Raiders place RB Lynch on IR

Raiders place RB Lynch on IR

The Oakland Raiders placed running back Marshawn Lynch on injured reserve Monday, meaning he will miss the majority of the rest of the season.

Lynch — who was expected to miss at least a month with a groin/core muscle injury suffered in Week 6 against the Seattle Seahawks — would be eligible to return in Week 16 for a Christmas Eve meeting with the Denver Broncos, but it’s also possible he has played his last game for his hometown team.

Lynch, 32, is in the second year of a two-year, $9 million deal and will hit free agency after the season. He previously retired from the Seahawks after the 2015 season before returning to play for the Raiders, who may or may not remain in Oakland in 2019 before moving to Las Vegas in 2020.

The five-time Pro Bowler has 90 carries for 376 yards and three scores this season after posting a line of 207-891-7 in 2017.

The Raiders are expected to rely on Doug Martin and Jalen Richard in Lynch’s absence, with DeAndre Washington working in once he returns from a knee scope.

–Field Level Media

NFL notebook: Vikings bring Kubiak on as adviser

NFL notebook: Vikings bring Kubiak on as adviser

The

NFL notebook: Vikings bring Kubiak on as adviser

The Minnesota Vikings have hired former Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak in an advisory role, the team confirmed Monday night.

The Vikings also added Kubiak’s son, Klint, as quarterbacks coach and Brian Pariani as tight ends coach. The team reportedly is retaining recently promoted Kevin Stefanski as offensive coordinator.

Gary Kubiak most recently was a senior personnel adviser for Denver. Klint Kubiak had been on the Broncos’ coaching staff the past three seasons, and he assumed responsibilities as the primary quarterbacks coach for the final six weeks of the regular season in 2017.

Gary Kubiak, who coached the Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 title, had been scheduled to interview Tuesday for the job as offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

–Dispatched Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is set to become offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. Multiple reports said a deal with the 39-year-old Hackett was nearly finalized.

Hackett was fired by the Jaguars on Nov. 26 amidst a tailspin that included lingering injuries to running back Leonard Fournette and prompted a change at quarterback.

–Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak accepted the same position with the Broncos, Denver coach Vic Fangio announced.

With Munchak joining the Broncos, the franchise has lured its two finalists for the vacancy at head coach, which went to Fangio, formerly the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. Munchak’s contract with the Steelers expired at the end of the season.

–Embattled offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will be back with the Dallas Cowboys next season if head coach Jason Garrett gets his way. However, vice president Stephen Jones said it was too soon to discuss such moves.

Garrett, in a radio interview with 105.3 FM in Dallas, said he expects no major changes to the coaching staff and plans for Linehan to return in 2019. But Jones later told the same station, “I think it’s a little early to be speculating about players, coaches, anything like that other than I really do think our group overall did a nice job.”

–General manager Ryan Pace said during the Chicago Bears’ end-of-the-season news conference that the team intends to pick up the fifth-year option on outside linebacker Leonard Floyd’s contract. Floyd, a Georgia product, was the No. 9 overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft.

However, the status of kicker Cody Parkey, whose 43-yard field-goal attempt that would have beaten Philadelphia in the NFC wild-card game two weekends ago was no good, is uncertain. Coach Matt Nagy was upset that Parkey appeared on NBC’s “Today” show last week in the wake of the missed attempt, which was slightly tipped by an Eagles player.

“We win as a team, we lose as a team,” Nagy said. “You know, I just, I didn’t necessarily think that that was too much of a ‘we’ thing.”

–Pace and Nagy did not close the door on potentially bringing in former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt should the opportunity present itself.

Hunt was cut and placed on the commissioner’s exempt list in late November after a video surfaced showing Hunt shoving and kicking a woman at a Cleveland apartment building in February.

Nagy spent two years as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator prior to this season, including coaching Hunt for his rookie season in 2017, when the running back led the NFL in rushing yards. Nagy talked about giving individuals “second chances, not third chances.”

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

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

–At the news conference formally introducing him as Browns head coach, Freddie Kitchens said fans can get on board or get out of the way as he takes the reins in Cleveland.

“It takes some guts to do what they did — I know I’m not a popular choice. And I don’t care,” said Kitchens, who will remain the primary play-caller in Cleveland despite the addition of Todd Monken as offensive coordinator.

–Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice says disgruntled Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown wants to play for the San Francisco 49ers “really bad.”

Rice, who made the comments Monday during a radio interview, reportedly had a FaceTime conversation with Brown on Sunday.

–The Steelers named Shaun Sarrett offensive line coach after he served as the team’s assistant O-line coach last season.

Sarrett has been with the team for seven seasons, spending the first six as an offensive assistant.

–Field Level Media

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Packers to name Hackett OC

Packers to name Hackett OC

Dispatched Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is set

Packers to name Hackett OC

Dispatched Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is set to become offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers.

Multiple reports Monday said a deal with the 39-year-old Hackett was nearly finalized.

