Ryan, Falcons rip Redskins for 38 points

Ryan, Falcons rip Redskins for 38 points

Matt Ryan passed for 350 yards and four scores, including Julio Jones’ first touchdown reception of the season, and the visiting Atlanta Falcons routed the Redskins 38-14 to snap Washington’s three-game winning streak.

Jones had seven catches for 121 yards and caught a 35-yard touchdown pass with 3:45 left to play, setting off an Atlanta celebration.

Running back Tevin Coleman had two touchdown catches and rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley had another — from 40 yards — for the Falcons (4-4).

Ryan completed 26 of 38 passes with one interception as Atlanta converted 10 of 13 third downs and gained 491 yards.

The Redskins (5-3) pulled to within 28-14 with 2:15 left in the third quarter when running back Kapri Bibbs scored from three yards out, but Atlanta added 10 fourth-quarter points,

Alex Smith was 30 of 46 for 306 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Adrian Peterson was held to 17 yards on nine carries and Maurice Harris had 10 catches for 124 yards.

Already minus left tackle Trent Williams (thumb/shoulder), the Redskins lost guard Shawn Lauvao (knee) and right tackle Morgan Moses (knee) in the first quarter. Moses returned before guard Brandon Scherff (shoulder) left in the third quarter.

Washington was penalized 10 times for 147 yards.

The Falcons took a 7-0 lead on their first possession. On third-and-6, Ryan and tight end Austin Hooper connected for 23 yards. On the next play, Coleman took a short pass and completed a 39-yard catch and run for the touchdown.

Atlanta went 86 yards in nine plays to make it 14-0 early in the second quarter. Ryan completed passes of 21 and 28 yards to Jones and Ito Smith ran 12 yards for the touchdown.

This time Washington answered with an 11-play drive that ended when Smith found Josh Doctson on a fade route for a 2-yard touchdown with 3:10 left.

That was more than enough time for Ryan and the Falcons as Ryan and Ridley connected with 28 seconds remaining.

Atlanta built a three-touchdown cushion by taking the second half kickoff 75 yards to set up Ryan-to-Coleman for a 10-yard score.

–Field Level Media

Bears sign WR Williams-Lambert

Bears sign WR Williams-Lambert

The

Bears sign WR Williams-Lambert

The Chicago Bears have signed receiver Jordan Williams-Lambert to a contract, the team announced Friday.

Williams-Lambert, a product of Ball State, played in the Canadian Football League in 2018 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He caught 62 passes for 764 yards and four touchdowns in 16 games. He was named the most outstanding rookie in the CFL’s West Division after catching 62 passes for 764 yards and four touchdowns in 17 games.

The 6-3 Williams-Lambert signed with New Orleans as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and spent the season on the practice squad. The Saints waived him in August 2017.

He becomes the third player from the CFL to join the Bears this offseason. The others are linebackers Jameer Thurman and James Vaughters.

–Field Level Media

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Warmer temperatures expected when Chiefs, Patriots meet

Warmer temperatures expected when Chiefs, Patriots meet

Warmer temperatures expected when Chiefs, Patriots meet

Temperatures during the AFC championship game on Sunday night should be much warmer than previously thought.

Earlier this week, predictions were that the Kansas City Chiefs would host the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium with arctic gametime temperatures in the single digits and falling to below zero.

On Friday, the Weather Channel forecast a high of 32 degrees on Sunday in Kansas City, with a low of 21. Kickoff is at 6:40 p.m. ET

The grounds crew at Arrowhead Stadium spent the week getting the field ready. After heavy snowfall fell in Kansas City last weekend, the crew figured the field needed to be replaced for the first-ever AFC championship game at the stadium.

Heads groundskeeper Travis Hogan shared pictures on Twitter on Thursday of the resodded turf.

“We weren’t planning on a resod this week, but Mother Nature had other plans,” Hogan tweeted. “10 inches of snow and all the snow in the stadium being hauled out on the sidelines changed things. My crew did an unbelievable job. They are the BEST! Everyone is tired but we are ready. Let’s Roll!”

–Field Level Media

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Record number approved to enter NFL draft

Record number approved to enter NFL draft

Record number approved to enter NFL draft

A record 135 college football players are bypassing remaining eligibility to enter the 2019 NFL Draft.

The NFL released the official list on Friday and said 103 players were granted special eligibility. Another 32 players graduated while still having college eligibility.

Nine others are eligible without the need for special eligibility.

Among the players who declared prior to Monday’s deadline were Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Kyler Murray of Oklahoma and quarterback Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State. Murray has previously signed a baseball contract with the Oakland Athletics.

Others on the list who figure to go early in the draft are Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver and Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.

