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Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott lead Cowboys to improbable road win – Dallas Cowboys Blog


PHILADEPHIA — The Dallas Cowboys’ storylines entering Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles weren’t exactly positive.

The list included: a coach’s job security, a quarterback struggling to make plays, an offensive coordinator perhaps on his last chance and a defense left wobbly after its previous game. All in all, it added up to a season on the line.

But the Cowboys left Lincoln Financial Field with a 27-20 victory that seemed improbable after losing their first four road games of the season, and they find themselves alive and breathing if not entirely well just yet.

“When you’re feeling low and you’re seeing the Grim Reaper and then come in and have your team perform the way these guys did, I promise you it’s a special feeling,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “I won’t need any wings on that airplane getting back to Dallas.”

They left Philly with a win after Jason Garrett rallied a young team that had been rattled and a coaching staff that had been questioned.

They left after Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes in a road game for the first time this season.

They left after Ezekiel Elliott rushed for more than 150 yards against the NFL’s second-best run defense and scored twice, including on a pass.

They left after coordinator Scott Linehan managed the offense as well as it had been managed all year.

They left after the defense did just enough with Leighton Vander Esch book-ending a first-quarter interception with a huge, fourth-quarter tackle that preceded Jeff Heath’s fourth-down stop of Zach Ertz with 1:09 to play.

“I don’t know that I learned anything new (about his team),” Garrett said. “You try to build a team of guys who love football, who are mentally tough and I think those things get revealed when you have to go through some adversity of the course of the season.

“I thought they did a great job coming back after the (Tennessee) game just getting back to work, not blinking. Just going back to work and understanding the importance of what this next opponent is and playing 60 minutes. Thought we did a better job of that in this game than we have in the last few games. Dealing with the adversities of the game and keep playing. Dealing with the successes of the game and keep playing.”

At times early in the game, Prescott was bad. He held on to the ball too long, leading to sacks — including a 13-yard sack in the second quarter.

At times, Prescott was brilliant, such as at the end of the first half, when he connected on five passes for 79 yards and sneaked in from a yard out with 19 seconds left for the Cowboys’ first touchdown.

And then with 7:27 to play in a tied game, Prescott was once again brilliant with a 17-yard completion to rookie tight end Dalton Schultz, a floater to Amari Cooper for 24 yards and a critical third-and-8 completion to Allen Hurns for 23 yards. From there, the Cowboys rode Elliott, giving him the ball three straight times, leading to his second touchdown of the game.

When the Cowboys were at their best in 2016, they rode then-rookies Prescott and Elliott. Now almost grizzled veterans in their third year, Prescott was efficient Sunday, and Elliott was explosive.

Prescott completed 26 of 36 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown pass. Elliott finished with 151 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown run and touchdown reception.

“We needed it,” Elliott said. “It was absolutely mandatory that we went and got this win. We want to keep our hopes up for winning this division and making the playoffs. So we had to go out there and win.”



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On a running back’s day, David Johnson, Nick Chubb and Aaron Jones lead the way — NFL


As we do each week, we recap the NFL’s best and worst from a fantasy football perspective, complete with applicable game and historical data. Check back after the conclusion of the 1 and 4 p.m. ET (and, when applicable, Sunday Night Football) games for our picks.

The best

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals: There’s the David Johnson fantasy managers were expecting when they made him the No. 3 overall selection on average in the preseason (3.8 ADP), as his 37.3 PPR fantasy points on Sunday represented the first time in 2018 that he exceeded the 22-point plateau and were the third most he has scored in any of his 42 career NFL games, even if it came in yet another losing effort by his team. Most encouraging was the fact that he caught seven of his nine targets for 85 yards and one touchdown, and his 21.5 fantasy points on receiving plays alone were the third most he has had in any game in his career. Johnson seems lined up for a strong finish, considering his schedule includes only two more potentially tough matchups: the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16 and Seattle Seahawks in Week 17. He remains a clear RB1.

Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns: His 92-yard touchdown run to put the Browns up 28-10 in a game they’d eventually win 28-16 might’ve been the day’s brightest highlight, but don’t use it to discredit Chubb’s fantasy performance as “driven by one big play.” His 35.9 PPR fantasy points were second most among all players during Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET block, meaning that he contributed more than 20 points in the game excluding that one big play. Besides it setting a franchise record for longest rushing play — Bobby Mitchell previously held the record with a 90-yard touchdown run — it gave him runs of 92, 63 and 41 yards, per ESPN’s Pat McManamon, and it pushed his seasonal yards-per-carry average to 6.2 and granted him the league’s lead, pending the performances of Aaron Jones (6.0) and Austin Ekeler (5.8). Chubb’s 35.9 points were also the most by any Browns player since Josh Gordon had 48.1 points in 2013 Week 13, and the most by any Browns running back since Peyton Hillis scored 43.4 in 2010 Week 12. Chubb and the Browns now enjoy their bye week, but their schedule is extraordinary for running backs after that: the Cincinnati Bengals (Weeks 12 and 16), Houston Texans (Week 13) and Denver Broncos (Week 15) all rank among the 13 most favorable matchups for the position using schedule-independent data.

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears: For the third time in the past seven weeks, Trubisky reached the 30-point fantasy plateau, his 36.0 points leading all quarterbacks from Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET game block. It continued a remarkable run of fantasy production from the second-year quarterback, as he has 17 touchdowns compared to four interceptions while completing 63.4 percent of his pass attempts during that six-game span. Trubisky’s 168.1 fantasy points since the beginning of Week 4 are second most among quarterbacks behind only Patrick Mahomes‘ 171.4, and Trubisky did that in one fewer game played than Mahomes (six compared to seven for the latter). Trubisky now faces arguably the toughest matchup on his entire 2018 schedule in the Minnesota Vikings in Week 11, though the remainder of his schedule looks favorable enough that he has a good chance at low-end QB1 numbers from this point forward. He was started in 39.6 percent of ESPN leagues in Week 10, 12th highest among quarterbacks, a number that should rise in future weeks — certainly in Week 12 against the Detroit Lions, his Sunday opponent, if not next week.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers: Despite it coming in what was an embarrassing 52-21 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football, McCaffrey’s tops-from-either-team-in-the-game 36.8 PPR fantasy points was arguably the lone bright spot for the Panthers. It not only helped the second-year running back set a personal best in the category, but it also set a franchise record for a running back, besting Fred Lane’s 35.8 in 1997 Week 10. For McCaffrey, it gave him 201.8 points through nine games this season, which is 26.8 fewer than he had his entire rookie season (in 16 games) and 72.9 more than he had through nine games of last year.

