Atlanta Falcons starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder, who tore a ligament in his right ankle during his team's Super Bowl LI loss to New England, received medical clearance Tuesday to resume running again, a league source told

Schraeder is expected to begin running next week. He's been lifting weights at the team facility five days a week since the end of February, working out alongside fellow offensive lineman Wes Schweitzer.

The Falcons are scheduled to begin the offseason program April 17, and Schraeder is expected to participate. The injury, which did not require surgery, occurred in the second quarter of the Super Bowl, although Schraeder did not exit until his ankle finally gave out in the fourth quarter.

Schraeder is one of several offensive starters coming back from injuries. Wide receiver Julio Jones, who had surgery to remove a bunion on his left foot, won't be available for offseason workouts but expects to be healthy in time for training camp. Center Alex Mack played through the Super Bowl despite a hairline fracture in his left fibula. Mack was not scheduled to undergo surgery. Also, backup running back Tevin Coleman injured his ankle in the Super Bowl.

On the defensive side, Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant (pectoral surgery), defensive end Adrian Clayborn (biceps), defensive lineman Derrick Shelby (Achilles), and safety Kemal Ishmael (shoulder) are all coming off season-ending injuries.

Cornerback Akeem King (foot) and wide receiver/returner Devin Fuller (shoulder) spent last season on injured reserve.

A handful of Falcons have maintained a normal workout schedule at the team facility this offseason, including MVP Matt Ryan and backup Matt Schaub, who have been spotted running together ever since Schaub re-signed on March 8.

Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman said he spends four days a week working out at the team facility.

The Falcons have scheduled another team offseason camp session for next month. Ryan paid for all of his teammates to come together in South Florida last April for the inaugural camp.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman is no stranger to lengthy and strenuous rehabilitations from serious injuries.

Having suffered a gruesome knee injury in the 2014 NFC championship against the Seattle Seahawks, Bowman missed the next season as he attempted to recover. He went on to return for the 2015 season and played well, though he wasn't quite all the way back to the high standard he set for himself.

Then, disaster struck again on Oct. 2 of last season when Bowman tore his left Achilles in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He's now more than four months removed from the injury and is well ahead of where he was at this point in his recovery from the knee issue.

Bowman said last week there's no comparison between the rehab required for tearing multiple ligaments in his knee and tearing an Achilles.

"It doesn't (compare)," Bowman said. "It's much more easy to deal with. I'm not spending those long hours warming up trying to get my workout in so it's definitely easier to deal with than my knee. I can definitely see a positive light at the end of the tunnel."

At the end of the season, Bowman said he had progressed to the point where he was able to run on a water treadmill but he didn't have a definitive date on when he'd be able to run again on land.

"I'm working every single day, doing everything the trainers are asking me to do," Bowman said. "There's no timetable set when I will be cleared to do every single thing but the sky is looking bright for me. I feel great and the key is just keep improving every single day and giving me confidence knowing that I will be back."

Despite having now gone through multiple serious injuries in the past few years, Bowman is clearly intent on getting healthy and getting back to being one of the league's best linebackers. Bowman is still only 28, signed a lucrative contract extension last preseason and sounds like a man who has something to prove as he works his way back from his latest injury.

"I'm a grinder," Bowman said. "Anything that knocks me down, I'm going to get back up. It's just who is going to stick beside me and remember what I've done and keep praying for me that I get back to where I was."

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Speaking to Bay Area media after last week's introductory news conference, San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid didn't hesitate to express his approval of his new bosses.

In general manager John Lynch, Reid has another experienced sounding board in place when one is needed.

"I think that’s awesome to have a former player in the GM role, somebody that not only understands the game of football but has played the game of football," Reid said. "So I think he has a different outlook on things when he makes those decisions, so I think that’s pretty cool."

Allan Hamilton/ Icon SportswireBy the time the 49ers open their offseason program, Eric Reid -- recovering from a torn biceps -- expects to be ready to go.

