a Village” was published, the Dallas Cowboys have used the theme to help Dak Prescott.

The Cowboys have employed a village of sorts to help raise Prescott from developmental draft pick to perhaps the best rookie quarterback in NFL history.

Prescott can write the final chapters of the book by becoming the first rookie quarterback to take his team to a Super Bowl with a win Sunday against the Green Bay Packers and another in the NFC Championship Game.

He deserves the most credit for his success this season, but he has been quick to praise those around him: offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson and quarterbacks Tony Romo, Mark Sanchez and Kellen Moore.

“They’re the reason I’m prepared for each and every game,” Prescott said. “All the credit goes to each and every one of them. The little different things they bring to me, the little nuances they get from the defense they add into the game plan, that just helps me out. Having all those quarterbacks around me, great quarterbacks, great men, it’s the reason for my preparation each game.”

The teacher

Before anybody else with the Cowboys truly loved Prescott, Wilson loved him. He was the one who went to Starkville, Mississippi, for a personal workout.

Not long after the Cowboys took Prescott in the draft, Wilson was directly responsible for teaching him the playbook. Most of Linehan’s time was spent with Romo and Moore, even into training camp. Wilson was the one who taught Prescott the ins and outs of the playbook.

“Dak is like a sponge,” Wilson said. “Any piece of knowledge you give him, he tries to absorb and apply on the practice field and see it come to fruition.”

Because Prescott came from a spread offense at Mississippi State, he had to work on the seemingly simple task of taking a snap from center. It’s more than just the physical action of putting your hands on the ball. Prescott had a habit of dropping too deep after the snap.

“It happens more in play-action and run-action,” said Wilson, who was the Chicago Bears’ quarterbacks coach when Kyle Orton won 10 games as a rookie in 2005. “He takes seven full strides from under center, and if he gets past 8 1/2, 9 yards, that’s too deep for our tackles. They’re protecting to a spot that is shorter than that. If he gets a little deep, I’m fine as long as he steps up at the top of the drop. But if it’s 10 yards hanging back there or floating, we’re not protecting to that spot. Tony’s more of a short strider. He’ll hit 8 1/2. Dak’s a long strider. He hits a lot of time over 9, sometimes 10. Again that’s fine as long as you climb up. But that’s something he’s gotten better at.”

The playcaller

As Wilson worked the finer points of the position, Linehan was tasked with tailoring the offense to what Prescott does best. The Cowboys have incorporated more bootleg and waggle actions into their passing game because of Prescott’s athleticism. They have some zone-read runs as well.

Linehan found himself remembering how he coached Matthew Stafford, who was the No. 1 overall pick of the Detroit Lions in 2009. It was the first time in his career Linehan worked exclusively with a rookie. There are things a coordinator can do with a seasoned starter like Romo that he cannot do with an inexperienced rookie.

After two subpar games against the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants and some rumblings about a quarterback change, Linehan devised a game plan that put Prescott in control. The rookie responded by completing 32 of 36 passes in a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“The everyday approach and preparation that you have, you kind of have a starting point and a finishing point, to the start of the season to the end, as far as what you ask them to do,” Linehan said. “I think you grow with it as the season goes on. Not that they can’t handle it, but I feel like you can overload them. These guys are extremely bright guys. They can handle anything, but the experience factor factors in. And once you get those hours under your belt on the field, it tends to come a little easier to expand on some of [the] things you do.”

The vet

Not long after suffering a compression fracture against the Seattle Seahawks, Romo sent Prescott a text message.

“I believe in you,” he wrote. “You’re the type of guy I pull for.”

Romo believed he would get the job back when healthy, but his heartfelt speech in November, when his back was fully healed, took any sting away from a possible controversy that could tear at the fabric of the team.

Romo’s help to Prescott has been mostly through relating his experiences.

“He’s been great, helping me out every day on the field, off the field,” Prescott said. “Come Sundays, giving me looks and telling me things that he’s done in the past to beat this coverage or things to look for, [like], ‘We scored on those two drives in a row, expect a blitz now, expect them to throw their game plan away.’ All kinds of things Romo has helped me with. He’s been great.”

