Luck, Mack help Colts pound Texans, 21-7

Luck, Mack help Colts pound Texans, 21-7

Andrew Luck paced an efficient offense and the visiting Indianapolis Colts continued their torrid play, defeating the Houston Texans 21-7 on Saturday in an AFC wild-card playoff game.

With the win, the sixth-seeded Colts will face the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs next Saturday at 4:35 p.m. ET at Arrowhead Stadium.

Luck finished 19 of 32 for 222 yards and two touchdowns as the Colts, who won nine of their last 10 regular-season games to clinch a playoff berth, earned their first postseason win since the 2014 divisional round. Indianapolis finished 9 of 14 on third downs, including 6 for 6 in the first half en route to a 21-0 lead.

That third-down prowess yielded three touchdowns over the opening four possessions, with the Colts’ third drive concluding in the red zone after Texans nose tackle Brandon Dunn picked off a pass deflected by defensive end J.J. Watt. Trailing 14-0 early in the second quarter, the Texans managed only 4 yards on the ensuing possession before punting from their 19.

Luck, having already engineered scoring drives of 75 and 74 yards, briskly covered 65 yards in seven plays. That march culminated in a Dontrelle Inman 18-yard touchdown catch to make it 21-0 with 6:24 left in the half. A snap before the touchdown, Texans rookie safety Justin Reid separated tight end Eric Ebron from the ball in the end zone, momentarily preventing the Colts from taking a three-score lead.

The Texans were undone by mental miscues and an unexpectedly inaccurate showing from quarterback Deshaun Watson, who made his postseason debut. Watt and Whitney Mercilus were both flagged for neutral-zone infractions on third down in the first half, enabling the Colts to convert on third-and-short on drives that ended in touchdowns: A Luck-to-Ebron 6-yard pass at the 10:32 mark of the first, and a 2-yard run by Marlon Mack with 4:03 left in that quarter.

Mack rushed for 148 yards on 24 carries. T.Y. Hilton added five catches for 85 yards, including three receptions for 63 yards on the opening possession. Indianapolis amassed 422 total yards and did not surrender a sack, as the Texans hit Luck just four times.

With Houston trailing 14-0, Watson misread the coverage on fourth down and tossed an interception to Colts cornerback Kenny Moore, who undercut Ryan Griffin. It was one of three fourth-down failures by Houston.

In the second half, following a rare penetration into Colts territory, Watson overthrew tight end Ryan Griffin to squander what was a golden scoring opportunity.

Watson finished 29-of-49 passing for 235 yards plus a 6-yard touchdown to Keke Coutee with 10:57 left to play. Coutee had 11 receptions for 110 yards, while All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins recorded five catches for 37 yards.

Houston was shut out prior to halftime for the first time this season. The Colts, meanwhile, averaged 7.3 yards per play while building what proved to be an insurmountable lead against the AFC South champions. It marked Indianapolis’ second victory at NRG Stadium this season.

With the Colts’ win, the second-seeded New England Patriots will host the winner of Sunday’s Chargers-Ravens wild-card game.

–Field Level Media

Bears QB Trubisky tagged in for Goff at Pro Bowl

Bears QB Trubisky tagged in for Goff at Pro Bowl

Bears QB Trubisky tagged in for Goff at Pro Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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Trubisky, Watson to replace Goff, Brady in Pro Bowl

Trubisky, Watson to replace Goff, Brady in Pro Bowl

Trubisky, Watson to replace Goff, Brady in Pro Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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Report: NFL puts PI on review to-do list

Report: NFL puts PI on review to-do list

Report: NFL puts PI on review to-do list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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Eagles defend QB Wentz from anonymous critics

Eagles defend QB Wentz from anonymous critics

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

A report criticizing Wentz

Eagles defend QB Wentz from anonymous critics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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Lowry back in top 50, Long vaults to No. 133

Lowry back in top 50, Long vaults to No. 133

Lowry back in top 50, Long vaults to No. 133

Adam Long skyrocketed 284 spots while Ireland’s Shane Lowry re-entered the top 50 in the official world golf rankings following victories over the weekend.