The players granted special eligibility for the 2019 NFL Draft:

Ed Alexander, DT, LSU

Jeff Allison, LB, Fresno State

JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

Mike Bell, S, Fresno State

Amani Bledsoe, DE, Oklahoma

Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State

Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame

A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss

Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma

Sean Bunting, CB, Central Michigan

Brian Burns, DE, Florida State

Devin Bush, LB, Michigan

Hamp Cheevers, CB, Boston College

Damarea Crockett, RB, Missouri

Maxx Crosby, DE, Eastern Michigan

Tyrel Dodson, LB, Texas A&M

Greg Dortch, WR, Wake Forest

Clifton Duck, CB, Appalachian State

Jovon Durante, WR, Florida Atlantic

David Edwards, OT, Wisconsin

Bobby Evans, OT, Oklahoma

Datryan Evans, TE, Friends

Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

Jazz Ferguson, WR, Northwestern State

Malik Gant, DB, Marshall

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida

Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan

Zach Gentry, TE, Michigan

Kevin Givens, DT, Penn State

Jalen Guyton, WR, North Texas

Mecole Hardman, WR, Georgia

Kelvin Harmon, WR, N.C. State

N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis

Nate Herbig, OG, Stanford

Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State

Trysten Hill, DT, Central Florida

T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa

Joshuwa Holloman, RB, Eastern Michigan

Elijah Holyfield, RB, Georgia

Travis Homer, RB, Miami

Amani Hooker, DB, Iowa

Lil’Jordan Humphrey, WR, Texas

Joe Jackson, DE, Miami

Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

Andre James, OT, UCLA

Darryl Johnson, DE, North Carolina A&T

Diontae Johnson, WR, Toledo

Tyron Johnson, WR, Oklahoma State

Michael Jordan, OG, Ohio State

Vosean Joseph, LB, Florida

Tre Lamar, LB, Clemson

Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

Justin Layne, CB, Michigan State

Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss

David Long, CB, Michigan

Julian Love, CB, Notre Dame

Alize Mack, TE, Notre Dame

Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

Connor McGovern, OL, Penn State

D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

Shareef Miller, DE, Penn State

Dillon Mitchell, WR, Oregon

David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

Trayvon Mullen, DB, Clemson

Byron Murphy, CB, Washington

Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia

Chidi Okeke, OT, Tennessee State

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

Jachai Polite, DE, Florida

Ryan Pulley, CB, Arkansas

Taylor Rapp, S, Washington

Riley Ridley, WR, Georgia

Tyler Roemer, OT, San Diego State

Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

Jordan Scarlett, RB, Florida

Kendall Sheffield, DB, Ohio State

Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State

Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

Darius Slayton, WR, Auburn

Irv Smith, TE, Alabama

Kaden Smith, TE, Stanford

Savion Smith, DB, Alabama

Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky

Dredrick Snelson, WR, Central Florida

Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M

Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida

Darwin Thompson, RB, Utah State

John Ursua, WR, Hawaii

Kahale Warring, TE, San Diego State

Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

Antoine Wesley, WR, Texas Tech

Devin White, LB, LSU

Kerrith Whyte Jr., RB, Florida Atlantic

Greedy Williams, CB, LSU

James Williams, RB, Washington State

Joejuan Williams, CB, Vanderbilt

Preston Williams, WR, Colorado State

Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama

Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M

Mack Wilson, LB, Alabama

The following 32 players have in timely fashion under NFL rules officially notified the league office that they have fulfilled their degree requirements. Consequently, they are eligible for selection:

Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

Alex Barnes, RB, Kansas State

Ryan Bates, OT, Penn State

Venzell Boulware, OL, Miami

Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

Xavier Crawford, CB, Central Michigan

Jamel Dean, CB, Auburn

Clelin Ferrell, DL, Clemson

Cody Ford, OL, Oklahoma

Youhanna Ghaifan, DT, Wyoming

Joe Giles-Harris, LB, Duke

Penny Hart, WR, Georgia State

Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo

Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

Dre’Mont Jones, DL, Ohio State

Dawson Knox, TE, Ole Miss

David Long, LB, West Virginia

Erik McCoy, OL, Texas A&M

Jakobi Meyers, WR, N.C. State

Anthony Nelson, DE, Iowa

Tony Pollard, RB, Memphis

Anthony Ratliff-Williams, WR, North Carolina

Dax Raymond, TE, Utah State

Quart’e Sapp, LB, Tennessee

Cortrelle Simpson, WR, Richmond

Sutton Smith, DE, Northern Illinois

Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

William Sweet, OT, North Carolina

Josiah Tauaefa, LB, UTSA

Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama

Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama

Caleb Wilson, TE, UCLA

The following players inquired about their draft status and are eligible for selection without the need for special eligibility:

Sean Adesanya, DE, Central Michigan

Blessuan Austin, DB, Rutgers

Jordan Brailford, DE, Oklahoma State

Keenen Brown, TE, Texas State

Byron Cowart, DE, Maryland

D’Andre Ferby, DE, Western Kentucky

P.J.Johnson, DT, Arizona

Daniel LaCamera, K, Texas A&M

L.J. Scott, RB, Michigan State

–Field Level Media

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Report: Saints TE Watson expected to miss NFC title game

Report: Saints TE Watson expected to miss NFC title game

Report: Saints TE Watson expected to miss NFC title game

Tight end Benjamin Watson is expected to be inactive when his New Orleans Saints meet the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC championship game on Sunday.

ESPN reported that Watson has missed practices this week because of appendicitis. He has not had surgery to remove his appendix.

Watson, 38, announced in December he planned to retire after this season.

