Edelman and Amendola FaceTime Tom Brady in Austin

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Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola were joined by a special guest on their recent trip to the Lone Star State. Well, kind of. Edelman and Amendola appear to have spent the weekend in Austin, Texas, as both veteran wide receivers took to Instagram to share photos of their vacation. While Amendola’s post featured a boast about the duo’s hair, Edelman’s photo jokingly showed the two giving into a FaceTime session with Tom Brady. In the case of Edelman, there’s a chance Brady decided to reach out to get a head start on offseason workouts. As for Amendola, the New England Patriots quarterback might just miss his former wideout, who departed for the Miami Dolphins in free agency at the turn of the new NFL year. It also appears that Brady is a huge fan of FaceTiming in general. The five-time Super Bowl champion couldn’t even wait until he got home after the AFC Championship Game before jumping on a video call with Rob Gronkowski.

Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola may no longer be teammates, but that’s not stopping the wide outs from continuing their offseason bro-cations.

The duo appears to have spent some time down in Austin, Texas this weekend, enjoying the local scene along with a few drinks. The two documented their trip through their social media channels and in one photo it appears like they gave their pal Tom Brady a quick call.
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The two can be seen looking into Edelman’s phone and by the wide out’s caption, Brady appears to be on the other end.

“Ok, we’ll [FaceTime] TB,” writes Edelman.
While Brady will have plenty of face time with Edelman in 2018 after missing the 2017 campaign due to a torn ACL, the quarterback will be missing one of his more trusted go-to weapons in Amendola. The receiver inked a two year, $12 million deal ($8.25 million guaranteed) with the Miami Dolphins earlier this offseason, ending his five year run with the organization.

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In 2017, Amendola was particularly great at elevating his game on third down and Brady would look to him often in those situations. Of his 28 catches on third down this past season, Amendola was able to convert 25 of them for first downs. He also caught all four of his targets on fourth down and converted each of them for a first.

He was also extremely timely in the playoffs earning the fitting nickname “Playoff ‘Dola.” There, he caught 26 of his 33 targets this past run for 348 yards and two touchdowns. One of those two scores ultimately proved to be the game winner in New England’s comeback win over the Jaguars in the AFC Championship to punch their ticket to Super Bowl LII.

For the season as a whole Amendola was able to bring in 61 receptions for 659 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games.

While No. 80 would be out there to provide that clutch play for Brady and the Patriots going forward, it’s nice to see that’s still able to give his old quarterback a quick ring to say hi, proving there’s no bad blood.

As for relationship with Edelman, the two clearly are staying best friends off the field.

One of the more touching moments following Amendola signing his deal with Miami was Edelman’s tribute post saying goodbye to his now former teammate. The Instagram post has the two hugging on the field, draped in confetti following their epic come from behind win against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

They won’t be able to bang helmets on Sunday’s anymore, but clearly they’ve build a friendship through their days in Foxboro that go well beyond the gridiron.

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Marcus Peters understands he carries a certain reputation. But he’s going to make sure you that whatever you say about him, it’s going to be accurate.

During Wednesday’s introductory press conference, a reporter posed a question ostensibly about Peters’ character. But the reporter included the phrase, “off the field.”

The 25-year-old cornerback took exception to those particular words.

“No disrespect — what did I do off the field?” Peters asked.

And it was a fair question. Peters is well aware that he’s made some mistakes and has room to grow. But as he put it, those incidents have all come between the white lines — or within the context of being passionate about the game.

“I can say on-the-field issues, that comes with being a competitor. When you want to win so badly, you want to see the team do so good, sometimes teammates and coaches, and coaches and players — you’re going to have those arguments,” Peters said. “But it’s all [for] the good of the team. I want to win so much that, yeah, sometimes I’m going to get pissed off.”

After the press conference, Peters elaborated on what he meant with a scrum of reporters.

“When you look back into the game, passionate players always have been the ones who’ve got the bad rep of being selfish, of not being a team player, and those things. That’s not the case for me. My ultimate goal, for me, is to be a winner,” Peters said. “I don’t like when [people] talk about me and they say that [I’ve] got off-the-field issues because I could be sitting here, and I could be getting DUIs and I could be doing all the rest of this stuff. I could be getting arrested and I could have a mugshot. And I don’t have that burden on me.”

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Despite Peters’ unquestionable ability as a player — his 21 interceptions since 2015 lead the league by far — the Chiefs elected to trade the cornerback in this 2018 offseason. Kansas City did suspended Peters for a game in December for leaving the field of play while the Chiefs’ matchup with the Jets was still ongoing. And given what Peters knew about his former organization, he said he wasn’t shocked when the rumors first began that he could be on the move.

