Breakfast Club helps former NFL players get healthy together

Kevin Mawae played 16 seasons in the NFL, earning eight Pro Bowls and three All-Pro honors. Yet the former offensive lineman found himself struggling to walk in the summer of 2017.

With each step came stabbing pains because of severe plantar fasciitis.

The Breakfast Club came to his rescue by figuring out what caused his pain instead of focusing only on the symptoms.

“I started through the program, and it turns out for me I just got to stretch and take care of my body instead of being complacent in that area,” Mawae said.

The Breakfast Club is a free six-week program for former players with at least two credited seasons at EXOS workout facilities or YMCAs, bringing them together for three workouts a week, along with physical therapy and a nutritionist. The club started in February 2015 in Arizona through The Trust, which developed out of the 2011 labor agreement following a lengthy lockout. The Trust was created to help players transition to non-football lives once their careers end.

Mawae, a former president of the NFL Players Association, joined such former players as Pittsburgh linebacker Levon Kirkland and long snapper Jason Kyle, who played for four teams, in the club session in Scottsdale, Arizona. Mawae also spent four weeks with the club this summer before reporting for fall practice in August in his new job as a quality control analyst at Arizona State for coach Herm Edwards.

The man who played center his final 14 years in the NFL had a simple issue: He never stretched.

“So to finally get from where I could barely touch my shins to where I can put my hands on the ground now in a straight-legged stretch, that’s a huge accomplishment for me,” Mawae said.

A nutritionist also helps each player with an individual eating plan and teaches them how to pick healthy foods when shopping. They also get a cookbook developed to assist with making better choices.

Support comes from The Trust, which assists former players with career counseling, finances and education . Connecting former players and helping them take care of their bodies is where the Breakfast Club comes in. Bahati Van Pelt, executive director of The Trust, credits former player Aaron Taylor for creating the group workout concept by asking if EXOS could provide a workout plan if he got 10 players together in San Diego.

The concept quickly grew from a couple groups to five a year, then 12, and now through expansion with about 400 former players having taken part.

The Breakfast Club has been in the Dallas area; Miami; Tampa; Birmingham, Alabama; Jacksonville, Florida; Brentwood, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; and New Orleans. Van Pelt said they went to New Orleans last year because several former players reached out to Tulane, a medical partner of The Trust, when they had a large enough group for a Breakfast Club.

“Anytime we can have a player-driven, organized community that players are willing to buy into and incorporate and be active in, a part of that’s a no-brainer for us,” Van Pelt said.

With so many former NFL players in the Atlanta region, The Trust needed another gym option in areas without EXOS facilities. That led to the YMCA, where a free one-year membership is renewable and keeps former players working out once the club’s six-week sessions end.

Former players only have to register with The Trust, which is identifying more cities to host future Breakfast Clubs. The current club started Oct. 8 in Carlsbad, California, near San Diego, with players including former offensive tackle Vaughn Parker, now 47 who played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons with the Chargers.

The biggest benefit may be recreating the locker room vibe that disappears after football. Van Pelt said they’ve had former players ask when the club is coming back to their towns.

“It brought back that feeling of being in the locker room, of having a workout in your position group and having an accountability partner with your wellness,” Van Pelt said. “So if I don’t come work out on a Monday and Wednesday, I have teammates that are going to check in on me and find out what’s going on and make sure I’m there on Friday.”

Getting moving again with a routine matters most for players accustomed to living by practice and meeting schedules through high school, college and the NFL.

But Mawae said no former player wants to be a statistic, and the club can help men live longer, healthier lives.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t have a drink every now and then, you can’t indulge in sweets or candies or whatever, you can’t just relax for a week. That just means you don’t live a sedentary lifestyle where all your previous injuries can pile up and debilitate you,” Mawae said.

“And unfortunately for a lot of the players that retire, that’s exactly what happens.”

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Bengals to hire Raiders QB coach Callahan as OC

Bengals to hire Raiders QB coach Callahan as OC

The Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals to hire Raiders QB coach Callahan as OC

The Cincinnati Bengals will hire Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan as their offensive coordinator, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden told reporters at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday.

The Bengals are expected to hire Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor as their new head coach, but they cannot do so until the Rams’ season is over, which will be after Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3.

Taylor played quarterback at Nebraska from 2004-07 under Bill Callahan, Brian Callahan’s father. Bill Callahan — who is under contract as the Washington Redskins’ offensive line coach — reportedly also wants to join the Bengals’ staff, although it’s unclear if Washington will allow the move.

Brian Callahan just finished his first year as quarterbacks coach with the Raiders, after holding the same position for two years with the Detroit Lions and one year with the Denver Broncos. He also spent five years as an offensive assistant in Denver. This will be his first coordinator job, although Taylor is expected to call plays and run his own offense.

Previous reports have indicated Taylor is targeting an experienced defensive coordinator, with Jack Del Rio and John Fox among the top candidates.

Del Rio spent 2018 out of coaching after getting fired as the Raiders’ head coach, and he is still getting paid by the team under an extension he signed after the 2016 season. He last served as a defensive coordinator from 2012-14 with the Broncos, working on the same staff as Brian Callahan.

Fox, coincidentally, was the head coach of those Broncos before parting ways with the team after the 2014 season. He is currently an ESPN analyst after getting fired as the head coach of the Chicago Bears last January.