If he doesn’t play, that will leave quarterback Drew Brees without one of his offensive weapons. On the season, Watson had 35 catches for 400 yards with two touchdowns.

In his career, he has played in 195 games for New England (2004-09), Cleveland (2010-12), New Orleans (2013-15, 2018) and Baltimore (2017). He has played in 12 playoff games and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots in his rookie season.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs S Berry likely to play vs. Patriots

Chiefs S Berry likely to play vs. Patriots

Chiefs S Berry likely to play vs. Patriots

Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry appears to be playing in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots after the team removed him from the injury report following Friday’s practice.

Berry, who has a heel injury, was a full participant for the third straight day.

“I feel pretty good,” Berry told reporters after Friday’s practice.

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

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

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

Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton is looking forward to seeing Berry on the field.

“He has great speed and range,” Sutton told reporters of Berry. “I think he’s our most physical football player. So when you have those qualities and you have playmaking ability, you have a chance to affect the game.

“The one thing about speed on defense is that it isn’t always the plays you make, it’s sometimes the plays you prevent. He has that ability in him. The other part of it that he brings is the players respond to him. They appreciate all he’s been through and what he’s done here and what kind of player he is.”

Linebacker Dorian O’Daniel (ankle) was ruled out and was the lone player remaining on the injury report on Friday. O’Daniel also missed the game against Indianapolis.

–Field Level Media

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Chargers GM on Rivers: ‘He’s not going anywhere’

Chargers GM on Rivers: 'He's not going anywhere'

Philip Rivers has said he wants

Chargers GM on Rivers: ‘He’s not going anywhere’

Philip Rivers has said he wants to play beyond next season, the final year on his contract with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco signaled Thursday that the team is committed to Rivers beyond next season as well.

“I can tell you he’s not going anywhere,” Telesco said of the 37-year-old Rivers.

“He’s going to be here, but we’ll talk at the right point as far as the moves we need to make in the offseason, the resources we have and kind of see how it all fits in. But yeah, he’s not going anywhere.”

Rivers is due $11 million next season but would count $23 million against the salary cap.

He’s also coming off a 12-4 season that ended just short of the AFC title game with a playoff loss to the New England Patriots.

Rivers threw for 4,308 yards with 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season.

“I couldn’t put a number on it, but I haven’t seen drop off in Philip since I arrived here six years ago,” Telesco said. “In the six years I’ve been here, he’s even playing better now than when I first got here so I guess the sky’s the limit, but for how long he wants to play, you’d have to ask him that but we’re really lucky to have him.”

The Chargers are scheduled to move into their new stadium in time for the 2020 season, which would be Rivers’ 17th in the NFL.

–Field Level Media

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Linehan out as Dallas’ offensive coordinator

Linehan out as Dallas' offensive coordinator

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will not

Linehan out as Dallas’ offensive coordinator

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will not return to the Dallas Cowboys for the 2019 season, head coach Jason Garrett announced in a statement on Friday.

“This was not an easy decision because of how highly we regard Scott Linehan as a football coach and as a person. He and I had some really positive, substantive and open discussions which took place in the latter part of this week, and we ultimately agreed that it would be in the best interest of all of the parties involved if we were to make a change at this position. This was very much a mutual decision,” Garrett’s statement said, in part.

Linehan’s future had been a subject of debate throughout the week in Dallas.

On Monday, two days after the Cowboys’ season ended in a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Garrett told 105.3 FM in Dallas that he expected no changes to his coaching staff, including Linehan.

Hours later on the same station, vice president Stephen 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.”

Then, Monday afternoon, Garrett seemed to take a step back from his commitment to Linehan at the Cowboys’ season-ending press conference.

“We haven’t had any substantive conversations,” Garrett said. “Scott did an excellent job for us this year. Again, I don’t know how I answered that question this morning. Nothing has changed.”

Linehan was the focus of fan criticism, especially when the team was 3-5 at the halfway point of the season. Dallas was No. 22 in total offense and scoring offense in 2018.

Still, Garrett was a staunch defender of Linehan throughout the season. After a loss to Seattle on Sept. 23, when the Cowboys scored just 13 points, Garrett was asked if he would start calling plays himself. At the time, the Cowboys were 1-2 and averaging 13.7 points per game.

“We’re not going to go down that road right now,” Garrett said then. “I have a lot of confidence in Scott Linehan. He has been an outstanding coordinator in this league for a long time. He’s been an outstanding coordinator for us.”

Linehan joined the Cowboys in 2014 as the passing game coordinator and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2015. He was head coach of the St. Louis Rams from 2006-08.

The Cowboys scored 339 points this season, their fewest since 2015, when they finished 4-12 and used a revolving door of quarterbacks when injury limited Tony Romo to four games. It was the second-lowest total since 2005.

–Field Level Media

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Mickelson flirts with 59 at Desert Classic

Mickelson flirts with 59 at Desert Classic

Mickelson flirts with 59 at Desert Classic

Phil Mickelson flirted with the 11th sub-60 round in the history of the PGA Tour on Thursday before settling for a 12-under 60 at La Quinta Country Club in the first round of the Desert Classic in California.

He holds a three-shot lead over Adam Long, who sits in second place after shooting a 9-under 63 at PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament Course.

