With Tony Romo's status day to day because of a back ailment, the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday brought back a name from the past to serve as insurance at the quarterback position: Jon Kitna, who will serve as the team's third QB.
Dallas coach Jason Garrett told reporters he remains hopeful Romo will be able to play on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, but added that Romo seemed uncomfortable. Romo did not attend practice or team meetings on Wednesday in order to receive treatment.
"I saw him briefly today, and he's fighting through it," Garrett said. "He's certainly in a situation where he's trying to do everything he can to get himself back with the rehab process and treatment process, like any injured player would. He's a tough guy, as we saw the other day. We'll just see how he does."
To make room for Kitna on the roster, the Cowboys waived kick returner Micheal Spurlock.
The 41-year-old Kitna last played in the NFL in 2011, and he announced his retirement in January 2012 after a 15-year career.
Kyle Orton would start at quarterback for Dallas on Sunday against the Eagles if Romo does not receive medical clearance. Romo reportedly has a herniated disk that will require back surgery.
Garrett said the Cowboys would not risk Romo's long-term health to play Sunday.
Kitna started his career with the now-defunct Barcelona Dragons of NFL Europe in 1997 and had stints with the Seattle Seahawks, whom he led to the playoffs in 1999 with a 9-7 record, the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions.
He retired with a 60.3 completion percentage for 29,745 yards, 169 touchdowns, 165 interceptions and a 77.4 passer rating. As a starter, he compiled a 50-74 record.
Since leaving the NFL, Kitna was teaching and coaching in his native Tacoma, Wash. Garrett said Wednesday that Kitna contacted the Cowboys about a tryout.
Garrett was surprised that Kitna wanted to come out of retirement. He asked, "Are you serious?"
Kitna responded, "Absolutely."
---There's no guarantee that quarterback Josh McCown would return to the Chicago Bears next year if starter Jay Cutler ends up going elsewhere.
Family is the most important factor for the 34-year-old veteran, and that ultimately will be the determining factor in his football future.
McCown and his wife, Natalie, live in North Carolina with their four children and he does not like being away from home during the season, particularly during the Christmas season.
McCown stepped in this season when Cutler was injured and the Bears have a 3-2 record when he starts. He has a 109.0 passer rating, completing 149 of 224 passes for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns and one interception.
Cutler will start for the Bears on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers in a game that will decide the NFC North champion and a playoff berth. McCown, who becomes a free agent after the season, will serve as the backup.
---The Green Bay Packers spent Christmas Day opening presents, while also wondering about what will happen the following day.
No, they're not figuring out which gifts they'll return Thursday. Rather, they should have a clearer picture of the condition and status of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and rookie running back Eddie Lacy for Sunday's biggest game of the season, at Chicago against the Bears.
The winner goes into the playoffs, while the loser will go home and miss the postseason.
A determination on Rodgers, still recovering from a broken collarbone, is expected Thursday whether he'll start Sunday's game, or at the very least, be available to play if needed.
Likewise is the case for Lacy. He has rested his sprained ankle for over a week and is getting closer to being able to play, according to media reports.
One thing is for sure: linebacker Clay Matthews is likely not only out for Sunday's game, but potentially for the playoffs -- if the Packers make it that far. Matthews broke his thumb for the second time this season and will likely be replaced at outside linebacker by a tandem of Mike Neal and Andy Mulumba, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Neal has been held out of practice at least twice for each of the last several weeks just to let his body recover, the product of being in the game for nearly 700 snaps thus far this season. But with his week's holiday schedule -- the Packers had Monday and Wednesday off -- he'll likely practice Thursday and perhaps Friday.
The Packers thought their season was over after the loss to the Steelers, but with the Eagles routing the Bears, Green Bay has a second-chance to make the post-season this Sunday in Chicago.
Matthews came back from the first thumb break to make seven consecutive starts, but the new injury is serious enough that his season is over, even if the Packers make it all the way to the Super Bowl. Matthews' departure only compounds another problem for Green Bay's defense with Nick Perry still hampered by a foot injury.
