Griffen to rejoin Vikings after mental health evaluation

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen is returning to the team after being out for the past month for a mental health evaluation.

The Vikings say Griffen will resume team activities Wednesday. They didn’t say when he would return to game action.

Griffen, a three-time Pro Bowler, left the team in late September after a series of events that included a welfare check at a hospital. A police report described erratic behavior that included a threat of violence at a downtown Minneapolis hotel and a text message to his wife referencing suicide.

General manager Rick Spielman said Griffen’s return comes in consultation with his doctors.

In a statement, Griffen called a return “the next step in a longer process” and said he hopes to eventually talk publicly about his issue.


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Report: Brady defiantly denies retirement question

Report: Brady defiantly denies retirement question


Report: Brady defiantly denies retirement question

If anyone had any question whether Tom Brady would consider retiring after the Super Bowl, win or lose, the iconic Patriots quarterback has apparently put it to rest.

With New England preparing to face the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII next Sunday in Atlanta, the 41-year-old quarterback was reportedly asked if he planned to play next season.

“Zero,” Brady apparently replied when asked if there was any chance Super Bowl Sunday would be his final NFL game.

A veteran of 19 seasons, Brady was a model of consistency again this season — earning his 14th Pro Bowl selection by passing for 4,355 yards with 29 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Moreover, the Patriots have not had a losing season since he earned the starting QB job because of a Drew Bledsoe injury in the 2001 season.

Sunday marks Brady’s third straight Super Bowl appearance and the ninth of his career — an NFL record. He is the only starting quarterback in league history to win five Super Bowls.

–Field Level Media

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Rams’ Cooks responds to Pats’ Chung dig in fan rally

Rams' Cooks responds to Pats' Chung dig in fan rally

Rams’ Cooks responds to Pats’ Chung dig in fan rally

So much for trying not to provide your opponents bulletin-board material.

Ahead of the normal barrage of stale answers to the media hordes covering Super Bowl week, both the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams held fan rallies on Sunday — with both teams talking tough to their own backers before heading to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII next Sunday.

As the AFC champion Patriots drew 35,000 fans at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., starting safety Patrick Chung raised the Rams’ radar by telling his home crowd, “We’re going to go [down] there and kick their ass, baby,” according to WEEI.

Later in the day, the NFC champion Rams hosted their rally at the L.A. Stadium at Hollywood Park, where the team will start to call home beginning in 2020.

After a day of speeches and rallying cries, Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks — a former Patriots teammate of Chung’s last season — responded to the tough talk from New England.

“Hey Chung, we heard you talking that talk back there in Foxborough … let’s get straight,” Cooks said before walking off the stage, per

The Patriots are making their record 11th Super Bowl appearance, with the Rams playing in the game for first time since the 2001 season when they were located in St. Louis. The Rams are 1-2 in Super Bowls as a franchise.

–Field Level Media

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Huge crowd sends Patriots off to Super Bowl

Huge crowd sends Patriots off to Super Bowl

Huge crowd sends Patriots off to Super Bowl

For New England Patriots fans, the trip to the Super Bowl hasn’t gotten old.

Before the Patriots departed Sunday morning for their ninth Super Bowl appearance since the 2001 season, an estimated 35,000 fans gathered at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., to wish the team well. Fans started lining up in the cold before dawn to get a good viewing spot.

Owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and a handful of his teammates addressed the crowd, thanking them for its support. After the rally, they boarded buses for the T.F. Green Airport in Providence, R.I., where the team plane was waiting to take the Patriots to Atlanta. New England will meet the Los Angeles Rams there next Sunday in Super Bowl LIII.

“We’ve got to bring it, you guys have got to bring it and hopefully we can bring the trophy back home,” Brady said. “We’re not quite at the end yet. We’ve got one more to go.”

Brady worked the crowd into a frenzy by leading the chant, “We’re still here!” before dropping the mic.

The Patriots have won five Super Bowls in the Brady-Belichick era.

–Field Level Media

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Rams K Zuerlein optimistic strained foot will be ‘good to go’

Rams K Zuerlein optimistic strained foot will be ‘good to go’

Rams K Zuerlein optimistic strained foot will be ‘good to go’

Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein on Saturday said he was “hopeful” that his strained foot will be ready for Super Bowl LIII after a “few more days of treatment.”

Zuerlein has yet to practice since his 57-yard kick heard ‘round the world defeated the New Orleans Saints last week and thrust the Rams into the Super Bowl.

Zuerlein said he “landed on something that didn’t give as much as turf and that’s when it started hurting.” The injury occurred at halftime.

“It hurt, but not enough to keep me from playing.But, hopefully, a few more days of treatment and it’ll be good to go,” he said.

Zuerlein has been walking in a boot and was listed again on the official injury report.