“It was kind of a lucky day for me in the sense that I did not feel sharp coming in,” Mickelson told The Golf Channel after his round, referencing his tweet prior to the round that he was feeling “rusty.” “I did not have the intense practice sessions that I would have liked, but I felt like all parts were OK and it just clicked. …

“It was a fun day. I certainly did not expect this to be the case, but I’m also excited to start the year, so I was fresh.”

Taking advantage of the easiest course on the PGA Tour last season, Mickelson birdied his first two holes and made the turn in 6-under 30. He then reeled off five more birdies over his next seven holes to set up his chance at the elusive 59.

Needing to birdie the final two holes — both par 4s — Mickelson parred the 17th before rolling in a birdie on his final hole. It marked the 37th round of 60 on the PGA Tour and the third of Mickelson’s career. His two previous 60s came at the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, but TPC Scottsdale is a par-71 course.

“I came to the realization (regarding the possibility of shooting 59) on 16 when I had that putt for birdie that if I make that 4-footer and birdie the last two, I would shoot 59 and I gave myself a decent chance,” Mickelson said. “The shot on 17, I was trying to hook a sand wedge and kind of get that thing to side spin towards the pin, and I just didn’t hook it enough. I still had a good look at it, but I just didn’t roll that one in.”

The Desert Classic is a pro-am format, with players rotating among La Quinta, the Nicklaus Tournament Course and the Stadium Course, the latter two at PGA West, over the first three days. All three courses are par 72. Sunday’s final round will be played at the Stadium Course.

La Quinta yielded the lowest average score (68.831) of any par 72 on the PGA Tour last season. The Nicklaus Tournament Course was No. 2 (69.445), while the Stadium Course yielded an average of 71.181.

Mickelson, a two-time winner of the Desert Classic (2002, 2014), did his best to take advantage of the La Quinta course in soft conditions on Thursday. He will play the Nicklaus course on Friday and the Stadium Course in the third round and noted that the pressure was on to perform in Round 2.

“It’s very difficult to start out with a round and go low like this and then follow it up because the expectations are (that) anything short of a victory is a failure,” said the 48-year-old. “Yet we have three full rounds on some challenging golf courses with a lot of potential birdies, so it’s a tough position to be in but it’s one that I thoroughly enjoy.”

Australia’s Curtis Luck sits alone in third place at 8 under after his round at La Quinta.

Trey Mullinax (Nicklaus), Wyndham Clark (La Quinta), Canada’s Adam Hadwin (Stadium) and Scotland’s Martin Laird (Nicklaus) are tied for fourth at 7 under.

Spain’s Jon Rahm, seeking to join Johnny Miller (1975-76) as the only repeat champions of the event, shot 6 under at La Quinta, leaving him in a 10-way tie for eighth place. Rahm beat Andrew Landry on the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff last year.

Reigning FedExCup champion Justin Rose is the first No. 1-ranked player to compete in the Desert Classic since the world ranking system began in 1986. The Englishman shot 4 under at La Quinta on Thursday, good for a tie for 31st.

Charlie Reiter, who missed the cut as a high school senior last year, is in the field again on a sponsor exemption. Reiter, currently on the University of Southern California team, shot 3 over par at La Quinta on Thursday, better than just eight golfers in the 156-player field.

–Field Level Media

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Broncos add DB, TE assistant coaches to staff

Broncos add DB, TE assistant coaches to staff

The

Broncos add DB, TE assistant coaches to staff

The Denver Broncos on Thursday announced two more additions to their coaching staff, hiring Renaldo Hill as defensive backs coach and Wade Harman as tight ends coach.

Hill, 40, has been involved in coaching the past six years, and was the assistant defensive backs coach with the Miami Dolphins in 2018. After playing safety for 10 years in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals (2001-04), Oakland Raiders (2005), Miami (2006-08) and Denver (2009-10), Hill took coaching jobs in college at Wyoming (2012-13) and Pittsburgh (2015-17).

The Detroit native was selected by Arizona in the seventh round (202nd overall) of the 2001 NFL Draft. He was a first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection as a senior at Michigan State.

A native of Corydon, Iowa, Harman, 55, played linebacker at Utah State and Drake University, then began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Utah State in 1987. He worked with the Aggies’ tight ends and running backs for five seasons, then served as an offensive coach at Pacific (1992-95) and Morningside (1996).

A 32-year coaching veteran with 22 years of NFL experience with the Atlanta Falcons (2014-18), Baltimore Ravens (1999-2013, including two Super Bowl championship teams) and Minnesota Vikings (1997-98), Harman has coached tight ends during 19 of those NFL seasons. He has occupied that role with the Falcons for the last four years.

Also Thursday, receivers coach Zach Azzanni indicated that he had been retained by new head coach Vic Fangio, making the announcement on Twitter.

According to the Denver Post, running backs coach Curtis Modkins is also expected to return after joining the Broncos last year, according to a league source.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Seahawks sign QB Lynch as backup

Report: Seahawks sign QB Lynch as backup

The Seattle Seahawks

Report: Seahawks sign QB Lynch as backup

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

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

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

Veteran Russell Wilson is entrenched as the starter in Seattle, so the Seahawks will groom Lynch as his backup. The Seahawks acquired Brett Hundley from Green Bay last summer in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2019 draft to take the backup duties, but he didn’t play in 2018. Wilson took every snap.