The buddy

After his first practice with the Cowboys, Sanchez took a call from his dad.

“He was asking, ‘How’s it going? How’s Dak?’” Sanchez said. “And I was like, “Papa, this kid can play, man. He can spin it. I mean, everyone at this level can spin it, but he’s got something. I’m telling you, he can call the plays. He just has no problem. No fear. There’s nothing going on. He’s just balling.’ It was pretty impressive.”

Sanchez is the last rookie quarterback to take a team to a conference championship. He was the New York Jets’ quarterback in 2009 and lost to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC title game. Sanchez’s time in New York did not end well, but he has an appreciation for what he accomplished. He wants Prescott to appreciate what he has done, too.

“He grabs me and tells me to make sure I take 15, 30 minutes to soak it all in and enjoy it,” Prescott said. “Mark has been great. I guess he’s been my mental coach if anyone has been, about what we need to do this drive, what we need to do to get going.”

The savant

When the Cowboys got to Oxnard, California, for training camp, the plan was for Moore to be Romo’s backup. A week into practice, Moore suffered a broken ankle that would knock him out for the season.

From his time with Linehan in Detroit, Moore, who attends games away and at home, knows the coordinator better than anyone. He can quickly decipher what Linehan wants and pass the message to Prescott.

“He’s an offensive coordinator in his own mind,” Prescott said. “He’s simply a genius when it comes to helping Coach Linehan out and early in the week giving looks, helping me out with things the defense does, maybe little keys here and there to tip me off on coverages or blitz.”

Moore was a rookie more recently than anybody else in the quarterback room. He’s also the last quarterback not named Romo to start for the Cowboys before Prescott. After a record-setting career at Boise State, it took four years for him to see his first NFL action. Prescott’s success makes him shake his head.

“Just the preparation, probably the comfort level more importantly, especially just because everything changes,” Moore said. “Week in, week out, everything evolves. The game plan changes, a signal maybe, maybe a protection. We change a lot of things. To be able to handle that change as a rookie is obviously amazing.”

Eli Manning says Odell Beckham Jr. has ‘got to back it up’

Eli Manning said New York Giants teammate Odell Beckham Jr. has “got to back it up” if he continues drawing attention to himself with his behavior on and off the field.

Beckham and fellow receivers Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard made headlines last week after vacationing in Miami on their day off to celebrate their regular-season-ending victory over the Washington Redskins.

Beckham then struggled in Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round, finishing with four catches for 28 yards and dropping multiple key passes from Manning, including a potential touchdown in the first quarter.

Eli Manning said New York Giants teammate Odell Beckham Jr. has “got to back it up” if he continues drawing attention to himself with his behavior on and off the field.

Beckham and fellow receivers Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard made headlines last week after vacationing in Miami on their day off to celebrate their regular-season-ending victory over the Washington Redskins.

Beckham then struggled in Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round, finishing with four catches for 28 yards and dropping multiple key passes from Manning, including a potential touchdown in the first quarter.

Beckham, Cruz, Shepard and receiver Roger Lewis took a private jet to Miami on Jan. 1 after New York’s 19-10 victory in Washington. They were captured on social media partying with a group of celebrities, including Justin Bieber, at a nightclub and were photographed on a yacht the following day.

Beckham, 24, has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. He mentioned several weeks back that it was important for him to keep his composure on the field and sideline because some of his younger teammates are watching.

“We all have had to grow up in different times in our lives,” Reese said. “I think it’s time for him to do that. He’s been here for three years now. He’s a little bit of a lightning rod because of what he does on the football field, but the things he does off the football field, he has to be responsible for those things. We’ll talk through it and I believe — I know — he’s a smart guy. I believe he understands he has a responsibility being one of the faces of this franchise. I think he’ll accept that responsibility.”

Randy Gregory suspended at least 1 year for violating NFL substance abuse policy

FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys will be without defensive end Randy Gregory for a potential Super Bowl run this year — and at least the next calendar year — for another violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

The league announced the suspension on Thursday — a few hours after Gregory took part in the Cowboys’ first practice of the postseason.