Long, 31, earned his first PGA Tour victory with a come-from-behind win at The Desert Classic – only the second made cut of his brief Tour career. Lowry rose 34 spots to No. 41 with his wire-to-wire victory in Abu Dhabi, his first worldwide win since 2015.

Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond also reaped the rewards of his victory at the SMBC Singapore Open, moving to a career-high 74th and earning a spot in The Open Championship this summer.

England’s Justin Rose retained the No. 1 spot for the seventh week in his career following his tie for 34th in La Quinta, Calif. There were no changes in the top 10, with Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau rounding out the top five.

They are followed by Xander Schauffele, Spain’s Jon Rahm – who finished sixth in his title defense at the Desert Classic – Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, Italy’s Francesco Molinari and Tony Finau.

Rickie Fowler moved up two spots to No. 11 despite having not played a competitive round since the Hero World Challenge last month. He moved past Australia’s Jason Day and Tiger Woods, who will make his 2019 debut at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open.

Phil Mickelson, who is not playing at Torrey Pines this week, moved up eight spots to No. 26 after tying for second at the Desert Classic, where he held the lead after each of the first three rounds.

–Field Level Media

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Brady sought out Mahomes for postgame chat

Brady sought out Mahomes for postgame chat

Brady sought out Mahomes for postgame chat

Shortly after the New England Patriots won Sunday’s AFC championship game, and after quarterback Tom Brady had finished his obligatory meetings with the media, he had one thing he wanted to do.

The 18-year veteran left his teammates and wandered to the home locker room at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, seeking a few moments with the Chiefs’ second-year quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, according to multiple reports.

“Tom Brady just quietly approached a security guard waiting outside the Chiefs’ locker room – and asked if he could see Patrick Mahomes,” ESPN’s Jeff Darlington tweeted. “Brady was escorted into a room where he spoke briefly with him. A very clear display of respect from one incredible quarterback to another.”

The Patriots defeated the Chiefs 37-31 in overtime and are headed to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on Feb. 3. This will be Brady’s ninth appearance in the game, which his Patriots have won five times.

Of the gesture, Brady told Peter King of Football Morning In America: “I just went and saw him. I mean, he’s feeling like you think he’d feel when you lose a game like this. It hurts. He’s a hell of a … I mean, what a great young player. So impressed with his poise, his leadership. He is spectacular.”

Mahomes led a furious fourth-quarter comeback as the Chiefs scored 24 points to send the game to overtime. New England won the coin toss and never relinquished the ball, scoring a touchdown to win.

Mahomes was 16-of-31 passing for 295 yards and three touchdowns. Brady completed 30 of 46 passes for 348 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

–Field Level Media

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Titans promote tight ends coach Smith to OC

Titans promote tight ends coach Smith to OC

Titans promote tight ends coach Smith to OC

The Tennessee Titans have promoted tight ends coach Arthur Smith to offensive coordinator, the team announced Monday.

Smith joined the Titans’ staff in 2011 and has coached the tight ends since midway through the 2015 campaign.

Smith replaces Matt LaFleur, who was named head coach of the Green Bay Packers earlier this month.

“I am excited for Arthur and for our team to be able to elevate a deserving coach,” said Titans head coach Mike Vrabel. “I was impressed throughout the season in gameplan meetings with his ideas, in-game with his understanding of situations and the ability to get the most out of his position group.

“We spent a good bit of time last week talking about this opportunity. He has a great deal of familiarity with our players and the continuity of the offense will allow our players to continue to develop and improve.”

Smith’s success and reputation have kept him on the Tennessee payroll under four different head coaches: Vrabel, Mike Munchak, Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Mularkey.

Under Smith, Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker made three straight Pro Bowls (2015-17). After Walker went down with a season-ending injury in the 2018 opener, second-year tight end Jonnu Smith stepped up with 20 catches for 258 yards and three touchdowns.

The biggest challenge facing Smith after his big promotion is getting the most out of quarterback Marcus Mariota. Smith will be Mariota’s fifth OC in five seasons.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs-Chargers, Bengals-Rams highlight International Series

Chiefs-Chargers, Bengals-Rams highlight International Series

Chiefs-Chargers, Bengals-Rams highlight International Series

The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers will play one of three divisional games on international soil next season when the AFC West rivals face off in Mexico City.