–Field Level Media

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Report: J.J. Watt underwent ‘minor’ knee procedure

Report: J.J. Watt underwent 'minor' knee procedure

Houston

Report: J.J. Watt underwent ‘minor’ knee procedure

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

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

Watt had appeared on Houston’s injury report multiple times during the second half of the season with a knee issue.

After missing 24 games to injuries in 2016 and ’17, Watt started all 16 regular-season games plus the Texans’ wild-card playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts this season.

The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year registered 16.0 sacks and a league-high seven forced fumbles while earning his fifth All-Pro First Team selection and fifth Pro Bowl invitation.

–Field Level Media

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Take 5: Conference championship keys

Take 5: Conference championship keys

Take 5: Conference championship keys

The bright side of a lackluster divisional round is a star-studded conference championship weekend, bringing us rematches of two of the regular season’s best games.

We’ll start at Arrowhead with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, who might have won Round 1 in Foxborough if it had lasted much longer.

1. How will Belichick adapt?

Despite intercepting Patrick Mahomes twice in the first half of Week 6, the Patriots and Bill Belichick couldn’t pin him down. Mahomes eventually caught fire, hitting big shots to Tyreek Hill and creating off-schedule plays outside the pocket to nearly pull the upset.

Belichick’s favored mush-rush approach against mobile quarterbacks isn’t enough against Mahomes, because he’ll win from the pocket when not pressured. However, blitzes can produce scrambling lanes if done without discipline.

To contain AND pressure Mahomes, the Patriots could use more of a tactic that worked in Week 6: Cover-0 with two lurkers. Presnap, they show all-out blitz with one-on-one coverage everywhere (the Cover-0 element), forcing the offensive line to leave one rusher (the furthest outside rusher) unblocked. But at the snap, two inside defenders — usually Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy — start to blitz before dropping into underneath zones. O-linemen must honor that initial rush, leaving an outside rusher unblocked. With scramble lanes up the middle jammed, the free rusher forces a quick throw, and the two droppers take away short throws inside.

This concept worked a few times in Week 6 (and also foiled Philip Rivers at times last week). Because pressure comes quickly and inside options are limited, it often forces low-percentage deep balls — thrown before a target’s route is defined — leading to harmless incompletions.

Using this tactic early might unsettle Mahomes a bit, enticing him to expect pressure and play too fast. Using it often throughout the game would be riskier — basically Russian roulette, given Hill’s speed and Travis Kelce’s explosiveness — but the reward could be more takeaway opportunities.

Either way, Belichick must try something else against Hill, who hounded New England against man and zone from the slot, where he is extremely difficult to bracket. The Patriots occasionally tried a bullseye tactic (jamming him with a front-seven defender) but Hill was too quick. Perhaps Belichick would consider a vice technique (two defenders jamming at the line) in certain situations.

2. Chris Jones must dominate

Jones strip-sacked Tom Brady in just 1.9 seconds in Week 6, firing through a gap created by pulling left guard Joe Thuney on shotgun play-action.

But otherwise, Jones and the Chiefs’ pass rush barely breathed on Brady. K.C.’s other sack was one of Brady’s worst plays in years — he held the ball for 10 seconds and was stripped by Breeland Speaks. Speaks famously let Brady out of a sack in the fourth quarter, but the Chiefs didn’t even hit him otherwise.

A major reason was a wealth of three-man rushes, one of coordinator Bob Sutton’s preferred approaches against New England. Brady likes to deliver quickly, even when not pressured, and dropping eight clogs throwing lanes underneath. It also lets the Chiefs play Cover-1 (man coverage, one deep safety) with not one but two lurkers, who keep eyes on Brady and thwart inside routes.

Justin Houston is back after missing the first meeting, but he often drops when K.C. rushes only three. Dee Ford should have a few chances to reach Brady, but his quick delivery often neutralizes edge pressure.

Jones will get doubled, maybe even tripled on occasion, but he’s powerful enough to push through two men at times. He doesn’t necessarily have to get free for sacks and hits, as long as he can get push through the middle to force Brady off the spot.

3. Will Reid use the halfback seam again?

Remember Kareem Hunt’s 78-yard touchdown in the 2017 season opener, a seam route from the backfield that other teams (including the Patriots and Rams) quickly copied?

Andy Reid ran a variation of the same concept on the first drive in Week 6 this year. Hunt came wide open behind Hightower, but Mahomes missed the throw, leading to a field goal instead of a 26-yard touchdown.

Hunt is gone, but Damien Williams (or Spencer Ware, if he plays) is certainly capable of making the play. Will Reid dress it up differently and run it yet again? Will the Patriots be prepared to sniff it out?

Given how much attention Hill and Kelce draw, it’s not hard to imagine it working a third time.

4. How Aqib Talib changes Rams’ D

Nobody’s going to shut down Michael Thomas one-on-one, but Marcus Peters was a disaster against him in Week 9 (12 catches, 211 yards, TD).