Zuerlein also drilled a 48-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter to force the NFC Championship Game into overtime.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said Saturday, applauding Zuerlein’s support of stand-in kickers Cairo Santos and Sam Ficken.

–Field Level Media

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Bears give OT Massie four-year extension

Bears give OT Massie four-year extension

The Chicago Bears retained a key piece

Bears give OT Massie four-year extension

The Chicago Bears retained a key piece of their offensive line, signing right tackle Bobby Massie to a four-year extension on Saturday.

Terms were not announced, but NFL Network reported the deal is worth more than $8 million per year, a figure that would put him among the four highest-paid right tackles in the league.

Massie, 29, just finished his seventh season as a pro and third with Chicago after joining the team on a three-year, $18 million deal in March of 2016. He has missed just four games over the last five seasons, all as a starter.

“Bobby has been an important part of our offensive line the past three years and has shown steady improvement during that time,” said Bears general manager Ryan Pace in a statement.

“Bobby has a tremendous work ethic and has displayed the kind of toughness and consistency we want in our players.”

Massie spent the first four seasons of his career with the Arizona Cardinals, who selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

–Field Level Media

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Ole Miss receiver Metcalf cleared for combine

Ole Miss receiver Metcalf cleared for combine

Mississippi receiver

Ole Miss receiver Metcalf cleared for combine

Mississippi receiver D.K. Metcalf, who underwent season-ending neck surgery in October, has been cleared to resume all football activity ahead of the NFL Combine.

His surgeon, Dr. Kevin Foley, said there are no limitations on Metcalf’s activities.

Metcalf is training for the combine in Phoenix and has been projected as a potential first-round selection.

The redshirt sophomore led the squad with five touchdown receptions at the time of his injury and had 26 receptions for 569 yards, a splendid 21.9 average yards per catch.

Metcalf missed the bulk of the 2016 season with a foot injury, but played in 12 games in 2017 and had 39 catches for 646 yards and seven touchdowns.

The NFL Combine runs from Feb. 26 through March 4 in Indianapolis.

–Field Level Media

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Saints’ Watson calls Goodell’s silence ‘unbecoming’ and ‘detrimental’

Saints' Watson calls Goodell's silence 'unbecoming' and 'detrimental'

Saints’ Watson calls Goodell’s silence ‘unbecoming’ and ‘detrimental’

Four days after the New Orleans Saints missed out on a likely Super Bowl appearance due to a missed call, tight end Benjamin Watson tweeted a message to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, questioning his silence on the subject.

“We all realize that football is an imperfect game, played, coached and officiated by imperfect people,” Watson wrote. “What occurred last Sunday in New Orleans though, was outside of that expected and accepted norm. Your continued silence on this matter is unbecoming of the position you hold, detrimental to the integrity of the game and disrespectful and dismissive to football fans everywhere.

“From the locker room to Park Ave, accountability is what makes our league great. Lead by example. We are waiting.”

Though Saints head coach Sean Payton said after Sunday’s game that NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron confirmed the missed call via phone, the league has yet to issue an official comment on the matter. In the past, the NFL has released videos with Riveron — or former VP of officiating Dean Blandino, before Riveron assumed the job — explaining why particular controversial calls were made correctly or incorrectly.

The NFL’s rulebook technically could have provided latitude for Goodell to take action and change the outcome of Sunday’s game, but such action would have been unprecedented and would have had to happen promptly given the planning involved for a team headed to the Super Bowl.

Goodell was not at Sunday’s game — he was in Kansas City to watch the Chiefs face the Patriots — and he has not issued any public comments on the game or the call in question.

Watson, 38, did not play on Sunday after battling appendicitis during the week. He had said previously the 2018 season — his 14th in the NFL — would be his last.

Watson is one of the league’s most respected players. A vice president of the NFL Players Association, he was one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2017 and has been a prominent voice on a variety of off-field subjects.

–Field Level Media

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NFL: Concussion numbers dropped significantly in 2018

NFL: Concussion numbers dropped significantly in 2018

NFL: Concussion numbers dropped significantly in 2018

The number of diagnosed concussions dropped significantly in the NFL in 2018, the league confirmed on Thursday.

There was a 24 percent decline in concussions in the preseason and regular season, from 281 in 2017 to 214 this season. For the regular season only, there was a 29 percent decrease from 190 in 2017 to 135.

That means the average NFL team experienced one concussion every fourth game in 2018, compared to one every third game in 2017.

“We’re certainly pleased with the progress on concussion reduction,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president for health and safety. “There is a lot more work to do.”

Two rules changes may have contributed to the decline. After experiencing a spike in concussion figures in 2017, the league put a rule in place to prevent using the helmet to initiate contact. Changes were also made to kickoffs, with the elimination of any wedges (previously, two-man wedges had been allowed) and new formational rules that made the play more like a punt return, with fewer high-speed collisions.

