Film Study: Saints salvage Payton gem

Film Study: Saints salvage Payton gem

Any playoff loss is crushing.

The New Orleans Saints would have had an especially tough time accepting defeat Sunday given how many opportunities the offense left on the field.

Coaches spend so much time crafting plays to beat specific defenses that it’s hard to stomach when the designs work but the execution fails. For much of Sunday, Saints head coach Sean Payton might have felt like he’d ruptured his spleen.

Payton dialed up a possible touchdown on the first play, but it turned into an interception.

The Saints sent Alvin Kamara wide left to join Michael Thomas on the weak side of an empty formation, and ran Kamara and Thomas vertical. Knowing those two would draw free safety Chandon Sullivan’s attention, Payton sent Ted Ginn Jr. on a post from the other slot, covered only by undrafted rookie Cre’Von LeBlanc. The speedster got behind LeBlanc, but Drew Brees — under slight pressure — left the throw well short, and LeBlanc made a terrific leaping grab.

The third quarter brought deja vu. Midway through the frame, Payton called a pin/anchor concept off play-action, with Thomas running a sit route toward Sullivan and Swiss Army knife Taysom Hill running a post from the other side. Sullivan bit hard downhill on Thomas, and Hill — coming from a condensed formation — easily ran away from Avonte Maddox, who had to maintain outside leverage. Brees’ throw was well short again, this time despite a pristine pocket, and Maddox broke up a would-be 46-yard touchdown.

It got worse the next play.

Payton put Hill at quarterback and split Brees wide left in an empty set. The Saints’ tendency with Hill at QB is to run, and Payton knew Sullivan would be responsible for Hill if he ran. At the snap, Sullivan dropped down from center field, and Kamara — from the inside slot of trips — zipped uncovered up the seam, hauling in a perfect throw for a touchdown. But this was also not to be, as Andrus Peat was called for holding Haloti Ngata.

Luckily for the Saints, they were able to overcome the missed chances. Brees — who also fumbled a snap on another deep design off play-action — atoned by carving up the Eagles’ zones with in-breaking intermediate routes to Thomas. Likewise, New Orleans executed two of Payton’s short-yardage designs perfectly in critical moments.

On fourth-and-goal from the 2 in the second quarter, Payton had Thomas motion from wide left toward the formation for an apparent quick screen behind two blockers (often called a shield slant), an increasingly popular short-yardage tactic around the NFL. But it was actually a fake-screen-and-go, with Brees pump-faking, Thomas going back outside and Keith Kirkwood releasing to the corner after faking a block. All three sold it well, and Kirkwood came open easily for the TD.

Midway through the third, Payton kept what would become an 18-play drive alive with a crafty pick play. He had tight end Josh Hill align to Brees’ left in shotgun before motioning to the right wing just before the snap. With a head start on man-coverage mark Malcolm Jenkins, Hill ran to the flat as Kirkwood’s route rubbed Jenkins, creating an easy third-and-3 conversion.

The Saints ultimately survived despite wasting some of Payton’s best designs, a credit to their resiliency and overall firepower.

Like a great basketball scorer, Brees has gone cold from deep but is compensating by getting to the rim and the charity stripe. Still, he might need to hit a few 3-balls against the Rams next week.

–Stubbornness dooms Bradley, Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers didn’t beat themselves Sunday — the suggestion is unfair to the New England Patriots — but they sure helped.

In our Week 16 film study, we worried that coordinator Gus Bradley’s static Cover-3 scheme would come back to bite the Bolts in the postseason. In our divisional-round preview, we wondered if Bradley would change up against Tom Brady, especially given Brady’s recent struggles against blitzes.

Other than some occasional third-down wrinkles, Bradley stuck to the same predictable Cover-3 on early downs Sunday. The result was an utter disaster, as the Patriots marched to five straight touchdowns while barely ever reaching third down — they faced just three third downs total on the latter four TD drives.

Brady and coordinator Josh McDaniels are wizards at opening zone windows. They happily picked L.A. apart, probing at soft spots with checkdowns to running backs and springing wide-open crossers by using hard play-action to suck up and misdirect second-level defenders.

Brady can make those throws in his sleep, and do it quickly enough to foil any pressure. It’s tough enough for edge rushers to turn the corner on Gillette Stadium’s slick turf, but it was downright impossible for Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram with Brady knowing exactly where to go on every play.

Bradley and the Chargers should have known better.

Dan Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons — who run the same Cover-3 scheme, albeit with more diverse calls mixed in — knew they couldn’t just play zone in Super Bowl LI against Brady, and their man coverage hounded him for three quarters. The zone-heavy Pittsburgh Steelers took years of punishment before finally conceding they had to change up against Brady. (Ironically, they haven’t had another shot at him in the playoffs since.)

Heck, the Patriots’ own defensive game plan on Sunday — Bill Belichick’s normally simple scheme morphed into Baltimore-style amoeba fronts with myriad disguises to stress Philip Rivers — illustrated their own hesitance to giving a cerebral quarterback predictable looks.

Had the Chargers thought similarly, they had the talent to challenge the Patriots. Casey Hayward, Desmond King, Derwin James and Adrian Phillips are versatile matchup pieces who can handle down-after-down man coverage. The injury-bitten linebacking corps would be vulnerable, but safety depth could have compensated. Given more time to get home, Bosa and Ingram might have harassed Brady.

Instead, Bradley didn’t even have adjustments prepared for when the plan (predictably) flopped. With Rivers and L.A.’s run defense struggling, it might not have mattered anyway, but the approach never really gave the Chargers a chance.