Talib’s presence makes a big difference. An ideal body-type matchup, he’s strong in press coverage, quick enough to hang with in-breaking routes and lanky enough to thwart contested catches. The Rams rarely travel their corners (Talib usually plays the left, Peters the right), but Talib tracking Thomas would make sense.

That would still stress Peters, however, because it would leave him on the speedy Ted Ginn. The Rams often bracketed Thomas and Alvin Kamara in the first meeting — especially in the red zone, but also on some third downs — which could allow Ginn to exploit Peters deep.

To create time to attack deep, expect the Saints to use six-, seven- and even eight-man protections. They did this regularly in Week 9, often with slow-developing play-action that let tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk block down on Aaron Donald. Despite coming close, Donald was mostly kept in check, but he should be more dangerous with left guard Andrus Peat playing through a broken hand.

5. Can Saints’ D win early downs?

Holding up against the run without Sheldon Rankins will be tough, but far from impossible. David Onyemata is nearly as reliable at 3-technique, and the Saints limited the Rams’ outside zone in Week 9 by shooting a linebacker into a frontside gap while keeping another backside for the cutback.

We know the Saints must also be sharp against Sean McVay’s signature deep designs off play-action, which toy with linebackers’ eyes. A.J. Klein struggled with these in the first meeting, which could mean more snaps for Alex Anzalone, a second-year ‘backer who excels in coverage.

But New Orleans must also have a plan when Los Angeles uses tempo with empty formations, a tactic that was deadly in Week 9. Rather than going no-huddle, the Rams would huddle but break from it quickly, lining up in condensed empty sets and snapping the ball immediately. Saints defenders were often late lining up and/or still communicating at the snap, and Jared Goff took advantage.

On 10 such plays, he went 5 for 8 for 102 yards and a touchdown. One incompletion was a gorgeous throw that Tyler Higbee dropped for a would-be 18-yard TD. Another play produced a first down for defensive holding, and another was a 6-yard Goff scramble.

The Saints improved against these looks after halftime, but they must be sharper from the outset Sunday. Goff remains up-and-down when forced to throw on third down, so taking away easy early-down completions is paramount.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

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Report: Ex-NFL QB, coach Schonert dies at 62

Report: Ex-NFL QB, coach Schonert dies at 62

Report: Ex-NFL QB, coach Schonert dies at 62

Former NFL quarterback Turk Schonert has died, according to Fox 19 News in Cincinnati.

He was 62. His cause of death was not announced.

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

During his career, he passed for 3,788 yards with 11 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.

A product of Stanford, Schonert was a ninth-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 1980.

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

–Field Level Media

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Bears’ Nagy named PFWA Coach of the Year

Bears' Nagy named PFWA Coach of the Year

Bears’ Nagy named PFWA Coach of the Year

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

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

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

He is the third Chicago head coach to win the PFWA honor since 2000, joining Lovie Smith (2005) and Dick Jauron (2001).

The Chicago defense led the NFL in takeaways and interceptions under Fangio, who was named the new head coach of the Denver Broncos earlier this month.

Fangio is the second Bears assistant to win the award, established in 1993, joining Ron Rivera (2005).

Ballard is the fifth Colts executive to win the award since it was established in 1993. Bill Polian was a three-time recipient (1999, 2005 and ’09) and Ryan Grigson was honored in 2012.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs S Berry, RB Ware set to play Sunday

Chiefs S Berry, RB Ware set to play Sunday

Chiefs S Berry, RB Ware set to play Sunday

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

Berry was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice. He’s been bothered by a heel injury.

The development would be positive for the Chiefs, who last week had wide receiver Sammy Watkins on the field. Watkins had a stretch in which he only played five snaps between Week 9 and the end of the regular season.

Early this week, the Chiefs activated guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (ankle) from injured reserve.

Berry has played just 99 snaps across two games this season while battling the lingering heel issue, while Ware missed the final three games of the regular season.

Damien Williams is expected to start at running back for Kansas City.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Jags RB Fournette challenges contract void

Reports: Jags RB Fournette challenges contract void

Reports: Jags RB Fournette challenges contract void

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette is challenging the team’s decision to take away the guarantees in the final two years of his contract, according to multiple reports Thursday.

Fournette has filed an official challenge, meaning an arbitrator will meet with both sides to determine whether the Jaguars are within their rights to decline to pay the money.

He was scheduled to earn $2.93 million in 2019 and $4.17 million in 2020, but the Jaguars voided the guarantees after he was suspended for one game by the NFL. In the Jaguars’ loss at Buffalo at Nov. 25, Fournette came off the bench to fight with Bills defensive lineman Shaq Lawson, triggering the suspension without pay.

After the game, Fournette apologized for his actions, but the Jaguars took away the remaining guaranteed money in his rookie contract. The team cited a contract clause that said it could do so if Fournette missed a game for anything other than a football-related injury.

Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone and Fournette, who turns 24 on Friday, met last week to discuss his commitment to the team going forward. Marrone said afterward that he was encouraged by the running back’s attitude.