The Chiefs and Patriots were scheduled to play in Mexico City last season, but the game was played in the United States due to field conditions.

Jacksonville is playing a home game in London for the seventh consecutive season. The Jaguars will play the Houston Texans in an AFC South matchup.

Dates, kickoff times and venues for each game are to be announced when the NFL releases its full schedule in April.

The NFL announced all five international series games on Monday:

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London

Chicago Bears at Oakland Raiders in London

Cincinnati Bengals at Los Angeles Rams in London

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars in London

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers in Mexico City

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Dolphins hiring Packers’ Graham as DC

Reports: Dolphins hiring Packers' Graham as DC

The Miami Dolphins are expected to name

Reports: Dolphins hiring Packers’ Graham as DC

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

ESPN’s Adam Schefter and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport both reported that the Packers’ defensive run-game coordinator and inside linebackers coach will join the staff of future Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.

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

Graham, 39, has been an NFL assistant for 10 seasons. He worked for Bill Belichick and the Patriots from 2009-15, climbing the ladder from defensive assistant to linebackers coach to defensive line coach. He coached the defensive line of the New York Giants from 2016-17 before joining the Packers in 2018.

–Field Level Media

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Bettors quickly make Patriots slight favorite to beat Rams

Bettors quickly make Patriots slight favorite to beat Rams

Bettors quickly make Patriots slight favorite to beat Rams

The New England Patriots opened as a slight underdog to the Los Angeles Rams at some Las Vegas sports books, but it didn’t take long — mere minutes, actually — for bettors to make them the favorite.

The Patriots, who defeated the host Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC title on Sunday evening, opened as a slight favorite at some books and as a tossup or slight underdog at others. New England settled as a 1 1/2-point favorite around Las Vegas late Sunday.

The Rams advanced to the Super Bowl, set for Feb. 3 in Atlanta, by knocking off the host New Orleans Saints 26-23, also in overtime, earlier Sunday.

The over/under for total points scored hovered at 58-59. If it stays there, it would be the highest total for a Super Bowl, according to an ESPN report.

While both teams were underdogs entering Sunday’s games, neither team was considered a surprise to make the Super Bowl before the season.

Bettors made the Patriots the consensus favorite to win their fifth NFL title, and the Rams were among other top contenders, aided by their strong showing a season ago and also no doubt by Las Vegas’ proximity to Los Angeles.

The Patriots will be making their 11th appearance in the Super Bowl, and the Rams will be making their fourth.

New England will be playing in the Super Bowl for the third straight year, having beaten the Atlanta Falcons two years ago and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles last year.

The Patriots are 5-5 in past Super Bowl appearances, including a win over the then-St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in February 2002.

The Rams won their only NFL title by defeating the Tennessee Titans in January 2000 in Super Bowl XXXIV.

–Field Level Media

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Patriots outlast Chiefs in OT thriller to reach SB LIII

Patriots outlast Chiefs in OT thriller to reach SB LIII

Patriots outlast Chiefs in OT thriller to reach SB LIII

The best move made Sunday by the New England Patriots may have been calling heads.

The visiting Patriots won the coin toss to begin overtime, then marched 75 yards in 13 plays for Rex Burkhead’s 2-yard rushing touchdown, which kept the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense from having a chance as New England prevailed 37-31.

New England advances to face the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII in two weeks at Atlanta, after the Rams survived an overtime thriller against the New Orleans Saints earlier Sunday for the NFC crown.

Quarterback Tom Brady, coupled with coach Bill Belichick, executed a ninth AFC title for New England, and the pair will have a chance at their sixth Super Bowl title. The Patriots are the third team in history — joining the Miami Dolphins (VI-VIII) and Buffalo Bills (XXV-XXVIII) — to reach three consecutive Super Bowls.

Brady passed for 348 yards, going 30 of 46 with one touchdown, and overcame two interceptions.