Hackett was fired by the Jaguars on Nov. 26 amidst a tailspin that included lingering injuries to running back Leonard Fournette and prompted a change at quarterback.

The quarterback is not a question mark in Green Bay.

Aaron Rodgers is in the second-year of a massive contract extension signed prior to last season, and team president Mark Murphy, along with general manager Brian Gutekunst, changed head coaches to a maximize the team’s asset at the QB position.

Matt LaFleur was hired to replace Mike McCarthy because Murphy identified him as the best candidate to extract Rodgers’ peak performance.

“Quite honestly, the way our team’s structured, we (need) somebody who’s going to be able to work with Aaron and help him play the very best he can play,” Murphy said. “(That) is going to really help us win.”

LaFleur said his initial conversation went well with Rodgers.

“I can tell he’s a passionate guy, and he wants to win. And I think that holds true for me as well. So, I think we’re in alignment there,” he said. “This game is about winning. I know that he wants to add to his legacy, and the only way we’re going to accomplish that is to win a world championship.”

Hackett will be a conduit between Rodgers and LaFleur. He was named offensive coordinator of the Jaguars in 2016 and worked primarily with Blake Bortles, who has more turnovers than any quarterback since entering the NFL as a first-round pick in 2014.

Rodgers had only two interceptions this season but also posted only 25 touchdown passes, his career low for a full season.

–Field Level Media

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Vikings hire Gary Kubiak as offensive adviser

Vikings hire Gary Kubiak as offensive adviser

The Minnesota

Vikings hire Gary Kubiak as offensive adviser

The Minnesota Vikings hired former Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak as assistant head coach/offensive adviser on Monday.

The Vikings also added Kubiak’s son, Klint, as quarterbacks coach and Brian Pariani as tight ends coach. The team reportedly is retaining recently promoted Kevin Stefanski as offensive coordinator.

Klint Kubiak has been on the Broncos’ coaching staff the past three seasons, and assumed responsibilities as the primary quarterbacks coach for the final six weeks of the regular season in 2017, but previously worked on the Vikings’ staff (2013-14) and knows Stefanski well.

Gary Kubiak, who coached the Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 title under general manager John Elway and most recently was a senior personnel adviser for Denver, had been scheduled to interview Tuesday for the job as offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The latest developments took place after Gary Kubiak, who was backup quarterback to Elway during his NFL playing career, was expected to become the Broncos’ offensive coordinator under new head coach Vic Fangio. Those plans reportedly changed due to philosophical differences. According to multiple reports, one issue was Gary Kubiak wanted to hire his own staff, including bringing back longtime assistants Rick Dennison and Pariani, whom the Broncos fired two years ago.

However, NFL Network reported things remained amicable between Denver and Gary Kubiak, and the Broncos weren’t standing in the way of any interview requests from other teams. Before Gary Kubiak’s plans in Denver fell through, though, the Broncos reportedly blocked the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals from interviewing him for their coordinator openings. The Falcons have since hired Dirk Koetter as their offensive coordinator.

Gary Kubiak, 57, spent the last two years in personnel after retiring from coaching due to health concerns. He recently has been hoping to get back into coaching. He also was the head coach of the Houston Texans for eight seasons and the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens in 2014.

Pariani, 53, formerly was a tight ends coach for the Broncos, Texans and Ravens.

Klint Kubiak, 31, was an offensive assistant/quarterbacks coach for the Broncos from 2016-18.

–Field Level Media

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Bears won’t shut door on signing RB Hunt

Bears won't shut door on signing RB Hunt

Bears won’t shut door on signing RB Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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Steelers promote Sarrett to coach offensive line

Steelers promote Sarrett to coach offensive line

The Pittsburgh Steelers wasted

Steelers promote Sarrett to coach offensive line

The Pittsburgh Steelers wasted little time in finding a replacement for offensive line coach Mike Munchak, promoting longtime offensive assistant Shaun Sarrett to assume the role.

Sarrett worked mainly with the offensive line as an assistant from 2012-17, then was promoted to assistant offensive line coach for the 2018 season. His other duties with the team have included assisting the offensive coaching staff with game preparation, video analysis and opponent scouting.

“We are excited to promote Shaun to coach our offensive line,” head coach Mike Tomlin said on the team’s official website. “We have full confidence in his coaching abilities, and we look forward to him using his experience as he has been preparing for this opportunity to take on the challenges that will be presented to him.”

With left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro, Sarrett has three linemen heading to the Pro Bowl, a formidable group to keep the offense moving.

Munchak departed Monday to become the offensive line coach of the Denver Broncos.

Before joining the Steelers’ staff, Sarrett was offensive quality control coach and offensive line assistant coach at Duke University from 2008-11. He also coached from 2005-07 at Marshall University, where he earned his master’s degree.

He began his coaching career in 2004 at Streetsboro (Ohio) High School, working with the offensive and defensive lines.