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Those of you bold enough to start him in his first game since recovering from a hamstring injury — and you did in 62.6 percent of ESPN leagues (20th most among running backs) — were handsomely rewarded, as Fournette roared back with a 27.9 PPR fantasy point total, which represented a season high as well as the second most that he has scored in any of his 16 career NFL games (31.4, 2017 Week 5). Fournette handled 24 carries and 29 total touches in this one, the former tied for the fourth most and the latter tied for the second most in his career, with the former number most encouraging considering his Jaguars played all but roughly 6½ minutes of the game from behind. We’ll see how his hamstring responds on Monday, but all indications are that he’s now fully healthy and the Jaguars’ go-to running back, and that’s great news considering there are some excellent matchups in the team’s near future: The Indianapolis Colts in Week 13 and Miami Dolphins in Week 16 stand out.

Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: He has thrived all year thanks to the breakthrough seasonal performance of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and he once again was Mahomes’ go-to guy on Sunday, scoring a wide receiver-best (from the 1 p.m. ET games) 32.7 PPR fantasy points on his 10 targets. It was the fifth time this season that Hill scored at least 20 points, and the third he scored as many as 30; he had eight of the former and one of the latter in 2016-17 combined. He remains a locked-in weekly WR1, even if he’s not nearly as talented working a camera.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: For the second time this season, Roethlisberger amassed at least 35 fantasy points, his 35.8 on Thursday night representing the third most he has had in any of his 209 career NFL games and 207 starts. That means that his second- and third-best single-game scores have come in 2018 — he also scored 39.0 in Week 2 — and he has now totaled 207.9 points for the season, which is by far the most that he has had through nine games in any of his 15 NFL seasons (his previous best was 184.3 in 2014). Roethlisberger does have three straight challenging matchups ahead with road games at the Jaguars and Broncos, followed by a home game against the Los Angeles Chargers, but his performance in a Week 9 road game against a tough Baltimore Ravens defense helped alleviate somewhat his matchups concerns. He’ll be a borderline QB1/2 for Week 11 at the Jaguars.

Eric Ebron, TE, Colts: For the first time in his 65-game NFL career, Ebron scored three touchdowns in a game on Sunday, resulting in a best-among-tight-ends (from the 1 p.m. ET games) 28.1 PPR fantasy points. That was the second-best total in his career, trailing only the 31.5 points he scored in Week 5. While it was good news for Ebron and his fantasy managers, his usage didn’t provide any hints about a shift in focus away from Jack Doyle, as each had exactly three targets and caught all three of them, and fellow Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox actually had a position-high four targets. This has the makings of a frustrating-to-read situation week over week, but Ebron does appear to be a preferred target of Andrew Luck in the red zone, making him the boom/bust, touchdown-dependent play of the two. Don’t expect a repeat, however, in Week 11 against a Tennessee Titans defense that has been very good against tight ends.

Allen Robinson, WR, Bears: Just when it seemed that his fantasy managers were losing faith in him, his 81.6 percent rate residing on ESPN rosters representing his season low, Robinson charged back with a season-best 31.3 PPR fantasy points on Sunday. That was his best performance in a single game since 2015 Week 13 (43.3), and the third best score in any of his 50 career NFL games, even if it was enjoyed by his managers in only 28.0 percent of ESPN leagues. This was quite the rebound performance for Robinson, showing good chemistry once more with Trubisky, and while the two might have trouble connecting as consistently against the Vikings in Week 11, they should be able to enjoy success in many of the more favorable matchups that’ll come after it.

LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills: Speaking of veteran comebacks, presenting McCoy and his season-high 24.8 PPR fantasy points on Sunday. He had struggled through an injury-marred and disappointing campaign, and hadn’t seen nearly as much work as projected due to his team’s poor quarterback play, and due to the popularity of the opposing New York Jets’ defense, was started in only 47.9 percent of ESPN leagues in Week 10 (24th highest among running backs). It’s not the kind of performance that one can expect in future weeks, however, as the Bills seem likely to continue developing rookie Josh Allen, and they’re highly unlikely to again attempt as many as their 46 carries on Sunday.

Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers: His 32.2 PPR fantasy points blew away his previous career high of 22.8, set in 2017 Week 7, and in fact were the most by any Packers running back since Samkon Gado had 32.8 in 2005 Week 10, almost exactly 13 years ago to the day (that game was played Nov. 13). Jones, who was started in 62.9 percent of ESPN leagues (13th highest among running backs), has clearly taken over as the leader of the Packers’ backfield, and he hasn’t seemed to lose any explosiveness despite the expanded workload. With his 145 yards on 15 carries, he improved his seasonal average to 6.8 yards per carry, recapturing the league lead from the aforementioned Chubb, who held the lead for only a couple of hours. While Jones might not be a 20-carry back at any point this year, playing for a notoriously pass-oriented Packers offense, he’s giving you some of the best points-per-attempt numbers you could ask in fantasy. He’s a locked-in RB2, though expect a slight step backward as he faces back-to-back tough matchups against the Seattle Seahawks and Vikings in Weeks 11-12.

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints: Admit it, you wanted him to stay in there to begin the fourth quarter after he had dropped 28.9 fantasy points on the woeful Bengals defense while leading his team to a 45-7 advantage through three quarters of Sunday’s game. It’s a credit to Brees that he was able to perform that well despite the early hook for backup Teddy Bridgewater, as he managed the second most points among quarterbacks from the 1 p.m. ET games. Brees is now the No. 4-scoring quarterback for the season with 209.9 fantasy points, which is the second most he has had through nine team games in any of his 18 NFL seasons (217.8, in 2013). It has been quite the season for the 39-year-old.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys: For the second time this season and fifth in his 34-game NFL career, Elliott reached the 30-PPR-point fantasy plateau, his 36.7 on Sunday Night Football representing his third-best performance of his career. Remarkably, it was the first time he scored 30 points in a divisional game, and it was the first time in three tries that he had scored even 20 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Elliott remains a locked-in RB1, and he’ll be one of the strongest plays in the league in Week 11, when he faces an outstanding matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.

Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles: He had a career game, quite literally, on Sunday night, scoring a personal-best 40.5 PPR fantasy points against the Cowboys, that the highest score by any individual player on Sunday. His best two single-game scores in his career have now come against the Cowboys, as his previous career best also came against them in 2016 Week 17 (38.9). Ertz’s target total for the season reached 100 in the process, in his ninth game, continuing to cement his status as one of the top two tight ends in fantasy.