“I kind of heard a little bit of buzz. Everybody was talking about it earlier in past years. But I wasn’t shocked,” Peters said. “I just was taking it as what it was going to be — it’s a business decision. They felt they needed to make a decision with me to be gone, and it got done. So I applaud the Rams for seeing what everybody else didn’t see. It’s time to have fun now I guess.”

For their part, both general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay said they were satisfied with everything they learned in their vetting of Peters when Los Angeles was considering the trade.

“The themes that came out of [our research] with Marcus in particular [is that he’s an] extremely intelligent human being,” Snead said. “Smart football player, loves football, loves winning. And key players in that locker room say, ‘Hey, we respect the human, the teammate.’ I think off the field, you always do your digging there. But very clean human being off the field. And very intelligent human being.”

“I think the vetting that we did, the people that were close that we really trust and value their opinion speak highly of the person. And then when you spend time with him, you can tell — this is a good guy,” McVay said. “He’s fully aware that he’s been emotional on the field sometimes. And I think that’s a product of him being an elite competitor that is really into the game. And his ability to recognize that will help him to continue to improve that poise and how we handle some of those emotional situations that do come up. And I think that’s part of what makes him a special player, though, as well, is that fiery personality, that competitor.”cheap real football jerseys

But even as Peters appeared to feel comfortable and appreciated on his new team, the cornerback acknowledged that there’s certainly room for him to grow and mature as a player in Los Angeles.

“Everything that comes with growth. What were you doing at 25? Probably some stuff that your moms and pops or probably some other people wouldn’t agree with,” Peters said. “But all you do is you take it with a grain of salt. You keep it pushing. You always learn from your mistakes and don’t blame anybody for your mistakes. You sit there and you take it on your own, you stand tall, and you have fun with it. Because at the end of the day, it’s life. There’s ups and downs. It’s a beautiful journey.”

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The first reaction among Los Angeles Rams fans when news broke about the team acquiring Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib was overwhelming excitement. Two All-Pro cornerbacks in a Wade Phillips-led defense just oozes potential, especially given their ball skills and coverage ability.

After that initial wave of elation, however, came mild concern. Talib and Peters are both outspoken players with brash personalities, which have led to on-field fights and scuffles, as well as suspensions.

What if their egos clash and it causes a divide in the locker room? What if these trades don’t wind up working out? As valid as those questions are, Talib and Peters are confident they will mesh well together and form a dynamic duo in the secondary.

Talib, for one, views himself as a mentor of sorts to Peters, who’s a young up-and-coming cornerback in the NFL.

“I feel like you ask the coaches — Wade Phillips, Gary Kubiak, Bill Belichick — ask those guys about me, they’re going to tell you how professional I am in that building,” Talib said via the team’s official site. “So, I’m going to be myself and Marcus will follow me. He will see how professional I am in that building as far as on this tape, as far as how I put my work in. I think it will rub off on him and it will help him.”

As good as Peters is, Talib already sees areas in which the young corner can improve. It begins in the film room where Talib reportedly told MMQB once that Peters wasn’t watching tape correctly, which is why he can still get better.

“I wouldn’t say he wasn’t watching the film right because he’s doing something right. He has a bunch of interceptions in his first couple years in the league. So, I wouldn’t say he wasn’t watching film right, but if he really did get in that lab with the film he could even go to the next level.

“That’s something Wade really helps with, helps dissect the game for him. I’m just here as a vet. If he has questions for me for anything, I’m going to be here for him. We are vocal guys, both of us are vocal guys. I’m going to ask him questions on what he sees, he’s going to ask me what I see. So, it’s two great football minds. We get to put our minds together and it’s just a fresh start for both of us.”

The relationship between Peters, Talib and Phillips will be a crucial one, given how much potential there is in on defense. If Talib can take Peters under his wing and help him develop as an even better cornerback, Los Angeles’ secondary will be terrifying.

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Despite his sizable success in pro football, Jordy Nelson has gravitated toward small towns his entire life.

So when he arrives in Sioux Falls as the featured speaker for the Argus Leader Sports Awards on May 16 at the Sanford Pentagon, if anything he’ll be a little overwhelmed by all the bright lights.

A native of Riley, Kan., Nelson grew up on a farm and went to a high school with an enrollment of about 250. As you might guess of a gifted NFL wide receiver, he excelled in just about everything he did as an athlete.

As you might not guess, he also put in a lot of time helping out on the family farm, all while participating in three varsity sports.

Now approaching his 11th season with the Green Bay Packers, the former Kansas State walk-on has built a reputation for being generous with both his spirit and his time in Wisconsin and his native Kansas.where to get cheap football jerseys

Nelson will share some of both on jerseys from china his visit to the Sioux Falls for the third annual Argus Leader Sports Awards, which honors high school athletes, coaches, teams and community members for their achievements. Previous featured speakers were Peyton Manning (2016) and Cal Ripken Jr. (2017).