Reid is equally excited by the addition of head coach Kyle Shanahan. While Reid did not play against the Atlanta Falcons when the Niners played there in December, he believes the chance to practice against a Shanahan offense will help him improve.

"They move the ball," Reid said. "I watched the Super Bowl; they did some great things and all year they did some great things, so it will be fun to go against a guy that like they said had one of the most prolific offenses in the history of football. So I think I need to take advantage of that opportunity as a defensive player to get better."

While Reid is still awaiting word on who his new defensive coordinator will be, he's continuing to work on getting back to full strength after a torn biceps cost him the final six games of the season. He suffered the injury in late November but is already mostly healed.

Reid said last week that his only restriction right now is he can't do any weight-lifting exercises that require him to lift with his palms facing down.

"I feel good," Reid said. "I went to the doctor [Wednesday]. He told me if we had a game this week, I would be practicing. So I’m pretty much good to go. Time is on my side. Obviously there’s no rush for anything but it made me feel good that he said I would be practicing if we had a game this week."

In other words, by the time the 49ers open their offseason program, Reid will be cleared and ready to go.

"By the time OTAs come, it will be a thing of the past," Reid said.

HOUSTON -- Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones and center Alex Mack were limited during Wednesday's practice in preparation for Sunday's Super Bowl LI matchup with the New England Patriots.

Jones, who has battled a toe sprain since late in the regular season, expressed optimism Wednesday morning about having full participation, but Falcons coach Dan Quinn continued to take a cautious approach with his most dangerous offensive threat.

Jones said last week he expects to be fully ready to go in the Super Bowl. He has fought through injuries the entire season, although the toe sprain did cause him to miss two regular-season games.

Mack, who didn't practice last week after injuring his left fibula in the NFC Championship Game, returned to practice Monday in a limited role.

Quinn said Monday both Jones and Mack would see their practice time increase as the week progresses. The Falcons have closed practices at Rice University over the next two days.

No other Falcons showed up on the team's initial Super Bowl injury report. Veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney, who usually gets a day of rest on Wednesdays, did not appear on the report.

(Read full post)

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans' secondary finished second in the NFL in passing yards allowed, and that was without 2015 first-round pick Kevin Johnson at cornerback.

Johnson broke his foot in the Texans' Week 6 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. That was his best game of the season, as he registered 10 tackles, including one for a loss, and a pass defensed.

Johnson said he had a Jones re-fracture in his foot, an injury he called "bad luck."

Having watched the Texans defense thrive without him for most of the season, ranking No. 1 in yards allowed per game in the NFL, Johnson is looking forward to seeing what the defense can do next season.

"It's definitely exciting," Johnson said. "I know I'm really determined and I'm really hungry just thinking about next season. Sitting out this past year was a big deal for me mentally as far as knowing how bad I want to be a great player and how bad I want to help this team, so I'm definitely looking forward to it."

With Johnson injured, cornerback A.J. Bouye stepped up, playing his way into a starting role and ranking as one of the NFL's top corners. Bouye also played his way into a big contract this offseason. He will be an unrestricted free agent and might prove to be too pricey for the Texans to bring back.

If Johnson can come back healthy and play at a high level, that would definitely ease the potential loss of Bouye.

"I think we got some great young players on the team and some great veterans," Bouye said. "I think it's a great mix of just youth and experience and I think we have a lot of growth to keep growing as a defense and it's exciting."

Johnson said he expects to be back for OTAs in the spring and is training for those now.

"[I'm] working hard, just training all offseason," Johnson said. "Getting ready for OTAs and all those type of things. Rehab, getting stronger physically. Just basically trying to do anything I can to get better."

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In a post on his blog, Jamaal Charles revealed some of the details about the knee injury that ended his season back in October after only three games.

The Kansas City Chiefs running back wrote that the injury, a torn meniscus, happened not during a game or even practice but during a post-practice session shortly after his most productive game of the season, on Oct. 16 against the Oakland Raiders.