The worst

Jets defense/special teams: Through nine weeks of the 2018 season, the Bills’ offense had afforded opposing D/ST units to average a league-leading 16.1 fantasy points per game, more than three points more than another team had afforded opposing D/STs. That’s much of the reason behind the Jets D/ST ranking the most added individual fantasy commodity of Week 10 — their addition in 51.9 percent of ESPN leagues in the past seven days exceeded that of any skill player — as well as their 84.9 percent start rate, second highest among D/STs for the week, though the Jets’ four games with double-digit fantasy points entering Sunday’s action probably contributed. Chalk this one up as a massive bust, as the Jets defense completely flopped, finishing the game with minus-seven fantasy points and letting down the many who streamed them. The Bills scored a whopping 31 points before halftime in this game, which is more than they had scored in any of their previous nine games in their entirety, and finished with 41 points, which is five fewer than they scored in a span of six games from Weeks 4-9 combined. It’s a development certain to prevent anyone from streaming the Jets the next time these teams square off in Week 14, and it’ll probably also cast some doubts among fantasy managers about the Lions in Week 15 or Dolphins in Weeks 13 and 17. The unexpected one-week result shouldn’t do that, though, and future opponents should be more prepared to defend Matt Barkley (assuming he makes future starts) in the coming weeks. Keep rolling with middling-to-above-average D/STs against the Bills, still likely to be the No. 1 team in terms of affording opposing units fantasy points in their final seven games.

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals: Though most of the blame for his Bengals’ miserable 51-14 loss to the Saints should fall squarely upon the defense, it’s odd to look at the box score and see that Dalton attempted only 20 passes in the contest. That partly explains his mere 6.9 fantasy points, but a pair of turnovers, both on interceptions, didn’t help matters. Dalton had been a popular streaming choice, active in 24.1 percent of ESPN leagues (15th highest among quarterbacks) in Week 10, as the opposing Saints entered Sunday’s action having allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to the position (25.2). Dalton should throw much more often than this in future weeks, thanks in large part to his team’s poor defense, but he’s a weak matchups choice for Week 11 despite the potential for volume against a stingy Baltimore Ravens defense.

Jordan Howard, RB, Bears: As Trubisky continues to star, Howard continues to stink for fantasy purposes, scoring 4.2 PPR points on 11 carries and a 1-for-1 performance catching his targets on Sunday. It was an especially poor output considering the strength of the matchup, as the Lions entered having allowed the eighth-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing running backs this season, though in Howard’s defense, the Lions have shown considerable improvement in that regard since the acquisition of Damon Harrison. Tarik Cohen‘s continued strong performance remains a concern for Howard’s usage, though, and it’ll be difficult to trust Howard in a tough matchup against the Vikings in Week 11. At best, he’ll be a high-end flex option.

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: While his 11.8 fantasy points might not have ruined his teams, they represented yet another disappointing output for our purposes, as well as an embarrassing effort resulting in a 34-10 loss for his Patriots. Brady was started in 57.5 percent of ESPN leagues, still good for ninth highest among quarterbacks, so his reputation continues to earn him starts among his fantasy managers. He failed to pass or rush for a single touchdown in this one, and in fact completed only 21 of 41 pass attempts, his 51.2 completion percentage his worst since 2017 Week 17 (48.6) and one of the 25 worst in any of his 263 career NFL games. Perhaps the bye week’s rest will help.

Jarvis Landry, WR, Browns: A 28-16 upset victory by his team, while facing an extremely favorable matchup for a wide receiver? Check. A 22.6-point fantasy performance by his quarterback? Check. So why was Landry able to muster only 4.2 PPR fantasy points on five targets? That was one of Sunday’s most frustrating outputs to his fantasy managers, especially in light of it coming on the heels of a so-so, 11.0-points-on-seven-targets performance in Week 9, Freddie Kitchens’ first as the Browns’ new offensive coordinator. Baker Mayfield has been much more apt to spread the ball around in two games since Kitchens’ installation, though in Landry’s defense, this was a game in which the Browns leaned much more upon the running than passing game — and rightfully so considering their early lead. The team now has its bye, but Landry’s rebound prospects against the struggling Bengals defense are outstanding for Week 12.

Sony Michel, RB, Patriots: His 3.1 PPR fantasy points on 11 carries and zero receptions (zero targets as well) were a bit more forgivable than Brady’s output, considering Michel was marking his return from a two-game absence for a knee injury. It was, however, Michel’s worst single-game output in any of his six complete NFL contests — he scored 2.5 points in his abbreviated Week 7 — which won’t answer any questions his fantasy managers have as he enters his bye week. The Patriots should fare better on the scoreboard in Week 12 at the Jets, so Michel should be a locked-in RB2 when the team returns to the field.

O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: For the first time since Week 1 (7.4), Howard was held beneath 10 PPR fantasy points, his 2.5 representing his worst single-game score since 2017 Week 9 (minus-0.4). One could even add Cameron Brate in here, as Brate matched Howard’s one-catch performance, with Brate going 1-for-3 on his targets and Howard 1-for-2. The difference: Howard was started in 66.7 percent of ESPN leagues, sixth highest among tight ends, while Brate was started in only 2.9 percent in Week 10. Chalk this one up to the matchup ruining the Buccaners’ passing game, as Howard should fare better facing a weaker defense in the New York Giants in Week 11.

David Njoku, TE, Browns: Like Landry, Njoku disappointed despite facing a favorable matchup, as he scored only 2.8 PPR fantasy points on his one target on Sunday. As noted with Landry, Mayfield spread the ball around and the Browns relied more on their running game, though this does now give Njoku only 12.1 points on six targets in his two games with Kitchens as the offensive coordinator. Here’s hoping that’s not a trend indicating less reliance upon the tight end, as the Browns’ remaining schedule does favor Njoku.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Packers: For the second time in the past three weeks, Graham caught just one pass, his 2.4 PPR fantasy points on that lone target (which he caught) representing his season low. In fact, on only 15 occasions in his 130 career NFL games has he tallied a worse point total. While Graham’s 56 targets still rank second on the team, only seven of those have come within the red zone, the former his fewest through nine team games of any season since his rookie 2010 and the latter matching his 2016 low through nine team games and representing a nine-target decline from his 2017 number. He’s just not involved enough to make a clear weekly starting case in 10-team leagues.

Golden Tate, WR, Eagles: His Eagles debut was a forgettable one, as he converted his four targets into only 3.9 PPR fantasy points, easily his lowest single-game score of 2018. Tate finished fourth on the team in targets, and while that might be partly the product of his still picking up the offense, it also raises concerns about how much he’ll be targeted by Carson Wentz in future weeks even when he’s up to full speed. Tate should fare better in Week 11 against the New Orleans Saints, with Marshon Lattimore most likely to cover Alshon Jeffery, but he’s still probably only a WR3 for that contest.