“I’m looking forward to visiting South Dakota; it’s one of the few states I’ve never been to,” said Nelson in a recent phone interview. “Growing up in rural Kansas, where the nearest towns are somewhere between 500 and 800 people, it’s always interesting to see new places.”

Those planning to attend the awards banquet can expect a compelling message from Nelson. He’ll touch on his own upbringing and how that sustained him in his progress from a small-school high school star to what was initially a long shot situation at Kansas State, and then on to NFL stardom.

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“Because it’s an awards show, I expect there will be a lot of kids there who want to play at the next level, whatever that might be,” he said. “Most of all, you need to continue to have fun. And I expect a lot of the kids up for awards are going to have younger siblings there. It’s the most important thing for them, too. It’s important for all athletes that whatever you’re doing, you enjoy it.”

That goes for NFL players, too. Nelson has learned that lesson while racking up nearly 8,000 career receiving yards and 69 touchdowns for Green Bay, becoming one of the league’s most potent offensive weapons.

“I can’t image how difficult playing at this level would be if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing,” he said. “Even in the NFL, it’s not worth doing if you’re miserable.”

Nelson is not a fan of specialization in youth sports. He was an excellent basketball player in high school and one of Kansas’ top high school track athletes, this while also putting in the hours on the farm.

“It drives me nuts when I see parents trying to get their kids to specialize in a sport when they’re 8 or 10 years old,” said Nelson, who served as a substitute third-grade math teacher at his son’s elementary school while injured in 2015. “Honestly, if that had been how it was for me, I wouldn’t have ended up playing football. I always found basketball more enjoyable. Let kids experience lots of different sports. It prevents getting burned out because there is always something new to focus on.”

The family farm was also a prominent part of Nelson’s youth. His parents were both athletes growing up, so the children got their opportunities to play. The summers were busy, though. Basketball and weightlifting were tucked around time on the tractor, building fences and other chores.

“Working outside is always more fun for me,” said Nelson, who made the Pro Bowl in 2014 after posting a career-high 1,519 receiving yards and 13 TDs. “I always liked the active stuff more than just sitting on your butt in a combine. And building a fence was always more fun than repairing them.

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“You can see your progress as you go along – there’s nothing better than looking at a brand-new fence at the end of the day. When you’re repairing them, though, it looks about the same as it did when you started. And you know you’re going to have to come back and do the same thing next year.”

James Jones knows all about Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb as he was with the Green Bay Packers from 2007-2013, 2015. So when he hears about the possibility of either Nelson or Cobb being cut, the NFL touchdowns leader in 2012 believes he has the answer to the Packers’ interesting problem. Jones spoke to ESPN Wisconsin last week and when it comes to Nelson, he said he would try to get him to restructure his contract.

“If I was the GM, knowing that Jordy probably only wants to play one more year,” Jones said via Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal. “I sit Jordy down and I say, ‘Look, how can we restructure you? How can we get this done so you can come back? I want you, Davante and Randall on the field so we can make another run at the Super Bowl (now that) we get Aaron back.’ How can we work this out so it’s good for both parties and you can retire as a Green Bay Packer?’”

Jones went on to say that Cobb is too valuable to the Packers offense to be cut before the start of the season.

“As for Randall, I’ve been in that offensive room with Coach Mike and him putting in the game plan,” Jones said. “So I understand how valuable Randall is — to all of the packages. You can put him in the backfield, you can line him up in the slot, you can line him up outside, he can run the ball.

“I think Randall is too young to take a pay cut. Jordy? He’s old. Jordy’s on his way out. So you get one, two more good years out of Jordy, that’s good. … But I would definitely keep both of them.”

Both Nelson and Cobb, who will be free agents after the 2018 season, have cap hits of over $11 million this year. Also, both players are coming off of disappointing seasons as Nelson recorded 53 receptions for 482 yards and six touchdowns while Cobb recorded 66 receptions for 653 yards and four touchdowns. In their defense, Aaron Rodgers missed more than half of the season and when he was healthy, Nelson was leading the NFL in touchdown receptions. So with a healthy Rodgers back in the mix, there’s a good chance Nelson and Cobb will have better production in 2018. However, the 2019 season could be really interesting for the Packers if they don’t make any moves on Nelson and Cobb and let them play out the 2018 season with no restructured deals in place.

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During the decade of the 2000’s, the Bengals had one of the league’s best wide receivers with Chad Johnson OchoCinco Johnson.