Some of the credit also goes to advances in helmet technology. The league said 74 percent of players are using the latest protective headwear, compared to 41 percent in 2017.

The NFL said that 75 percent of the 538 sideline evaluations during games this season did not result in a concussion diagnosis.

“We continue to emphasize an extremely conservative approach,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer. “If they even suspect someone is concussed, we screen that player.”

The latest concussion figures are encouraging, but the league said the number of serious knee injuries has remained largely flat over the past seven seasons. There were 57 ACL tears in 2018, the NFL said.

–Field Level Media

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Saints superfan expresses ire on Atlanta billboards

Saints superfan expresses ire on Atlanta billboards

Saints superfan expresses ire on Atlanta billboards

One Saints’ superfan is so angered by the referees’ missed call in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, which likely cost New Orleans a trip to the Super Bowl, that he bought billboards all over downtown Atlanta to tell everyone how he really feels.

Matt Bowers, who owns several car dealerships in the New Orleans area, had some choice words for the league, including “SAINTS GOT ROBBED” and “NFL BLEAUX IT!” plastered on billboards along I-85 in Atlanta, the site of the 2019 Super Bowl. Another one of the billboards is located right outside of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the Los Angeles Rams — not the Saints — and the New England Patriots will square off in two weeks.

Bowers wrote several social media posts on Monday hinting that he would take action in the wake of his ire, writing in one Twitter post, “I’m going to do something about this. #Saints #NFLBLEAUXIT,” and in another, “I won’t ever get over it but, I am going to make the NFL miserable. Watch me.”

The wave of billboards, reported to be seven in all with 16 placements, went live across downtown Atlanta on Monday evening, and fans and news outlets were quick to take notice. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday that Bowers stated, “I’m not done yet.”

Bowers, whose most recent billboard message targets the NFL commissioner (“Roger Goodell knew dat!”), has also made sure that folks will see the billboards for weeks to come: He announced on Twitter they will remain “All over … Downtown Atlanta through the Fake Super Bowl.”

–Field Level Media

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Report: NFL head of officiating could lose job

Report: NFL head of officiating could lose job

Report: NFL head of officiating could lose job

The job status of the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, Alberto Riveron, could be in question after a blown call Sunday in the NFC Championship Game likely cost the New Orleans Saints a Super Bowl appearance.

NBC’s Peter King quoted a source Monday who said, “Al Riveron (EVP of Officiating) is gone. He can’t survive this.”

King added that another source said the league would have to pay a lot of money to get Dean Blandino or Mike Pereira (the latter “a less likely candidate,” per King) to return to the position. Both men once held the VP of officiating title before moving into television as rules analysts.

Riveron was promoted to the position before the 2017 season to fill the vacancy created by Blandino’s departure for Fox Sports. Last January, multiple outlets reported Riveron would remain in the position for the 2018 season despite several high-profile officiating controversies, including one that led to the competition committee overhauling the catch rule last offseason.

Riveron was senior director of officiating before being promoted to replace Blandino. He became the first Hispanic NFL referee in 2008.

Blandino suggested in December 2017, not long after leaving the league, that he could be persuaded to return to his old post if the position were valued more within the league office.

On Sunday, Saints head coach Sean Payton said he spoke with Riveron via phone shortly after New Orleans’ loss to the Los Angeles Rams, saying Riveron admitted to a blown non-call on a play that should have been ruled pass interference in the final two minutes of regulation.

“The explanation … it was simple,” Payton said of his discussion with Riveron. “They blew the call. Not only was it (pass) interference, but it was helmet-to-helmet (contact). That was the first thing Al said. …

“I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference call. That’s a tough one to swallow.”

Had the call been made, with the score 20-20, the Saints would have been able to run the clock down and attempt a short field goal as time expired. Instead, they were forced to kick with 1:41 remaining, leaving time for the Rams to tie the game and force overtime, where the Saints went on to lose 26-23.

Referee Bill Vinovich briefly addressed the play during a postgame interview with a pool reporter.

“It was a judgment call by the covering official,” Vinovich said. “I personally have not seen the play. … It is not a reviewable play.”

Multiple outlets reported Monday that the league will look closely this offseason at potentially changing that matter, perhaps making pass interference reviewable along with other “judgment” calls that have not been reviewable previously.

Saints owner Gayle Benson released a statement Monday saying she was “thoroughly disappointed” with the lack of “fair and equitable” decision-making from the referees, adding she has been in touch with the league and will “aggressively pursue changes” to prevent future errors from happening.

The officials on the field closest to the play in question were side judge Gary Cavaletto and down judge Patrick Turner. It’s unclear whether either will face discipline, although the league let go of down judge Hugo Cruz in October, less than two weeks after he missed a false start on a play that resulted in a Los Angeles Chargers touchdown against the Cleveland Browns.