-How L.A. squashed Dallas’ run game

The Los Angeles Rams knew their normal run defense wouldn’t be enough to stop Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

L.A. allowed 5.07 yards per carry during the regular season, dead last in the NFL. It wasn’t a huge worry much of the year, as the Rams stormed out to big leads and either forced teams to abandon the run or waste time doing it.

But knowing a big day from Elliott would be Dallas’ easiest path to victory, Wade Phillips compensated for his unit’s biggest weakness with an excellent plan.

The first step was using heavy personnel, even when the Cowboys’ offense went lighter. On early downs, Phillips kept his base 3-4 on the field against three-WR sets, and even a snap against four-wide. The aggressive approach — which inherently leaves a linebacker or safety on a wideout, usually in the slot — is one Phillips has used selectively against run-heavy opponents in recent years. The most notable example was the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 victory against the Carolina Panthers, when Phillips deployed 3-4 with three cornerbacks and one safety.

Phillips then put his three interior linemen — nose Ndamukong Suth and tackles Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers — in a “Bear” front (aligned over both guards and the center), preventing double-teams and making it difficult for linemen to climb to the second level. Knowing he’d face single blocking, Suh shot gaps aggressively and gave center Joe Looney issues (including on a fourth-and-1 stop), while linebackers Mark Barron and especially Cory Littleton stayed clean and flowed freely to contain Elliott. The NFL’s rushing leader got free on occasion — like a dazzling 15-yard run on a cutback late in the first half — but he rarely had lanes to reach the open field.

Dallas did exploit the aggressive plan at times, including on its two longest completions of the game. The Cowboys’ first touchdown came safety Lamarcus Joyner in man coverage in the slot on Amari Cooper, who spun Joyner around and ran away from him on a crosser for a 29-yard score. Cooper also came wide open on a crosser from the slot midway through the third quarter. Though Dak Prescott didn’t see him, Cooper drew the eyes of Marcus Peters, who busted his deep-third zone and allowed a 44-yard gain to Michael Gallup after Prescott improvised.

But the Cowboys didn’t punish the Rams enough, even as Phillips stuck with the tactic despite Aqib Talib missing much of the third quarter. Prescott repeatedly declined to exploit healthy cushions under L.A.’s zones, and Dallas barely even tried Cooper in the slot aside from the two aforementioned plays. More often it was Cole Beasley (hobbled by an ankle injury), with Cooper outside against Peters or Talib.

Phillips also fooled Prescott a few times with slight wrinkles, like blitzing an inside linebacker and dropping and outside ‘backer, which produced free rushers or forced Dallas to keep Elliott in to block. Prescott threw a would-be interception that was dropped by OLB Samson Ebukam after he dropped as Dante Fowler Jr. rushed from the other side.

With Prescott unable to make them pay repeatedly, the Rams enjoyed a numbers advantage against the run virtually all game. When Dallas used multiple backs or tight ends, Los Angeles simply brought more bodies into the box. In passing situations, Phillips trotted his nickel package out. The Cowboys could have adjusted d– whether by putting Cooper in the slot more often or perhaps going hurry-up to take advantage of the Rams’ substitution patterns — but they never did.

All told, Dallas ran 22 times for just 50 yards (2.3 average), only their second game below 3.2 yards per carry all year. The Rams’ offensive control — 36:13 time of possession, including 20:12 before halftime — surely helped, but it was easily the run defense’s best performance of the season.

Great strengths are what get teams into the postseason, but major weaknesses usually knock them out. Phillips deserves tremendous credit for concealing his unit’s Achilles heel against one of the NFL’s most suited teams to exploit it.

-How K.C.’s D surprised against Indy

Before the Rams concealed their poor run defense through scheme, the Kansas City Chiefs did so with brilliance in other areas against the Indianapolis Colts.

Like the Rams, the Chiefs’ run defense (4.97 yards per carry allowed) was horrid in the regular season but likewise protected by huge leads. Facing a mauling front five in the snow seemed ominous, but K.C. followed its regular-season formula to obscure the weakness yet again.

The Chiefs didn’t exactly plug run lanes. They shot two gaps early for tackles for loss — exploiting right guard Mark Glowsinki, the line’s clear liability — on plays that were otherwise well blocked. Dee Ford declined to honor two zone-read fakes to make unblocked tackles, and squatty-but-quick rookie nose tackle Derrick Nnadi flashed. (K.C. actually sat Chris Jones for Nnadi on early downs in nickel, presumably because of Jones’ lack of run-defense discipline. Jones played just 31 snaps — a season-low, excluding his Week 5 ejection.)

With an Eric Ebron drop and sharp coverage from K.C. early, Indianapolis opened with a spree of three-and-outs.

The Chiefs’ pass-rusher-rich defense is built to defend leads, making it a perfect complement to the offense. Not only does Kansas City’s attack rack up points, but it usually does it early, with Andy Reid’s scripted plays tearing defenses limb from limb. Patrick Mahomes & Co. obliged Saturday, racking up 17 quick points, and game script quickly favored the Chiefs, like it has almost all year.

Staked to a three-score advantage, Kansas City’s run defense became essentially moot. Indy ultimately proved very efficient on the ground — 14 carries for 87 yards (6.2 average), with six runs gaining at least 6 yards and a 14-yard run wiped out by a weak holding call — but it was irrelevant.