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John Dorsey to lead Cleveland Browns’ coaching search


General manager John Dorsey will lead the search for the next Cleveland Browns coach, a team spokesman confirmed Wednesday.

The next coach will replace Hue Jackson, who was fired Oct. 29, one day after a loss in Pittsburgh. The final decision on selecting the coach will be made by Dorsey and owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, with Dorsey’s recommendation weighing heavily.

The decision is significant because Jimmy and Dee Haslam led the search to hire Jackson, and Haslam assisted Joe Banner in the search to hire Mike Pettine and Rob Chudzinski. For a variety of reasons, chiefly not enough wins, none of the coaches lasted three years.

Dorsey’s experience in scouting and player personnel give him strong contacts throughout the NFL and in college football. He has not commented yet on how he might go about the search.

The Browns’ next hire will inherit some key pieces that could lead to a winning team, led by a quarterback in Baker Mayfield, a pass rusher in Myles Garrett, a cornerback in Denzel Ward and talented running backs in Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson Jr.

In a best-case scenario, the right coach could bring the team together for future success.

The team’s future organizational structure after the new hire has yet to be determined. Haslam previously had it where the coach and GM/VP reported to him. Having the coach report to Dorsey would be an option.



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Baker Mayfield leads Cleveland Browns to early lead but stymied by Oakland Raiders in OT


OAKLAND — Baker Mayfield threw two touchdown passes, but mistakes doomed the Cleveland Browns to more agony and a 45-42 overtime loss to the Oakland Raiders.

The Browns led 28-14 in the third quarter and 42-34 with just more than a minute left. It was a game the Browns felt they should have won.

“Absolutely,” Mayfield said. “When you make that many mistakes, though, it’s not gonna happen.”

Mayfield was given four turnovers in his first NFL start – two interceptions and two fumbles lost.

One interception, though, came on a bad break by receiver Antonio Callaway, the other when Mayfield flung a deep pass in the final seconds desperately trying to avoid overtime.

He fumbled once when sacked, and a second time when he and JC Tretter mixed up the snap.

Mayfield did throw touchdowns passes on perfect throws to Darren Fells for 49 yards and on a two-yard fade to Jarvis Landry. He set up another in the fourth quarter with a 59-yard strike to Antonio Callaway.

But he lamented his errors.

“I’m the quarterback of this team,” he said. “It’s on me.”

The Browns lost despite their highest scoring output since the second week of the 2007 season – a game Derek Anderson was named starter and scored 51 points.

This loss also came after it appeared the Browns had secured the win by running for a first down with 1:41 left. But officials reviewed the call and determined Carlos Hyde was short, which forced a punt that led to Carr’s game-tying drive.

“It had to be a heck of a review to turn that over on third down and short,” Mayfield said. “But any time you put it in somebody else’s hands, it’s not always gonna turn out your way.”

In his first start, Mayfield was 21-for-41 for 295 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He missed his third touchdown pass by 1 yard as Callaway was just pushed out of bounds at the end of the 59-yard play. That would have made Mayfield the first quarterback taken first overall to throw three touchdown passes in his first NFL start.



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NFL 2018 retirements – Darrelle Revis, Jason Witten lead all-star squad


Editor’s note: This story has been updated after Darrelle Revis announced his retirement.

ESPN’s All-Retirement team is back for its third installment — a 23-man lineup of players who called it quits this offseason.

The squad is once again stocked with Hall of Fame pedigrees, All-Pros and Pro Bowlers, many of whom left the game with dignity intact. Fifteen of the 23 logged at least a decade despite a leaguewide push for younger and cheaper options through the draft.

There’s not a lot of depth on the defensive line and at wide receiver, but this roster could win some games in 2018.

Let’s get to it.


Quarterback: Carson Palmer

Palmer follows all-retirement alumni Peyton Manning and Tony Romo as accomplished signal-callers who battled injuries in their mid-30s. His 294 touchdowns and 46,247 passing yards over 14 seasons might not be enough for the Hall of Fame, but his moments of brilliance shouldn’t be overlooked — most notably, his air-it-out work late in his career with Bruce Arians in Arizona.

Running back: Matt Forte

A hybrid tailback/receiver before it was trendy, Forte announced his retirement after 10 seasons. From 2007-17, no offensive player compiled more yards from scrimmage than Forte’s 14,468, per NFL research. He never played fewer than 12 games in a season despite dealing with several injuries and fumbled 22 times over his career. A natural all-retirement star.

Running back: DeMarco Murray

Two-back sets with Murray and Forte will be fierce. Last week, the three-time Pro Bowler announced on ESPN that “it’s time for me to hang it up” after seven seasons. Murray was elite in 2014, slicing through defenses for 1,845 yards behind the Dallas Cowboys‘ offensive line.

Backup: Danny Woodhead. The former Chadron State star fought through an early-career knee injury to become a go-to target for Tom Brady and Philip Rivers.

Offensive tackle: Joe Thomas

Scientists made the perfect left tackle in a football laboratory and Joe Thomas came out. His quick feet, textbook hand usage and the durability to never miss a snap for 11 seasons make him a Hall of Fame lock and a bright spot in a dim Cleveland Browns era.

Guard: Richie Incognito

A bizarre career marred by a bullying scandal in Miami turned positive in Buffalo, where Incognito made Pro Bowls from 2015-17. The mauling guard played 12 seasons and beats out Joe Berger for one of the two guard spots. Incognito reportedly retired over liver and kidney issues.

Backup: Joe Berger. He overcame journeyman status as a reliable starter in Minnesota.

Center: Nick Mangold

One of the best centers of his generation started 164 games, made two All-Pro teams and helped keep the New York Jets‘ offensive line respectable through some lean years. Mangold was out of football for a year before announcing his retirement this offseason.

Guard: Eric Wood

Wood played most of his career at center but slides to guard because of Mangold’s presence. The long-productive Bill was forced into retirement because of a severe neck injury discovered in his season-ending physical. That doesn’t discount a football pedigree that includes 120 starts and one Pro Bowl.

Offensive tackle: Zach Strief

Strief and Orlando Franklin battled for starting honors here, but Strief’s career spanned five more years, he was routinely a Pro Football Focus favorite and a steady presence during the New Orleans Saints‘ uneven years. Drew Brees loved the guy.