Fox has not been a defensive coordinator since he led the New York Giants’ defense from 1997-2001. He had spent 16 straight seasons as a head coach for three different teams before joining ESPN last year.

–Field Level Media

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Agent expects Manning back with Giants in 2019

Agent expects Manning back with Giants in 2019

Agent expects Manning back with Giants in 2019

Eli Manning’s agent, Tom Condon, expects his client to be back with the New York Giants for a 16th season in 2019.

“Shoot, yeah, I think so,” Condon told the New York Post on Monday evening from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

“I think he’d love to come back,” Condon added. “Guys love to play their whole careers with one team, if they have a good experience with that team.”

The Giants are expected to pursue a long-term answer at quarterback this offseason, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Manning, who turned 38 earlier this month, won’t return. The team is believed to want a veteran quarterback who can help bridge the gap to a rookie.

Manning is on the books for an unguaranteed $17 million for 2019, and he is set to cost $23.2 million against the cap. The Giants would save $17 million against the cap — with a $6.2 million dead-money charge — by releasing him, but they could potentially pursue a restructured contract.

“It’s just too early,” Condon said about the possibility of a restructure, adding the team hasn’t approached him about the subject. Asked if he expects the Giants to do so at some point, he replied, “I have no idea.”

General manager Dave Gettleman said at his end-of-season press conference that all options were on the table, adding that he and Manning had an “extensive, no-holds-barred” conversation about the quarterback’s situation.

After the Giants were officially eliminated from playoff contention in Week 15, head coach Pat Shurmur said the team isn’t in a hurry to move on from Manning, whom he still believes has “years” left as an NFL starter.

Asked if he wants Manning back on the roster in 2019, Shurmur replied, “Yeah. I want all our players to be back. I believe experience matters.”

Manning finished the season with 4,299 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and completed a career-best 66 percent of his passes, though the Giants finished 5-11.

–Field Level Media

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Raiders’ Gruden hopes to re-sign Cook; unsure on Lynch

Raiders' Gruden hopes to re-sign Cook; unsure on Lynch

Raiders’ Gruden hopes to re-sign Cook; unsure on Lynch

Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden addressed the status of two of the team’s most prominent free agents on Tuesday, indicating he would be open to bringing back tight end Jared Cook and running back Marshawn Lynch.

Speaking from the Senior Bowl, where his staff is coaching the North team, Gruden said he hopes Oakland can re-sign Cook but acknowledged that there will be a competitive market for him.

Cook, who turns 32 in April, was named to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement Monday, after having a career year in 2018. He hit career highs across the board with 68 catches, 896 yards and six touchdowns while playing all 16 games for the fifth time in six years.

Meanwhile, Gruden said he isn’t sure about the status of RB Lynch, who will hit free agency after coming out of a one-year retirement to play two seasons for the Raiders.

“I don’t know that yet,” Gruden said of whether Lynch will return. “I think, when we get back after the Super Bowl, we’ll have a lot better indication on his health and his desire, on what he wants to do. I’m sure if he wants to play, somebody like me would love to have him back.”

Lynch, who turns 33 in April, missed the final 10 games of the season due to a groin/core muscle injury, finishing with 376 yards on 90 carries (4.2 average) with three touchdowns in six games. In 2017, the Oakland native had 891 yards on 207 carries (4.3 average) with seven touchdowns after sitting out the 2016 season.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs fire defensive coordinator Sutton

Chiefs fire defensive coordinator Sutton

The Kansas

Chiefs fire defensive coordinator Sutton

The Kansas City Chiefs fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton on Tuesday, two days after the team’s loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

The Chiefs’ defense allowed 524 yards and 36 first downs and was on the field for 94 plays during the 37-31 overtime loss to the Patriots.

“Bob is a good football coach and a great person,” Kansas City coach Andy Reid said in a statement. “He played an integral role in the success of our team over the last six seasons. I’ve said before that change can be a good thing, for both parties, and I believe that is the case here for the Chiefs and Bob.

“This was not an easy decision, but one I feel is in the best interest of the Kansas City Chiefs moving forward.”

Former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan could be a candidate for the job, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Sutton’s ouster apparently is partially related to his inability to adjust on the fly through games. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the lack of adjustments were a “non-stop frustration.”

Sutton, who turns 68 on Monday, spent six seasons as Kansas City’s defensive coordinator.

The unit struggled much of this season’s despite the Chiefs going 12-4 and claiming the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the postseason.

Kansas City ranked 31st in total defense at 405.5 yards per game and 24th in scoring defense at 26.3 points per game. The Chiefs were 31st at defending the pass (273.4) and 27th versus the run (132.1).

The Chiefs did rack up 52 sacks, with more than half of them coming from defensive end Chris Jones (15.5) and linebacker Dee Ford (13).

However, it was Ford who lined up offside on a pivotal play and the penalty wiped out an interception by Kansas City cornerback Charvarius Ward with 54 seconds left on Sunday. The Chiefs led 28-24 at the time.

The mistake kept New England in the contest, and the Patriots drove for a touchdown before Kansas City later forced overtime with a field goal.

The Patriots easily drove 75 yards on 13 plays for the decisive score on the first possession of overtime.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Panthers mulling change to 3-4 defense

Report: Panthers mulling change to 3-4 defense

The Carolina Panthers are

Report: Panthers mulling change to 3-4 defense

The Carolina Panthers are considering transitioning to a predominantly 3-4 scheme this offseason, according to a report from The Athletic on Tuesday.