Where the Chiefs’ defense really shined was in the secondary, as the group (literally) covered for a slow-starting pass rush, quite the opposite of the tendency for most of the season. K.C.’s DBs were much more disciplined than Houston’s were last week in matchup zones, sniffing out Frank Reich’s early-down shot plays off play-action and preventing Andrew Luck from firing deep. The Chiefs also played right up to (or barely past) the line of being too physical against the Colts’ receivers, clinging to their hip pockets and daring referees to make ticky-tack calls.

Given more time to get home and a wealth of obvious passing situations, the rush eventually woke up. Justin Houston cleaned up a coverage sack and exploited Glowinski inside for another. Ford gave right tackle Braden Smith trouble to the inside a few times before getting around the edge for a strip-sack.

Even so, it was far from the rush’s best performance. Jones got his hands up for three batted passes but rarely actually got near Luck. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo and left guard Quenton Nelson were rock solid, and Luck had plenty of time on several dropbacks.

That makes the performance of the Chiefs’ secondary — playing without Eric Berry — all the more impressive. Despite Kansas City’s offense going scoreless on its first five drives after halftime, the Colts never came close to making it a one-possession game, as the Chiefs allowed just two plays over 20 yards and none over 30.

Another such performance next Sunday would likely mean a Super Bowl LIII appearance.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

Report: 49ers won’t let Raiders play in S.F.

Report: 49ers won't let Raiders play in S.F.

Report: 49ers won’t let Raiders play in S.F.

The San Francisco 49ers are not expected to waive their territorial rights to the city, NFL Network reported Tuesday evening, meaning the Oakland Raiders won’t be permitted to share Oracle Park with Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants in 2019.

Reports on Sunday said the Raiders had a deal with the Giants to play at their stadium, formerly known as AT&T Park before a recent name change, but the plan required approval by the 49ers and the NFL.

The news of the 49ers’ disapproval comes hours after San Francisco Mayor London Breed told KTVU, “As far as I’m concerned, the Oakland Raiders should play in Oakland.”

Breed said the extra traffic around Oracle Park would exacerbate problems already caused by construction of the new Chase Center for the Golden State Warriors.

“We don’t need another layer to add to what we already have — and that’s an area that’s really congested, filled with construction and will host a number of basketball and baseball games over the coming months,” Breed told the TV station.

Breed said she has shared her concerns with the Giants organization.

The Raiders have been searching for a temporary home before their move to Las Vegas in 2020. Their lease at Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum expired at the end of last season, and the city of Oakland brought a lawsuit against the Raiders in December.

Previous reports have said the 49ers are open to sharing Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, about 45 minutes south of the Raiders’ training facility in Alameda, with their Bay Area neighbors, but the Raiders have not been enthused about that option. But according to NFL Network, that is the team’s only option if it cannot resolve the dispute with Oakland and play at the Coliseum for one more season.

–Field Level Media

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Falcons release CB Alford

Falcons release CB Alford

The Atlanta Falcons released

Falcons release CB Alford

The Atlanta Falcons released Robert Alford on Tuesday, confirming the move hours after the cornerback announced the transaction on Twitter.

“We thank Robert for all that he brought to the team during his six seasons in Atlanta,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. “He was a significant contributor to our defense and we have a great deal of respect for him. We wish Robert all the best going forward.”

Earlier Tuesday, Alford tweeted, “Thank you Atlanta for 6 incredible seasons. Sucks that it ended on this note. I enjoyed playing in this incredible city. Ima miss my dawgs but I’m excited for the next chapter. #TAT”

Alford had 10 interceptions in 88 regular-season games (76 starts) over six seasons for the Falcons, who drafted him in the second round in 2013. He also had a more memorable interception in Super Bowl LI, when he picked off New England’s Tom Brady and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown to give Atlanta a 21-0 lead in a game the Falcons eventually lost 34-28 in overtime.

In 2018, Alford didn’t record an interception in 15 games while making 50 tackles. In addition, he was flagged for a team-high 12 penalties.

Alford, 30, had two seasons remaining on a four-year, $38 million contract, which will leave $1.2 million in dead money on the cap in 2019. He was scheduled to make $8.5 million in each of the next two seasons.

Overall, Alford made 303 tackles for the Falcons.

Atlanta figures to give cornerback Isaiah Oliver, a 2018 second-round pick, a larger role in 2019 after he started just two of 14 games as a rookie.

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: McVay says Gurley won’t need surgery

NFL notebook: McVay says Gurley won't need surgery

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean

NFL notebook: McVay says Gurley won’t need surgery

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay continues to insist his game plan was the reason for Todd Gurley’s inactivity in Super Bowl LIII and not the running back’s ailing left knee.

Gurley underwent his season-ending physical exam on Tuesday but wasn’t interested in discussing any details. A team official shadowed Gurley and told reporters the running back was not available for comment as the Rams cleaned out their lockers in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Meanwhile, McVay told reporters there aren’t any medical procedures planned for Gurley’s knee.

–You can call Tom Brady a six-time Super Bowl champion. Just don’t call the New England Patriots quarterback the “G.O.A.T.” He doesn’t like it.

“It makes me cringe,” Brady said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” after show host and former NFL star Michael Strahan said he thought the Patriots star was the greatest of all time.

“I guess I take compliments worse than I … I wish you would say, ‘You’re trash, you’re too old, you’re too slow, you can’t get it done no more.'” he added. “And I’ll say, ‘Thank you very much, I’ll prove you wrong.'”

–The San Francisco 49ers are not expected to waive their territorial rights to the city, NFL Network reported, meaning the Oakland Raiders won’t be permitted to share Oracle Park with the San Francisco Giants in 2019.