Backup: Orlando Franklin. He played seven seasons and made it to one Super Bowl.

Tight end: Jason Witten

The all-retirement team is short on playmakers, but Witten provides a much-needed boost. After 15 years as a fixture in Dallas, Witten is the third- or fourth-best tight end of his generation behind Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski and possibly Antonio Gates. Witten started every game since 2007 and never caught fewer than 63 passes since winning the Cowboys’ full-time job in 2004.

Wide receiver: Vincent Jackson

Jackson hadn’t played since October 2016 because of a knee injury before quietly retiring this offseason. After 12 NFL seasons and 57 touchdowns, Jackson will always be known for his big-play ability. He and DeSean Jackson (no relation) were the only two players whose careers began in the 2000s to catch at least 500 passes and average at least 16 yards per catch.

Wide receiver: Rodney Adams

Adams will have to make his first NFL catch on the all-retirement team. Yeah, we’re a bit short here. The Minnesota Vikings waived their 2017 fifth-round pick last October and placed him on the practice squad. This offseason, he signed a futures contract with the Indianapolis Colts before announcing his surprising retirement in April.

Defensive end: Dwight Freeney

Somewhere, Freeney is still spinning into a backfield near you. Freeney is tied with Terrell Suggs for 17th on the all-time sacks list with 125.5. Perhaps most impressive is his late-30s productivity as a specialist. From 2015-17, he totaled 14 sacks on limited snaps with the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks.

Defensive end: Da’Quan Bowers

Bowers officially announced his retirement this offseason despite not having played in the NFL since 2015. The 2011 second-round pick last played in the Canadian Football League but finished with 69 tackles and seven sacks in his NFL career. Bowers gets the nod over undrafted free agent Lowell Lotulelei for a defensive-line spot.

Linebacker: Paul Posluszny

The 11-year veteran was so respected in Jacksonville’s locker room that teammate Telvin Smith cried at Posluszny’s retirement news conference. Posluszny put together a complete career, with 881 tackles, 16 sacks and 15 interceptions, helping the Jaguars out of a losing albatross in 2017.

Linebacker: James Harrison

The NFL’s strongest man nearly stretched his career to 40, but ended it after last season’s Super Bowl push with the New England Patriots. A messy divorce with the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn’t discount his work in the black and gold as the franchise sacks leader. Plus, his wondrous workout videos on Instagram are still readily available for all to see.

Linebacker: Jerrell Freeman

Freeman played six NFL seasons before announcing his retirement in May to focus on “health and family.” After three years in the CFL, the Colts gave him a chance and he responded with 145 tackles in 2012. Drug suspensions tainted his stint with the Chicago Bears.

Linebacker: David Harris

Nicknamed “The Hitman,” Harris did a little of everything before ending his 11-year NFL run this offseason. He came swiftly off the edge or up the middle for 36.5 career sacks, logged an exhausting 1,109 tackles and was a locker room leader for the New York Jets.

Cornerback: Antonio Cromartie

Cromartie never became the game’s best cornerback, but he lived up to his first-round billing over 11 seasons. It’s hard to argue with 31 interceptions and 116 pass deflections. Life beyond the game has included a reality show tackling his life as a father of 14.

Safety: Kam Chancellor

One of the game’s great hitters is stepping away after nine seasons because of a neck injury. Chancellor was a throwback, tone-setting defensive back. He could change the game with an open-field hit, stop the run and direct traffic for cornerbacks. The fifth-round pick is a Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowler.

Safety: James Ihedigbo

Ihedigbo was a part-time starter over six NFL seasons but broke out in 2014 with four interceptions and three forced fumbles with the Detroit Lions. He’s now making plays in the American Flag Football League.

Safety: Michael Griffin

Griffin signed a one-day contract in May to retire with the Tennessee Titans, who drafted him 19th overall in 2007. He rewarded that faith with two Pro Bowls and a second-team All-Pro selection in 2010. His career fizzled after a short stint with the Carolina Panthers in 2016.

Cornerback: DeAngelo Hall

Hall said in May that he was “done” with football. Then the Redskins issued a tweet that he hadn’t officially retired, though several injuries over the years will most likely force him to. The 34-year-old made three Pro Bowls and is the last NFL player to record four interceptions in a single game.

Cornerback: Darrelle Revis

Revis near-flawless work at cornerback will earn him a gold jacket soon enough. The four-time All-Pro announced his retirement Wednesday. He leaves the game as a Super Bowl champion, a seven-time Pro Bowler and the owner of one of the NFL’s best nicknames, Revis Island. He will be remembered as much for his business savvy, parlaying his greatness into several lucrative contracts with the New York Jets.





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NFL 2018 retirements – Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray lead all-star squad


ESPN’s All-Retirement team is back for its third installment — an entire 22-man lineup of players who called it quits this offseason.

The squad is once again stocked with Hall of Fame pedigrees, All-Pros and Pro Bowlers, many of whom left the game with dignity intact. Fourteen of the 22 logged at least a decade despite a leaguewide push for younger and cheaper options through the draft.

There’s not a lot of depth on the defensive line and at wide receiver, but this roster could win some games in 2018.

Let’s get to it.


Quarterback: Carson Palmer

Palmer follows all-retirement alumni Peyton Manning and Tony Romo as accomplished signal-callers who battled injuries in their mid-30s. His 294 touchdowns and 46,247 passing yards over 14 seasons might not be enough for the Hall of Fame, but his moments of brilliance shouldn’t be overlooked — most notably, his air-it-out work late in his career with Bruce Arians in Arizona.

Running back: Matt Forte

A hybrid tailback/receiver before it was trendy, Forte announced his retirement after 10 seasons. From 2007-17, no offensive player compiled more yards from scrimmage than Forte’s 14,468, per NFL research. He never played fewer than 12 games in a season despite dealing with several injuries and fumbled 22 times over his career. A natural all-retirement star.

Running back: DeMarco Murray

Two-back sets with Murray and Forte will be fierce. Last week, the three-time Pro Bowler announced on ESPN that “it’s time for me to hang it up” after seven seasons. Murray was elite in 2014, slicing through defenses for 1,845 yards behind the Dallas Cowboys‘ offensive line.

Backup: Danny Woodhead. The former Chadron State star fought through an early-career knee injury to become a go-to target for Tom Brady and Philip Rivers.

Offensive tackle: Joe Thomas

Scientists made the perfect left tackle in a football laboratory and Joe Thomas came out. His quick feet, textbook hand usage and the durability to never miss a snap for 11 seasons make him a Hall of Fame lock and a bright spot in a dim Cleveland Browns era.