Per the report, the team could shift to more looks with three down linemen and four linebackers while seeking more pressure against opposing quarterbacks.

The Panthers will use part of the offseason to gauge how their personnel would fit the change, but the expectation is they’ll at least be more multiple in 2018, with both 3-4 and 4-3 formations.

Carolina has run a classic 4-3 scheme since head coach Ron Rivera arrived in 2011, but he ran a 3-4 defense as defensive coordinator of the then-San Diego Chargers from 2008-2010 after running a 4-3 scheme with the Chicago Bears from 2004-06.

The differences between the two styles have become less significant in an era when nickel and dime packages — mostly featuring four-man fronts — have become the norm.

Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly has been featured as the centerpiece of the Panthers’ 4-3 defense since he was drafted in 2012, and he would become one of two inside linebackers in a 3-4.

Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson have also been key pieces, but a 3-4 scheme would require only two off-the-ball linebackers — the other two play on the edges, usually on the line of scrimmage. Davis announced earlier this month the team told him it won’t re-sign him when he becomes a free agent in March.

A switch to a 3-4 would also likely move defensive ends Mario Addison, Wes Horton and — if he returns for an 18th NFL season at age 39 — Julius Peppers to outside linebacker. Defensive tackle Kawann Short would likely play more defensive end, while Dontari Poe would likely be the starter at nose tackle.

–Field Level Media

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Lions rehire Bonamego as special teams coordinator

Lions rehire Bonamego as special teams coordinator

John Bonamego will

Lions rehire Bonamego as special teams coordinator

John Bonamego will return to his previous role as the special teams coordinator for the Detroit Lions, the team announced Tuesday.

He held the position in 2013-14 before leaving to become the head coach at Central Michigan in 2015. The Chippewas appeared in bowl games in his first three seasons, but when the team finished 1-11 in 2018, Bonamego was fired.

He has 16 years of coaching experience in the NFL, also working with special teams in Jacksonville, Green Bay, New Orleans and Miami.

Bonamego, 55, replaces Joe Marciano, who was fired in November.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Dolphins won’t block OC Loggains from leaving

Report: Dolphins won’t block OC Loggains from leaving

Report: Dolphins won’t block OC Loggains from leaving

The Miami Dolphins granted permission to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to talk to other teams, essentially paving the way for the assistant to reunite with Adam Gase in New York, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday.

The Dolphins reportedly interviewed Loggains for their head coaching vacancy before deciding on New England defensive coordinator Brian Flores, a move that can’t be made official until after the Super Bowl. The Dolphins fired Gase after the season.

Loggains spent one year with the Dolphins as offensive coordinator under Gase, and the pair also worked together in Chicago. Loggains was named offensive coordinator in Chicago after Gase took the head coaching job in Miami.

The Dolphins finished 31st in total offense last season, averaging 289.9 yards per game. The Dolphins averaged 19.9 points per game, 26th in the NFL, but Gase called the plays, as he will do with the Jets.

The Jets last week named Gregg Williams defensive coordinator.

–Field Level Media

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Bears LT Leno, C Whitehair added to Pro Bowl roster

Bears LT Leno, C Whitehair added to Pro Bowl roster

Bears LT Leno, C Whitehair added to Pro Bowl roster

Eight members of the Chicago Bears are ticketed to the Pro Bowl after left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and center Cody Whitehair were named to the NFC roster on Tuesday.

Practice is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Orlando, Fla.

Leno Jr. is replacing New Orleans Saints tackle Terron Armstead while Whitehair was named as the alternate to Saints center Max Unger.

Leno Jr. and Whitehair are on the NFC roster to which quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was added on Monday.

Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, defensive backs Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson, return specialist Tarik Cohen and Trubisky will be in Orlando.

Linebacker Khalil Mack, who was named a starter in December, will not participate due to a knee injury.

–Field Level Media

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Cowboys’ Prescott, Cooper to Pro Bowl; Saints’ Brees, Thomas out

Cowboys' Prescott, Cooper to Pro Bowl; Saints' Brees, Thomas out

Cowboys’ Prescott, Cooper to Pro Bowl; Saints’ Brees, Thomas out

Cowboys teammates Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper were named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster on Tuesday, replacing New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Michael Thomas.

Prescott and Cooper guided Dallas to the NFC East title and posted a regular-season win over the Saints in Dallas.

Cooper, acquired from the Oakland Raiders in October, is in the Pro Bowl for the third time. He had 53 receptions for 725 yards and six scores in nine games with the Cowboys.

Prescott passed for 3,885 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions to reach the Pro Bowl for the second time in three NFL seasons.

Brees and Thomas reported injuries as the reason for missing the game.

Brees, 40, is a 12-time Pro Bowl selection. He set an NFL record with a 74.4 percent completion percentage in 2018, and had 32 touchdown passes with five interceptions.

–Field Level Media

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NFL to investigate report of laser on Brady at Kansas City

NFL to investigate report of laser on Brady at Kansas City

NFL to investigate report of laser on Brady at Kansas City

The NFL is “looking into” a report by a Kansas City television station that a laser pointer was aimed at New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the AFC Championship game on Sunday.

KMBC shot video that showed a green dot flickering around Brady’s shoulder and face. ESPN reported an NFL spokesman confirmed the incident was being investigated.