Reports on Sunday said the Raiders had a deal with the Giants to play at their stadium, formerly known as AT&T Park before a recent name change, but the plan required approval by the 49ers and the NFL.

The news of the 49ers’ disapproval comes hours after San Francisco Mayor London Breed told KTVU, “As far as I’m concerned, the Oakland Raiders should play in Oakland.”

–Hundreds of thousands of fans lined the streets of downtown Boston to celebrate the Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl championship.

Duck boats and flatbed trucks transported players, coaches, team staff and their family members the two miles from Hynes Convention Center to City Hall during the Patriots’ victory parade.

–Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen told reporters he intends to get his right foot healthy and continue playing in 2019.

Olsen, who turns 34 in March, also said he wouldn’t close the door on broadcasting opportunities, but his focus is on playing next season.

–Law enforcement officials in Florida told TMZ and ESPN that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was involved in a domestic incident last month but was not arrested.

TMZ reported that a woman filed a report with the Hollywood, Fla., police department in mid-January, alleging misconduct against Brown, prompting an investigation. Hollywood police department spokeswoman Miranda Grossman confirmed the incident to ESPN.

Brown’s lawyer, Darren Heitner, said in a statement to ESPN: “The allegations are baseless and false.”

–The Washington Redskins and running back Adrian Peterson have held preliminary talks about his return to the team next season, ESPN reported.

Peterson told TMZ Sports last week that he would be “playing next year for sure” and wanted to play two to three more seasons.

The 12-year veteran will turn 34 next month. He signed a one year-deal with Washington last August and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month. Peterson started all 16 games in the just-concluded season and ran for 1,042 yards.

–Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford announced on Twitter that he has been released by the club.

Alford, 30, had two seasons remaining on a four-year, $38 million contract, which will leave $1.2 million in dead money while saving the Falcons $7.9 million on the cap in 2019.

–The New York Jets released starting center Spencer Long, a day before he was due a $3 million roster bonus.

Per reports, the team could bring Long back at a lower price in the future. The 28-year-old’s release — less than a year after he signed a four-year, $27.4 million deal in free agency — saves the team $6.5 million against the cap in 2019.

— New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport announced on Twitter that he had surgery to repair an unspecified injury. He also posted a photo of himself in a hospital bed with a bandaged right foot.

Davenport, 22, missed three games in November with a right big toe injury, but he played the final six games of the season and both playoff games.

–The Miami Dolphins gave new coach Brian Flores a guaranteed five-year deal, the only one out of eight new NFL head coaches to get one, ESPN first reported.

Flores got the guaranteed five years despite being a first-time head coach, like his predecessor in Miami, Adam Gase. Miami fired Gase after just three years.

–Jack Del Rio will not be the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive coordinator after both sides decided it would not be a perfect fit, according to an NFL Network report.

–The Houston Texans have promoted tight ends coach Tim Kelly to offensive coordinator and hired Carl Smith as quarterbacks coach.

–The San Francisco 49ers are hiring former Texans assistant Wes Welker as their wide receivers coach, according to multiple reports.

–Field Level Media

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McVay: No medical procedures planned for Gurley’s knee

McVay: No medical procedures planned for Gurley's knee

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean

McVay: No medical procedures planned for Gurley’s knee

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay continues to insist his game plan was the reason for Todd Gurley’s inactivity in Super Bowl LIII and not the running back’s ailing left knee.

Gurley’s vocal cords are suddenly as silent as the team’s offense was during Sunday’s 13-3 loss to the Patriots.

Gurley underwent his season-ending physical exam on Tuesday but wasn’t interested in discussing any details. A team official shadowed Gurley and told reporters he was not available for comment as the Rams cleaned out their lockers in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Meanwhile, McVay said there aren’t any medical procedures planned for Gurley’s knee when quizzed by reporters.

“No,” McVay said. “We haven’t talked about any of those things right now. I’ll get a chance to sit down with Reggie (Scott, the Rams’ director of sports medicine) and we’ll discuss that, but as far as I’m concerned and as far as I know, that isn’t the case, where we’re planning to do anything like that.”

Gurley’s health has been a mystery in recent weeks and was magnified when he touched the ball only 11 times for 34 total yards in the Super Bowl loss.

Diminishing the usage of a weapon like Gurley (1,831 regular-season scrimmage yards) would be understandable if he was ailing.

But McVay said on Super Bowl LIII Opening Night leading up to the game that he needed to do a better job of getting Gurley carries. That didn’t happen against the Patriots, as journeyman C.J. Anderson (seven carries, two catches) received just two fewer touches than Gurley.

McVay said Tuesday that the game plan called for split duty between the two backs.

“When it doesn’t work out the way you want, there’s always that element of second-guessing,” McVay said.

Gurley headed into the offseason leaving his teammates to have to speak for him.

“He’s a player, just like every one of us,” quarterback Jared Goff told reporters. “For whatever reason, it wasn’t as good as I’m sure he wanted it to be. He’s hard on himself, but we love him, and in my opinion he’s the best running back in the league, and I’m excited to see him move forward and continue his career.”

–Field Level Media

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Falcons CB Alford announces his release

Falcons CB Alford announces his release

Atlanta Falcons

Falcons CB Alford announces his release

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford announced on Twitter that he has been released by the club.

“Thank you Atlanta for 6 incredible seasons,” Alford wrote on Tuesday. “Sucks that it ended on this note. I enjoyed playing in this incredible city. Ima miss my dawgs but I’m excited for the next chapter. #TAT”

Alford had 10 interceptions in 88 regular-season games (76 starts) over six seasons for the Falcons, who drafted him in the second round in 2013. He also had a more memorable interception in Super Bowl LI, when he intercepted New England’s Tom Brady and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown to give Atlanta a 21-0 lead in a game it eventually lost 34-28 in overtime.