“There’s been speculation that I tried to come back too quick, or that I wasn’t ready, but I honestly don’t think me coming back to play is what caused this to happen." Charles wrote. “I think, if anything, I was doing too much extra work on top of what I was doing with the team and the trainers."

“I thought that since I had a good game against Oakland, maybe I could do extra stuff before and after practice to get even better, and that kind of backfired on me," Charles wrote. “The week after the Raiders game, we got into practice, and everything was going normally. Afterward, I stayed out doing some more extra work. Nobody was really out there besides the running backs, everybody had gone back in, just the running back coaches and the running backs were still outside. There were 5-10 of us at most.

“We were running through some drills, and when I went to make a cut, my leg just locked up. It wasn’t painful -- there was just something weird about it. It locked up, and I couldn’t walk. I had to be carted off the field. They did an MRI, but you couldn’t tell what was going on or what was wrong with me. After you have a knee surgery like I had, it’s hard to tell from an MRI what’s going on. I just knew for myself that even after they worked on my leg, something wasn’t right. I wasn’t the same."

Despite the problem, Charles suited up for the Saints game but played little and got the ball just once.

Charles eventually went to see noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews in Florida. Arthroscopic surgery revealed the meniscus tear. Charles had the meniscus repaired via a scope and the other knee cleaned up through a scope as well.

“When they told me it wasn’t my ACL, I was thankful," Charles said. “You have to be. Once you go through an ACL tear -- or two, in my case -- and you find out it’s just the meniscus, there’s some relief there. When you go through the process with the ACL, that really gives you some things to think about. A meniscus is minor in comparison. People have played through it, and guys tolerate that. My body wasn’t adapting to it, but that’s OK. I was thankful my ACL was still intact because it meant there was still a chance for me."

The Chiefs placed Charles on the injured reserve list after the surgeries, on Nov. 1. He was eligible to return to the Chiefs late in the season and Charles wrote that he discussed the possibility of making it back with Andrews. But the Chiefs didn’t activate him and Charles didn’t write why or whether he could have returned to play.

Charles, who turned 30 on Dec. 27, was similarly vague about whether he will again play for the Chiefs. He has one more season remaining on his contract.

“I honestly don’t know what the future holds for me," he wrote. “I know it’s God’s will and God’s purpose to determine what’s next for me. I’m just thankful. I’m thankful for my friends and my family and the people that surround me and support me through these humbling experiences. This is another crisis, another time falling down, but I know I’ll always get back up.

“What I do know is that I still want to play football. I was only 29 years old this season. My goal right now is to just focus on the now and my rehab and let the rest sort itself out later."

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he expects every player to practice Tuesday as the team digs into preparation for Saturday's divisional playoff matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.

"We're in a good shape in that way," Quinn said of the overall health of the team. "We anticipate, for tomorrow, everyone to be able to participate. So that's a good thing from our standpoint. There's a chance that some may be (limited), but we look strong heading into tomorrow."

The Falcons had a closed walkthrough Monday.

As the No. 2 seed in the NFC, the Falcons earned a first-round bye, allowing injured players to rest up. Some of the bigger concerns, outside of top wide receiver Julio Jones' continued recovery from a toe sprain, was how cornerback Robert Alford and left guard Andy Levitre would respond coming off knee and hip injuries. Quinn previously said top-pass rusher Vic Beasley Jr. would have no limitations after suffering a shoulder injury.

Alford's status seems to biggest question mark of them all after he was held out of practice last week. The Falcons previously lost top cornerback Desmond Trufant to season-ending pectoral surgery, so they can ill-afford to be without Alford as well. He was injured in the regular season finale against the New Orleans Saints.

Quinn didn't sound overly concerned.

"We thought (Alford) looked good today," Quinn said. "It was limited today in terms of the speed that we worked with, but to see him move and kind of have his intent right, we were encouraged for sure."

Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who tied Jones with a team-leading six touchdown receptions, just returned from a toe/ankle injury last week. Rookie tight end Austin Hooper also returned to practice last week off an MCL sprain.