“Happy we won the (overtime) toss,” Brady said. “We got it and we took it down the field and scored. What a game.”

Indeed, it was. The teams combined for a whopping 38 fourth-quarter points, including 24 by the host Chiefs as they forged a 31-31 tie at the end of regulation while seeking an improbable comeback after trailing 14-0 at halftime.

First-year starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes passed for 295 yards, going 16 of 31, but the withered Kansas City defense could not give him an opportunity in overtime.

Taking possession with 32 seconds left in regulation, Mahomes completed passes of 21 yards to Spencer Ware and 27 yards to Demarcus Robinson to set up Harrison Butker for a 39-yard field goal with eight seconds left to forge a 31-31 tie to force overtime.

Then the Patriots won the overtime coin flip, and Brady consulted with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

“I looked at Josh and said, ‘You got any touchdown plays still on that call sheet? He said, ‘Yes, we do,'” Brady recounted.

New England converted three third downs in overtime on completions of 20, 15 and 15 yards, the first two to Julian Edelman and the third to Rob Gronkowski. For the game, the Patriots were 13 of 19 on third down and amassed 524 yards and 36 first downs.

“These guys just competed and competed,” Belichick said. “We said 60 minutes, but what did it take? Seventy?”

Before Mahomes’ late drive, Brady actually appeared to have won the game with one of his patented late-game drives.

He got a break when an interception was wiped away because Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford lined up in the neutral zone and was ruled offsides. A 25-yard strike to Gronkowski on the next play set up a 4-yard touchdown rush by Burkhead with 39 seconds left in regulation for a 31-28 lead.

Burkhead finished with 12 carries for 41 yards and two scores, while rookie Sony Michel added 113 yards on 29 carries, including two touchdowns. Edelman led the New England receivers with 96 yards on seven grabs.

Sammy Watkins caught four passes for a whopping 114 yards to lead the Chiefs’ receivers. Running back Damien Williams scored three touchdowns, two off receptions and one off a rush as he added 96 yards from scrimmage.

“It was back and forth and we had opportunities,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We’ll figure out a way to take advantage of those down the road. You’re sitting here thinking it was a pretty good year, but it’s going to hurt here for a little bit.”

The AFC Championship appearance was the first ever at home for Kansas City, which participated in Super Bowl I and won Super Bowl IV, both of which were played before the AFL-NFL merger.

“We wanted to bring the Hunt Trophy home,” Reid said of the hardware awarded to the AFC champion. “We’re going to get that son of a gun. We’re going to have to bear down this offseason.”

The Patriots took a 14-0 halftime lead, beginning with a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the first possession. The march, which began after the Chiefs won the coin toss and deferred, took 8:05, the most time-consuming playoff drive ever engineered by Brady. Michel scored on a 1-yard plunge.

New England, which outgained Kansas City 245-32 in the half and held a 16-3 advantage in first downs, was again at the Chiefs 1 on its second possession. Linebacker Reggie Ragland, however, intercepted a pass in the end zone, ending a playoff-record streak of 237 pass attempts without an interception by Brady.

The Chiefs blew an opportunity to score midway through the second quarter. Mahomes connected with Tyreek Hill for a 42-yard strike to the New England 23. On the next play, Williams broke wide open on a wheel route, but Mahomes overthrew him. Field-goal range was squandered when Mahomes was sacked for a 14-yard loss by Trey Flowers.

Phillip Dorsett tacked on a 29-yard TD snag with 27 seconds left in the half to cap a 90-yard drive by the Pats. Brady went in at the break with 146 yards passing, while Michel had 75 rushing.

It was the second time in history the AFC Championship Game went to overtime, joining the Denver Broncos’ victory over the Cleveland Browns in January of 1987. Never before had both conference championship games gone to overtime in the same year.

–Field Level Media

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Saints coach Payton: NFL admitted blown non-call

Saints coach Payton: NFL admitted blown non-call

Saints coach Payton: NFL admitted blown non-call

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said the NFL admitted that its officials missed a critical pass interference call late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

The Los Angeles Rams capitalized on the lack of a flag, which forced the Saints to settle for a field goal and a 23-20 lead with 1:41 remaining, rather than running the clock down before kicking what would have been the game winner as time expired. With the extra time, the Rams forced overtime with a 48-yard field goal and won the game in the extra session to advance to the Super Bowl.