In 2018, Alford didn’t record an interception in 15 games while making 50 tackles. In addition, he was flagged for a team-high 12 penalties.

Alford, 30, had two seasons remaining on a four-year, $38 million contract, which will leave $1.2 million in dead money on the cap in 2019. He was scheduled to make $8.5 million in each of the next two seasons.

Overall, Alford made 303 tackles for the Falcons.

Atlanta figures to give cornerback Isaiah Oliver, a 2018 second-round pick, a larger role in 2019 after he started just two of 14 games as a rookie.

–Field Level Media

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Panthers TE Olsen intends to play in 2019

Panthers TE Olsen intends to play in 2019

Panthers TE Olsen intends to play in 2019

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen told reporters on Tuesday that he intends to get his right foot healthy and continue playing in 2019.

“My plan right now, I’m in every day doing my foot rehab, trying to get this thing finally back to where I was used to,” Olsen said, per ESPN. “It seems like it’s been a long time since it was. Yeah, that’s what I’m preparing for, and that all starts with getting my foot right.”

According to The Athletic, Olsen also said he wouldn’t close the door on broadcasting opportunities, but his focus is on playing next season.

Olsen, who turns 34 on March 11, auditioned for ESPN’s Monday Night Football analyst job last offseason and served as a guest broadcaster for Fox for a game while he was injured in 2017.

Olsen has missed 16 games over the last two seasons while battling a troublesome right foot, including a torn plantar fascia in December that required surgery and ended his season. That injury came after Olsen missed four games with a Jones fracture early in 2018 — opting not to have surgery — and nine games in 2017 for a Jones fracture, which was surgically repaired, in the same foot.

After three straight Pro Bowl seasons with 1,000-plus yards from 2014-16, Olsen totaled 44 catches for 482 yards and five scores over the last two years.

The Panthers signed Olsen to a two-year, $17.1 million extension last April, including an $11.1 million signing bonus. He will cost $7.1 million against the cap in 2019 and $11.8 million in 2020, though Carolina could trim the latter figure to a $3.7 million dead-money charge by releasing Olsen after next season.

In 12 NFL seasons, including the last eight with the Panthers, Olsen has 666 receptions for 7,847 yards and 57 touchdowns in 174 games (148 starts).

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Dolphins give Flores guaranteed 5-year deal

Reports: Dolphins give Flores guaranteed 5-year deal

The Miami Dolphins gave new coach Brian Flores

Reports: Dolphins give Flores guaranteed 5-year deal

The Miami Dolphins gave new coach Brian Flores a guaranteed five-year deal, the only one out of eight new NFL head coaches to get one, ESPN first reported Tuesday.

Flores got the guaranteed five years despite being a first-time head coach, like his predecessor in Miami, Adam Gase. The Dolphins fired Gase after just three years.

The Dolphins introduced Flores as their new coach on Monday, having had to wait for the longtime assistant of the New England Patriots to be done with the Super Bowl.

“We want to build this to where this is long-term and you can win for many years instead of trying to go year to year to fill spots to save jobs,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said Monday.

Typical contracts for head coaches are four years guaranteed with a team option for a fifth.

Flores, 37, spent his entire coaching career with the Patriots, starting in 2004. He also served as a scout. Flores was the Pats’ linebackers coach until getting promoted to play-calling duties on defense in 2018 after Matt Patricia left to take the Detroit Lions’ head coaching job.

The Palm Beach Post also reported the five-year deal for Flores later Tuesday morning.

–Field Level Media

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Texans promote Kelly to OC

Texans promote Kelly to OC

The Houston Texans have promoted tight

Texans promote Kelly to OC

The Houston Texans have promoted tight ends coach Tim Kelly to offensive coordinator.

Houston unveiled its entire coaching staff on Tuesday and among the new hires was Carl Smith as quarterbacks coach. Smith spent the past eight seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and replaces recently departed Sean Ryan (Detroit Lions).

Kelly is the first Texans assistant to hold the offensive coordinator title since George Godsey in 2016. Head coach Bill O’Brien ran the offense the past two seasons.

Kelly is entering his sixth season as a Houston assistant.

Former linebacker Brian Cushing’s hiring as assistant strength and conditioning coach also was made official. Former Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates also is on the staff as an offensive assistant.

Smith had a solid relationship with Russell Wilson during his Seattle tenure and will now work closely with Deshaun Watson.

Wes Welker, who had been an offensive and special teams assistant with the Texans the past two seasons, will not return in 2019. The former wide receiver reportedly will join the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff.

–Field Level Media

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Celebration! Patriots fans line Boston streets for parade

Celebration! Patriots fans line Boston streets for parade

Hundreds of

Celebration! Patriots fans line Boston streets for parade

Hundreds of thousands of fans lined the streets of downtown Boston on Tuesday to celebrate the New England Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl championship.

Duck boats and flatbed trucks transported players, coaches, team staff and their family members the two miles from Hynes Convention Center to City Hall during the Patriots’ victory parade. The team flashed the Lombardi Trophy and whooped it up along the way, with quarterback Tom Brady throwing a football back and forth with fans along the parade route and a shirtless Rob Gronkowski drinking an adult beverage or two.

The Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 on Sunday in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.