–Field Level Media

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Saints’ owner issues statement on controversial loss

Saints' owner issues statement on controversial loss


Saints’ owner issues statement on controversial loss

A day after her New Orleans Saints lost the NFC Championship Game due, in part, to a missed call by the officials, team owner Gayle Benson issued a strong statement of disapproval on Monday.

“I am thoroughly disappointed by the events that led to the outcome of yesterday’s game,” the statement said, in part. “Getting to the Super Bowl is incredibly difficult to do and takes such an unbelievable commitment from a team and support from its fans. 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. 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. It is a disservice to our coaches, players, employees and, most importantly, the fans who make our game possible. The NFL must always commit to providing the most basic of expectations — fairness and integrity.”

Officials declined to throw a flag after Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman clearly hit Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrived on a third-and-10 pass. Had a penalty been called, the Saints would have been able to run the clock down before kicking a 31-yard field goal as time expired, which would have won the game and sent them to the Super Bowl.

Instead, they were forced to kick a field goal with 1:41 remaining, leaving time for the Rams to tie and force overtime, where the Saints went on to lose.

Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters after the game he spoke with Alberto Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, who confirmed the incorrect non-call.

Robey-Coleman admitted afterward he made contact before Lewis had a chance to catch the pass.

“Yes, I got there too early,” he said. “I was beat, and I was trying to save the touchdown.”

Referee Bill Vinovich briefly addressed the play during a postgame interview with a pool reporter.

“It was a judgment call by the covering official,” Vinovich said. “I personally have not seen the play. … It is not a reviewable play.”

The Washington Post reported Monday that the NFL will consider making pass interference a reviewable play this offseason.

“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 Post.

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.

–Field Level Media

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NFL Conference Championship Weekend: Over and Under Bets

This NFL season, with sports betting expected to be a more common and accepted practice, we're making a point to look beyond point spreads and analyze often-neglected totals. As part of that approach, we're offering up our favorite bet over and favorite under each week. 

Over and Under Best Bets

Take the

This NFL season, with sports betting expected to be a more common and accepted practice, we’re making a point to look beyond point spreads and analyze often-neglected totals. As part of that approach, we’re offering up our favorite bet over and favorite under each week. 

Over and Under Best Bets

Take the over: New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs

Total: 56.5

The Chiefs remain vulnerable against the run. The Colts averaged 6.2 yards per rush against them but weren’t able to establish the run consistently due to the score.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have really discovered a strong running game thanks to the emergence of Sony Michel. Look for them to keep it on the ground and set things up for the passing game to take advantage of a secondary that is also beatable. 

You know Tom Brady will get some shots in, and there’s little doubt Patrick Mahomes will do the same. New England’s run defense is also vulnerable — only the Rams surrendered more yards per carry than the Pats and Chiefs this season — and Damien Williams and Spencer Ware should have plenty of success setting up the passing game. Kansas City could also get a shot in the arm from the return of injured guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. 

These teams combined for 83 points in their first meeting, and this should be another track meet. After initial weather concerns, the latest forecast indicates this game won’t be played in sub-zero temperatures after all, and I think both teams will have just enough in them on offense to push this one into the 60s. 

Predicted score: Chiefs 34, Patriots 28

Take the under: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints

Total: 56

Dating back to Week 13, the Saints have averaged fewer than 20 points per game. And while they scored 45 points the last time they faced Los Angeles, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is too smart to let that happen again. Look for Aqib Talib — who didn’t play in that first meeting — to do a better job against productive star Saints receiver Michael Thomas, and don’t be surprised if underrated Rams linebacker Cory Littleton limits Alvin Kamara’s damage. 

That could make life real tough against a defensive front featuring defensive player of the year shoo-in Aaron Donald as well as Ndamukong Suh, who looks inspired thus far in January. 

And while the Rams also scored 35 points in that Week 9 meeting, that offense has also been less stable and consistent without Cooper Kupp down the stretch. 

The Saints defense is certainly beatable, but keep in mind that New Orleans completely shut down the Eagles for three and a half quarters on Sunday and has surrendered 17 or fewer points in seven of its last nine games.

Not even sure this one will hit 50. 

Predicted score: Rams 24, Saints 23

Good luck, we’re all counting on you. 

Previous results
Last week: 2-0
2018 season: 23-14-1

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NFL notebook: Chiefs S Berry, RB Ware set to play Sunday

NFL notebook: Chiefs S Berry, RB Ware set to play Sunday

NFL notebook: Chiefs S Berry, RB Ware set to play Sunday

Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry and running back Spencer Ware are trending toward taking the field Sunday in the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots.

Berry was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and repeated the session Thursday. He’s been bothered by a heel injury.