Pernell McPheeDaniel Bartel/Icon SportswirePernell McPhee has 10 sacks in 23 games since signing with the Bears as a free agent in 2015.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- General manager Ryan Pace's first order of business in free agency two years ago was signing Pernell McPhee to a five-year contract at an average annual cost of $7.750 million ($15.5 million of the deal was guaranteed).

McPhee, the highest-paid member of Chicago’s defense, spent the first six weeks on the physically unable to perform list after knee surgery robbed him of the opportunity to participate in the offseason program or training camp. He also missed Week 17 due to a shoulder injury.

In nine appearances in 2016, McPhee was primarily a rotational player, finishing with 16 tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble.

McPhee being able to return at all is impressive, but any enthusiasm is tempered by the $7.675 million in cap space he ate up. That number will climb to $7.825 million in 2017.

McPhee, who’s collected close to $16 million from the Bears, played well for a chunk of 2015 before issues with his knee wore him down. McPhee is talented, but like so many other Bears, the problem comes down to availability.

McPhee’s played in only 23 games in Chicago, collecting a total of 10 sacks. He had a career-high 7.5 sacks for the Baltimore Ravens in 2014.

Still, Pace is undeterred.

“There might not be a player I’m more proud of than Pernell and the way he’s responded from this injury and the changes he’s made, not just in the building but out of the building with his diet and his weight and his work ethic,” Pace said. “He’s one of the top leaders on this team and people follow his attitude and his physicality. I think he got healthier and healthier as the season went on. I can think of practices when we were in the indoor [facility] and I’d see him coming around the corner, with the speed, and that’s the Pernell I’m used to seeing. Unfortunately with the shoulder injury, pursuing the ball, he’s going to overcome that.

“Pernell is a professional, Pernell is a leader and I think he’s going to get healthier and healthier. To answer your question, he is worth the investment and I hope to see that more next season.”

McPhee has a $200,000 roster bonus due on June 1.

SEATTLE -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played with a glove on his throwing hand during the last five games of his 2016 season, and now that it’s over, he said he doesn’t believe he’ll need surgery to fix his right middle finger.

“I think it’s going to heal with rest,” Stafford said. “I think, that’s my plan right now.”

Stafford injured the finger when he clapped hands with Chicago’s Leonard Floyd in Week 14 on Dec. 11. The quarterback played the remainder of that game with a full glove on his hand, and then the next week against the New York Giants, he wore a black glove with the middle finger covered and the rest of his fingers exposed.

In the final three games of Detroit’s season, he switched to a white glove with his middle finger covered and the rest exposed.

Matthew StaffordSteven Bisig-USA TODAY SportsMatthew Stafford didn't throw any interceptions in Seattle, but the Lions never made into the end zone, either.

Statistically, Stafford struggled when wearing the glove. He threw five interceptions in the final five games of his season after throwing five in the first 12 games combined. In the Lions' 26-6 playoff loss to Seattle on Saturday, Stafford completed 18 of 32 passes for 205 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.

In two of the games he played with the glove, the Lions did not score a touchdown on offense.

The quarterback said several times he did not think the injured finger was affecting his play, but during his final five games, he didn’t have any games in which he completed better than 63.4 percent of his passes. Before the injury, he completed passes at a higher rate in all but three games.

“I don’t think it affected me too much,” Stafford said. “Obviously I’m not 100 percent, but I battled. I feel like I threw the ball accurately enough. There’s definitely some throws I wish I had back, but a healthy finger does that sometimes, too.

“It’s just more of an annoyance than anything that it happened and I had to deal with it.”

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins dropped off the final injury report heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Green Bay Packers and will play in his first career playoff game.

The Pro Bowl cornerback was dealing with a back injury that forced him to miss a Week 16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He was pulled at halftime in the regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins. The move was believed to be precautionary and Jenkins said he felt “great” this week.

The only two players on the final injury report this week are defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) and Owa Odighizuwa (hamstring). Pierre-Paul was officially ruled out. Odighizuwa is listed as doubtful.