According to the television station report, the laser was visible around Brady’s face and shoulder before he threw an interception in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots declined to comment on the report and the Chiefs said they were not aware of the incident during the game, won by New England, 37-31 in overtime.

–Field Level Media

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Former NFL RB McFadden charged with DWI

Former NFL RB McFadden charged with DWI

Former NFL running back Darren McFadden was arrested early Monday

Former NFL RB McFadden charged with DWI

Former NFL running back Darren McFadden was arrested early Monday in Texas on charges of driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest.

TMZ reported that the 31-year-old McFadden fell asleep in his SUV outside the drive-thru window of a Whataburger fast-food restaurant in suburban Dallas.

According to TMZ, McFadden resisted officers and that the driver’s side and passenger windows in his vehicle were both smashed.

McFadden was released on his own recognizance from Collin County jail a short time later, according to the Dallas Morning News.

McFadden played 10 seasons in the NFL after an All-American career at Arkansas. He rushed for 4,247 yards in 83 games with the Oakland Raiders (2008-14) and ran for 1,174 yards in 20 games with the Dallas Cowboys (2015-17).

McFadden rushed for 1,157 yards with the Raiders in 2010 and for 1,089 yards with the Cowboys in 2015.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs LB Ford accepts blame for costly penalty

Chiefs LB Ford accepts blame for costly penalty

Chiefs LB Ford accepts blame for costly penalty

Dee Ford didn’t mince words or offer up an excuse.

The linebacker knows the fact he lined up offside on a pivotal fourth quarter play likely cost the Kansas City Chiefs a trip to the Super Bowl.

“Sloppy football on my end at the end of the day,” Ford told reporters on Monday, one day after the Chiefs lost 37-31 in overtime to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. “Whether it was six inches or however many inches, I was offside.

“I can’t go back and change it. If I could I would, but at this point we can create a new narrative and that’s what I’m all about. I’m going to get to work.”

The penalty on Ford wiped out an interception by Kansas City cornerback Charvarius Ward with 54 seconds left. The Chiefs led 28-24 at the time.

The mistake kept New England in the contest, and the Patriots drove for a touchdown before Kansas City later forced overtime with a field goal.

Ford, 27, said that he will sometimes be warned by an official when he lines up in the neutral zone but it didn’t occur on the crucial play.

“I can’t expect that,” Ford said. “I just have to line up onside at the end of the day. I’m not an excuse-maker … I’m looking right at the ball. Honestly, it’s just a critical mistake on my end.”

Not the happiest of endings for Ford, but he did have a strong season, recording 13 sacks and earning his first Pro Bowl berth.

But in Kansas City sports lore, his name will long be associated with the big miscue.

“That was an opportunity for the whole city of Kansas City to make history,” Ford said. “It is what it is at the end of the day. I’ll take it on the chest, and I’m going to use it as motivation.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid was surprised the officiating crew didn’t warn Ford prior to the snap.

“He did have a great season,” Reid said of Ford. “He was doing everything possible to try to get to the quarterback. Like I said, it wasn’t but by a few inches. I thought it was legitimate. He was — it looked like on the angle of our camera, at least, that he might have been off by a tad.

“Normally, you’re warned and the coach is warned when somebody is doing that before they throw it a game of that magnitude. But they did (throw a penalty flag), and he didn’t waste any time doing it. He didn’t wait until the interception to throw it. He had his hand on his flag right from the get-go, so he saw on his angle and felt that that was the call.”

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: PI to be considered for review

NFL notebook: PI to be considered for review

NFL notebook: PI to be considered for review

Pass interference soon could be a reviewable play in the NFL, according to sources cited by The Washington Post on Monday.

That’s not soon enough from the perspective of the New Orleans Saints, who would have been in position to put the NFC Championship Game on ice late in the fourth quarter Sunday had a collision prior to the ball arriving — textbook pass interference in the NFL rulebook — been flagged.

Saints head coach Sean Payton erupted on the sideline and appeared to scold game officials for blowing “a Super Bowl call.” Payton said after the game the missed call is something New Orleans will “probably never get over.” The league admitted to Payton that an error was made.

“(Pass interference) will be discussed at length along with additional fouls that coaches feel should be subject to review,” a person familiar with the NFL’s inner workings told the Post.

–A day after the controversial defeat, Saints owner Gayle Benson issued a strong statement of disapproval.

“No team should ever be denied the opportunity to reach the title game (or simply win a game) based on the actions, or inactions, of those charged with creating a fair and equitable playing field,” Benson said, in part. “As is clear to all who watched the game, it is undeniable that our team and fans were unfairly deprived of that opportunity yesterday.

“I have been in touch with the NFL regarding yesterday’s events and will aggressively pursue changes in NFL policies to ensure no team and fan base is ever put in a similar position again.”

–Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford didn’t mince words or offer up an excuse, a day after he lined up offside on a pivotal fourth quarter play and likely cost the team a trip to the Super Bowl.

“Sloppy football on my end at the end of the day,” Ford told reporters one day after the Chiefs lost 37-31 in overtime to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. “Whether it was six inches or however many inches, I was offside.”

The penalty on Ford wiped out an interception by Kansas City cornerback Charvarius Ward with 54 seconds left. The Chiefs led 28-24 at the time.

–Philadelphia players rallied to Carson Wentz’s defense after unnamed teammates reportedly called the Eagles quarterback “selfish” and “egotistical.”

