Vikings CB Winfield will return vs. Bengals

Vikings Pro Bowl CB Antoine Winfield, who has missed the last six games because of a foot injury, will play Sunday against the Bengals, a source with knowledge of the situation said. It isn’t clear if Winfield, who’s listed as questionable, will start.

Winfield, considered to be one of the top run-support and play-making cornerbacks in the NFL, has been close to being ready to return for more than a week, the source said. However, the Vikings and Winfield wanted to be careful, so he was held out of last Sunday’s 30-17 loss to the Cardinals so he would be fully healed for the late-season push and playoff run.

Winfield has 30 tackles and one interception in six games this season.

Update: Winfield is active.

Falcons’ Babineaux likely won’t miss playing time

Falcons DT Jonathan Babineaux was arrested and jailed Thursday night in suburban Atlanta for possession of marijuana.

Police arrested Babineaux and a male passenger after smelling marijuana during a traffic stop. During a search of the car, police found roughly 40 grams of marijuana.

The Falcons also are investigating the matter and will speak to Babineaux on Friday, but team owner Arthur Blank is said to be very unhappy about the development. Blank is extremely image conscious and has been proactive in rebuilding his franchise’s reputation following the negative backlash surrounding former QB Michael Vick‘s imprisonment on federal dogfighting charges in 2007.

There has been no decision as to whether Babineaux, who has been the Falcons’ best defensive lineman (33 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles), will play against the Saints on Sunday. Babineaux is expected to practice Friday, so indications are that the Falcons will allow the legal process to play out before taking further action. That means Babineaux likely will finish out the final four games.

Besides dealing with legal authorities, Babineaux could be subject to punishment by the NFL under the personal-conduct policy.

“We are aware of the situation concerning Jonathan Babineaux and are in the process of gathering information,” a Falcons spokesperson said in a statement. “Because this is a legal matter, we will have no further comment at this time.”

The Falcons signed Babineaux to a five-year, $25 million contract extension during the offseason, but this arrest and the fallout could affect his standing with the team.

Babineaux was arrested in 2007 for killing his girlfriend’s pit bull around the same time as the Vick fiasco was unfolding. Babineaux claimed self defense and was cleared after not enough evidence was generated to proceed with animal cruelty charges.

The repeated run-ins with the law could play into any discipline handed down by the team and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Vikings CB Winfield could return to action vs. Bengals

Vikings Pro Bowl CB Antoine Winfield could return Sunday against the Bengals after missing the previous six games with a fractured right foot, according to a league source.

Winfield, regarded as one of the most sound cover men and best run-support defensive backs in the NFL, has increased his workload in practice and appears to be on track to return to action for the NFC North leaders’ playoff push.

Winfield originally was injured during an Oct. 18 victory over the Ravens.

Johnson chooses NFL over another year at USC

Stafon Johnson has notified USC he won't apply for another year of eligibility. (Ben Liebenberg / NFL.com)

USC senior RB Stafon Johnson, who has missed most of this season following a freak weightlifting accident, will not apply for a medical hardship and will turn pro, according to his uncle. Kregg Anderson said Johnson has notified USC coach Pete Carroll of the decision.

Johnson could have petitioned the NCAA for another year of eligibility because of his injury. He instead opted for the NFL and has begun training in suburban Los Angeles.

Anderson said Johnson’s weight is up to 214 pounds after dipping to 188 following the accident in which he dropped a barbell on his throat while bench pressing. Johnson’s playing weight was around 220.

In Johnson’s initial public comments in a press conference last month, he raspily said: “God has a plan. Run, Stafon, run.”

Anderson said Johnson’s immediate goal is to earn an invitation to the Jan. 30 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., so he can prove to NFL teams he is healthy and can take the physical wear of playing football again.

Ryan’s status depends on health of Falcons’ O-line

Falcons QB Matt Ryan‘s status for Sunday’s game against the Saints could be based as much on other players’ injuries as with the turf toe on his right foot.

The availability of RG Harvey Dahl (ankle) and LT Sam Baker (elbow) could be the final factor in determining if Ryan suits up for a make-or-break game against the NFC South champions at the Georgia Dome, a team source said. Both players, along with Ryan, sat out last Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, and all are uncertain about playing against the Saints.

The Falcons don’t want to put a wounded, immobile Ryan under center with backups at key offensive line positions. Therefore, the ability of Dahl and Baker to perform at an acceptable level will play into the decision as to whether Ryan will suit up.

Ryan didn’t practice Wednesday, but he spent most of the day rehabilitating his turf toe with trainers. The injury is said not to be season-ending –- the ball of the foot didn’t dislocate -– but it’s painful, damaged and on his plant foot, which is more problematic than if it were on his lead leg (left).

The team is developing an orthotic to place in Ryan’s shoe, and he will be put through a series of football-related drills to see how much he is able to do and how much his foot can withstand over the next few days.

Some of Ryan’s teammates said the QB will try to play, but there is a lot of reservation as to whether he can.

Raiders WR Heyward-Bey out vs. Steelers

Raiders starting WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, who recently was downgraded to questionable, will not play against the Steelers because of a foot injury. His replacement hasn’t been selected.

Raiders DE Greg Ellis (foot) also is out.