Janoris JenkinsFrank Jansky/Icon SportswireGiants cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who was held out of the second half of Sunday's game against the Redskins, will be ready to go at Green Bay.

Safety Nat Berhe (concussion) was not given a designation. He sat out the final five games of the regular season after suffering his second concussion of the year.

Coach Ben McAdoo said Berhe is still in the concussion protocol, but it appears he could be ready to return Sunday.

“He’s still finishing up,” McAdoo said. “He is still being evaluated. He still has to be cleared.

“We will evaluate it. We have to take a look. There are a lot of guys that we have to take a look at [Saturday].”

Jenkins, tight end Jerell Adams (shoulder) and cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (ankle) appear ready to go. Offensive lineman Bobby Hart (forearm) appears to be ready as well.

Hart, however, may not start. Marshall Newhouse could reclaim the starting right tackle spot after a strong performance against the Redskins.

“Yeah, we are going to take a look at practice [Saturday] and see how it goes,” McAdoo said.

Free safety is another position to monitor. Leon Hall and Andrew Adams are both in the mix. Hall has seen his playing time increase in recent weeks.

“It is still up in the air,” McAdoo said. “We will go out and take a look [Saturday]. Everyone is going to play, but we will go out and take a look [Saturday] and see how we perform.”

No matter who starts at safety opposite All-Pro Landon Collins, the Giants' secondary is in much better shape than earlier in the season when they faced the Packers. Cornerback Eli Apple left that game early with a leg injury and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wasn’t 100 percent as he struggled with a groin problem.

This time both are healthy, and Jenkins appears ready for his first career playoff game.

DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill made the next step in his recovery on Friday. He took reps and threw on the scout-team offense in practice for the first time since suffering a sprained ACL and MCL in his left knee in Week 11 of the regular season.

Tannehill will not play in Sunday's wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers but hasn't ruled out returning if Miami advances in the divisional round to play the top-seeded New England Patriots.

“It’s exciting to be back out there. I put in a lot of work to try to get myself ready to go,” Tannehill said Friday. “Taking the first step and getting back out there is huge.

“We’re still working through [a timeline]. At this point, I’m just taking it day-by-day still and we’ll see what happens next week.”

Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said the team feels better about Tannehill practicing next week if it advances beyond Sunday's game against Pittsburgh. According to Gase, Tannehill would have to practice more for the team to feel comfortable enough to start him.

One of the major factors being weighed by the Dolphins is the potential for re-injuring Tannehill's knee. He doesn’t know at this point if any surgery would be required in the offseason.

"We’re being smart with it,” Tannehill said. “If there’s a huge risk of doing further damage, then clearly he’s not going to let me go back out there. That’s what we’re working through now.”

In other injury news, Dolphins starting cornerback Byron Maxwell will be listed as doubtful with an ankle injury and is expected to miss his third straight game. The team also released backup defensive end Jason Jones on Friday.

Yes, the Buffalo Bills issued a statement Thursday that seemed intentionally worded to distance themselves from Tyrod Taylor's decision to undergo groin surgery.

But don't expect a showdown over language in Taylor's contract that would guarantee him $27.5 million if the Bills release him in March while he is still injured.

If the Bills don’t want to keep Taylor, it remains in the quarterback’s best interest to get healthy as soon as possible so he can find employment elsewhere, even with the potential for a substantial payday hovering in the event he is released while injured.

Tyrod TaylorPhoto by Rich Graessle/Icon SportswireThe Bills' statement on Tyrod Taylor's surgery might have had combative undertones, but it's unlikely a dispute arises between team and quarterback.

The day after Taylor was evaluated in Philadelphia by Dr. William Meyers for potential surgery on a lingering groin injury, the Bills issued a statement Thursday morning noting that Taylor "elected" to have the procedure and that the Bills were "informed" of his decision late Wednesday.