“He looked good out there,” head coach Andy Reid said Thursday when asked about the risk of Berry being rusty after playing in just two games this season. “I see him out there looking like Eric Berry.”

Berry has played just 99 snaps across the two games while battling the lingering heel issue, while Ware missed the final three games of the regular season after injuring his hamstring Week 14 in a win over the Ravens.

–Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt had a “minor knee cleanup” after the season, reported NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

“Sounds like he’s fine now,” Rapoport tweeted. “Just some maintenance on an injury that bothered him during the season.”

Watt had appeared on Houston’s injury report multiple times during the second half of the season with a knee issue, but he started all 16 regular-season games plus the Texans’ wild-card playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts this season.

–Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette has filed an official challenge over the team’s decision to take away the guarantees in the final two years of his contract, according to multiple reports, and an arbitrator will determine if Jacksonville is within its rights to do so.

Fournette was scheduled to earn $2.93 million in 2019 and $4.17 million in 2020, but the Jaguars voided the guarantees after he was suspended by the NFL for one game for coming off the bench to fight with Bills defensive lineman Shaq Lawson during the Jaguars’ loss at Buffalo on Nov. 25.

After the game, Fournette apologized, but the Jaguars still took away the remaining guaranteed money in his rookie contract citing a contract clause that allowed them to do so if he missed a game for anything other than a football-related injury.

–The Seattle Seahawks have agreed to a deal with quarterback Paxton Lynch, a first-round draft pick by Denver in 2016, KJR Radio reported.

Lynch, who turns 25 next month, was released by the Broncos before the 2018 season.

He wasn’t able to take hold of the starting job in Denver, appearing in just five games (four starts) and passing for 792 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. The Broncos’ signing of Case Keenum last March made Lynch expendable.

–The Chicago Bears’ impressive 2018 turnaround earned Matt Nagy the NFL Coach of the Year and former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year honors from the Pro Football Writers of America.

Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard, whose moves helped the Colts reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014, was voted NFL Executive of the Year by PFWA members.

Nagy inherited a 5-11 team and compiled a 12-4 record in his first season with the Bears, who won the NFC North and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

–Legendary singer Gladys Knight will perform the national anthem before Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3, the NFL and CBS announced.

“I am proud to use my voice to unite and represent our country in my hometown of Atlanta,” the 74-year-old Knight said.

Knight is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has won seven Grammy awards. She also has had two No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 singles during her career: “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “That’s What Friends Are For.”

–Former NFL quarterback Turk Schonert has died, according to Fox 19 News in Cincinnati. He was 62. His cause of death was not announced.

Schonert spent eight seasons in Cincinnati (1981-85, 1987-89) and one in Atlanta (1986), largely as a backup quarterback. He compiled a 7-5 record as a starter.

He later served as quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints. He also was the Bills’ offensive coordinator for one season in 2008. More recently, he was an assistant coach with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL.

–Field Level Media

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Gladys Knight to perform anthem at Super Bowl

Gladys Knight to perform anthem at Super Bowl

Gladys Knight to perform anthem at Super Bowl

Legendary singer Gladys Knight will perform the national anthem before Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3, the NFL and CBS announced Thursday.

“I am proud to use my voice to unite and represent our country in my hometown of Atlanta,” the 74-year-old Knight said.

Knight is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has won seven Grammy awards. She also has had two No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 singles during her career: “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “That’s What Friends Are For.”

Deaf activist Aarron Loggins will sign both the anthem and “America The Beautiful.”

–Field Level Media

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Potent offenses collide as Saints, Rams meet for NFC title

Potent offenses collide as Saints, Rams meet for NFC title

Potent offenses collide as Saints, Rams meet for NFC title

Drew Brees turned 40 on Tuesday, and the New Orleans Saints quarterback will cap off his birthday week matching throws and wits on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game with Jared Goff, the Los Angeles Rams quarterback who is 16 years younger.

Brees is in no mood for nostalgia, but he knows better than anyone else that chances to win a Super Bowl don’t come around often.

“I think that’s been well communicated, really, as we’ve journeyed through the season and as we’ve hit every benchmark,” Brees said of being one victory away from his second Super Bowl appearance, the other when he won a title after the 2009 season. “Don’t take it for granted. Appreciate it. We are still a young team in a lot of areas, but we also have a lot of great veteran leadership.”

Goff said he appreciated Brees’ willingness to share some insights into the art of quarterbacking when they played together in the Pro Bowl last year.

Brees said he was simply “paying forward” what other veteran quarterbacks did for him, guys like Doug Flutie, Trent Dilfer and Kurt Warner.

“I told myself at that time that hopefully I can play long enough where guys start asking advice from me,” Brees said, smiling.