Guard: Richie Incognito

A bizarre career marred by a bullying scandal in Miami turned positive in Buffalo, where Incognito made Pro Bowls from 2015-17. The mauling guard played 12 seasons and beats out Joe Berger for one of the two guard spots. Incognito reportedly retired over liver and kidney issues.

Backup: Joe Berger. He overcame journeyman status as a reliable starter in Minnesota.

Center: Nick Mangold

One of the best centers of his generation started 164 games, made two All-Pro teams and helped keep the New York Jets‘ offensive line respectable through some lean years. Mangold was out of football for a year before announcing his retirement this offseason.

Guard: Eric Wood

Wood played most of his career at center but slides to guard because of Mangold’s presence. The long-productive Bill was forced into retirement because of a severe neck injury discovered in his season-ending physical. That doesn’t discount a football pedigree that includes 120 starts and one Pro Bowl.

Offensive tackle: Zach Strief

Strief and Orlando Franklin battled for starting honors here, but Strief’s career spanned five more years, he was routinely a Pro Football Focus favorite and a steady presence during the New Orleans Saints‘ uneven years. Drew Brees loved the guy.

Backup: Orlando Franklin. He played seven seasons and made it to one Super Bowl.

Tight end: Jason Witten

The all-retirement team is short on playmakers, but Witten provides a much-needed boost. After 15 years as a fixture in Dallas, Witten is the third- or fourth-best tight end of his generation behind Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski and possibly Antonio Gates. Witten started every game since 2007 and never caught fewer than 63 passes since winning the Cowboys’ full-time job in 2004.

Wide receiver: Vincent Jackson

Jackson hadn’t played since October 2016 because of a knee injury before quietly retiring this offseason. After 12 NFL seasons and 57 touchdowns, Jackson will always be known for his big-play ability. He and DeSean Jackson (no relation) were the only two players whose careers began in the 2000s to catch at least 500 passes and average at least 16 yards per catch.

Wide receiver: Rodney Adams

Adams will have to make his first NFL catch on the all-retirement team. Yeah, we’re a bit short here. The Minnesota Vikings waived their 2017 fifth-round pick last October and placed him on the practice squad. This offseason, he signed a futures contract with the Indianapolis Colts before announcing his surprising retirement in April.

Defensive end: Dwight Freeney

Somewhere, Freeney is still spinning into a backfield near you. Freeney is tied with Terrell Suggs for 17th on the all-time sacks list with 125.5. Perhaps most impressive is his late-30s productivity as a specialist. From 2015-17, he totaled 14 sacks on limited snaps with the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks.

Defensive end: Da’Quan Bowers

Bowers officially announced his retirement this offseason despite not having played in the NFL since 2015. The 2011 second-round pick last played in the Canadian Football League but finished with 69 tackles and seven sacks in his NFL career. Bowers gets the nod over undrafted free agent Lowell Lotulelei for a defensive-line spot.

Linebacker: Paul Posluszny

The 11-year veteran was so respected in Jacksonville’s locker room that teammate Telvin Smith cried at Posluszny’s retirement news conference. Posluszny put together a complete career, with 881 tackles, 16 sacks and 15 interceptions, helping the Jaguars out of a losing albatross in 2017.

Linebacker: James Harrison

The NFL’s strongest man nearly stretched his career to 40, but ended it after last season’s Super Bowl push with the New England Patriots. A messy divorce with the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn’t discount his work in the black and gold as the franchise sacks leader. Plus, his wondrous workout videos on Instagram are still readily available for all to see.

Linebacker: Jerrell Freeman

Freeman played six NFL seasons before announcing his retirement in May to focus on “health and family.” After three years in the CFL, the Colts gave him a chance and he responded with 145 tackles in 2012. Drug suspensions tainted his stint with the Chicago Bears.

Linebacker: David Harris

Nicknamed “The Hitman,” Harris did a little of everything before ending his 11-year NFL run this offseason. He came swiftly off the edge or up the middle for 36.5 career sacks, logged an exhausting 1,109 tackles and was a locker room leader for the New York Jets.

Cornerback: Antonio Cromartie

Cromartie never became the game’s best cornerback, but he lived up to his first-round billing over 11 seasons. It’s hard to argue with 31 interceptions and 116 pass deflections. Life beyond the game has included a reality show tackling his life as a father of 14.

Safety: Kam Chancellor

One of the game’s great hitters is stepping away after nine seasons because of a neck injury. Chancellor was a throwback, tone-setting defensive back. He could change the game with an open-field hit, stop the run and direct traffic for cornerbacks. The fifth-round pick is a Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowler.

Safety: James Ihedigbo

Ihedigbo was a part-time starter over six NFL seasons but broke out in 2014 with four interceptions and three forced fumbles with the Detroit Lions. He’s now making plays in the American Flag Football League.

Safety: Michael Griffin

Griffin signed a one-day contract in May to retire with the Tennessee Titans, who drafted him 19th overall in 2007. He rewarded that faith with two Pro Bowls and a second-team All-Pro selection in 2010. His career fizzled after a short stint with the Carolina Panthers in 2016.

Cornerback: DeAngelo Hall

Hall said in May that he was “done” with football. Then the Redskins issued a tweet that he hadn’t officially retired, though several injuries over the years will most likely force him to. The 34-year-old made three Pro Bowls and is the last NFL player to record four interceptions in a single game.





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New York Jets lead NFL in dubious category, and it must change – New York Jets Blog


A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Eight is enough: This offseason has produced a contrasting mix of emotions: cheers and groans. The Jets have given their long-suffering fans something to get excited about — hello, Sam Darnold — but they’ve also tempered the feel-good vibe with a spate of player arrests.

Continuing an alarming trend that began in 2017, the Jets’ arrest total in the past 18 months is up to eight — the most in the NFL, according to USA Today data. The two most recent players arrested — rookie tight end Chris Herndon and linebacker Dylan Donahue — were involved in alleged drunken driving that resulted in crashes with other vehicles.

It’s a bad look for the Jets, who are close to becoming a punchline.

Who gets the blame? Start with the players themselves. They’re grown men and they must bear the brunt of the responsibility. Some might point to coach Todd Bowles, saying he has allowed this type of culture to develop. During his tenure, which began in January 2015, the Jets have nine arrests, second only to the Green Bay Packers (10).

In fairness, it should be noted the charges in three of the arrests were dropped: those involving Robby Anderson (from the second of two arrests), Lorenzo Mauldin and Darrelle Revis. Still, the number is high when compared to the rest of the league. Bowles isn’t a bad sheriff — he’s an earnest coach who cares deeply about his players and the image of the team — but the problem persists. He can attack it by taking a strong public stance, sending a message that enough is enough.