Johnson entered the league without a lot of hype, as he only played one year of Division 1 football with Oregon State, accumulating 37 receptions. His combine was also rather unspectacular, running a 4.57 second 40 yard dash with a 33 inch vertical jump, and measuring at 6’1” and 192 pounds.

As a result, seven other wide receivers were drafted in 2001 ahead of him: David Terrell, Koren Robinson, Rod Gardner, Santana Moss, Freddie Mitchell, Reggie Wayne, and Quincy Morgan.

After spending his rookie season of 2001 in a reserve role with the Bengals, his career took off with six consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, which included five Pro Bowls and a pair of first team All Pro selections. In 2006 he led the NFL with 1,369 receiving yards, on 87 receptions, and with seven touchdowns.

His peak coincided with a resurgence in interest, and on-field success for the Bengals. After a decade of dormancy, the Bengals climb from the cellar of the NFL coincided with Johnson’s career arc. Johnson was the master of footwork, with his quick, nimble feet seemingly always able to stay in bounds on sideline throws, and deceive defenders on his routes, allowing him to get separation.

Johnson’s silly touchdown antics and even his name change, and re-change, were tolerated and even enjoyed by many Bengals fans, who were pretty excited to have a team worth watching, and a great player too.

Johnson played 11 seasons in the NFL, including 10 in Cincinnati. He finished his career with 766 career receptions, 11,059 yards, and 67 touchdowns. He is a fringe Hall of Fame candidate, although likely behind former Bengals Willie Anderson, Ken Anderson, and Ken Riley in the list of Bengals deserving of enshrinement in Canton.
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A decade after Johnson entered the league, the Bengals drafted another great wide receiver. This time, it was a highly regarded 6’4” A.J. Green from football powerhouse Georgia. Green joined the Bengals via the 2011 NFL draft, as the first wide receiver selected, just ahead of fellow SEC product Julio Jones.

Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey will not be suspended for their fight in Sunday’s game, the league announced Monday. Both players will face potential fines for their role in the fight.

The minimum fine for fighting, first offense, is $30,387.

Jawing between the two escalated into a fight with less than 30 seconds to play in the first half Sunday. Green put his hand on Ramsey’s shoulder, and Ramsey responded by pushing him in the back. Green jumped up and grabbed Ramsey around the neck, throwing him to the ground. He punched him multiple times as players from both times rushed off the sidelines and joined the fight.

Both were ejected from the game and did not play in the second half. Bucaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, who was suspended for throwing a blindside punch at Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, was not ejected from the game.

Green has no prior history of on-field incidents and never had a personal foul prior to the game. He was fined once in 2015 for kicking a ball into the stands in a rare display of emotion after a touchdown.

“I shouldn’t have reacted that way. I apologize to my teammates, [Bengals owner Mike] Brown and everybody, because that’s not who I am. It just got the best of me today,” Green said after the Bengals’ 23-7 loss.

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Joe Flacco’s checkdown passes aren’t benefitting him or the Baltimore Ravens’ offense.

Checkdowns have become a regular part of watching Baltimore Ravens football. The attempt to run the West Coast offense has been a frustrating spectacle to watch since the departure of Gary Kubiak in 2014. From Marc Trestman to  Marty Mornhinweg, the passing offense has largely revolved around these short throws, with no success.

We know the Ravens’ passing offense was horrendous last season. They averaged just 189.4 yards per game and failed to provide any threat in that area of the game. But whether the Ravens have had a top 10 or bottom five passing game, checkdowns have always been an integral part of the offense.

Scott Kacsmar and the folks over Football Outsiders took a look at exactly what the Ravens have relied on in recent years. They’re called failed completions. Football Outsiders defines the stat as “any completed pass that fails to gain 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down, or 100 percent on third or fourth down.”
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Of the 35 qualified quarterbacks on the list, Joe Flacco had the second highest failed completion percentage last season (36.1%). He finished only in front of rookie Mitchell Trubisky. The bottom five quarterbacks consisted of Brett Hundley, Brian Hoyer, Deshone Kizer, Trubisky and Flacco himself. Two were rookies, two were backups and one was a 10-year veteran. Can you guess who the outlier is?

Joe Flacco has struggled but the blame doesn’t fall solely on him. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg loves the dink-and-dunk passing offense. That may have worked in his previous stints but the Ravens are a completely different team. The reality is, they don’t have the personnel to fit the checkdown system. Flacco is a big-armed quarterback who’s past his mobile stage. At receiver, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, and Jeremy Maclin are all vertical threats. There’s a reason they don’t benefit from short-intermediate passes.

This doesn’t mean short throws and checkdown passes can’t be part of the offense, they just shouldn’t be the primary mode of production. A softspoken Flacco has even publicly advocated for more deep shots. When you have a quarterback who can unleash the football 60-70 yards, you want to play to his strengths. Aside from Week 5 win over the Raiders, the Ravens rarely incorporated deep throws into the passing game last season.