In their 45-35 regular-season victory over the Rams in November, the Saints held a 35-14 lead late in the second quarter — scoring touchdowns on five of their six first-half possessions. Their only miscue came when Mark Ingram fumbled at the New Orleans 22 with the game tied at 14, but the Rams wasted that scoring opportunity when they passed up a go-ahead, 34-yard field goal on fourth-and-4 and failed to convert on holder Johnny Hekker’s run around right end.

The Rams rallied starting late in the second quarter and put up 21 consecutive points to the tie the game at 35, only to have Brees connect with Michael Thomas on a 72-yard touchdown with 3:53 left to seal the victory.

When Saints coach Sean Payton remarked after the game that he liked the matchup of Thomas going against Rams cornerback Marcus Peters, the defensive back fired back and said he was relishing a rematch.

Asked Wednesday about the verbal dustup, Payton discounted any bad blood, saying the Saints had come close to drafting Peters in 2015.

In the November matchup, Brees completed 25 of 36 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns, and Thomas caught 12 passes for a career-high 211 yards to hand the Rams their first loss of the season.

In the rematch, the Saints will be playing without one of their best run-stoppers, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who sustained a torn Achilles tendon in New Orleans’ 20-14 divisional playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last week.

The Rams also will be without one of their best performers, wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in Week 10. Kupp had 40 catches for 566 yards and six touchdowns in eight games this season.

“That game was a while ago,” Rams coach Sean McVay said of New Orleans’ head-to-head win. “It was a great reference point for us to work from and try to learn from some of the mistakes everybody made, and we’re looking forward to the challenge again on Sunday.”

The Rams, playing in their first NFC Championship Game since 2001-02, are coming off an impressive 30-22 victory over Dallas in which they produced 273 rushing yards, the most ever surrendered by the Cowboys in the playoffs. Running backs Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson combined for 238 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries (6.1-yard average).

“I thought those guys did a great job complementing each other,” McVay said. “Certainly, Todd’s our guy, but I thought C.J. was a great change of pace to come in there and be able to do some really good things.”

The rematch should have plenty of offensive fireworks. The Rams finished No. 2 in the NFL in scoring (32.9 points per game), but the Saints were right behind them at No. 3 (31.5). Both defenses finished in the middle of the pack in total yardage allowed and points allowed.

While Gurley and Anderson proved they could pound the ball against the Cowboys, the Saints’ Alvin Kamara and Ingram provide the sixth-best rushing attack in the league. Kamara had three first-half touchdowns in the November meeting.

“We need to keep our gap integrity and tackle well,” McVay said.

–Field Level Media

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Patriots dialed in for Chiefs, championship game

Patriots dialed in for Chiefs, championship game

Patriots dialed in for Chiefs, championship game

in 2014, the last time the Patriots traveled to Kansas City, apoplectic reaction went to parts unknown: speculation whether Tom Brady was finished and if his Lombardi-hoarding coach had lost his touch.

Two Super Bowl victories later, New England is again on rarely traveled ground, packing for another AFC Championship game as the underdog at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

“They’re a well balanced, disciplined team. We’ll need our best game,” Belichick said Wednesday in Foxborough, Mass.

The Patriots need one win for their ninth Super Bowl appearance since 2000. Sunday will mark the eighth consecutive year New England has reached the conference title game. No other team has appeared in more than five in a row.

“I love to play in a championship game,” Belichick said, shrugging off a question about preparing for gametime temperatures forecast to be at or below freezing. “Schedule it wherever you want. We’ll be there.”

The most recent forecast calls for a daytime temperature of 19 degrees.

Belichick has won a championship at the expense of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. New England won Super Bowl XXXIX over the Eagles, with Reid as Philadelphia’s coach, following the 2004 season. The Patriots have 18 takeaways in eight games and a 6-2 record when Belichick opposes Reid.

Overall, Reid is 1-4 in championship games. Kansas City hasn’t won the Super Bowl since 1970.

For all the playoff experience Brady and Belichick boast, not often has New England been asked to go on the road to earn a Super Bowl ticket. New England is 3-4 in postseason road games featuring Brady behind center.

“We’re going to have to stop the whole offense, not just one player,” Belichick said. “We’re going to have to play good team defense.”

Belichick is 8-4 in championship games and has 29 postseason wins as a head coach.

Kansas City was first in the NFL at 35.3 points per game in 2018. New England was fourth at 27.2.

Recent games have been shootouts. The Chiefs beat the Patriots 42-27 to open the 2017 season, and New England knocked off K.C. in October of the just-completed season, 43-40.

“They have a great offense, they have a great set of players,” Belichick said. “Andy does a great job of forcing you to make choices, and spreading the ball around based on those choices. … They lead the league in everything.”

As for any lasting memories of the bloody Monday night in 2014 – a 41-14 loss in which New England trailed 27-0 and 41-7 – the Patriots are employing their usual short-term memory.