A report criticizing Wentz by PhillyVoice.com cited “more than a half dozen” players who requested to remain anonymous, “fearing repercussions.”

Among the claims in the report were that Wentz “bullied” offensive coordinator Mike Groh, played “favorites” by over-targeting Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, and generally acted “like he’s won 10 Super Bowls.”

–With Jared Goff and Tom Brady heading to Super Bowl LIII, Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson will take their place in the Pro Bowl on Sunday in Orlando.

One teammate Watson won’t reunite with this week is defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who was replaced by Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell. Other newly announced replacements include Oakland Raiders tight end Jared Cook (for the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce) and Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson (for the Dallas Cowboys’ Tyron Smith).

–The NFL announced all five international series games for the 2019 season:

Panthers at Buccaneers in London

Bears at Raiders in London

Bengals at Rams in London

Texans at Jaguars in London

Chiefs at Chargers in Mexico City

–The Miami Dolphins are expected to name Green Bay assistant coach Patrick Graham as their new defensive coordinator, according to multiple reports.

The Packers’ defensive run-game coordinator and inside linebackers coach reportedly will join the staff of future Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.

Miami has to wait until after Super Bowl LIII to officially hire Flores, the New England defensive coordinator whose Patriots will face the Rams in Atlanta on Feb. 3.

–The Tennessee Titans promoted tight ends coach Arthur Smith to offensive coordinator.

Smith joined the Titans’ staff in 2011 and has coached the tight ends since midway through the 2015 campaign. He replaces Matt LaFleur, who was named head coach of the Packers earlier this month.

–The fan-friendly menu prices at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium will remain intact for the Super Bowl.

The Atlanta Falcons instituted “Fan First Menu Pricing” when they moved into the new stadium in 2017, and team president and CEO Rich McKay told ESPN the prices of the 12 items on the menu will stay as is for the game, just as they have for other big events there.

–Former NFL running back Darren McFadden was arrested early Monday in Texas on charges of driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest.

TMZ reported that McFadden, 31, fell asleep in his SUV outside the drive-thru window of a Whataburger fast-food restaurant in suburban Dallas.

According to TMZ, McFadden resisted officers and that the driver’s side and passenger windows in his vehicle were both smashed.

–Field Level Media

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Film Study: Belichick’s plan mostly tamed Mahomes

Film Study: Belichick's plan mostly tamed Mahomes

Film Study: Belichick’s plan mostly tamed Mahomes

Bill Belichick will be enshrined in Canton one day, but one of his defensive game plans — for the New York Giants against the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV — is famously already there.

Eleven years after containing the Bills’ K-Gun attack, Belichick crafted another game plan that became part of Super Bowl lore, mashing Marshall Faulk at every available chance as the New England Patriots kick-started a dynasty by beating the then-St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Sunday’s plan against Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs might not earn that legacy — and with a different bounce or two, it wouldn’t have been enough — but it managed to flummox the best offense in football for three quarters, a tremendous feat.

Belichick’s intentions were clearly defined from the outset.

The Patriots planned a ball-control offensive approach to bleed time and keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands. That couldn’t have gone better, as Mahomes didn’t touch the ball until the 6:50 mark of the first quarter and had just three possessions before halftime (besides one snap 21 seconds before the break). The Chiefs finished with just 47 plays, exactly half of the Pats’ total.

Next, Belichick sought to stop Tyreek Hill at all costs, even at the expense of doubling Travis Kelce.

New England played almost all man coverage — emphasizing physicality without worrying about drawing a flag or two — mostly out of dime personnel, with four cornerbacks and two safeties instead of their usual three of each. Top corner Stephon Gilmore took Sammy Watkins, while impressive rookie corner J.C. Jackson matched Kelce (until Gilmore and Jackson swapped assignments late), with Jason McCourty on the Chiefs’ third receiver. The fourth corner — Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen alternated, perhaps to stay fresh against the speedster — tracked Hill underneath while free safety Devin McCourty bracketed him over the top, essentially leaving Cover-0 everywhere else.

With more two-high safety looks, the Patriots could have doubled Kelce and/or Watkins selectively, but that didn’t fit Belichick’s plan up front. He found it more important to use four- and (mostly) five-man rushes with a slew of blitzers, stunts and twists to flush Mahomes with one rusher into the arms of another.

New England incorporated edge rushers, inside linebackers and safety Patrick Chung (while one such player covered the running back), stunting them relentlessly to break down the Chiefs’ normally trustworthy protection. When only four rushed, the fifth was a lurker/spy, taking away inside routes and chasing down Mahomes if he fled the pocket. These designs shined early, producing four sacks for 46 yards lost.

Altogether, the plan was starkly different from the teams’ Week 6 meeting. Belichick used plenty of stunts and twists in that game, but not to the degree he did Sunday. Meanwhile, the coverage plan was completely overhauled. After keying heavily on Kelce — often doubling after a third defender jammed him at the line — in Foxborough, Belichick sold out to stop Hill at Arrowhead, ditching zone coverage almost entirely to do so. Hill managed one 42-yard catch, a far cry from his Week 6 output (seven catches, 142 yards, three scores). Kelce beat Jackson for a 12-yard touchdown and a 13-yard pass-interference call but finished with just three catches for 23 yards.