Since 2014, Flacco’s has posted career highs in completion percentage. It seems positive on the surface until you look further.  Flacco’s yards gained per pass attempt was a career low in 2017 (5.7). It’s gradually declined since the 2014 season, arguably Flacco’s best year. Completing passes is great but when they’re gaining minimal yards with no points on the board, that’s a problem. The checkdown passes aren’t benefitting Flacco or the Ravens offense right now and that’s a major problem.

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Kelvin Benjamin will take the field far from 100 percent again in Week 17 as the Buffalo Bills fight for a wild card spot in the AFC. The former Carolina Panthers wideout played well despite his injured knee Sunday. He caught five passes on seven targets for 70 yards in the loss to the New England Patriots. Benjamin should have had a touchdown in the contest, but the play was called back on a questionable replay review. Benjamin’s health has been a concern since he joined the Bills in Week 10. He will have surgery on his knee in the offseason.

The Bills still have a shot to make the playoffs, but they will need a win against the Miami Dolphins and some help. Benjamin is expected to play through his injury again Sunday. He has a tough matchup against a Dolphins defense that gives up the sixth-fewest receiving yards to wideouts in the league. Benjamin was held in check against Miami in Week 15, catching two passes for 20 yards in the contest.
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Fantasy impact: Benjamin plays well against New England. In Week 4 as a Panther, he had a season-high 104 yards against the Patriots. Sunday, therefore, was not shocking. Benjamin has not been great this season otherwise. He was held to 42 yards or fewer since Week 8 prior to the meeting with the Patriots Sunday. He is also hurt. This is a must-win game for Buffalo, so Benjamin should be heavily involved. Still, It is hard to trust him in the final game of the season.

If you would have told a Buffalo Bills fan that Kelvin Benjamin would be talking about the team’s “urgency to get to the Super Bowl” after a wild-card round loss back in August, they likely would have laughed in your face. Well, they would have laughed, then they would have felt your forehead to make sure you didn’t have a fever.

After all, acquiring a dominant wide receiver like Benjamin would have seemed like a ludicrous idea in August of 2017. In fact, before the start of the 2017 season, it looked as though the Bills were gearing up for a run at the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. They traded wide receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby, players deemed crucial to the team’s success, in exchange for draft picks and players on expiring contracts after their first preseason game.

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Success seemingly wasn’t at the top of Buffalo’s priority list.

However, that changed after the blue and red got out to a 5-2 start in the 2017 season. Realizing that the team had a legitimate shot at ending their 17-year playoff drought, first-year general manager Brandon Beane made a blockbuster move. Beane traded draft picks to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for Benjamin, a player who Beane, who spent the first two decades of his career with the Panthers, had a hand in selecting in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Benjamin played well for the Bills down the stretch, catching 16 passes for 217 yards and helping the team clinch a wild-card playoff spot. Unfortunately, Buffalo was not able to advance any further than the wild-card round, losing their first playoff game since the turn of the century to the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 10-3.

However, Benjamin feels as though the team’s recent playoff game is just the first of many to come. While speaking to the media on Monday, Benjamin was asked whether or not he feels as though the team is heading in the right direction.

“Oh, definitely man,” Benjamin said. “Definitely. You could just tell the urgency to get to the Super Bowl and that’s the number one goal. That’s supposed to be every team’s number one goal. That’s where they’re trying to go so I think next year will be a big year for us.”

“The fan base is going crazy. They’re still going crazy even though we lost. We wanted to pull that one out for them but, it was a tough one. It was a tough one for me. That’s my second time in the playoffs and I definitely wanted to make that push. The first time I went, I made it to the second round. We played Seattle and lost. But it is what it is, you know? Bite the bullet. Like I said, just move on [and] go and get ready for OTA’s.”

As Benjamin said, next year will be a big one for Buffalo. The drought is no longer lingering over the team’s head. Perhaps their urgency to get to the Super Bowl will pay off.

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While remarkable, no one should be surprised the New England Patriots are heading to the Super Bowl for the eighth time in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.

What is strange is James Harrison will be joining the Patriots in their quest to win a sixth Super Bowl title since the 2001 season. While it might seem remarkable how quickly things have evolved over the last month for the one-time Patriot hunter, the goal always remains the same for Harrison no matter whose colors he’s wearing.

“It feels good,” Harrison told NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones after the Patriots’ 24-20 victory over the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. “That’s the goal every year — to go to the Super Bowl and win it. We’re one step away.”

Harrison made an impact against the Jaguars, particularly against the running game. He recorded three tackles and continued to prove he can still be a worthwhile contributor even at age 39. Harrison said the team got better against the Jaguars as the game progressed.