This week, they’re on to Kansas City.

–Field Level Media

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Arians: Steelers WR Brown has become ‘diva’

Arians: Steelers WR Brown has become 'diva'

New Tampa

Arians: Steelers WR Brown has become ‘diva’

New Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians used to have a close-up view of Pittsburgh star wide receiver Antonio Brown when he served as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

Now his view is from afar, and he isn’t so impressed with Brown’s actions or behavior.

“There’s too much miscommunication, too much … diva,” Arians said Tuesday on The Adam Schefter Podcast. “I’ve heard so many stories — I like Antonio — he plays as hard as anybody on Sunday and he practices hard.

“He’s just gotta make better decisions off the field, be on time, do some of those little things.”

Arians was around for Brown’s first two seasons in Pittsburgh. The Steelers drafted Brown in the sixth round out of Central Michigan in 2010 and Arians was impressed with his hunger to become good.

“He was the hardest working,” Arians said. “He and Emmanuel Sanders. Boy, they went after it because (coach) Mike Tomlin used to tell them, ‘two dogs, one bone.’ And at that time we had Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, I mean we had a pretty good run for one of them to get on the field. By the end of the season, they were both winning for us to go to the Super Bowl.”

Arians left the Steelers following the 2011 campaign to become offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts. He served as interim head coach for most of 2012 while Chuck Pagano was battling cancer, was the Arizona Cardinals head man from 2013-17 and sat out the 2018 season before becoming head coach of the Buccaneers.

Meanwhile, Brown’s future in Pittsburgh is uncertain after his Week 17 antics infuriated the organization. Brown reportedly skipped meetings and practices and didn’t return Tomlin’s calls.

When Brown showed up for the regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, Tomlin informed him that he wouldn’t be playing.

Last week, team president Art Rooney II said it would be “hard to envision” Brown being part of the team when it opens training camp in July.

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: Eagles still committed to Wentz

NFL notebook: Eagles still committed to Wentz


NFL notebook: Eagles still committed to Wentz

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson didn’t waste any time putting an end to speculation about the team’s quarterback situation next year.

“Carson Wentz is the quarterback going forward,” Pederson said at a press conference Tuesday. “And in Nick (Foles’) case, listen, we’d love to have everybody back throughout the roster, but as I’ve said many times, it’s not about one guy, it’s about the team, and we’re going to do what’s best for the team.”

Foles, 29, led the team in the postseason each of the past two years with Wentz out injured. The Eagles hold a $20 million option on Foles for 2019, but the quarterback can buy it out for $2 million to become a free agent, barring a franchise tag.

–The New York Jets will hire former Cleveland Browns interim coach Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator, ESPN reported.

ESPN adds the Washington Redskins — whose defense Williams coordinated from 2004-07 — also pursued Williams, but the Jets had more interest. Washington still has Greg Manusky under contract as defensive coordinator, but reports have connected the team to various other options.

–The Denver Broncos agreed to hire former Chicago Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell as defensive coordinator, according to multiple reports.

Donatell has worked under Vic Fangio since 2011, when they were both in San Francisco. He also had two previous tenures in Denver as the secondary coach. Fangio is still expected to call plays on Sundays.

–The Arizona Cardinals are interviewing former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter for the same position, ESPN reported.

According to multiple reports, the Cardinals also interviewed John DeFilippo — who has also interviewed for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ opening — on Sunday.

–The Jaguars are interviewing former Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike McCoy for the same position, ESPN reported.

McCoy, 46, was fired by the Cardinals in October, marking the second consecutive season in which he was fired midseason. The Broncos let him go midway through 2017.

–The Indianapolis Colts parted ways with offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, while assistant offensive line coach Bobby Johnson is leaving to take the lead job for the Buffalo Bills.

The Colts allowed an NFL-low 18 sacks in 2018, but DeGuglielmo is out after just one year because head coach Frank Reich wants to hire his own guy, NFL Network reported. DeGuglielmo was hired by Josh McDaniels last year before the latter backed out of the Colts’ head job.

–The Dallas Cowboys will keep Marc Colombo as their offensive line coach full-time.

Colombo took over for Paul Alexander — who was fired just seven games into his first year with the Cowboys — at the end of October.

–The Browns are hiring Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Chris Jones, per multiple reports. TSN reports Jones will serve as senior defensive specialist.

Jones and new head coach Freddie Kitchens have a relationship dating back to 1997, when Jones was a graduate assistant at Alabama in Kitchens’ final season at quarterback for the Crimson Tide.

–The Kansas City Chiefs activated right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif from injured reserve and waived safety Ron Parker.

Duvernay-Tardif landed on IR after sustaining a spiral fracture in his fibula in Week 5, an injury that required surgery.

–The New Orleans Saints signed free agent defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker, per multiple reports.