One of the few common threads between the plans was the use of Cover-0 double lurk — which we detailed in Thursday’s preview — though the Patriots called it only twice all game. The first was undermined by Mahomes’ sidearm throw (while getting crushed by Adrian Clayborn), converting a third-and-3 late in the third. The second forced a deep incompletion to Hill as Devin McCourty hit Mahomes on third-and-8 midway through the fourth.

As effective as Belichick’s strategy was, it couldn’t pin Mahomes down forever. The gunslinger escaped and hit Watkins for 54 yards off-schedule to set up the first touchdown. Starting late in the third, Mahomes was finally able to beat man coverage, with the help of a few pick plays from Reid.

Reid actually had several terrific designs, but many fell by the wayside amid the offense’s struggles. Hill’s 42-yarder was catered perfectly to beating double coverage, as the slow-developing post-corner forced McCourty to turn his hips the wrong way before Hill broke out. On the next snap, Reid called one of the Patriots’ favorite plays, a wheel route with legal offensive pass interference (within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage) by the tight end. Williams came wide open, only for Mahomes to air-mail a would-be 23-yard touchdown.

Reid featured Williams in several other ways. Late in the third, he used star motion to send Williams on a wheel up the sideline as Hill picked man-coverage mark Kyle Van Noy, creating a 33-yard gain. One play later, Williams zipped by Dont’a Hightower on a corner route from the backfield — a very uncommon route — but Mahomes overthrew him again. (The Chiefs scored two plays later.)

Williams’ 23-yard TD was also genius from Reid, a screen off outside-zone play-action that perfectly complemented a first-quarter design. In the first, Mahomes hit Kelce as he leaked out opposite the zone run fake; the second time around, Reid used Kelce’s route as misdirection to free Williams on the screen.

As we wondered in Thursday’s preview, Reid even broke out the halfback seam, a concept he used in Foxborough in the 2017 season opener (for Kareem Hunt’s 78-yard TD) and in Week 6 (Mahomes missed Hunt for a wide-open 26-yard TD). Late in the third, Reid sent Williams from the backfield up the left seam, where he ran away from John Simon as McCourty shaded heavily to Hill’s route out wide. But pressure intervened, as Van Noy blitzed around the edge (helped by a crafty hold from Malcom Brown) and forced Mahomes to move and run for 9 yards. Reid called another variant of the concept midway through the fourth, but the Patriots happened to be in a rare Cover-2 zone, and Elandon Roberts read the play and broke it up.

What will haunt K.C. most — besides Dee Ford lining up offsides on the would-be game-clinching interception — are the designs that worked but weren’t executed. The missed throw on Williams’ wheel route cost the Chiefs seven points (not just four) after a sack put them out of field-goal range. If Mahomes had time, the first HB seam might have been a 75-yard TD.

But Belichick’s plan was critical in shrinking the Chiefs’ margin for error.

Pressure from stunts and twists were responsible for K.C.’s biggest missed opportunities. Two men on Hill and a cornerback on Kelce limited the Chiefs’ best weapons to four total touches for 65 yards. And of course, the offense’s control of possession (43:59 of the game’s 64:52) limited Mahomes & Co. just 47 plays.

The Patriots needed every bit of those edges to survive, a credit to the coach who finds his team more tiny advantages than perhaps any coach in NFL history.

-Resourceful Rams’ offense found a way

Sean McVay’s staple offensive concepts weren’t working.

The New Orleans Saints’ defense gobbled up the Rams’ bread and butter for most of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, forcing L.A. to find success in less familiar ways. Had a certain flag been thrown on the other side of the ball, it wouldn’t have been enough, but given a break, the Rams’ offense took advantage by doing just enough to reach Super Bowl LIII.

For all of its brilliance, McVay’s scheme isn’t especially complicated. It’s built on a zone running game — which operates almost entirely from under center — and heavy downfield play-action off of those runs, all while using the same personnel on almost every snap.

For whatever reason, McVay changed up personnel Sunday more than he has almost all year, using two tight ends (instead of three wide receivers) on 17 snaps and favoring C.J. Anderson over Todd Gurley.

Gurley’s shrunken role was particularly shocking, as he received just four carries despite two of them going for 6 yards (and one for a touchdown). McVay suggested afterward he preferred Anderson’s grinding style, but Gurley is certainly capable of getting tough yards. Some have theorized McVay used Anderson to run inside instead Gurley’s preferred perimeter runs, but the Rams still ran plenty of outside zone with Anderson.

dRegardless, neither back was particularly successful. The Saints’ front seven squashed the run game by ignoring the bells and whistles (i.e. jet-sweep action), olding the pair to 54 yards on 20 carries (2.7 average).

Meanwhile, trusting that the run could be stopped without safety help, New Orleans employed a steady diet of zones — mostly Cover-2, sometimes with late rotations to get there — that diligently keyed on downfield routes. The deeper play-action concepts that the Rams feasted on in the teams’ Week 9 meeting simply weren’t there. Jared Goff routinely turned around from his play-fake and scanned the field to find no open targets, forcing him to hold the ball, check it down or throw it away.

Many of these plays were hopeless — one turned into the Saints’ only sack — but Goff scratched out a profit. Early on, he took what was available in the flat, throwing for pickups of 7, 6 and 4 yards and scrambling for 7 — modest but useful gains, considering L.A. had done little besides Johnny Hekker’s fake punt.