Steelers QB Roethlisberger to start vs. Raiders

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger will start in Sunday’s game against the Raiders, as expected.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger has shown no signs of the concussion-related symptoms that sidelined him in last week’s loss to the Ravens.

Falcons RB Turner expected to be out vs. Eagles

Falcons RB Michael Turner isn’t expected to play against the visiting Eagles on Sunday after re-aggravating an ankle sprain during last Sunday’s victory over the Buccaneers, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Jason Snelling, who filled in for Turner in a loss to the Giants two weeks ago and had a game-high 76 rushing yards, is expected to start in Turner’s place. Jerious Norwood will back up Snelling.

Turner, who initially sustained the injury during a Nov. 15 loss at Carolina, hasn’t practiced all week. The Falcons hope he will be healthy to face the unbeaten NFC South rival Saints in a Dec. 13 game at the Georgia Dome.

Saints make statement with win over Pats

NEW ORLEANS -– Watching Indianapolis come back from a 17-point deficit and take apart Houston on Sunday had me wondering if the Colts might be the team to beat. A day later, I got my answer.

The New Orleans Saints’ 38-17 bludgeoning of New England left no doubt that things run through the Big Easy. The Saints might drop a game or two before all 16 are played, but against a team feared for its weapons and its rep, they had the fearless disposition, the defense, the coaches and the quarterback to illustrate they were better.

Sure, the Patriots could have had an off night and the Saints could have been perfect. In fact, Saints quarterback Drew Brees pretty much was. But that could be said about any game that turns ugly.

Saints coach Sean Payton out-schemed Bill Belichick, picking on his vulnerable safeties. New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran circles around the Patriots, confusing them with three-man rushes and varied man-zone defenses; and Brees was sick, hitting five different receivers for five touchdowns.

And what about Mike McKenzie? Just more than a week ago, the veteran cornerback was on the couch, out of football. He joined the injury-depleted secondary this week, started, nabbed an early pick that led to a touchdown and then broke up a pass to Randy Moss on fourth-and-4 near the Saints’ goal line in the third quarter that threw water on any rally hopes the Patriots conjured.

The folks in the Who Dat Nation are partying hard right about now, but something tells me this won’t be the last time they’re moseying down the streets doing the Second Line stroll after a big game. For those of you not in the know, that’s the celebratory Jazz March in these parts that follows a funeral.

Falcons RB Turner expected to play

Falcons RB Michael Turner is expected to play against the Buccaneers on Sunday, just two weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Turner will test his ankle during warmups, but he has shown enough positive progress during practice this week that he is likely to suit up. It is not known if he would start if he is active, but that most likely would be the case. Jason Snelling would start otherwise.

Turner was officially listed as questionable by the Falcons after being limited in practice all week.

Turner missed Atlanta’s loss last week to the New York Giants and was expected to be out longer, but has healed quicker than anticipated. The Falcons (5-5) need all the help they can get against the Bucs (1-9) as they are fighting for their playoff lives.

This also will be Tampa Bay’s first game with coach Raheem Morris calling the defense after the re-assignment of defensive coordinator Jim Bates.

Saints DT Ellis returns for Monday night

The Saints’ defense should get a boost with the return of DT Sedrick Ellis for Monday night’s game against the visiting Patriots. Ellis, who has missed the past four games with a knee sprain, has gone through all portions of practice this week, according to a team source, and he could resume his starting position.

New Orleans has been vulnerable against the run with Ellis out of the lineup, allowing more than 100 yards on the ground in each of the past four games and having Falcons RB Michael Turner, Rams RB Steven Jackson and Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams each rush for 131 yards or more in three of those games.

Falcons examine kicker options with Elam struggling

Veteran kicker Jason Elam‘s struggles have him on thin ice with the Falcons, who brought in four kickers Tuesday for a workout.

Recently released Ravens kicker Steven Hauschka, as well as Brandon Coutu, Sam Swank and Shane Andrus were in Flowery Branch, Ga., for a chance to possibly replace Elam, who has made just 10 of 16 field-goal attempts this season and missed four in the Falcons’ last four games. His most recent errant attempt came in a 34-31 loss to the Giants on Sunday.

Coutu was with the Seahawks during the preseason. Andrus kicked for the Colts and Buccaneers this season. Swank spent brief periods with the Eagles and Bengals before the season.

The Falcons signed Elam, the longtime Broncos kicker, to a four-year, $9 million free-agent contract last summer, and he was worth the money in 2008, converting on 29 of 31 field-goal attempts. Things clearly haven’t gone as well this season for the 39-year-old Elam.

Eagles lock up Justice through 2013 season

The Philadelphia Eagles have announced that they have signed offensive tackle Winston Justice to a contract extension that will run through the 2013 season.

Justice, who has revived his career and started all 10 games this season at right tackle, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Ravens TE Heap, Ngata will start

BALTIMORE — Ravens TE Todd Heap (chest) and DT Haloti Ngata (ankle) will start against the Colts. Both were listed as questionable entering today’s game.

Ngata missed the previous two games because of his injury.

League fines Browns’ Quinn $10K for hit on Suggs

Browns QB Brady Quinn was fined $10,000 for diving at the knees of Ravens LB Terrell Suggs and injuring him during Monday’s night’s 16-0 loss to Baltimore, a league source confirmed.

Suggs, who has a sprained knee, is expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Colts because of the injury.

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