Fans in their team apparel started lining up about 7 a.m. for the 11 a.m. parade and reveled in the celebration, chanting, “We want seven!” and “Next year, right here!”

Patriots owner Robert Kraft spoke briefly with reporters gathered at the start of the parade route and credited the Atlanta atmosphere with an assist.

“(Being) in the stadium in Atlanta was like a home game,” he said. “It did so much for the team.”

Kraft’s garb drew more attention than his words, though. He was wearing a Patriots hooded sweatshirt, custom Nike shoes with “6X Champions” on the heel, and a chain with an enormous pendant that read “CHAMPIONSHIPS” on one side and “DREAM CHASERS” on the other.

The 77-year-old Kraft said rapper Meek Mill gave him the necklace.

The Patriots’ victory parade came just over three months after a parade to celebrate the World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

–Field Level Media

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Brady says ‘G.O.A.T.’ talk makes him ‘cringe’

Brady says 'G.O.A.T.' talk makes him 'cringe'

Brady says ‘G.O.A.T.’ talk makes him ‘cringe’

You can call Tom Brady a six-time Super Bowl champion.

Just don’t call the New England Patriots quarterback the “G.O.A.T.” He doesn’t like it.

“It makes me cringe,” Brady said Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” after show host and former NFL star Michael Strahan said he thought the Patriots star was the greatest of all time.

“I guess I take compliments worse than I … I wish you would say, ‘You’re trash, you’re too old, you’re too slow, you can’t get it done no more.'” he added. “And I’ll say, ‘Thank you very much, I’ll prove you wrong.'”

Like it or not, Brady proved he belongs in the G.O.A.T. discussion by leading the Patriots to a 13-3 win against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday. He is the only player in NFL history to collect six rings.

At 41, Brady isn’t finished building his legacy. He has said he wants to play until he is 45. Strahan said Brady was “cutting yourself short” and suggest playing until he was 50.

“Fifty is too long,” Brady said. “I think 45 is the goal.”

–Field Level Media

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Report: Bengals pass on Del Rio as DC

Report: Bengals pass on Del Rio as DC

Report: Bengals pass on Del Rio as DC

Jack Del Rio will not be the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive coordinator after both sides decided it would not be a perfect fit, according to an NFL Network report Tuesday.

Per the report, the sides talked before having an official interview, and made the decision not to go further.

Del Rio was considered the leading candidate to run the Bengals’ defense under new head coach Zac Taylor, who reportedly would like to hire a veteran defensive coordinator, much like former boss Sean McVay did with the Los Angeles Rams and Wade Phillips.

John Fox and Mike Nolan — both former head coaches and defensive coordinators in the NFL — have been rumored as possible candidates, while former Green Bay Packers coordinator Dom Capers is also reportedly an option.

Taylor, 35, was officially introduced Tuesday and discussed the type of staff he hopes to put together.

“What we’re looking for are great teachers, concise communicators, outside-the-box thinkers and people who are not afraid to deviate from the norm,” he said. “We’re in the process of building a great coaching staff.

“…There’s a lot of really good coaches out there. We’re going to find the right people, we’re urgent in assembling the right people, but we’re going to take our time and make sure everyone is a perfect fit.”

The team has yet to officially announce any staff hirings, but former Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan will be the offensive coordinator, and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons is expected to be retained.

Del Rio, 55, 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, coincidentally working on the same staff as Callahan.

–Field Level Media

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SF mayor: Raiders ‘should play in Oakland’

SF mayor: Raiders 'should play in Oakland'

San

SF mayor: Raiders ‘should play in Oakland’

San Francisco’s mayor isn’t thrilled with reports that the Oakland Raiders are in talks to play next season’s home games at the Giants’ ballpark.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Oakland Raiders should play in Oakland,” Mayor London Breed told KTVU on Tuesday.

Breed said the extra traffic around Oracle Park — recently renames after long being known as AT&T Park — would exacerbate problems already caused by construction of the new Chase Center for the Golden State Warriors.

“We don’t need another layer to add to what we already have — and that’s an area that’s really congested, filled with construction and will host a number of basketball and baseball games over the coming months,” Breed told the TV station.

Breed said she has shared her concerns with the Giants’ organization.

The Raiders are searching for a temporary home before moving to Las Vegas in 2020. Their lease at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum expired at the end of last season.

Reports of negotiations with the Giants surfaced Sunday night. NFL Network said that both the San Francisco 49ers and the NFL would have to approve a decision to play at Oracle Park. Previous reporots have said the 49ers are open to sharing Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara with the Raiders for 2019, but the Raiders have not been enthused by that option.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: 49ers hire Welker as WRs coach

Reports: 49ers hire Welker as WRs coach

The San Francisco 49ers are

Reports: 49ers hire Welker as WRs coach

The San Francisco 49ers are hiring former Houston Texans assistant Wes Welker as their wide receivers coach, according to multiple reports Tuesday.

Welker, 37, reportedly interviewed with the 49ers and Green Bay Packers last week.

He spent the last two seasons as an offensive and special teams assistant in Houston under Bill O’Brien, who coached Welker while both were with the New England Patriots from 2007-2011. The Texans officially announced their offseason staff changes on Tuesday, with Welker not on the list.

Mike LaFleur served as wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator the last two years under Kyle Shanahan, and he is expected to remain on staff in 2019 after San Francisco denied the Green Bay Packers — led by new head coach Matt LaFleur, Mike’s brother — permission to interview him for their staff. Offensive assistant Katie Sowers has also worked with receivers the last two seasons.