After halftime, the Rams adapted and attacked the flat off play-action by design, knowing they had to eat around the edges as the Saints’ zones keyed on deeper routes. Late in the third quarter, McVay sprung Brandin Cooks for 25 yards by having him cross the formation behind the line after the snap (called a “hide boot”), creating an easy dump-off and room to run after Robert Woods cleared out coverage. L.A. capped that drive with a play-action flat route to Tyler Higbee for a 1-yard touchdown. Then, twice in a three-play span in overtime, the Rams ran bootlegs with Higbee releasing into the flat. Goff found him despite getting clobbered on both, producing gains of 12 and 6 yards to get Greg Zuerlein in range for the game-winner.

Perhaps more impressive was how resourceful Goff was on straight dropbacks, an area in which he struggled mightily late in the year. After missing (with vision or accuracy) a few open targets on early third downs, Goff began attacking voids in zones with precision, moving the ball despite a few drops

During a two-minute touchdown drive to cap the first half, he delivered back-to-back dimes to Cooks for 17 yards (on a deep curl in a zone void) and 36 yards (on a slot fade against man coverage).

With everyone blanketed initially on third-and-3 early in the fourth, Goff bought time to his right and roped a throw to Gerald Everett, who came open late and collected 21 yards after the catch to gain 39. That kick-started a game-tying 85-yard drive.

Goff was sharp again when forced to throw in the final two minutes of regulation with the Rams down three. On eight straight dropbacks without play-action, he connected on five passes for 45 yards (despite a drop), including a laser 19-yarder to Josh Reynolds. Despite the deafening crowd, Goff orchestrated protections effectively during both two-minute drills, as the Rams were sharp picking up several Saints blitzes.

Of course, McVay did his part, too. With the run game struggling, he called a rare reverse — playing off jet-sweep tendencies by sending jet motion one way and the reverse the other — in the third quarter. The design, which kept offensive linemen blocking play-side and got Higbee out front as a lead blocker, was terrific, and Reynolds picked up 16.

McVay also sprung Reynolds on the only play-action deep shot that worked all game, a design that was simply too tricky for the Saints to cover. After New Orleans blanketed a throwback concept midway through the second, McVay called a similar play midway through the fourth. This time, McVay had Woods run a jet sweep to the left, flaring out to occupy the flat defender (safety Vonn Bell), while Cooks released vertically and broke inside on a dig to remove Marshon Lattimore’s coverage. Reynolds ran and out-and-up into Lattimore’s Cover-3 void, and with Bell eyeing Woods, only linebacker Demario Davis could cover Reynolds. The result was a 33-yard gain, which would have been a 40-yard TD with a better throw.

The sledding was tough, and the Saints made the Rams earn every inch. But L.A. ultimately managed just enough to earn a Super Bowl trip, despite a horrid start (including an interception deep in its own end), a career-worst outing for Gurley and the core of McVay’s offense getting stymied.

Perhaps it was good practice, considering Belichick is known for taking away what his opponent does best.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

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Super Bowl food will be a super bargain in Atlanta

Super Bowl food will be a super bargain in Atlanta

Super Bowl food will be a super bargain in Atlanta

The fan-friendly menu prices at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium will remain intact for the Super Bowl.

A ticket to the game might cost more than a monthly mortgage payment, but fans watching the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII next month can save some money by eating $2 hot dogs and $3 nachos and washing it down with some $5 beer.

The Atlanta Falcons instituted “Fan First Menu Pricing” when they moved into the new stadium in 2017, and team president and CEO Rich McKay told ESPN the prices of the 12 items on the menu will stay as is for the game, just as they have for other big events there.

“We said this in our negotiations with the SEC, the college football championship, the Super Bowl, and the Final Four … what we basically said is every customer that comes through that door is our customer,” McKay said.

McKay said the menu has been a hit since Arthur Blank, the Falcons’ billionaire owner, introduced the idea and the team implemented it. Between the final season the Falcons played at the Georgia Dome, and their first season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, per-customer spending rose 16 percent even though prices dropped 55 percent, according to ESPN.

“So that just shows you the amount of volume that took place,” McKay said, adding other teams are starting to follow the Falcons’ model.

Other prices? A refillable soda, popcorn, pretzel or bottle of water costs $2. Waffle fries and a pizza slice are $3, and cheeseburgers sell for $5. For those who want to splurge, a basket of chicken fingers and fries goes for $6.

–Field Level Media

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Former NFL RB McFadden arrested for DWI

Former NFL RB McFadden arrested for DWI

Former NFL running back Darren McFadden was arrested early Monday

Former NFL RB McFadden arrested for DWI

Former NFL running back Darren McFadden was arrested early Monday in Texas on charges of driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest.

TMZ reported that the 31-year-old McFadden fell asleep in his SUV outside the drive-thru window of a Whataburger fast-food restaurant in suburban Dallas.

According to TMZ, McFadden resisted officers and that the driver’s side and passenger windows in his vehicle were both smashed.

McFadden was released on his own recognizance from Collin County jail a short time later, according to the Dallas Morning News.

McFadden played 10 seasons in the NFL after an All-American career at Arkansas. He rushed for 4,247 yards in 83 games with the Oakland Raiders (2008-14) and ran for 1,174 yards in 20 games with the Dallas Cowboys (2015-17).

McFadden rushed for 1,157 yards with the Raiders in 2010 and for 1,089 yards with the Cowboys in 2015.