A three-year letterman at guard at Kent State, Sarrett hails from Beckley, W.Va.

–Field Level Media

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Broncos hire Munchak as OL coach

Broncos hire Munchak as OL coach

Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive

Broncos hire Munchak as OL coach

Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak accepted the same position with the Broncos, Denver coach Vic Fangio said Monday.

With Munchak joining the Broncos, the franchise has lured its two finalists for the vacancy at head coach, which went to Fangio, formerly the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears.

“There’s nobody better as an offensive line coach than Mike Munchak,” Fangio said in a statement. “The combination of his ability to coach the individual with his ability to coach the group — while also being a big part of the overall offense — is very impressive.

“Mike’s experience and stature as a coach in the NFL make this a home run hire for us. We’re very excited to add him to our staff.”

Munchak’s contract with the Steelers expired at the end of the season.

Until Friday, it was presumed former Broncos quarterback and head coach Gary Kubiak was set to shift from the front office to oversee the Broncos’ offense. However, the two sides split over a difference of philosophy, and Kubiak was hired as an offensive adviser by the Minnesota Vikings on Monday.

Munchak, 58, has three years of head-coaching experience, going 22-26 from 2011 to 2013 with the Tennessee Titans. He could have stayed with the team longer but was fired when he declined to make changes to his staff. He has spent the past five years in his current position in Pittsburgh after spending the first 20 years of his coaching career with the Titans/Houston Oilers franchise.

Munchak was a Hall of Fame guard for the Oilers during a 12-year playing career.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Steelers OL coach Munchak joining Broncos

Report: Steelers OL coach Munchak joining Broncos

Steelers offensive line coach

Report: Steelers OL coach Munchak joining Broncos

Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak is on the verge of taking the same position with the Denver Broncos, according to reports.

If Munchak joins the Broncos, the franchise will have lured its two finalists for the vacancy at head coach, which went to Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Munchak would likely be given a senior title, such as assistant head coach, according to reports.

Munchak’s contract with the Steelers expired at the end of the season.

Until Friday, it was presumed former Broncos quarterback and head coach Gary Kubiak was set to shift from the front office to oversee the Broncos’ offense. But the two sides split over a difference of philosophy.

Munchak has three years of head-coaching experience, going 22-26 from 2011 to 2013 with the Tennessee Titans. He could have stayed with the team longer but was fired when he declined to make changes to his staff. He has spent the past five years in his current position in Pittsburgh after spending the first 20 years of his coaching career with the Titans/Houston Oilers franchise.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Vikings hiring Gary Kubiak as offensive adviser

Report: Vikings hiring Gary Kubiak as offensive adviser

The

Report: Vikings hiring Gary Kubiak as offensive adviser

The Minnesota Vikings are hiring former Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak in an advisory role, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Citing a league source, Schefter broke the news Monday on Twitter, and also reported that the Vikings are expected to hire Kubiak’s son, Klint, as their next quarterbacks coach and that they’ll retain recently promoted Kevin Stefanski as offensive coordinator. The Kubiak moves have not yet been confirmed by the Vikings, but multiple outlets reported that Kubiak was in Minnesota on Monday to discuss a possible coaching position.

Sources told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero that the Vikings did hire Gary Kubiak, though his title was still to be determined.

Klint Kubiak has been on the Broncos’ coaching staff the past three seasons, and assumed responsibilities as the primary quarterbacks coach for the final six weeks of the regular season in 2017, but previously worked on the Vikings’ staff (2013-14) and knows Stefanski well.

Gary Kubiak, who coached the Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 title under general manager John Elway and had been under contract in Denver’s personnel department, was scheduled to interview Tuesday for the job as offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

These developments took place after Kubiak, who was backup quarterback to Elway during his NFL playing career, was expected to become the Broncos offensive coordinator under new head coach Vic Fangio. Those plans changed due to philosophical differences. According to multiple reports, one issue was Kubiak wanted to hire his own staff, including bringing back longtime assistants Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani, who the Broncos fired two years ago.

But NFL Network reports things remained amicable between Denver and Kubiak, and the Broncos weren’t standing in the way of any interview requests from other teams. Before Kubiak’s plans in Denver fell through, though, the Broncos reportedly blocked the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals from interviewing him for their coordinator openings. The Falcons have since hired Dirk Koetter as their OC.

Kubiak, 57, spent the last two years in personnel after retiring from coaching due to health concerns. He recently has been hoping to get back into coaching. He also was the head coach of the Houston Texans for eight seasons and the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens in 2014.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs-Patriots in for frigid AFC title game

Chiefs-Patriots in for frigid AFC title game

Chiefs-Patriots in for frigid AFC title game

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

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

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

Accuweather projects temperatures Sunday night between 2 and 14 degrees.

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

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

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

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

–Field Level Media

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Jerry Rice: WR Brown wants to play for 49ers

Jerry Rice: WR Brown wants to play for 49ers

Jerry Rice: WR Brown wants to play for 49ers

Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice says disgruntled Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown wants to play for the San Francisco 49ers “really bad.”