Welker played 12 NFL seasons as a wide receiver, catching 903 passes for 9,924 yards and 50 touchdowns while earning five Pro Bowl appearances and two first-team All-Pro nods. He retired after the 2015 season before getting into coaching in 2017.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Peterson, Redskins talking contract

Report: Peterson, Redskins talking contract

The Washington Redskins and running

Report: Peterson, Redskins talking contract

The Washington Redskins and running back Adrian Peterson have held preliminary talks about his return to the team next season, ESPN reported Tuesday.

Peterson told TMZ Sports last week that he would be “playing next year for sure” and wanted to play two to three more seasons.

The 12-year veteran will turn 34 next month. He signed a one year-deal with Washington last August after rookie running back Derrius Guice tore an ACL and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month.

Peterson rushed for 1,042 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and scored seven touchdowns in 2018. It was his first 1,000-yard season since 2015 with the Minnesota Vikings.

He has 13,318 career yards, good for eighth on the career rushing list.

–Field Level Media

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Jets release starting C Long

Jets release starting C Long

The New York

Jets release starting C Long

The New York Jets released starting center Spencer Long on Tuesday, a day before he was due a $3 million roster bonus.

Per reports, the team could bring Long back at a lower price in the future.

The 28-year-old joined the team on a four-year, $27.4 million contract in free agency last March, but the deal included no guaranteed money beyond 2018 or a signing bonus. Without any bonus prorating over multiple years, the Jets don’t owe any dead money against the cap with his release, saving $6.5 million in 2019.

Long started 13 games in 2018 but struggled while battling finger and leg injuries, committing four penalties and allowing 3.5 sacks after committing just one penalty and allowing three sacks total over his first four NFL seasons with the Washington Redskins. The finger injury gave him trouble snapping the ball — most notably in a 13-6 loss at Miami in November — and he moved to left guard for three games late in the season.

A third-round pick by Washington in 2014, Long has started 44 of 53 games through five seasons.

–Field Level Media

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Police: Antonio Brown involved in domestic incident, not arrested

Police: Antonio Brown involved in domestic incident, not arrested

Law enforcement officials in

Police: Antonio Brown involved in domestic incident, not arrested

Law enforcement officials in Florida told TMZ and ESPN on Tuesday that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was involved in a domestic incident last month but was not arrested.

TMZ reported that a woman filed a report with the Hollywood, Fla., police department in mid-January, alleging misconduct against Brown, prompting an investigation.

“Mr. Brown was involved in a domestic dispute. No arrests were made,” an official with Hollywood police told TMZ. Hollywood police department spokeswoman Miranda Grossman confirmed the incident to ESPN and said that it would make no further comment until it had more information.

An attorney for Brown told ESPN he would not comment.

It’s not the first off-field allegation against Brown, who was hit with two lawsuits in October for allegedly throwing furniture over his high-rise balcony in South Florida last April.

Brown was accused of yelling at security and throwing items off his balcony, upset over $80,000 and a gun he reported missing. Brown accused building security of being behind the theft, according to police reports.

Brown was not charged in that incident either and claimed his innocence.

One lawsuit claims that Brown just missed hitting a 22-month-old boy with the furniture.

Brown is embroiled in a dispute with the Steelers, having reportedly asked to be traded.

Brown has three years remaining on a five-year, $72.7 million contract extension that he signed before the 2017 campaign. He has surpassed 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards in each of the past six seasons, and this year he caught 104 passes for 1,297 yards and a career-high 15 touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

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Super Snoozer causes TV ratings to plummet

Super Snoozer causes TV ratings to plummet

Super Snoozer causes TV ratings to plummet

The Super Snoozer apparently put many television viewers to sleep, according to the data released by Nielsen on Monday night.

Nielsen said Super Bowl LIII between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams averaged approximately 98.2 million viewers on CBS, the lowest since Super Bowl XLII between the New York Giants and Patriots averaged 97.4 million viewers on Feb. 3, 2008.

The Patriots won Sunday’s game 13-3 in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl. New England led 3-0 at halftime and the Rams didn’t score their only points until the game was nearly 43 minutes old.

Sunday’s viewership was down more than 5 million from the previous Super Bowl, when 103.4 million views tuned in to the Philadelphia Eagles’ high-scoring 41-33 win over the Patriots.

The city of New Orleans shunned the Super Bowl in a big way as fans protested the game after the Saints lost in controversial fashion to the Rams in the NFC Championship Game. Only 26.1 percent of television sets in use were tuned into the game, according to Nielsen.

For comparison, New Orleans drew a 53.0 rating for last year’s Eagles-Patriots game.

–Field Level Media

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Pats’ McCourty twins unlikely to visit White House

Pats’ McCourty twins unlikely to visit White House

Pats’ McCourty twins unlikely to visit White House

Scratch at least one member of the New England Patriots roster from making a trip to the White House, providing an invitation from President Donald Trump comes this year.

Defensive back Devin McCourty said Monday he will not attend, while Jason McCourty, Devin’s 31-year-old twin brother and teammate in the secondary, offered that his chances of going are “highly” doubtful.

TMZ also reported that Patriots safety Duron Harmon would skip the White House visit.

During Super Bowl week, Devin McCourty hinted at retiring from football after Super Bowl LIII, which the Patriots won 13-3 in a defensive battle against the Los Angeles Rams.

One day after the victory, though, the sixth Super Bowl title for the Patriots, Devin McCourty said in an Associated Press story, “The only thing I thought about was that parade and that ring ceremony. Two more times with this team; that’s going to be a lot of fun. So I can’t wait for those two events.”