–Field Level Media

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Bears QB Trubisky tagged in for Goff at Pro Bowl

Bears QB Trubisky tagged in for Goff at Pro Bowl

Bears QB Trubisky tagged in for Goff at Pro Bowl

Jared Goff has plans, opening his Pro Bowl roster spot for Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

Goff and the Los Angeles Rams are bound for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, winning the NFC Championship game on Sunday at New Orleans.

Trubisky, whose Bears won the NFC North, guided Chicago to a win over Goff’s Rams in December.

Pro Bowl practice begins Wednesday and the all-star game will be played Sunday in Orlando, Fla.

The Bears haven’t sent a quarterback to the Pro Bowl since Jim McMahon in 1986.

Running back and return man Tarik Cohen, safety Eddie Jackson, cornerback Kyle Fuller, linebacker Khalil Mack and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks were voted into the Pro Bowl. Mack is sitting out due to a sprained knee.

–Field Level Media

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Trubisky, Watson to replace Goff, Brady in Pro Bowl

Trubisky, Watson to replace Goff, Brady in Pro Bowl

Trubisky, Watson to replace Goff, Brady in Pro Bowl

Jared Goff and Tom Brady have plans, opening Pro Bowl roster spots for Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Houston’s Deshaun Watson to participate in the all-star game in Florida this weekend.

Goff and the Los Angeles Rams are bound for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, winning the NFC Championship game on Sunday in New Orleans. Brady and the New England Patriots are making the familiar trip for the AFC after a victory in Kansas City.

Trubisky, whose Bears won the NFC North, guided Chicago to a win over Goff’s Rams in December.

Watson and the Texans lost to Brady’s Patriots in Week 3.

It is the first Pro Bowl for both quarterbacks, who were both drafted in the first round in 2017.

Pro Bowl practice begins Wednesday and the game will be played Sunday in Orlando, Fla.

In 2018, Watson became the first player with 4,000 passing yards, 25 passing touchdowns, 500 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns in a single season in NFL history.

Trubisky is the first Bears quarterback to make the Pro Bowl since Jim McMahon in 1986. He passed for 3,223 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 421 yards and three scores.

–Field Level Media

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Report: NFL puts PI on review to-do list

Report: NFL puts PI on review to-do list

Report: NFL puts PI on review to-do list

Pass interference soon could be a reviewable play in the NFL, according to sources cited by The Washington Post on Monday.

That’s not soon enough from the perspective of the New Orleans Saints, who would have been in position to put the NFC championship game on ice late in the fourth quarter Sunday had a collision prior to the ball arriving — textbook pass interference in the NFL rulebook — not been a non-call.

Saints head coach Sean Payton erupted on the sideline and appeared to scold game officials for blowing “a Super Bowl call.”

Payton said after the game the missed call is something New Orleans will “probably never get over.”

“It will be discussed at length along with additional fouls that coaches feel should be subject to review,” a person familiar with the NFL’s inner workings told The Washington Post on Monday.

Replay is not an option for pass interference and other “judgment calls” but was discussed as recently as March.

To implement a rule allowing for pass interference to be validated by replay or expose this and other judgment calls to a coach’s challenge, at least three-quarters of the 32 owners must vote to approve it.

“They blew the call,” Payton said Sunday night. “It’s a game-changing call – third down with 1:45 left. A tough one to swallow. My problem with it is, if we’re playing pickup football in the backyard, it was as obvious a call. How two guys can look at that and come up with their decision – we’ll probably never get over it. The truth is, some of these losses … one like that, it’s too bad.”

Rams nickel cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman blasted Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis and admitted after the game he wasn’t concerned about the penalty — he thought is was a certainty — but was focused solely on not allowing a game-ending touchdown.

“Hell yeah,” Robey-Coleman said Sunday. “That was PI.”

No penalty was called. Instead, the Saints attempted and made a go-ahead field goal with 1:41 on the clock.

The Rams tied the game with their own field goal and then won it on a 57-yarder in overtime.

–Field Level Media

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Eagles defend QB Wentz from anonymous critics

Eagles defend QB Wentz from anonymous critics

Philadelphia players rallied to Carson Wentz's defense Monday after unnamed teammates reportedly called the Eagles quarterback "selfish" and "egotistical."

A report criticizing Wentz

Eagles defend QB Wentz from anonymous critics

Philadelphia players rallied to Carson Wentz’s defense Monday after unnamed teammates reportedly called the Eagles quarterback “selfish” and “egotistical.”

A report criticizing Wentz by PhillyVoice.com cited “more than a half dozen” players who requested to remain anonymous, “fearing repercussions.”

Among the claims in the report were that Wentz “bullied” offensive coordinator Mike Groh, played “favorites” by over-targeting Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, and generally acted “like he’s won 10 Super Bowls.”

Wentz, 26, received immediate support on social media from All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, offensive linemen Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks, and Ertz.

“None of that is true,” Cox wrote on Twitter. “We are all behind him 100 percent.”

“Don’t believe everything you read!!!” Ertz tweeted. “Carson has been nothing but a GREAT person, GREAT teammate and GREAT leader since Day 1.”

Johnson tweeted that “whoever wrote that article needs to check their ‘sources.'”

The No. 2 overall draft pick in 2016, Wentz is 23-17 in three seasons as the starter in Philadelphia. His last two regular seasons have ended with injuries, but head coach Doug Pederson confirmed last month that Wentz is “our guy” heading into 2019.

–Field Level Media

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