Rice, who made the comments Monday during a radio interview, reportedly had a FaceTime conversation with Brown on Sunday.

“He wants to come here really bad,” Rice told 95.7 The Game.

“He’s talking about running the hill with me — doing all that and just working out and just picking my brain. I don’t know if it’s going to happen because it’s going to be up to [coach] Kyle Shanahan and also [general manager] John Lynch, but I’m all for it if they want him to come on board.”

Rice, the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, starred for the 49ers from 1985-2000 before finishing his legendary career with the Oakland Raiders (2001-04) and Seattle Seahawks (2004).

Rice said he would definitely trade for Brown if it were his decision.

“If it was left up to me, he’d be here in a heartbeat,” Rice said.

Brown, who turns 31 in July, is coming off his sixth straight Pro Bowl appearance after totaling 104 catches for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-Pro four years in a row from 2014 to 2017.

He has fallen out of favor in Pittsburgh after skipping practices and team meetings and not returning phone calls from team president Art Rooney II, head coach Mike Tomlin or teammates leading up to the regular-season finale.

He showed up to play against the Cincinnati Bengals, but the team held Brown out. He was listed on the injury report with knee soreness, but many have questioned his injury. Reports said teammates felt he quit on them.

Last week, Rooney said “it’s hard to envision” Brown returning to the Steelers, while Tomlin acknowledged that the receiver may have become more of a distraction than he’s worth.

The Steelers gave Brown a four-year, $68 million extension last February.

Brown can’t be dealt until the 2019 NFL calendar officially begins on March 13. The Steelers would likely make a decision on his status before March 17, when he is due a $2.5 million roster bonus.

–Field Level Media

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Film Study: Saints salvage Payton gem

Film Study: Saints salvage Payton gem

Film Study: Saints salvage Payton gem

Any playoff loss is crushing.

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

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

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

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

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

It got worse the next play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Stubbornness dooms Bradley, Chargers

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

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

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

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

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

Bradley and the Chargers should have known better.

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

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

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

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

-How L.A. squashed Dallas’ run game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-How K.C.’s D surprised against Indy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

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Cowboys VP Jones doesn’t commit to Linehan

Cowboys VP Jones doesn't commit to Linehan

Embattled offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will be

Cowboys VP Jones doesn’t commit to Linehan

Embattled offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will be back with the Dallas Cowboys next season if head coach Jason Garrett gets his way.

But vice president Stephen Jones said Monday it was too soon to discuss such moves.

Garrett, in a radio interview with 105.3 FM in Dallas, said he expects no major changes to the coaching staff and plans for Linehan to return in 2019.

Hours later on the same station, Jones said “I think it’s a little early to be speculating about players, coaches, anything like that other than I really do think our group overall did a nice job. I know overall it was a good season, but we also know that we’ve had some good teams around here that haven’t taken the next step. We’ve got to figure out what that is. We’re obviously going to be doing a lot of work … to see how we can take that next step.”

Ezekiel Elliott won his second rushing title in three seasons in the NFL and the Cowboys finished 22nd in total offense. The team climbed from 28th in offense after acquiring wide receiver Amari Cooper. Still, Dallas averaged only 21.2 points per game.

Speculation in Dallas during the season was Linehan would return in 2019, but Garrett might claim play-calling responsibilities.

Linehan has been the Cowboys’ playcaller since 2014.

One assistant who could draw interest elsewhere is offensive line coach Marc Colombo. His Boston College teammate, Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores, is expected to be named head coach of the Miami Dolphins when New England’s season ends.

–Field Level Media

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Kuchar rises, Spieth slides in world rankings

Kuchar rises, Spieth slides in world rankings

Kuchar rises, Spieth slides in world rankings

Matt Kuchar climbed 10 spots to No. 22 in the official world golf rankings released Monday, a day after the 40-year-old claimed his second victory of the PGA Tour season at the Sony Open in Honolulu.

Jordan Spieth failed to make the weekend for the second consecutive tournament, leading to a drop a spot to No. 18. That marks the Texan’s lowest ranking since December of 2013, according to the Golf Channel’s Will Gray.

Spieth is outside of the top 17 in the world rankings for the first time since the 2014 Sentry Tournament of Champions, and it marks a steep fall for a player who began the 2018 season ranked No. 2. He could tumble out of the top 20 depending on the results of players close to him in the rankings at this week’s Desert Classic in La Quint, Calif., and the European Tour event in Abu Dhabi.

Spieth shot a 4-under 66 on Friday but still missed the cut by one shot following an opening-round 73. It marked the fourth time in his career that Spieth has missed consecutive cuts.

He is idle this week.

The top 11 spots in the rankings remained unchanged from last week. Tiger Woods leapfrogged Rickie Fowler and England’s Tommy Fleetwood to move to No. 12 despite all three players being off last week. American Patrick Reed remains unchanged at 15th.