The 2018 season was a disappointment for Fournette, whom the Jaguars selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. After a rookie season that saw him rush for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns, he finished 2018 having gained just 439 yards and scoring five rushing touchdowns.

He played in just eight games, missing seven of them with injuries. Tom Coughlin, the team’s vice president of football operations, criticized Fournette and fellow running back T.J. Yeldon for sideline behavior during the final game of the season that he called disrespectful and selfish. Neither Fournette nor Yeldon played in the game, a 20-3 loss to Houston.

–Field Level Media

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Broncos hire Scangarello as offensive coordinator

Broncos hire Scangarello as offensive coordinator

The Denver

Broncos hire Scangarello as offensive coordinator

The Denver Broncos have hired Rich Scangarello as their new offensive coordinator, the team announced Wednesday.

Scangarello served as the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach the past two seasons.

Scangarello interviewed with new head coach Vic Fangio on Tuesday and returned for more talks Wednesday, and Fangio liked what he heard.

“With the addition of Rich Scangarello as our offensive coordinator, we’re getting an experienced coach who was a trusted and valued assistant with Kyle Shanahan for three seasons,” Fangio said in a press release. “He worked wonders with all the quarterbacks who started for San Francisco during the previous two years as quarterbacks coach.

“With his background and knowledge, it’s the perfect time for Rich to be an offensive coordinator in the NFL. I find this opportunity for Rich very similar to when I first became a defensive coordinator many years ago, and he is ready to take this step in his career.”

Scangarello, 46, has never been a coordinator at the NFL level, but he held the OC position in the college ranks at Wagner in 2016 and at Northern Arizona from 2012-14.

He earned praise for his work with 49ers rookie quarterback Nick Mullens and second-year signal-caller C.J. Beathard after starter Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 3 of this season.

Scangarello’s lengthy resume also includes stints as an offensive quality control coach with the Oakland Raiders in 2009 and the Atlanta Falcons in 2015. Scangarello worked under Shanahan with the Falcons.

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: Steelers don’t expect Brown return

NFL notebook: Steelers don't expect Brown return

Pittsburgh Steelers president

NFL notebook: Steelers don’t expect Brown return

Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II said he still hasn’t talked to disgruntled wideout Antonio Brown but has left the door open a crack for a reconciliation.

In a wide-ranging discussion with Pittsburgh-area media Wednesday, Rooney discussed a number of topics. But much of the conversation focused on Brown.

Rooney said he would be willing to discuss Brown’s return to the Steelers, but there are “not that many signs out there that that’s going to happen.” Rooney told reporters he and Brown have not talked since the end of the season and he doesn’t expect him to return.

It is expected the Steelers will trade Brown, though Rooney said the team has not engaged in any trade talks. Brown caught 104 passes for 1,297 yards and a career-best 15 touchdowns in 2018.

–Atlanta Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley is back home in Oakland, Calif., after being taken for a mental evaluation Tuesday by Los Angeles police.

“There is no reason to believe that this was anything serious,” team spokesman Brian Cearns told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’s back home in Oakland with his family.”

Police were called to a Los Angeles hotel by a friend who was concerned about McKinley’s well-being. The 23-year-old player was not arrested, as police encouraged him to seek help and he complied.

–The Buffalo Bills signed veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander and offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles to one-year contract extensions.

Alexander, 35, played in all 16 games in 2018 and registered 6.5 sacks, 74 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and a career-high two interceptions. He was set to become a free agent.

Sirles, 27, joined the Bills as a free agent in Week 5 of the season and played in 12 games (five starts) across the offensive line.

–Former NFL offensive lineman Jonathan Martin was ordered to stand trial on three felony counts by a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, stemming from an incident last February in which he allegedly threatened former NFL teammate Richie Incognito and two former high school classmates.

Martin’s social media post from Feb. 22 was ruled to possess enough evidence for the 29-year-old Martin to answer to the charges, judge Shellie Samuels said at a preliminary hearing, according to the New York Daily News.

The Instagram post displayed Martin with a 12-gauge shotgun resting on a motel bed with 19 shells scattered around the weapon. The social media handles for Incognito, fellow former Dolphins teammate Mike Pouncey and two former classmates at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles were tagged into the post, which featured #MiamiDolphins on the gun handle and #HarvardWestlake on the barrel.

–The New York Jets officially named Gregg Williams as their defensive coordinator.

Williams spent the last two seasons in Cleveland, serving as defensive coordinator before taking over as interim head coach midseason last year when the Browns fired Hue Jackson.

The Jets also confirmed that new head coach Adam Gase is retaining special teams coordinator Brant Boyer.

–The Detroit Lions have hired former Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to run their offense, the team announced.

Bevell, 49, replaces Jim Bob Cooter, whose contract was not renewed after Detroit finished 24th in total offense and 25th in scoring offense in 2018.

Bevell was out of coaching last season. He was fired by the Seahawks in January 2018 after seven seasons as their offensive coordinator and did not land another position.

–The Jacksonville Jaguars announced they have hired John DeFilippo as their offensive coordinator.

DeFilippo, 40, spent 2015 with the Cleveland Browns as offensive coordinator, then was the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia in 2016-17. The Minnesota Vikings hired DeFilippo as offensive coordinator just days after the Eagles won Super Bowl LII, then fired him after a 21-7 loss to Seattle in Week 14.