“The explanation … it was simple,” said Payton, who said he spoke with Alberto Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, on the phone shortly after the game. “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.”

On third-and-10 with 1:49 remaining, quarterback Drew Brees lofted a pass for wide receiver Tommylee Lewis. Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman had his back turned to the ball and ran helmet-first into Lewis, clearly before the ball arrived. Lewis was knocked to the ground, away from the ball.

Robey-Coleman admitted that 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.”

Considering the prominence of the non-call, Brees suggested it could lead to rules changes about reviewable plays in the future.

“I’m sure that because of this, as a result of this, there’s going to be a lot of talk about (reviewing) game-changing plays within two minutes,” he said. “Maybe that’s something that will happen.”

But Brees and others said that one play did not define the entire game. The Saints failed to score touchdowns on a pair of early red-zone drives, instead settling for field goals, and the Rams picked off a pass in overtime to set up the win.

For his part, Rams coach Sean McVay said he could understand the non-call.

“I just thought it was a bang-bang type play,” he said. “One of the things I respected about the refs is that they let the guys play. I thought it was a competitive-type play. I’m certainly not going to complain about the way the play was officiated.”

The NFL might want to move on from the controversial call as quickly as possible, but Rams running back Todd Gurley has other ideas. He posted a doctored photo on his Instagram account after the game that depicted him exchanging jerseys with Vinovich.

Gurley, who has 1.4 million Instagram followers, accompanied the photo with three skull emojis and four laughing emojis.

The photo appeared to be edited from an original photo following a 2016 game, in which Gurley and Saints running back Mark Ingram were swapping jerseys on the field at the Superdome.

Meanwhile, an electronic sign over the Pontchartrain Causeway near New Orleans offered a different message shortly after the game. Drivers who looked up at the sign saw three simple words in all-caps: “WE WERE ROBBED.”

–Field Level Media

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Saints QB Brees confirms he will return next season

Saints QB Brees confirms he will return next season

Saints QB Brees confirms he will return next season

Drew Brees has some unfinished business he would like to address.

The New Orleans Saints’ veteran quarterback confirmed Sunday that he plans to return for his 19th NFL season in the fall. The 40-year-old addressed questions about his future shortly after the Saints were eliminated by the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game.

“I plan on being here next season and making another run at it,” said Brees, who had previously voiced plans to play at least another season or two.

Brees, whose 40th birthday was Tuesday, already is No. 1 on the all-time list with 74,437 career passing yards. He needs 563 more yards to become the first signal-caller in league history to reach the 75,000-yard milestone.

The Purdue product figures to climb other charts, as well. He is No. 2 on the all-time list for passing touchdowns with 520 — only 19 scores behind the Peyton Manning (539) for the top spot.

Brees passed for 3,992 yards, 32 touchdowns and five interceptions in 15 games this season, setting a single-season record by completing 74.4 percent of his passes. He is under contract through 2019, as he’ll make $23 million between base salary and a roster bonus next year, while counting $33.5 million against the cap.

–Field Level Media

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Broncos CB Harris will replace Gilmore in Pro Bowl

Broncos CB Harris will replace Gilmore in Pro Bowl

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris

Broncos CB Harris will replace Gilmore in Pro Bowl

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. is headed to the Pro Bowl to replace New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, according to a report Sunday night from KUSA-TV in Denver.

Gilmore has a good reason to miss the game in Orlando: He will be preparing for the Patriots’ Super Bowl LIII showdown against the Los Angeles Rams.

Harris, named a first alternate for the game, said earlier this week that he would be ready to play if called upon. He broke his fibula and missed the final four games of the regular season, but he told KUSA-TV that he would be able to play in the Pro Bowl if asked, which would be his fourth such selection.

“I’m cleared, I’m ready to roll,” Harris said. “I’ve been training and everything.”