Responding to questions in the aftermath of the Herndon arrest, Bowles made the obligatory comments, insisting he doesn’t condone the bad behavior. But he didn’t exactly drop the hammer, saying, “There’s nothing wrong with the disciplinary process. The arrests are going to happen and you deal with them as they come.”

Referring to the drunken-driving charges, he said, “It’s not a Jets problem or a league problem. It’s a nationwide problem.”

Bowles doesn’t coach the nation; he coaches the Jets — and it’s happening on his watch. He’s trying to rectify it. He needs to try harder. So does the entire organization.

2. Leo’s loot: The Jets are in no rush to give Leonard Williams a new contract, and he said he’s OK with waiting. When his time comes — figure next offseason — he’ll have plenty of leverage if he can deliver a 2016-like season (seven sacks and a Pro Bowl). Asked if his goal is to become one of the highest-paid defensive linemen, he said: “It’s one of my goals to be one of the best players, one of the best defensive linemen. When that comes, then I think the money comes with it.”

So the answer is yes.

Williams is due to make $3 million this season and $14.2 million in 2019, the amount of his fifth-year option. The Jets can use the franchise tag for 2020, but they’ll try to get a long-term deal worked out before that. If he wants the deal that Muhammad Wilkerson received in 2016 ($17 million per year, including $37 million guaranteed), Williams will have to raise his production after a two-sack season. Though Jets coaches are quick to say the sack total didn’t reflect his overall effectiveness, it could hurt him at the bargaining table if he registers another low number.

To his credit, Williams is demonstrating patience.

“The contract, that’s going to come,” he said. “There’s no pressure for it. I’m not like thirsty for it or anything like that.”

3. What a business: Williams said he learned the harsh reality of the NFL as a rookie, when he noticed the occupant of the locker adjacent to his seemed to change on a weekly basis. The revolving-door nature of the business was reinforced last week. His best friend on the team, fellow USC product Claude Pelon, was waived because of an injury.

Williams said he was “hurt” by the move, which is understandable. After all, Pelon has been living in Williams’ house this offseason.

A quick postscript: Pelon cleared waivers and was assigned to the Jets’ injured-reserve list.

4. Keeping up with Jones: The Jets replaced Pelon with veteran defensive lineman Chris Jones, who played an integral role in two Jets-Patriots games. In 2014, Jones blocked a potential winning field goal by Nick Folk, a redemptive moment for Jones. A year earlier, he was called for a pushing penalty that nullified a missed kick and allowed the Jets to upset the Patriots in overtime. After the ’14 loss, then-coach Rex Ryan lashed out at a reporter when reminded of the symmetry.

5. Walking wounded: The Jets have a handful of injured players whose readiness for training camp appears up in the air, namely wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (ankle), linebacker Jordan Jenkins (shoulder) and wide receiver Devin Smith (knee). Others who bear watching are wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (neck), safety Marcus Maye (ankle) and cornerback Morris Claiborne (hand). This is only June, and the injury list reads as if it’s September.

6. J.J. is Dy-no-mite: Safety J.J. Wilcox, who signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract ($210,000 guaranteed), has more career starts (39) than Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye combined. The Jets have really upgraded the safety position in the past two offseasons.

7. Golfer’s paradise: The golf world will be focused on New York in the coming days, with the U.S. Open coming to Shinnecock Hills on the eastern end of Long Island. The biggest golf fan on the Jets might be wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who has played some of the region’s top courses in recent weeks — namely Winged Foot and Pine Valley.

Kearse, a 9 handicap, is scheduled to play June 20 in the celebrity pro-am of the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut. He hopes to be paired with defending champion Jordan Spieth. Kearse knows Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller. They both have ties to the Seattle area.

“That’s going to be a whole other level of nervousness,” Kearse said. “I’ve gotten a lot better playing in front of people, but I just feel like that’s going to be a whole other level.”

Kearse said he had been starstruck only once in his life. It happened at former teammate Richard Sherman‘s celebrity softball game, where he met a former NBA star. Some dude named Kobe Bryant.

8. Inspiring words: On Thursday night, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returned to Louisville, home of his alma mater, to speak at the Courier Journal sports awards banquet. Addressing the crowd, he discussed the 2016 knee injury that threatened his career and where he derived his strength to return.

“I’m a fighter. My mom is a fighter,” he said, alluding to his mother’s successful battle with breast cancer. “I come from fighting DNA. If something happens, you don’t just lay down and do nothing.”

9. Tweet of the week:

10. The last word: “I went to the Luke Bryan-Sam Hunt-Jon Pardi concert [at MetLife Stadium], so that was really fun. … [Mostly], I’ve just been here. It’s been awesome, though, being able to spend time in Florham Park in the Jersey area, Morristown. It’s been really cool.” — Darnold, on whether he has experienced the New York nightlife.





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New York Jets CEO says QB Sam Darnold will lead team to greatness


First-round draft pick Sam Darnold will lead the New York Jets to greatness, according to CEO Christopher Johnson, who said Tuesday the addition of the former USC star will be remembered as a turning point in franchise history.

“I think people are going to look back — I honestly think they’re going to look back 20 years from now and say this is the moment the Jets shifted into a new year, that they became a great team,” Johnson told reporters at a charity event in Manhattan.

The Jets have gone seven straight seasons without making the playoffs. A year ago, the roster was so poor that Johnson faced questions about whether the team was tanking in 2017 for a high draft pick.

Darnold has changed the vibe at One Jets Drive. Johnson said they “got a little lucky” that Darnold fell to them with the third overall pick after they traded up from six.

“I absolutely think he can be our quarterback of the future,” Johnson said. “I’m not the GM, I’m not the head coach, but I can recognize a great football player and he’s so good at playing football when everything goes wrong, when the pocket collapses.

“When it all goes to hell, he can throw across his body. He can throw when his feet are in the wrong place. He can do a lot of things that are hard to teach.”

The Jets have said they will give Darnold every chance to compete for the quarterback job in the preseason. Josh McCown will go into training camp as the starter, but that could change.

Darnold impressed team officials in rookie minicamp last weekend. He was particularly strong in Sunday’s practice, which was closed to the media.

“I think we’ve got a real future with this kid and he’s not even 21 yet,” Johnson said. “We might have a long time with this young man. I hope so because right now I really think he’s our future.”

ESPN’s Jordan Raanan contributed to this report.