Australia’s Marc Leishman climbed to No. 16 with his tie for third place in Honolulu, as he has now recorded a win, a runner-up, a tie for third and a tie for fourth in his past five worldwide starts.

Bubba Watson, who also missed the cut at the Sony Open, dropped a spot to No. 17, followed by Spieth, Patrick Cantlay and Webb Simpson in the top 20.

American Andrew Putnam, who finished solo second to Kuchar, vaulted 22 places to a career-best No. 45.

World Golf Rankings (Jan. 13, 2019)

Ranking — Player (Last Week), Total Points

1 — Justin Rose (1) — 446.66

2 — Brooks Koepka (2) — 404.36

3 — Dustin Johnson (3) — 359.25

4 — Justin Thomas (4) — 388.66

5 — Bryson DeChambeau (5) — 366.77

6 — Xander Schauffele (6) — 333.69

7 — Jon Rahm (7) — 317.86

8 — Rory McIlroy (8) — 261.24

9 — Francesco Molinari (9) — 292.3

10 — Tony Finau (10) — 280.94

11 — Jason Day (11) — 220.66

12 — Tiger Woods (14) — 208.67

13 — Rickie Fowler (12) — 239.63

14 — Tommy Fleetwood (13) — 270.38

15 — Patrick Reed (15) — 259.6

16 — Marc Leishman (18) — 243.25

17 — Bubba Watson (16) — 205.45

18 — Jordan Spieth (17) — 207.86

19 — Patrick Cantlay (19) — 175.69

20 — Webb Simpson (20) — 223.72

–Field Level Media

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Bears to pick up Floyd’s option; Parkey’s future uncertain

Bears to pick up Floyd's option; Parkey's future uncertain

Bears to pick up Floyd’s option; Parkey’s future uncertain

General manager Ryan Pace spoke Monday at the Chicago Bears’ end-of-the-season news conference, addressing one player he expects to be on the roster in 2019 and one who might not.

The player in is Leonard Floyd, with Pace stating the Bears intend to pick up the fifth-year option on the outside linebacker’s contract. Floyd, a Georgia product, was the No. 9 overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft.

It would keep Floyd, 26, with the Bears through the 2020 season. He played all 16 games in 2018, recording 47 tackles, four sacks, one fumble recovery and an interception returned for a touchdown.

The player who might be out is kicker Cody Parkey, whose 43-yard field goal attempt that would have beaten Philadelphia in the NFC wild-card game was no good. Replays showed the ball was tipped.

“That position is an emphasis for us,” Pace said. “We understand we need to get better, get more production out of that position. (Coach) Matt (Nagy) talks about it all the time: There’s so much parity in our league, so many close games, the kicker position is critical. We know we need to get better there, and it’ll be an area of focus.”

On the season, Parkey completed 23 of 30 field goal attempts, including just seven of 10 from the 30- to 39-yard range. He was 42 of 45 on extra points.

Nagy also seemed perturbed that Parkey appeared on NBC’s “Today” show last week and that he was not told of it in advance.

“For me, you understand that we always talk about a ‘we’ and not a ‘me’ thing, and we always talk as a team — we win as a team, we lose as a team,” Nagy said. “You know, I just, I didn’t necessarily think that that was too much of a ‘we’ thing.”

Parkey discussed on the show how he was trying to overcome the missed field goal and was panned on social media for this comment:

“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Parkey said. “I let my fans, my teammates and the whole organization down. I’ll continue to keep my head held high because football is what I do, it’s not who I am.”

–Field Level Media

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Garrett: Linehan to remain Cowboys OC

Garrett: Linehan to remain Cowboys OC

Embattled offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will be back

Garrett: Linehan to remain Cowboys OC

Embattled offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will be back with the Dallas Cowboys next season, coach Jason Garrett said Monday.

Garrett, in a radio interview with 105.3 FM in Dallas, said he expects no major changes to the coaching staff and plans for Linehan to return in 2019.

Ezekiel Elliott won his second rushing title in three seasons in the NFL and the Cowboys finished 22nd in total offense. The team climbed from 28th in offense after acquiring wide receiver Amari Cooper. Still, Dallas averaged only 21.2 points per game.

Speculation in Dallas during the season was Linehan would return in 2019, but Garrett might claim play-calling responsibilities.

Linehan has been the Cowboys’ playcaller since 2014.

One coach who could draw interest elsewhere is offensive line coach Marc Colombo. His Boston College teammate, Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores, is expected to be named head coach of the Miami Dolphins when New England’s season ends.

–Field Level Media

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Kuchar overcomes slow start to win Sony Open

Kuchar overcomes slow start to win Sony Open

Kuchar overcomes slow start to win Sony Open

Matt Kuchar overcame a slow start Sunday to rally for his second victory of the PGA Tour season at the Sony Open in Honolulu.