The easy conclusion to draw is that the Bills were bracing for a legal battle if they decide in March to release Taylor and the quarterback argues that he should be due $27.5 million in injury-guaranteed 2017 salary. Taylor's contract guarantees him that amount even if he is released "due to a professional football injury suffered while performing his services under this Contract [and] Player is unable, in the sole judgment of Club's physicians, to perform his playing services for Club."

However, Taylor's core muscle surgery was performed with the Bills being aware of, and involved in the process to have it done, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. This was not a surprise to the Bills, whose doctors told Taylor that surgery was possible and they even recommended that he visit Dr. Meyers, sources told Schefter.

In the event Taylor filed a grievance or lawsuit against the Bills seeking his injury-guaranteed salary, the team's statement Thursday would be the basis for an argument that the team did not make the decision for Taylor to have surgery. Considering Taylor played through his groin injury this season, the team could argue he was able to "perform his services" prior to the surgery and should not trigger the guaranteed salary.

However, such a legal battle seems unlikely.

First, it remains in Taylor's best interest to get healthy as soon as possible. If he was truly interested in earning his $27.5 million injury-guaranteed salary from the Bills, he could have theoretically delayed the surgery and forced the Bills to release him while still unable to pass a physical in March. Instead, Taylor is having the surgery now. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported last week that Taylor is expected to be recovered in time for free agency, which make sense: Taylor would need to pass a physical with any team that would sign him after the Bills potentially release him.

Second, Taylor's contract contains offset language that would reduce the amount of the Bills' injury guarantee by the total amount of his salary and bonuses due from a new team during the 2017 season, according to an industry source who has viewed Taylor's deal. If a new team signed Taylor to a contract that paid him $10 million in bonuses and salary, the Bills would owe him only $17.5 million. Taylor would not be able to double-dip.

While the wording of the Bills' statement Thursday attracted some attention, it does not necessarily mean a legal battle is looming. If the Bills decide Taylor is not in their plans for 2017, the cleanest path for the quarterback would be to simply sign with a new team and avoid trying to leverage his groin injury into a bigger payday.

FRISCO, Texas -- The biggest reasons for the Dallas Cowboys' optimism about their pass rush at the start of the season were Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence.

Crawford, who had five sacks last season, finished with 4.5 sacks this season but did not play the final two games because of a shoulder injury. Lawrence, who led the Cowboys with eight sacks in 2015, missed the first four games because of a suspension and the final three games because of a back injury and had just one sack this season.

DeMarcus LawrenceSteve Nurenberg/Icon SportswireDeMarcus Lawrence, out the last three games with a back injury, had two sacks in the 2014 playoffs.

While neither player is sure they will practice Thursday or Friday, both said they will be ready for the Jan. 15 divisional-round game.

“We’re ready,” Lawrence said. “It’s the playoffs, baby. It’s time to go get it.”

Whenever the Cowboys’ season ends, both players could be looking at surgery for the second straight offseason. Crawford had surgery on his right shoulder last year and Lawrence had back surgery.

But the recent time off has been beneficial.

“It helped the aggravation in my back calm down a lot,” Lawrence said. “Now I feel a whole lot better than when I was at that Giants game (Dec. 11) that we played. I’m just ready to get back out there and roll with my brothers.”

Crawford will wear a sling for added protection.

“Obviously with what I’ve got, it’s not going to be feeling great, but good enough to go,” Crawford said.

In the absence of Crawford and Lawrence, David Irving and Benson Mayowa became bigger parts of the Cowboys' pass-rushing rotation. With Crawford and Lawrence, the Cowboys might finally have the group coordinator Rod Marinelli wanted all along.

“Practice is good for everybody, just working the fundamentals and keys and ins and outs of the defense, really,” said Lawrence, who had two sacks in the Cowboys’ two playoff games in 2014. “And being able to play off your brothers and knowing what they’re doing. I’ll be out there. My body is feeling a whole better and I’m going to do everything I possibly can.”

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons rookie tight end Austin Hooper is eager to contribute in the postseason after being sidelined by a Grade 1 medial collateral ligament sprain in his left knee.