---The Minnesota Vikings have nothing to play for on Sunday when they face the Detroit Lions, but that does not matter to running back Adrian Peterson. He wants to play in the final game in the Metrodome before it closes.
"There's not much to play for but pride and each other," Peterson told the Pioneer-Press. "That's what we are playing for. ... It's the last game in the Metrodome, so we definitely want to close it out the right way."
Peterson sat out practice on Tuesday. He has battled a groin strain and a sprained foot.
He did not play Dec. 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles and was shut down last Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals were running away with a 42-14 victory over the Vikings. Peterson carried 11 times for 45 yards but had just one carry in the second half.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said a determination on Peterson's status for Sunday will be made after Thursday's practice. The team is off on Christmas Day.
Both the Vikings (4-10-1) and Lions (7-8) are out of playoff contention. And it has not been a good season for Peterson, either. After rushing for 2,097 yards last year when the Vikings made the playoffs with a 10-6 record, he has rushed for 1,266 yards during an injury-plagued 2013 season.
Among Peterson's memorable performances in the Metrodome are his NFL-record 296 rushing yards against the San Diego Chargers in 2007.
"The atmosphere is like no other," he said. "It is always jam packed, and the fans are awesome and just a great supporting group. There are so many memories."
---With Sunday's regular-season finale having no bearing on the Kansas City Chiefs' playoff seed, coach Andy Reid plans to "mix and match" starters and reserves against the San Diego Chargers.
The Chiefs (11-4) have locked down the AFC's No. 5 seed for the postseason.
"I'm going to work some guys in," Reid said, according to The Kansas City Star. "Most of them have already worked in. ... I talked to the team, and I will have it figured out by the end of the week exactly how I'm going to work it."
Quarterback Alex Smith, running back Jamaal Charles and outside linebacker Tamba Hali are expected to see limited action. Hali missed practice on Tuesday because of a swollen knee.
Smith said there is an upside to playing in Week 17. The 29-year-old veteran has started all 15 games in his first season with Kansas City after leaving the San Francisco 49ers.
"By not playing, the benefit there is you're getting healthy and fresh," Smith said. "The downside is you're missing out on some game experience and rhythm and maybe some momentum heading into the playoffs."
Smith's backup is Chase Daniel, who has only played near the end of two games for the Chiefs this year and threw nine passes in four seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Behind Charles at running back is rookie Knile Davis.
---The Cincinnati Bengals locked up the AFC North title and a playoff berth last weekend. But with an outside chance that the Bengals could ascend to the conference's No. 2 seed, coach Marvin Lewis plans to use his regulars in an attempt to win Sunday's home game against the Baltimore Ravens.
"It's a big football game for us," Lewis said, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. "We don't know what it'll mean until it's over and later that evening, but we're going to do everything we can to win the football game with our guys."
If the Bengals win and the New England Patriots lose to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Cincinnati would climb to the No. 2 spot and receive a first-round playoff bye.
Meanwhile, the Ravens need a win and a Miami Dolphins' loss to qualify for the postseason and a chance to defend their Super Bowl championship.
The Bengals are unbeaten at home this year and have scored 41 or more points in their past four games in Paul Brown Stadium.
---New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick blames increased injuries league-wide on limits on offseason practices, including training camp, that comply with new NFL rules as the reason.
"I'm in favor of total preparation for the players for the season," Belichick told reporters this week. "And I think that's been changed significantly and, I would say, not necessarily for the better when you look at the injury numbers."
NFL mandates on practice restrictions were put in place after the NFL labor deal in 2011 that ended an offseason lockout. There are no longer two-a-days during training camp, the number of days in pads is limited and offseason team activity was trimmed from 14 weeks to nine weeks.
Statistics point to injuries being on the rise leaguewide during the past 15 years.
The Patriots (11-4) have incurred numerous injuries this season to key players: tight end Rob Gronkowski, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, linebacker Jerod Mayo, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and safety Adrian Wilson.
And yet New England is 11-4 and trying to lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs on Sunday when it faces the Buffalo Bills.