Kuchar, 40, held a two-shot lead entering the final round at Waialae Country Club, but saw that evaporate with three birdies over his first five holes against a lone birdie. Andrew Putnam grabbed a share of the lead when Kuchar bogeyed Nos. 4 and 5.

Kuchar started to get his round going with a birdie on No. 9. He then reeled off two more over the first three holes after making the turn to regain the lead. This time, he wouldn’t let go, with three birdies over his final four holes to emphatically seal a four-shot victory.

Kuchar’s final-round 66 put him at 22-under 258 for the tournament, with Putnam finishing at 18 under with a 2-under 68 on Sunday.

“It was not at all what I was looking for,” Kuchar told the Golf Channel about his poor start. “I know that I was playing well, so I tried to stay confident. If I keep plugging along, I knew good things would happen.

“Andrew was tough. He was battling me, took the lead … it was nice to have that pressure, to have come through and to make some birdies coming in. For me, I’ve never had a cushion like this coming down to the last (hole).”

Kuchar, who won the Mayakoba Golf Classic in November, took home the $1.152 million winner’s check with his ninth career PGA Tour victory and is the second multiple-time winner on Tour this season. He also earned 500 FedEx Cup points to take over the No. 2 spot behind Xander Schauffele, who earned his second victory of the season last week.

“I think it might have been Jay-Z that said 40 is the new 20?” Kuchar joked. “I hope that’s the case. I’m awfully pleased with my game. Obviously last year was disappointing, but to win two out of three events is crazy to comprehend.

“It’s such a special thing for me.”

Australia’s Marc Leishman finished in a four-way tie for third place at 17 under with Canada’s Corey Conners and Americans Hudson Swafford and Chez Reavie. Davis Love III, one of four 50-plus-year-old in the field, earned a solo seventh-place finish another shot back.

Defending champion Patton Kizzire tied for 13th at 13 under, while 2017 event champion Justin Thomas earned a share of 16th place another shot off the pace. Thomas posted a 66 on Sunday and has now shot 68 or lower in 12 consecutive rounds at Waialae.

The Tour begins its California Swing with the Desert Classic in La Quinta next week.

–Field Level Media

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Maroon 5 officially announced as SB LIII halftime headliner

Maroon 5 officially announced as SB LIII halftime headliner

Maroon 5 officially announced as SB LIII halftime headliner

Three-time Grammy Award winner Maroon 5 was officially announced as the headliner for the Super Bowl LIII halftime show in Atlanta, the band and CBS Sports announced Sunday.

Rapper and six-time Grammy nominee Travis Scott will perform with the band, and Atlanta native Big Boi was announced as host for the proceedings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Maroon 5’s role in the halftime show had been speculated for months, but there was no shortage of public outcry for the band to not do the show because of the controversies surrounding Colin Kaepernick and other players who have knelt for the national anthem.

An online petition filed at change.org and titled “Maroon 5: Drop Out of the Super Bowl Halftime Show” has nearly 85,000 signatures as of Sunday night. The page reads in part, “Kaepernick risked his career to take a knee for equality, and the NFL punished him for it. Until the league changes their policy and supports players’ constitutional right to protest, no artists should agree to work with the NFL. Join me in asking Maroon 5 to drop out of the 2019 Super Bowl halftime show.”

Scott also announced that he and the NFL are making a joint $500,000 donation to social justice nonprofit Dream Corps.

“I back anyone who takes a stand for what they believe in,” Scott reportedly said in a statement. “I know being an artist that it’s in my power to inspire. So before confirming the Super Bowl Halftime performance, I made sure to partner with the NFL on this important donation. I am proud to support Dream Corps and the work they do that will hopefully inspire and promote change.”

According to multiple reports, Scott told the NFL he would not perform in the show without the NFL first agreeing to the donation. Nonetheless, there was no shortage of anger and unhappiness on Twitter following the announcement Sunday.

Maroon 5 have sold more than 53 million albums and 48 million singles and set a record for the most No. 1 singles (nine) by a group in the 20-year history of the top-40 chart.

The band’s sixth studio album, “Red Pill Blues,” released in late 2017, features their current hit single “Girls Like You,” which was No. 1 on the charts for seven consecutive weeks. The track has become the longest-running song in the top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and according to Nielsen Music, the band recently finished 2018 as the biggest act on U.S. radio.

Scott’s No. 1 single “Sicko Mode” was nominated for a Grammy for best rap performance and best rap song, and his latest album, “Astroworld,” also earned a Grammy nomination for best rap album.

Big Boi is best known as a member of hip-hop duo Outkast, which has sold 25 million albums and won six Grammys. His most-recent album, “Boomiverse,” was released in June 2017.

Last year’s Super Bowl halftime show featured Justin Timberlake in his return after he was part of Janet Jackson’s notorious “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 NFL title game.