It is possible Gregory could appeal the suspension to federal court, like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady did in response to Deflategate, which could allow him to continue to play, but it is not known whether he will take that course of action.

Gregory can apply for reinstatement 60 days before the suspension ends; he would be eligible for the playoffs next year if the Cowboys qualify — and if he meets all of the standards set forth in the suspension.

On Tuesday, Gregory was in New York for his appeal hearing for what is believed to be a missed test, which occurred during the regular season while he was with the team but unable to practice. He was suspended the first four games of the season for a violation during the 2015 season and subsequently suspended another 10 games for missing a test in the offseason.

For his previous suspensions, Gregory was allowed to take part in meetings and work out, but he wasn’t allowed to practice; however, that will not be the case now, and will carry over to the offseason program, minicamp, training camp and preseason games.

The Cowboys knew of the possibility of another suspension, but they decided to activate him to the 53-man roster anyway. In the process, they lost defensive end Zach Moore on waivers to the San Francisco 49ers. In the final two games, the coaches credited Gregory with 7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 2 quarterback pressures. He also recorded the first sack of his career in the Week 17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

While Gregory’s absence hurts the Cowboys, they saw defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford (shoulder), DeMarcus Lawrence (back) and Cedric Thornton (ankle) return to practice Thursday. Terrell McClain (ankle) went through resistance training off to the side. All are expected to be able to play in the divisional round of the playoffs on Jan. 15.

With Gregory suspended, the Cowboys have an open spot on their 53-man roster.

The Cowboys selected Gregory in the second round (No. 60 overall) of last year’s draft, believing they got a steal; however, because of suspensions and injuries, he will have played in only 14 of a possible 48 regular-season games.

Chargers players express dismay over Mike McCoy’s dismissal

SAN DIEGO — Players expressed some surprise but ultimately seemed resigned upon learning that the Chargers had fired coach Mike McCoy after the team’s season-ending loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

“It sucks,” said guard Orlando Franklin, who played for McCoy when he served as offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos. “I have a lot of respect for Coach McCoy. He’s a big reason why I came here to San Diego, being that we had that relationship when we were in Denver.

“It’s unfortunate anytime someone gets fired in this league. But Coach McCoy is a great coach, and I’m pretty confident he’ll have a job here in the next few days or couple weeks. So good luck to him and his family wherever he lands.”

Quarterback Philip Rivers spoke with McCoy since the announcement of his firing, wishing him well, and Rivers said if he had made a few more plays, perhaps McCoy would still be with the Chargers.

“Shoot, I thought Mike gave us a chance each and every week over the last four years,” Rivers said. “He was consistent, and guys played hard for him. And we just didn’t win enough games, especially in the last couple years.

“That’s the reality of this league we’re in. Shoot, Mike’s still a young coach that’s got a lot of years left in this league and will continue to be a heck of a coach.”

As far as who will fill the head-coaching vacancy, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the Chargers have asked the New England Patriots for permission to interview defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. That interview likely would have to take place during the Patriots’ playoff bye.

As Rivers has in the past, the QB said he will talk to the front office about potential hires but is not directly involved with the coaching search.

“My job is to play quarterback and to play it better than I played it this year,” Rivers said. “So that’s really as far as it goes. Are there conversations that you have? Certainly, I think over 13 years you earn at least that dialogue. But as far as being part of a search or heavily involved, I don’t see that as my role.”

Safety Jahleel Addae and defensive tackle Damion Square said they hope a new head coach keeps what the team has done well, including the retention of some of the assistants on staff so the Chargers retain some continuity during the offseason.

“Just a guy that establishes a great culture,” Square said. “Culture is everything. When a good culture is in place, it takes care of a lot of things, from an injury standpoint to guys stepping in and playing at a high level.

“I think New England is one of those places like that; the organization is a winning culture. It’s been established a long time ago. I think with any college or pro organization, you want someone who’s going to be a leader and someone who wins more than they lose. You’ve got to start with culture. It’s everything.”

As it stands, whether the team relocates to Los Angeles or stays in San Diego, the offseason program is expected to remain at Chargers Park through June.