NFL notebook: Roethlisberger expects to start Sunday

NFL notebook: Roethlisberger expects to start Sunday

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is banged up, but sore ribs won’t keep him out of action when the Steelers play host to the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Roethlisberger required a pain-killing injection to deal with a rib injury sustained in the second quarter last week in Pittsburgh’s loss to the Oakland Raiders. He returned to the game late in the fourth quarter.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger is dealing with bruised ribs. Roethlisberger said during his weekly radio spot on Tuesday that he required X-rays in the locker room, but the tests were inconclusive.

–The Minnesota Vikings fired first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

The move comes after the Vikings’ 21-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday, the team’s third defeat in its past four games. Minnesota has finished with fewer than 300 yards of total offense four times in the past five games.

Quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski has been elevated to interim offensive coordinator and will take over play-calling duties.

–Injured running back Melvin Gordon is not expected to be in uniform Thursday when the Los Angeles Chargers visit the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL Network reported.

However, Gordon was officially limited in Tuesday’s practice, noteworthy progress considering he was unavailable entirely since the original knee injury.

NFL Network reported that Gordon and his primary backup, Austin Ekeler (neck, concussion), likely would miss the showdown at Arrowhead Stadium. Specifically, coach Anthony Lynn told the network that the team isn’t optimistic either player would suit up.

–The Titans placed right tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Jonnu Smith on injured reserve due to knee injuries. Both starters were hurt during Tennessee’s 30-9 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Thursday.

Veteran Dennis Kelly is expected to replace Conklin, and Anthony Firkser will step in for Smith.

–The Detroit Lions placed veteran defensive end Ziggy Ansah on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury. The team did the same with tight end Michael Roberts, who also has an injured shoulder.

To replace them on the roster, the Lions signed tight end Jerome Cunningham and offensive lineman Leo Koloamatangi from their practice squad.

Ansah, 29, has had a lost season while playing on the franchise tag. He hurt his shoulder after 19 snaps in Week 1 and did not play again until Week 9.

–The Los Angeles Rams placed running back Malcolm Brown and cornerback Dominique Hatfield on injured reserve.

Brown injured his collarbone earlier this month. Hatfield, primarily a special teams player, needs surgery after injuring his left ankle Sunday.

–The Philadelphia Eagles’ pursuit of a playoff spot grew more difficult when they placed running back Corey Clement (knee) and defensive end Josh Sweat (ankle) on injured reserve.

The Eagles signed running back Boston Scott and defensive end Daeshon Hall to fill the voids on the roster, and they added cornerback Josh Hawkins to the practice squad.

–Two years after tearing both patellar tendons on the same play, former Houston Texans offensive tackle Derek Newton is back in the NFL after signing a two-year deal with the New Orleans Saints.

Newton, 31, spent the entire 2017 season on the Texans’ physically unable to perform list and was released by Houston eight months ago after failing a physical. With the Saints, he replaces tackle Michael Ola, who went on injured reserve due to a high ankle sprain.

–The Buffalo Bills placed starting linebacker Matt Milano and rookie cornerback Taron Johnson on season-ending injured reserve. Milano had surgery Monday to repair a broken left fibula. Johnson had surgery last week for a shoulder injury that bothered him most of the season.

–The city of Oakland, Calif., filed a federal lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders, the NFL and all other teams in the league. Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker announced the suit, which alleges antitrust violations and breach of contract.

While the city does not demand that the Raiders be forced to remain in Oakland, the seven-count filing in district court does seek restitution in the form of lost revenue, remaining debt on renovations to the Oakland Coliseum, court costs and fees, plus punitive damages.

The Raiders received league approval to relocate to Las Vegas in March 2017. They are expected to begin playing in Las Vegas when a new stadium opens in 2020. The team still does not know where it will play in 2019.

–The NFL announced that the salary cap will rise to about $190 million in 2019, a jump from $177.2 million this season.

The league informed teams that the projected range is from $187 million to $191.1 million. That marks a 40 percent increase since the 2014 season ($133 million) and the sixth consecutive year the cap has climbed by at least $10 million.

–Field Level Media

Film Study: Belichick’s plan mostly tamed Mahomes

Film Study: Belichick's plan mostly tamed Mahomes

Film Study: Belichick’s plan mostly tamed Mahomes

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

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

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

Belichick’s intentions were clearly defined from the outset.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Resourceful Rams’ offense found a way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

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Super Bowl food will be a super bargain in Atlanta

Super Bowl food will be a super bargain in Atlanta

Super Bowl food will be a super bargain in Atlanta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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Former NFL RB McFadden arrested for DWI

Former NFL RB McFadden arrested for DWI

Former NFL running back Darren McFadden was arrested early Monday

Former NFL RB McFadden arrested for DWI

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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Saints’ owner issues statement on controversial loss

Saints' owner issues statement on controversial loss

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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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Bears QB Trubisky tagged in for Goff at Pro Bowl

Bears QB Trubisky tagged in for Goff at Pro Bowl

Bears QB Trubisky tagged in for Goff at Pro Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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Trubisky, Watson to replace Goff, Brady in Pro Bowl

Trubisky, Watson to replace Goff, Brady in Pro Bowl

Trubisky, Watson to replace Goff, Brady in Pro Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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Report: NFL puts PI on review to-do list

Report: NFL puts PI on review to-do list

Report: NFL puts PI on review to-do list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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Eagles defend QB Wentz from anonymous critics

Eagles defend QB Wentz from anonymous critics

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

A report criticizing Wentz

Eagles defend QB Wentz from anonymous critics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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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

Adam

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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