–The Denver Broncos have hired Rich Scangarello as their new offensive coordinator, the team announced.

Scangarello, 46, served as the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach the past two seasons. He has never been a coordinator at the NFL level, but he held the OC position in the college ranks at Wagner in 2016 and at Northern Arizona from 2012-14.

–Field Level Media

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Rams list clean injury report, including RB Gurley

Rams list clean injury report, including RB Gurley

Rams list clean injury report, including RB Gurley

Before their biggest game of the season, the Los Angeles Rams have a clean injury report.

That includes arguably their biggest offensive weapon: Todd Gurley.

The Rams listed no players on their Wednesday injury report following the team’s limited walk-through, including their two-time All-Pro running back who missed the final two games of the regular season because of left knee inflammation.

Gurley, 24, was expected to be a limited practice participant ahead of the NFC Championship Game at New Orleans this Sunday. He initially injured the knee in Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders before aggravating the knee in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Gurley returned to the lineup for the Rams’ divisional-round matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, and the three-time Pro Bowl back rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in Los Angeles’ 30-22 win.

Gurley led the NFL with 21 touchdowns and 17 rushing scores during the regular season. He notched his third 1,000-yard rushing season in four years since the Rams took him with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Despite Gurley’s return, the Rams continued to find carries last week for C.J. Anderson, who has been a revelation since signing with Los Angeles on Dec. 19. Anderson has ripped off three straight 100-yard games for the Rams, and he owns an NFL-high 422 rushing yards since Week 16, including the playoffs.

–Field Level Media

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KC looking to start fast, outrun history in AFC title game

KC looking to start fast, outrun history in AFC title game

KC looking to start fast, outrun history in AFC title game

The fast starts Kansas City typically manufactures are not something to take lightly.

The Chiefs have outscored opponents 161-56 in the first quarter, a key reason why they earned the top seed and home-field advantage they enjoy entering the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium against New England on Sunday.

And the Patriots are well aware.

“You always want to play from ahead. You always want to get off to a good start,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick recently told reporters. “But I think these are 60-minute games and this time of year you’re going to have to battle all the way through.”

That is where Tom Brady comes in.

“We talk about in these games, it’s not like a special play or there’s a special formula,” the five-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback told the media. “It’s just excelling at the right time.”

Few, if any, have played quarterback better than the New England great, whose ability to close out wins is unrivaled. Case in point, Week 6’s meeting between the Chiefs and Pats.

Brady drove New England to the Kansas City 9-yard line in less than three minutes, setting up Stephen Gostkowski for a walk-off 28-yard field goal that gave the Pats a 43-40 victory — handing the Chiefs their first loss of the season. New England gained 500 yards, did not punt and was not penalized. Yet the Patriots almost blew a 24-9 lead they built by, uhh, starting fast.

Don’t expect the Chiefs to buy into Brady’s claim that “everyone thinks we suck” — a startling proclamation he made immediately after New England thumped the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 in the divisional round last weekend.

“This isn’t their first rodeo here,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters of his team’s opponent. “They have done this a few times. Arguably, if not the, one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the game.”

No question. The AFC Championship Game appearance is the eighth in a row for New England — which has played in eight Super Bowls and won five of them with Belichick and Brady.

Yet Kansas City is the home favorite Sunday for a night game that will be played in freezing temperatures.

The conditions only add to potential problems Patrick Mahomes could face as a first-year starting quarterback coping with the pressure attached to a conference championship game and the Super Bowl berth that goes to the winner.

But Mahomes has excelled at virtually any test he has faced this season, earning All-Pro honors after passing for more than 5,000 yards and joining Brady and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks with 50 touchdown passes in a season. Although Mahomes did not pass for a touchdown in the divisional round, he skillfully engineered a 31-13 romp over Indianapolis.

The Chiefs have averaged 35.8 points in the four matchups Reid has coached against Belichick’s Patriots, going 2-2.

With Mahomes, the Chiefs are as explosive as any time in their history, which has never before involved a conference championship appearance at home. The Chiefs’ last Super Bowl trip came after capturing the AFL title in the 1969 season, beating Minnesota in the last of four pre-merger Super Bowls.

“It means a lot to just make it this far,” linebacker Justin Houston said. “We’ve never had this opportunity. It would mean a lot to me, the organization, the city.”

Defeating perennial power New England, which is playing in its 15th conference championship game, would further punctuate that feat — and the Patriots were only 3-5 on the road this season.

To maintain that dominance, the Patriots will attempt to keep Brady clean against a Kansas City defense good at pressuring quarterbacks but suspect in other dimensions. Defensively, the Patriots are capable of containing the run but must account for Mahomes and a deep receiving corps led by tight end Travis Kelce and wideout Tyreek Hill.

The Chiefs activated offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif this week. He practiced along with two starters who missed the divisional round, running back Spencer Ware (hamstring) and free safety Eric Berry (heel).

Defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. missed the divisional round with an ankle injury and remains the Patriots’ biggest injury concern.

–Field Level Media

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