In 12 games, all starts, Harris finished this season with 49 tackles to go along with three interceptions (one returned for at touchdown), 10 pass break-ups, one sack. He has 19 interceptions in eight seasons with Denver, earning Pro Bowl honors from 2014-16.

–Field Level Media

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Zuerlein kicks Rams past Saints in OT, into SB LIII

Zuerlein kicks Rams past Saints in OT, into SB LIII

Zuerlein kicks Rams past Saints in OT, into SB LIII

After forcing overtime with a 48-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in regulation, Greg Zuerlein nailed a 57-yard field goal 4:17 into overtime to lift the visiting Los Angeles Rams to a controversial 26-23 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday and a berth in Super Bowl LIII.

Zuerlein’s game-winning field goal came after the Rams intercepted a Drew Brees pass on the fourth snap of overtime. Brees’ right arm was hit by linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., and his fluttering pass was picked off by safety John Johnson at the Los Angeles 46.

Jared Goff found tight end Tyler Higbee for a 12-yard gain on first down to the New Orleans 42, and the Rams got 3 more yards in three plays before Zuerlein, who has career field goals of 60 and 61 yards, came in to connect on the game winner.

Overtime came after a wild final two minutes in regulation.

With the game tied at 20 with 4:57 left, the Saints drove inside the Rams’ 15 — with Ted Ginn Jr. outleaping safety Lamarcus Joyner for a 43-yard catch.

Three plays later, New Orleans appeared to be the victim of a blown pass-interference call that would have allowed them to run the clock down and kick a game-winning, chip-shot field goal. On third-and-10 from the Los Angeles 13, Brees threw for Tommylee Lewis on the right side, who was clobbered by safety Nickell Robey-Coleman just before the ball arrived. The ball fell incomplete, and no penalty was called.

Instead, the Saints had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, for a 23-20, lead with 1:41 left.

The Rams then drove 45 yards to the New Orleans 30, where Zuerlein tied it with 15 seconds left with a 48-yard field goal, sending the game to overtime.

Brees put the Saints up 20-10 midway through the third quarter with a 2-yard screen pass to Taysom Hill, Hill’s first career TD reception. But the Rams came right back to make it 20-17 on Goff’s 1-yard toss to a wide-open tight end, Tyler Higbee, on third down.

The Saints wasted a great scoring opportunity after taking over at the Rams’ 46 with 12:22 left, but they could not overcome a first-down holding penalty on left tackle Terron Armstead.

Goff then drove the Rams 90 yards to the Saints’ 1. Instead of gambling for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Rams coach Sean McVay sent in Zuerlein for the tying 24-yard field goal, 24-24, with 5:03 left.

Goff converted two big throws on the drive — for 39 yards to tight end Gerald Everett and 33 yards to wide receiver Josh Reynolds.

The Saints jumped out to a 13-0 lead with field goals of 37 and 29 yards Wil Lutz and a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brees to tight end Garrett Griffin, but the Rams settled in and scored 10 straight points to make it 13-10 at halftime.

Goff seemed rattled by the crowd noise in the first quarter, but he led the Rams 81 yards in seven plays just before halftime to set up Todd Gurley’s 6-yard touchdown run 23 seconds before intermission.

Goff set up the touchdown with two tough throws to former Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks — a 17-yard completion on third-and-10 and a 36-yarder down the left sideline to the New Orleans 6, where Gurley scored on the next play.

Gurley’s jitters had a lot to do with the Rams’ 13-0 hole. Trailing 3-0, Gurley dropped a pass from Goff that fell into the arms of Saints linebacker Demario Davis at the Los Angeles 16. But the Rams’ defense held the Saints to a field goal, and a 6-0 lead.

Brees made it 13-0, driving the Saints 68 yards in eight plays, and finding the little used Griffin for the score. It was Griffin’s second career reception and first TD catch.

Trailing 13-0 and faced with a fourth-and-5 from their own 30, the Rams had punter Johnny Hekker throw a sideline pass to cornerback Sam Shields for 12 yards and a first down.

The fake punt extended the drive and led to Zuerlein’s 36-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 13-3 and giving the Rams some momentum.