Hooper, who suffered the injury in a Dec. 18 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, returned to practice Wednesday. He missed the last two games of the regular season.

“It was good to be back on the field with my teammates,” Hooper said. “It was good to get back in the offense and get a good feel for the game after being out for a little bit. Overall, it was a good day.”

Austin HooperScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesFalcons tight end Austin Hooper has caught 19 passes and scored three touchdowns in his rookie season.

Hooper was relieved the injury wasn't much more serious.

“We were just doing an outside zone-type play and somebody just fell on me at the right ankle,” Hooper said. “I knew instantly, when it happened, what happened. I had the same injury in high school in the opposite knee. It was almost the same exact experience when it happened. It was the same spot and the same grade.”

Hooper knew no surgery would be required.

“I look at it as the best of a bad situation,” he said. “I lucked out for sure.”

Hooper could play a key role for the Falcons in the postseason, particularly as a red-zone target. He scored two of his three touchdowns on red-zone passes this season. His ability to secure the ball in traffic is an asset.

Hooper got a chance Wednesday to test his knee by going up and getting the ball again.

“I caught everything thrown my way,” Hooper said. “I wasn't running the full route tree, by any means. It was just a couple plays here or there. I'm sure the more comfortable I get and the faster I heal, the more stuff I'll be able to do. Day 1 week, take it a little slower.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said several players would be limited in practice as the Falcons await their divisional-round game on Jan. 14. Cornerback Robert Alford (knee) and left guard Andy Levitre (hip) didn't practice Wednesday, but Quinn didn't express great concern. Star wide receiver Julio Jones continues to recover from a toe sprain.

The key is getting everybody healthy next week in preparation for next Saturday's divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome.

“Man, I don't know what to expect, this whole thing about being a rookie in the playoffs,” Hooper said. "I'll just try to be on point and master the details. I'll just listen to the vets and make the plays when I'm called upon.”

DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase described Ryan Tannehill's injury situation this week as "one big gray area." But realistically, their final decision to sit Miami's franchise quarterback for Sunday's playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was an easy decision.

The Dolphins made the wise move to keep Tannehill on the sideline for at least another week. Too many short-term and long-term risks significantly outweighed the possible reward.

Tannehill is dealing with sprained ACL and MCL ligaments in his left knee after a getting hit low in a Dec. 11 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. He has yet to take a practice rep since that time.

Ryan TannehillSteve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsThere are several reasons that keeping Ryan Tannehill on the bench Sunday is a better idea than trying to rush him back from a knee injury.

Playing Tannehill on Sunday had the potential to be a long-term disaster for the Dolphins (10-6). There was an increased chance for reinjury or even a full tear of the ACL, which would require offseason surgery and a rehab of nine to 12 months. That could cost Tannehill the 2017 season.

Heinz Field also is one of the NFL's sloppiest playing surfaces this time of year. It's not where you want to play a quarterback when the stability of the knee is in question.

Also keep in mind the financial ramifications, which often don't mean much to fans but are vital to an organization's success. Tannehill signed a $96 million extension in 2015. His base salary this year was $9.34 million, which is a relative bargain for a starting quarterback leading a team to the playoffs. But next season, Tannehill's base salary nearly doubles to $18 million. The Dolphins opted to protect one of their biggest investments.

In the short term, the Dolphins are better off rolling the dice with a healthy Matt Moore. He is 2-1 as a starter and has a higher passing rating (105.6) than Tannehill (93.5) in a smaller sample size. The Dolphins are 10-point underdogs against Pittsburgh and that would not have changed much with Tannehill, who would be playing at roughly 70 to 80 percent.

It is easy to feel bad for Tannehill. He worked diligently for five years to get Miami to this point, only to watch from the sideline as his backup starts in the playoffs. Moore said Tannehill is "going crazy" this week and itching to come back. Tannehill is arguably the toughest player on the team and deserves praise for his valor. But sometimes it's up to the team to protect a player from himself.

The Dolphins protected Tannehill and their future at the quarterback position Thursday by sitting him for this playoff game.