“I don’t think we [played] too well in the first half,” Harrison said. “We did a better job in the second half. The offense came alive, the defense came alive and we were able to work together and get it done.”

As for Brady, Harrison isn’t surprised that the man who he has made a career out of chasing during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers overcame a hand injury to wreak havoc on the Jaguars.

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“You expect that,” Harrison said. “I mean, he hasn’t missed a game with any sort of injury except for the ACL when he missed a season. That’s what you expect from him.”

If Brady and Harrison continue to live up to their reputations as game-changers in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, the veteran linebacker could add a third Super Bowl ring to his impressive list of accomplishments.
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The Harrison boys, James (10) and Henry (8), wedged themselves into their dad’s locker at Gillette Stadium about an hour after the AFC championship game on Sunday evening. They slugged energy drinks, donned stiff-brimmed AFC champions hats and chatted up New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. They examined their dad’s gear, holding up Under Armour cleats the size of their forearms and soaked in the scene around him.

When Harrison’s locker neighbor, Johnson Bademosi, leaned in and asked where they were going, the enthusiastic response came immediately: “SUPER BOWL!”

Harrison, 39, clearly and deliberately relished the moment after the Patriots completed their 24-20 comeback victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He put on his championship shirt before taking a shower to take a professional picture with his boys and the AFC championship trophy. He later did an interview with both of them on his lap, a trio of halogen grins lighting up the locker room.

In less than a month after being removed from the mothballs in Pittsburgh, Harrison has emerged as the fulcrum of this Patriots defense. He showed that again Sunday, setting the edge on the run defense and making a pair of critical fourth-quarter pass rushes to help the Patriots complete their improbable comeback.

“It feels good,” he said. “Like I said before, this is all part of God’s plan.”

Whether it’s spiritual, cosmic or karmic, the manner in which the Patriots have cobbled together victories have taken on an almost predictable script. If filling in the Mad Libs of the quintessential Patriots comeback, there were plenty of easy answers to fill in on Sunday.

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There was drama to overcome:

Overarching concern? Tom Brady’s injury.

Traumatic injury to overcome? Rob Gronkowski’s concussion.

Huge lead by an opponent? The Jaguars led by 10 in the fourth quarter.

There were cunning plot twists:

Opponent blunder inviting them back in game? Delay of game penalty that negated a first-down throw and helped allow the Patriots to score at the end of the first half.

Obscure hero? Phillip Dorsett catching a high-degree-of-difficulty 31-yard catch to key a touchdown drive.

Maligned player with a big moment? Patriots defensive back Stephon Gilmore’s circus deflection to essentially seal the game.

Harrison’s role in the Patriots script is as well-worn as your favorite Do Your Job hoodie. He came in as veteran player overlooked in his old job who came here to embrace his role and thrive. The Patriots have become a depot for veterans seeking championships, as players like Darrelle Revis, Chris Long, Brandon Browner and Martellus Bennett have swung through in recent seasons and been able to claim a Super Bowl. Others have stopped here for productive late-career pit stops when others wondered how much they had in the tank – Junior Seau, Randy Moss and LeGarrette Blount.

Few have adopted the Patriot Way of unselfishness and role-playing as quickly as Harrison. One week after giving some engaging comments following the Tennessee Titans game where he claimed he’d be watching the Cartoon Network instead of his former team’s playoff game, he even managed to set a record for Patriots cliches in one interview on Sunday night. “It is what it is,” he said when asked a question about the mentality of coming from behind. “If you don’t go out there and play and do your job, then you’re going to lose the game.” That’s the Bill Belichick rhetoric of a 10-year Patriots veteran.

Harrison did his job Sunday. With just over two minutes remaining, he rushed in from the edge and helped force a Blake Bortles fumble when he and linebacker Kyle Van Noy sandwiched the Jacksonville quarterback. That turned second-and-10 into third-and-19 and set the stage for Gilmore breaking up the Bortles pass two plays later.

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Well, well, what do we have here?

So much for that Steelers-Patriots rematch. Jacksonville rolled into Pittsburgh, punched the Steeelers in the mouth and managed to dance around the ring long enough to emerge victorious. The method wasn’t surprising, but the outcome was. The Jaguars opened the contest with an emphatic touchdown drive, forced a turnover and scored again, and even returned a strip-sack fumble for a touchdown. Pittsburgh — both the Steelers and their fans — barely knew what hit them by halftime.

Two key contributors from that upset find themselves in this space this week, and for the first time in a long time, we also welcome a player who’s currently trying to wash the bitter taste of defeat out of his mouth. Divisional Weekend was just as wonderful as we expected (except for Patriots-Titans).