–Field Level Media

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Long birdies 18 at Desert Classic for first career win

Long birdies 18 at Desert Classic for first career win


Long birdies 18 at Desert Classic for first career win

Adam Long sunk a 14-foot birdie putt at No. 18 to clip Phil Mickelson and Canada’s Adam Hadwin on the final hole Sunday at the Desert Classic in La Quinta, Calif., claiming his first title in his sixth career start on the PGA Tour.

The trio came to the 18th hole on the Stadium Course — the site for Sunday’s action after three courses were used on Thursday, Friday and Saturday — tied at 25 under. Hadwin’s approach found the back left bunker, while Mickelson, from the right rough, put his approach to 38 feet. Approaching from the left rough and about 35 yards closer than Mickelson, Long dropped his shot to 14 feet.

After Mickelson missed, Long buried a slight right-to-left breaker in the center of the cup, capping a bogey-free round of 7-under-par 65, Long’s lowest career round on the PGA Tour.

“Honestly, I got a pretty good read off Phil’s putt,” Long said afterward. “It was one of those putts that you just stand over it and you just know you’re gonna make it. You can’t control that, but when you have that feeling, it’s a good one, and I’m in disbelief right now.”

The 31-year-old Long turned pro in 2010 but made just one PGA Tour start — a missed cut at the 2011 U.S. Open — before October. He tied for 63rd at the Safeway Open in October and was cut in all three events since before this week. Ranked 417th in the world entering the tournament, Long is projected to jump to No. 205 and to No. 12 in the FedEx Cup Standings. He also will take home winnings of $1.063 million after earning $13,568 the rest of the season to date.

Long had to be resourceful to chase down Hadwin, who used a 5-under 31 on the front nine to get to 25 under and take a two-stroke lead over Mickelson, who was 1 under on the front. Three strokes off the pace entering the back nine, Long chipped in from 16 feet for birdie at the 12th and then again from 20 feet at No. 15, which came just after he sunk a short putt for birdie at the 14th.

“The chip-ins were huge, and some putts on the front nine as well to just hang in there,” Long said. “It was a huge thrill to play with Phil obviously. I’ve looked up to him my whole life, and I’m a big fan of his and he couldn’t have been greater to me.”

Mickelson began the day with a two-shot lead, but he opened and closed his front nine with bogeys, including a three-putt at No. 1. With two precise approaches, he made short birdie putts at Nos. 15 and 16 to regain a share of the lead, before a par-par finish left him a stroke short.

“I had a terrible putting day, I mean, one of the worst I can recall in a while,” said Mickelson, who matched his career-low score with a 12-under 60 at La Quinta Country Club in the opening round. “…I missed a bunch of short ones on the front and some birdie opportunities. It felt awful with the putter. I hit a lotta good shots today, though. I just couldn’t get the ball to go in the hole.”

Hadwin went cold after the turn, following a birdie at No. 11 with a bogey at No. 13 before five pars to finish. He missed birdie opportunities from five feet on No. 12 and just under 10 feet on No. 15.

Talor Gooch, the only player to go lower than Long on Sunday, fired an 8-under 64 to claim fourth place alone at 24 under for the tournament.

Dominic Bozzelli (66) finished two strokes back in fifth, with defending champion Jon Rahm (67) at 21 under for sixth place.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Mahomes could sign $200M deal

Report: Mahomes could sign $200M deal

Report: Mahomes could sign $200M deal

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is in just his second year in the NFL, but the talk already has started that he could become the league’s first $200 million man.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Sunday that the Chiefs are expected to extend Mahomes’ rookie contract after the 2019 season and that the deal could break league records. He said it likely would eclipse Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ contract, which has an annual average payout of $33.5 million.

After next season, Mahomes will have two years left on his contract, including the fifth-year team option.

And regardless of whether the Chiefs beat the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC championship game to earn a berth in the Super Bowl, Mahomes will be more visible this offseason. His agent, Leigh Steinberg, wanted him to stay in the background until he’d proved himself on the field, Schefter said. In his rookie year, he backed up Alex Smith.

“He’s a fresh face,” Steinberg told ESPN this weekend. “By holding him back, we haven’t overexposed him.”