Walker, 28, began his career in New Orleans as an undrafted free agent and played 23 games with the Saints from 2013-14. He’ll help replace Sheldon Rankins (IR, Achilles).

–Atlanta Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley was undergoing a mental evaluation after being detained by police in Los Angeles, according to TMZ Sports.

He reportedly was involved in an undisclosed incident at a hotel, and a friend who was with McKinley became worried and called the police. TMZ reported McKinley was not arrested. Instead, police encouraged him to seek help, and he agreed and went with police.

–The NFL announced the Los Angeles Chargers’ and Dallas Cowboys’ staffs will coach the Pro Bowl in Orlando on Jan. 27.

–Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will replace injured Chargers QB Philip Rivers in the Pro Bowl.

Other Pro Bowl replacements announced Tuesday included Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams (for Geno Atkins), 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (Fletcher Cox), Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (Luke Kuechly) and Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins (Landon Collins).

–John Parry will be the referee for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, his second Super Bowl as referee and third as an official.

–Longtime NFL coach Mike Smith announced on Sirius XM radio he is retiring to spend more time with his family.

–The San Francisco 49ers are hiring former Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Woods as their passing-game coordinator, per multiple reports.

–New York Giants rookie quarterback Kyle Lauletta pleaded guilty to a disorderly persons offense stemming from an October incident, ESPN reported.

–Field Level Media

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Bears won’t shut door on signing RB Hunt

Bears won't shut door on signing RB Hunt

Bears won’t shut door on signing RB Hunt

At the Chicago Bears’ end-of-the-season news conference Monday, head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace covered a variety of topics, including new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, expected personnel moves this offseason and kicker Cody Parkey’s appearance on the “Today” show last week.

However, perhaps no comments raised more eyebrows than those about former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, who was cut and placed on the commissioner’s exempt list in late November after a video surfaced showing Hunt shoving and kicking a woman at a Cleveland apartment building in February.

It is not clear when — or if — Hunt will be reinstated by the league. However, neither Nagy nor Pace closed the door on potentially bringing in Hunt should the opportunity present itself. Nagy spent two seasons as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator prior to this season, including coaching Hunt for his rookie season in 2017.

“I’m a guy that, I don’t care who you are. … Here is what I’m going to say to this,” Nagy said. “Everybody has, when you talk about second chances, well, what’s the second chance? Is it, what’s your situation? And so, with him, that’s not for me to decide. … I’m a guy that has always been, now I was raised that way to give guys second chances, not third chances, now I’ve learned that from (Chiefs head coach Andy) Reid, he’s done that several times with some people, but I will say that every situation is different. That’s his situation, and I wanted to talk to him as on the true, personal side.”

As for Pace, the team’s general manager since 2015, he would say only that he takes each player and each decision on its own individual merits, and that the two sides are not close to the point of entertaining the possibility of Hunt joining the Bears.

“I think every one of those is unique. Each one is different,” Pace said. “The circumstances are always different. We’re not even there yet. I mean, I know what he is as a player obviously from watching. Matt knows more about him as a person. We’re not even close to that point.”

The Bears won the NFC North with a 12-4 record but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 16-15 in the wild-card round when Parkey’s would-be game-winning field goal was deflected at the line of scrimmage, then bounced off an upright and the crossbar before falling short.

Hunt, 23, burst onto the scene as an undrafted rookie in 2017. Hunt rushed for a league-high 1,327 yards as a rookie and had 824 yards through 11 games this season before his release.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs-Patriots in for frigid AFC title game

Chiefs-Patriots in for frigid AFC title game

Chiefs-Patriots in for frigid AFC title game

Chiefs coach Andy Reid wore cargo shorts to his Monday press conference at Arrowhead Stadium, but he might be sporting pants and a parka this weekend.

When the Chiefs host the AFC Championship game in Kansas City on Sunday against the New England Patriots, temperatures could be downright frigid. has a forecast range for 6:40 p.m. ET (scheduled kickoff time) in the 5-below zero to 10 degrees above zero range as of Monday afternoon.

Last week, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick prepared his team for all types of weather before New England beat up on the Chargers. Before the game, he said, “We’re not playing the weather. Whatever it is, it is.”

Accuweather projects temperatures Sunday night between 2 and 14 degrees.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been in big games with low temps before. In 2004, the Patriots beat the Steelers in the AFC title game with a starting temperature of 11 degrees.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who went to Texas Tech, has not played in temperatures below 27 degrees at kickoff in the NFL.

Mahomes said after Saturday’s win over the Colts, when temps were at 30 degrees for most of the game, that weather “wasn’t really a factor.” Most of Missouri had been blanketed in snow a day before the divisional playoff game.

According to the Patriots’ media guide, the third-coldest game in franchise history was played in Kansas City (9 degrees, 1963).

–Field Level Media

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