Here are your greatest on the road from Divisional Weekend.

Greatest on the Road

Telvin Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars

Where do we start with Telvin Smith? The linebacker has shown massive improvement all season long as part of an incredibly talented Jaguars defense, but Sunday might have been his best game yet.

Smith racked up 14 tackles, flying all over the field for a Jaguars defense that was forced to stand tall despite spending much of the second half on the field. His most important play came early, though, with the Jaguars leading 21-7 and attempting to maintain control of the game’s early momentum after giving up a quick touchdown.

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Come for Yannick Ngakoue’s incredibly effective pass rush. Stick around for Smith’s scoop and score.
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Ngakoue — one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs of the year — rushed upfield before squeezing back inside to hit Ben Roethlisberger from behind as he stepped up into the pocket and knock the ball loose. Smith was there to pick it up, but he wasn’t content with a simple recovery. He was determined to take it to the crib.

Smith’s defensive score gave Jacksonville a three-score lead that was enough to help the Jaguars upset the Steelers and head back to Florida confident with a week of preparation before their meeting with the Patriots for the AFC crown. It’s another impressive performance for a linebacker who’s quickly rising to the league’s best.
Also considered …

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Thanks to a miraculous, game-ending touchdown completion, Brees didn’t come away with a win. But the quarterback did everything in his power to push the Saints toward an appearance in the NFC title game.

Brees was excellent in the second half Sunday, especially after Minnesota lost safety Andrew Sendejo to a concussion. The veteran quarterback led the Saints on a 21-point comeback, erasing Minnesota’s 17-0 and 20-14 lead with a flurry of points in the third and fourth quarters. His 50-yard drive in just 1:04 appeared to leave the Vikings with only a prayer’s chance in the final 30 seconds.

Then the prayer was answered with Stefon Diggs’ 61-yard touchdown catch and run. Tough break for one of the league’s best quarterbacks, even on the eve of his 39th birthday.

Talk about a bittersweet celebration of life.

Brees’ final line — 25-of-40 passing, 294 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions — was enough to put the Saints in position to win another playoff game and keep their excellent season going. It just wasn’t enough to help Marcus Williams tackle Diggs. Sometimes, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

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After last season, the Ravens knew a huge key to 2017 success would be the man under center. Franchise quarterback Joe Flacco had to play well – really well – for the Ravens to get back into the playoffs.

Now, as the Ravens sit on the outside of jerseys from china the postseason looking in for a third straight year, Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked Thursday for his evaluation of Flacco’s 10th NFL season.

There was no over-arching quote, but Harbaugh’s main point was that Flacco performed as well as he could given the circumstances and showed considerable progress in the second half of the year when healthy.

“As far as numbers and things like that, the first half of the season to the second half of the season was dramatic,” Harbaugh said. “The number of interceptions, the touchdown passes, those kind of things, it’s a dramatic turnaround. And it speaks to his health.”

Here are the numbers Harbaugh is referring to:

For a 16-game season, Flacco posted career-lows in passing yards (3,141), touchdowns (18) and quarterback rating (80.4) since his rookie year. He completed 64.1 percent of his passes, which is the third-highest mark of his career, but his 5.72 yards per attempt was the lowest in the league.

However, when focusing on Flacco’s performance once he was healthy, it’s a different story. Over the final seven games, his quarterback rating was 89.5. He tossed 10 touchdowns to three interceptions.

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Flacco didn’t put up eye-popping passing yards, but he was highly efficient and led the league’s second-highest scoring offense from Week 8 on. There was nationwide chatter about the emergence of “January Joe.”

A more accurate evaluation of his ability going forward is probably best done looking at the two halves of the year separately.
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Harbaugh pointed out that Flacco dealt with injuries the past two years. He was coming off a torn ACL last year and injured his back before training camp this year. The back injury knocked Flacco out of training camp and the preseason and lingered into the regular season.

Flacco has never been one to give excuses, and he often downplayed his back issues when talking to the media, but it had a major impact early on.

“To say that wasn’t a factor in our passing game early, combined with our personnel issues we had there, it wouldn’t be fair to Joe,” Harbaugh said. “I think Joe did a great job of fighting through that.”

Even once he returned from the back injury to begin practicing one week ahead of the regular-season opener, Flacco wasn’t 100 percent healthy in practice and had to make up ground in terms of chemistry with his wide receivers.

It affected the Ravens’ game plans early on as well. Baltimore took a more conservative offensive approach at the start of the season, opting to get the ball out of Flacco’s hands quickly to expose his exposure to hits. That became even more of a priority after the Ravens lost All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda in Week 2.

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Flacco clearly didn’t move as well within or outside the pocket, making it difficult to escape pressure and set up big chuck plays. Often, Flacco was left dumping the ball to his check-down receivers, which explains his low yards per attempt.