Steinberg said Mahomes will be seen more in the offseason with new television commercials and marketing deals.

The 23-year-old Mahomes in an MVP candidate. He led the Chiefs to a 12-4 record and threw for 5,097 yards. His 50 touchdown passes led the league, and only Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (5,129) threw for more yards.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Kitna to become Cowboys QB coach

Report: Kitna to become Cowboys QB coach

Former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna is in line to become the new

Report: Kitna to become Cowboys QB coach

Former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna is in line to become the new quarterbacks coach of the Dallas Cowboys, ESPN reported Sunday.

Kitna is currently the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Fleet in the Alliance of American Football, a league that begins play next month.

Current Cowboys quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore is the leading candidate to become the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator, according to ESPN.

Dallas recently parted ways with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan after four seasons in that role. Linehan spent five seasons as the primary play caller.

There is a possibility that Cowboys coach Jason Garrett will call plays in 2019.

Kitna spent seven seasons as a high school football coach before agreeing to join the Fleet, who are coached by former NFL head coach Mike Martz.

Kitna, 46, played 14 NFL seasons, including two with the Cowboys in 2010-11. He also came out of retirement to be on the roster for one game in 2013. He passed for 29,745 yards, 169 touchdowns and 165 interceptions with the Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and Cowboys.

The 2018 season was Moore’s first as quarterbacks coach after retiring as a player.

Moore, 29, played in three NFL games for Dallas in 2015 and passed for 779 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions in 104 passing attempts.

–Field Level Media

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Report: NFL to wrap up Hunt investigation by March

Report: NFL to wrap up Hunt investigation by March

Report: NFL to wrap up Hunt investigation by March

The NFL is expected to finish its investigation into three different off-field incidents involving running back Kareem Hunt and decide on a final punishment before free agency opens in March, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Rapoport reported Sunday that Hunt is expected to face a suspension of six-plus games but is likely to be back on the field at some point in the 2019 season.

The former Kansas City Chiefs running back was released by the team in November after TMZ released a video showing Hunt pushing and kicking then-19-year-old Abigail Ottinger from Berea, Ohio, in Cleveland last February.

Hunt also allegedly was involved in an altercation at a restaurant last June, an incident the NFL was aware of and questioned the running back about. However, TMZ also reported that Hunt was involved in a violent incident last January at a nightclub in Kansas City, an altercation the NFL did not previously know about, according to ESPN.

In that incident, TMZ reported that Hunt and others — including then-Chiefs running back George Atkinson — beat a man to the point of unconsciousness at a nightclub in Kansas City on Jan. 11.

The NFL placed Hunt, the 2017 rushing leader, on the commissioner’s exempt list while it investigates all three incidents, meaning Hunt is unable to play for any team that might sign him.

Hunt went unclaimed on waivers and is officially a free agent.

Hunt, 23, is from the Cleveland suburb of Willoughby and spends a significant part of his offseason in the area. He played college football at Toledo and burst onto the scene as a third-round draft pick in 2017.

Hunt rushed for an NFL-best 1,327 yards as a rookie. He had 824 yards through 11 games this season.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Berry to play, but surgery likely after season

Report: Berry to play, but surgery likely after season

Report: Berry to play, but surgery likely after season

Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry is expected to play in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots, but he’ll likely need surgery to repair a lingering heel injury after the season, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Sunday.

Rapoport said the heel will be examined further whenever the Chiefs’ season ends, and that corrective surgery is the likely outcome.

Berry was removed from the injury report following Friday’s practice, his third straight day as a full participant.

“I feel pretty good,” Berry told reporters after the practice.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection missed the preseason and the first 13 regular-season games because of the heel injury. He played in two regular-season games in December before missing the finale after reinjuring it, and he also missed last weekend’s divisional-round victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

“I wanted to go in that game,” Berry told reporters of the Colts’ game. “Just a lot of complications that I can’t really explain. Hopefully this weekend it will be different.

“Right now, I just know it’s moving in the right direction and I want to get on the field on Sunday.”

–Field Level Media

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