The list of past Super Bowl halftime performers includes Bruno Mars, Beyonce, Madonna, Lady Gaga, The Who, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Prince, Paul McCartney, U2, Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

–Field Level Media

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TE Gates wants to play for Chargers in 2019

TE Gates wants to play for Chargers in 2019

TE Gates wants to play for Chargers in 2019

Last February, Antonio Gates believed he had played his last game for the Los Angeles Chargers, and perhaps in the NFL. Now the 38-year-old wants to be back for a 17th season with the club.

After Gates and the Chargers lost to the Patriots in New England 41-28 in the AFC divisional round on Sunday, the future Hall of Fame tight end talked about his career and told reporters he doesn’t see how it can end now.

“I just don’t see myself walking away with this taste,” Gates said. “And plus this team. I think when you add Hunter (Henry) back, and hopefully we get (defensive back) Jason Verrett back — shoot, the sky’s the limit. And I want to be a part of it.

“But that has to be a collective decision. I can’t just want to come back. So we’ll see how it goes.”

It was Henry’s injury that actually landed Gates on the Chargers’ roster this season. Gates became a free agent following last season and the Chargers — the only team for which Gates has played — told Gates and his representation in February they would not re-sign him. Gates announced he intended to keep playing, but with a different team.

But when Henry suffered a torn ACL in May, the team was hurting in both experience and depth at tight end. At that point, Virgil Green was the only tight end on the roster with an NFL catch. The team signed Gates on Sept. 2, a week before the season began.

Gates finished the season with 28 catches for 333 yards and two touchdowns while playing in all 16 regular-season games. He added nine catches for 76 yards in two playoffs games, catching a touchdown with less than a minute left on Sunday — the last touchdown the Chargers scored this season.

“I want to be sure to remind them that I want to come back,” Gates said. “I want to be part of something special, and I think we have that here. But that’s out of my control in the sense where I can only do what I can do. And we’ll see out it goes.”

In 16 seasons, the former Kent State basketball player has 955 receptions for 11,841 yards and 116 touchdowns in the regular season. The receptions and yardage totals are third among tight ends in NFL history, while the touchdowns are a record for the position.

Gates’ 89 regular-season touchdown catches from Philip Rivers are the most by a quarterback-tight end combo in NFL history.

–Field Level Media

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Lattimore’s INT caps Saints’ comeback win over Eagles

Lattimore's INT caps Saints' comeback win over Eagles

Lattimore’s INT caps Saints’ comeback win over Eagles

Overcoming a horrid start and a 14-point first-quarter deficit, Drew Brees threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns and lifted the host New Orleans Saints to a 20-14 NFC divisional playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore intercepted a Nick Foles pass — which went through the hands of Alshon Jeffery — at the New Orleans 19-yard line and returned it to the Saints’ 33 with 1:52 remaining, and running back Alvin Kamara ran for 12 yards on third-and-10 in the final minute to kill the clock.

The No. 1-seeded Saints (14-3) trailed 14-0 just 10:23 into the game but scored 20 unanswered points to advance to the NFC Championship Game next Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Rams at the Superdome.

After starting 0 for 3, including an interception on the first play of the game, Brees finished 28 of 38 with scoring passes of 2 yards each to Keith Kirkwood and Michael Thomas. Thomas set Saints’ playoff records with 12 catches and 171 yards receiving.

“Defensively in the second half, we were outstanding,” Saints coach Sean Payton told reporters following the game. “It wasn’t a perfect game. There’s a lot of things we have to clean up. But we got the win against the defending champions, and that means a lot. … We’ve played from behind quite a bit in the regular season, and we’ve been able to come back. … We did a great job of getting off the field on third down.”

The sixth-seeded Eagles (10-8) played valiantly despite a flurry of injuries. Foles completed 18 of 31 passes for 201 yards, but Philadelphia’s offense failed over the final three quarters, amassing just 97 yards after 153 in the first.

New Orleans took its first lead of the game, 17-14, by capitalizing on a withering, 18-play, 92-yard drive that consumed 11:29 of the third quarter and netted the Saints nine first downs. Brees completed 8 of 10 passes for 80 yards on the march, on which the Saints overcame two holding penalties and a false start. One of the holding penalties, on left guard Andrus Peat, nullified a 46-yard scoring pass from Taysom Hill to Kamara.

Brees eventually got the touchdown, finding Thomas in man coverage against Cre’Von LeBlanc for a 2-yard score.

“It impacts you relative to the number of snaps played, most importantly with your defense and their rest and your opponent getting that many snaps (on defense),” Payton said of the drive’s importance. “A lot had to happen for that to take place. Regretfully, those penalties hurt us, but we were able to overcome them.”

Wil Lutz extended the Saints’ lead to 20-14 with a 39-yard field goal with 10:28 left, but it remained a one-possession game.

When Lutz missed a 52-yard field-goal attempt wide right with 2:58 remaining, the Eagles had new life at their own 42. But Jeffery’s drop of Foles’ pass and Lattimore’s interception — his second of the game — sealed Philadelphia’s fate.