“Maybe sometimes he got the ball out quick, but I think he was under duress a lot of times early in the year when we lost both of our guards,” Harbaugh said.

“He did a good job managing that situation, and I feel like toward the second half of the season, we were completing some more balls down the field. The fact that he was protecting the ball in the pocket and didn’t take very many sacks speaks very well to the kind of season he had.”

Flacco helped the Ravens overcome some of their biggest deficiencies. A patchwork offensive line gelled throughout the year, but Flacco helped the unit by getting rid of the ball and avoiding sacks. The Ravens gave up the seventh-fewest sacks in the league. Flacco didn’t lose a fumble all year.

The Ravens didn’t get much production from their wide receivers outside of Mike Wallace, and Flacco’s targets dwindled in the stretch run with the injury to Jeremy Maclin (knee) and Breshad Perriman’s unproductivity and resulting deactivation.

Drops were also an issue, as a couple led to critical interceptions in key losses. They proved to be especially costly in the season-ending loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Still, Flacco can be even better moving forward. Harbaugh was asked about whether the team would consider adding a quarterbacks coach to work on Flacco’s footwork. Harbaugh said if he finds one that fits the team and what Flacco wants, it could happen.

“If we can do that, we’ll do that,” Harbaugh said. “As far as his mechanics and all that, when you miss training camp and you’re working with a back tweak, all being considered, I think Joe’s mechanics were pretty good.”

Harbaugh said Flacco made some impressive throws off his back foot and conceded that he missed some too, just like any quarterback would.

But with potentially more weapons and better health next year, Harbaugh seemed confident Flacco can pick up where he left off in 2017, or better.

“He needs a healthy training camp and a healthy OTAs and all that to be his best, just like any player does,” Harbaugh said. “And I’m excited about that going into next year.”

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The Philadelphia Eagles have plenty to fix during their bye week.

A slumping offense missing NFL MVP candidate Carson Wentz scored only 13 points in the last five quarters with Nick Foles and the starters playing.

That won’t cut it when the Eagles (13-3) host the Saints (11-5), Panthers (11-5) or Falcons (10-6) to kick off the divisional round of playoff games on Jan. 13.

Fans are panicking and many media members are predicting an early exit, but the team is confident the offense will get back on track.

“There’s no reason not to be confident,” Foles said. “We have an amazing group of guys, an amazing group of athletes that you know we can do some special stuff.”

It was only two weeks ago Foles tossed four touchdown passes and led Philadelphia to a 34-29 win at the Giants. Since then, he’s 23 for 49 for 202 yards with one TD and two interceptions against the Raiders and Cowboys.

“I think there is a lot of positive because you can build off the Giants game and some of the success we have had in the last couple weeks and find that continuity again,” coach Doug Pederson said. “We just have to get back to the same rhythm.”

The mood surrounding the Eagles could be different if Torrey Smith hadn’t dropped a pass on the opening drive in Sunday’s 6-0 loss to Dallas.
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Foles hit Smith in stride going across the middle on third-and-7 from the Cowboys 39. Smith had a chance to outrun the defenders into the end zone, but let the ball slip through his hands.

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“If I caught it, I probably would have housed it,” Smith said. “That messed our momentum up and then we only played a short time after that and we kept getting penalties and shooting ourselves in the foot.

“I’m confident that if we stayed in the game we would have gotten it back on track, but we have two weeks of practice and I’m very confident we’ll be ready to roll.”

Pederson went for it on fourth down after Smith’s drop and Foles had to rush an incomplete pass . The next three drives included two three-and-outs and one interception.

“I know who I am as a player and I also know that throughout my career and my life, I haven’t always played great games,” Foles said.

“I’ve been in games where execution hasn’t gone like we wanted it to. And the key is you remain confident because you know who you are. You know that you’re going to prepare every day to do everything to the best of your ability. I’m confident in myself and I’m confident in my teammates because I know what we’re capable of doing and that’s great things.”

Nate Sudfeld played the final three quarters against the Cowboys and was 19 of 23 for 134 yards in his first career game. But Sudfeld isn’t replacing Foles unless he gets hurt.

Pederson might want to rely on the NFL’s third-ranked rushing attack in the playoffs. Jay Ajayi (408 yards), LeGarrette Blount (766 yards) and Corey Clement (321) had a lot of success running behind an offensive line that features two Pro Bowl picks on the right side: tackle Lane Johnson and guard Brandon Brooks.

“You get into the postseason and have to play great defense and be able to run the football,” Pederson said.

“That’s been our formula pretty much all season long. We have to get back to that, and I’ve got a lot of confidence moving forward.”