He also was on New England’s Super Bowl-winning team following the 2016 season in a nine-year NFL career, all with the Patriots, who made him a first-round pick in 2010. Jason, who played at Rutgers with his brother, then was drafted in the sixth round by the Tennessee Titans in 2009, joined the Patriots in 2018 after eight seasons with the Titans and one with the 0-16 Cleveland Browns in 2017. He has 17 career interceptions, while Devin has 21, including seven in his rookie season.

Playing on a Super Bowl-winning team with Jason “was 10 times better than both of the other Super Bowls,” said Devin McCourty, who celebrated with his teammates Monday when they returned from Atlanta and were greeted by hundreds of fans at Gillette Stadium. “Better than I thought it would be. It’s still a pretty good feeling.”

The world champion Boston Red Sox plan to visit the White House on May 9, after they end a series in Baltimore against the Orioles. But according to a report in January, American League MVP Mookie Betts will not attend. Manager Alex Cora has also said he’s unsure whether he’ll go there.

Last season’s Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, who beat the Patriots 41-33, didn’t go to the White House, and their invitation was rescinded after several players decided not to attend.

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: Dolphins, Bengals get their coaches

NFL notebook: Dolphins, Bengals get their coaches

New

NFL notebook: Dolphins, Bengals get their coaches

New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores was officially hired as head coach of the Miami Dolphins on Monday.

“Two things that stand out immediately when you meet Brian are his football intelligence and leadership skills,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said. “Brian is widely respected throughout the NFL. He paid his dues in New England working in personnel, on offense, defense and special teams, which helped him build a great understanding of what it takes to win.”

Flores, New England’s defensive play-caller, helped shut down the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday. Flores won four Super Bowl rings as a member of the Patriots’ coaching staff.

Flores, who turns 38 later this month, spent 11 seasons learning at the knee of Bill Belichick and was promoted in the 2018 offseason, when Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was hired as head coach of the Detroit Lions.

–The Bengals officially announced the hiring of Zac Taylor as their new head coach. He previously had been identified as Cincinnati’s choice, but the organization couldn’t move forward until after the Super Bowl, with Taylor being the quarterbacks coach of the Los Angeles Rams.

“This is a great organization with good people and a rich history, and I am excited to get started,” he said in a statement. “I am looking to add to that history by setting high standards, and holding everyone here accountable to those standards. There is a lot of work to do, and this is day one. We’re going to attack every day with enthusiasm to get this team ready to go.”

Taylor, 35, spent the past two seasons with the Rams, who lost 13-3 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. He also had a four-year stint coaching quarterbacks for the Miami Dolphins from 2012-15.

–The NFL is leaning toward a historic matchup to kick off its 100th season in 2019.

The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers are expected to play in the Thursday night opener, according to Westwood One’s Ed Werder.

In a nod to the historic rivalry to open a celebration-filled 100th season of the NFL, the longtime regional rivals would replace the reigning Super Bowl champions in the first game of the 2019 regular season.

–Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz admitted his shortcomings could have inspired anonymous criticism from teammates, who described the 26-year-old as selfish and egotistical.

Wentz said parts of the critical story published last month by PhillyVoice.com were wrong, and others prompted reflection. The story cited “more than a half dozen” players who requested anonymity “fearing repercussions.”

“It’s never fun to read, but to an extent, you look at it and be like, ‘Well, if someone did have this perception of me, why? What have I done wrong? What can I get better at?'” Wentz said, per ESPN. “I realize I have my shortcomings. Yes, I can be selfish. I think we all have selfishness inside of us. There’s human elements to that, that I really look at and say, ‘Well, I can get better.'”

–The Super Snoozer apparently put many television viewers to sleep, according to the data released by Nielsen.

Nielsen said Super Bowl LIII between the Patriots and the Rams averaged approximately 98.2 million viewers on CBS, the lowest since Super Bowl XLII between the New York Giants and Patriots averaged 97.4 million viewers on Feb. 3, 2008.

Sunday’s viewership was down more than 5 million from the previous Super Bowl, when 103.4 million viewers tuned in to the Eagles’ 41-33 win over the Patriots.

–Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are the betting favorite to win the Super Bowl next season, according to one Las Vegas sportsbook.

The Chiefs are 6-1 at Westgate SuperBook, jumping ahead of the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots. Those three teams are 8-1.

Super Bowl LIV will be played on Feb. 2, 2020, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

–Scratch at least one member of the New England Patriots roster from making a trip to the White House, providing an invitation from President Donald Trump comes this year.

Defensive back Devin McCourty said he would not attend, while Jason McCourty, Devin’s 31-year-old twin brother and teammate in the secondary, offered that his chances of going are “highly” doubtful.

TMZ also reported that Patriots safety Duron Harmon would skip a White House visit.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Bears-Packers to kick off NFL’s 100th season

Report: Bears-Packers to kick off NFL's 100th season

Move over, New England Patriots. The

Report: Bears-Packers to kick off NFL’s 100th season

Move over, New England Patriots. The NFL is leaning toward a historic matchup to kick off its 100th season in 2019.

The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers are expected to play in the Thursday night opener, according to Westwood One’s Ed Werder.

In a nod to the historic rivalry to open a celebration-filled 100th season of the NFL, the longtime regional rivals would replace the reigning Super Bowl champions in the first game of the 2019 regular season.

New England typically would host the game to kick off the season by virtue of winning Super Bowl LIII.

A decision could come soon, but the official announcement likely is to be delayed until the official schedule release in primetime around mid-April.

–Field Level Media

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