“He told me he loved playing with me and we wouldn’t have won a Super Bowl without me,” Jeffrey told the media after the game of what Foles said to him. “Still, I let the city of Philadelphia down.”

Eagles coach Doug Pederson told reporters that prior to the interception he believed his team would capitalize on Lutz’s miss.

“I thought we were on our way, that we got that. It just felt like the momentum at that point was in our favor, ion our hands. It’s been that way all season. I felt like the magic was going to continue.”

The Eagles dominated the first quarter, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and at one point holding a total yardage advantage of 151-0.

However, the Saints got back in the game with 10 consecutive points in the second quarter to trail only 14-10 at halftime.

Foles completed eight of his first nine passes for 113 yards and led Philadelphia to touchdowns on its first two possessions. The first score was set up on the Saints’ first play, when Brees badly underthrew Ted Ginn Jr. on a deep route and LeBlanc intercepted the ball at the Philadelphia 24.

Foles completed all five passes for 65 yards on the ensuing 76-yard scoring drive, including a 37-yard strike to wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who easily beat double coverage for the touchdown.

After New Orleans went three-and-out, Foles directed a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown march, setting up the score with a 30-yard back-shoulder throw to Jeffrey on third-and-7 to the Saints’ 4. Foles got the 14-0 lead by stretching the ball over the goal line from 1 yard out two plays later.

But the Saints finally got rolling in the second quarter, when Brees completed 13 of 16 passes for 171 yards a touchdown. Sean Payton successfully gambled twice on fourth down on the touchdown drive — converting a fourth-and-1 on a fake-punt run by Hill at the Saints’ 30 and then converting the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2 with Brees’ soft pass in the left corner of the end zone to Kirkwood.

Lutz brought the Saints within 14-10 with a 45-yard field just before intermission. The drive started at the New Orleans 6 with 78 seconds remaining in the half.

The loss will also bring Foles’ future with the Eagles into question in the coming days and into the offseason. The Super Bowl MVP from last season may become a free agent in the spring and starting quarterback Carson Wentz’s health issues will leave the Eagles with a huge decision regarding Foles.

“I just told him I appreciated everything he’s done,” Pederson said of what he told Foles. “For him to come in and step in the way he has, I told him I loved him, and we’ll probably visit in the next few days.”

The NFC Championship Game is scheduled to kick off at 3:05 p.m. ET next Sunday.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Dolphins ponder rebuild, eye 2020 QB class

Report: Dolphins ponder rebuild, eye 2020 QB class

Report: Dolphins ponder rebuild, eye 2020 QB class

The Miami Dolphins are pondering a full-scale rebuild that could mean fewer wins in the 2019 season but a shot at one of the top quarterbacks in the 2020 draft, ESPN reported Sunday.

Per the report, the Dolphins know their roster is far from where they want it to be, and they “recognize that losing likely will be a part of next season,” as they look to improve the offensive and defensive lines.

A poor 2019 season could put Miami in position to draft highly regarded quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama or Justin Herbert of Oregon. Herbert could have declared for the 2019 draft but decided to return to school, while Tagovailoa won’t be eligible to declare until the 2020 draft.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was candid about the possibility of a rebuild during his season-ending press conference, after firing head coach Adam Gase.

“We’ve been operating under a philosophy that we had a good young roster, and it needed maybe free agents and draft choices and we’d be very competitive,” Ross said. “To keep operating under that philosophy would be like the definition of insanity: doing the same thing and really expecting a different result.

“…Basically, the thought is we’re going to look to really build this organization based on our needs, and if it takes a year or so — two years, three years — we’re going to be there and we’re going to be an organization.”

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill — who has missed 24 games over the last three seasons due to injury — is reportedly not in the team’s long-term plans, but it’s unclear if the Dolphins intend to move on this offseason. General manager Chris Grier was noncommittal at his season-ending press conference about Tannehill’s status.

“Yeah, as of right now, he’s on the roster,” Grier replied when asked if Tannehill would be back in 2019. “Again, the next head coach is going to come in and he’ll evaluate the roster as well. So we’ll work through that once that guy is hired.”

If not for a restructure of Tannehill’s contract last March, Miami would be able to release him with no cap implications, but it would now incur a dead-money hit of $13.4 million by releasing him. Still, that would represent a savings of $13.2 million from his $26.2 million cap number for 2019. The Dolphins could spread that dead-money hit out over two seasons (about $7.9 million in 2019 and $6.6 million in 2020) by releasing Tannehill with a June 1 designation.

Miami is expected to hire New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores once the Patriots’ season is over.

Most teams give new head coaches four-year contracts with a fifth-year team option, but the San Francisco 49ers — entering a full-scale rebuild of their own — gave Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch six-year deals two offseasons ago.

The Dolphins have gone 13-19 over the last two seasons after reaching the playoffs with a 10-6 record in 2016.

–Field Level Media

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