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Westgate SuperBook favors New England Patriots to lead NFL in wins next season


The New England Patriots have won 12 or more games in eight consecutive regular seasons. Las Vegas oddsmakers aren’t sure they’ll reach that point again this year.

The Patriots’ season win total opened at 11 on Sunday at the Westgate SuperBook, the highest in the league, but down more than a win from last season’s number.

Last spring, New England was coming off a Super Bowl title and opened with the highest win total (12.5) since at least the 2001 season, according to odds archive Sportsoddshistory.com. No other team was set higher than 10.5.

This year, the gap between New England the rest of the league has narrowed significantly.

[Tom] Brady is going to be 41, and [Jimmy] Garoppolo is gone,” said Ed Salmons, the Westgate’s head football oddsmaker. “There just isn’t as much margin of error for the Patriots at this point.”

The defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers each opened at 10.5, followed by the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings at 10. No other team opened with a double-digit win total.

The Westgate posted win totals on every team Sunday. Bettors can take over or under on the set number at varying odds.

The Cleveland Browns, who went 0-16 last season, and the Arizona Cardinals each opened at 5.5, the lowest of any teams at the Westgate.

The San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams saw the biggest year-over-year jump in their win totals. The 49ers, who were projected by the Westgate to win 5 games last season, picked up Garoppolo from the Patriots and closed the year with five straight wins to finish 6-10. San Francisco’s win total for this season opened at 9.

The Rams opened at 9.5 for this season, after being projected to win just six games last year.

The Westgate has seen significant support on the 49ers and Rams from the betting public the past three months. In fact, more bets have been placed and more money has been wagered on the Rams to win the Super Bowl than any other team, Salmons said. The 49ers have the third-most bets to win the Super Bowl.

“I know both of those teams (Rams and 49ers) have difficult schedules, but the public has shown just a ton of support for them,” Salmons said.

The Westgate on Sunday also posted point spreads on approximately 80 of this season’s games as well as odds to win each division and “Yes/No” on each team to make the playoffs.

The Eagles, Vikings, Rams and New Orleans Saints are the favorites in their divisions in the NFC. The Patriots, Steelers, Jaguars and Los Angeles Chargers are division favorites in the AFC.

The Cardinals are the biggest long shots to make the playoffs at 8-1.

The Patriots remain the favorites to win the Super Bowl at 6-1 at the Westgate. The Eagles and Steelers are next at 8-1, followed by the Rams at 10-1.



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How avoiding Wendy’s helped Preston Brown become NFL’s lead tackler – Buffalo Bills Blog


The NFL’s leader in tackles for 2017 was not Luke Kuechly or Bobby Wagner, the pair of perennial Pro Bowlers who both can lay claim to being the NFL’s best linebacker.

It was Preston Brown, the Buffalo Bills’ third-round pick in 2014 who enters unrestricted free agency in March having topped the league with 144 tackles this past season — 83 solo and 61 assisted.

Durability has never been a concern for Brown, who said by phone last week that he has only missed four games during his entire football career. But 2017 proved to be a transformative year for Brown, who partly attributes his uptick in production to a decision he made on his own last offseason to shed about 10 pounds and attempt to play faster.

“I think it definitely helped throughout the course of the season. I never had any nagging little injury, hamstring or something like that,” he said. “I think I had more success, more tackles, just being able to have more energy later in the game.”

Brown, 25, played this past season in the “low 240s,” down from his listed weight of 251 pounds. Losing the weight meant cutting out the candy he would stash in his hoodie during practices, as well as hiring a live-in personal chef to prepare him healthier meals.

For the first three years of his professional career, eating healthy meant ordering wraps from the Wendy’s near the Bills’ practice facility in Orchard Park, New York.

“It wasn’t [healthy]. It’s not good,” Brown said last week. “[Now] I’m eating salads and greens, all the fruit and vegetable stuff I should have been eating instead of stopping by a drive-thru.”

Brown’s performance apparently was not lost on coach Sean McDermott, whose core message after being hired last year was respecting the everyday process that goes into winning games.

“In the exit meeting [after Buffalo’s playoff loss to Jacksonville], coach made it sound like they wanted me back,” Brown told ESPN. “He said some things that sounded like that. But you never know what’s going to happen during free agency. I would love to go back to Buffalo. That’s the No. 1 choice for me.”

Brown was on the field for 1,098 of 1,108 defensive snaps this past season, a 99.1 percent playing-time rate that led Bills defenders. He also led Buffalo’s defense in playing 99.4 percent of snaps in 2016, 98.2 percent of snaps in 2015 and 93.8 percent of snaps in 2014.

Brown has played in all 64 regular-season games since he entered the NFL, starting every game except two during his first two months as a rookie. Since Brown supplanted then-Bills veteran linebacker Keith Rivers as a consistent starter in 2014, he has worn the radio-equipped helmet to relay defensive play calls to his teammates.

“That’s my main thing I love to do, just seeing guys grow around me,” he said. “There’s so many players that have been on this defense that have gotten better since they’ve come through here.”

The players around Brown have not been all that has changed. He began his NFL career playing outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 scheme under then-coach Doug Marrone. Brown shifted to middle linebacker in coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman’s hybrid scheme in 2015, then to inside linebacker when Thurman, Rex Ryan and his brother Rob Ryan ran a 3-4 system in 2016.

McDermott tapped Brown as his middle linebacker this past season in a 4-3 scheme run by defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

“I really liked the 4-3 scheme, back to doing that, having fun with the guys,” Brown told ESPN. “I think it was a good fit for me. So hopefully they think it was a good fit as well. I don’t really know how things are gonna go. But I had fun last year and hope I can continue.”

Brown said he would welcome the chance to re-sign with Buffalo before free agency opens March 14. How Brown is valued on the open market remains to be seen. While his tackles have increased each of his four seasons, Brown has not recorded an interception since 2015 and has three total in his career. He also has two career forced fumbles and one sack.

In comparison, Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley had two interceptions and three forced fumbles this past season, Kuechly had three interceptions and one forced fumble, and Wagner had two interceptions. All three were voted to the Pro Bowl.

Brown attributes his lack of sacks to him rarely being assigned to pass rush, but he contends he is better in coverage than some might think.

“People want to say, ‘liability,’ and all that stuff, but if I was a liability, if I’m the offensive coordinator, I would throw at me every third down and every time in the red zone. I haven’t given up a touchdown since my rookie year,” he told ESPN. “You want to say I’m a liability, but if I had four more interceptions, they wouldn’t say that. So it’s just all about getting those numbers.

“The ball needs to bounce my way a little bit more than it has. I need to catch it when I have the opportunity. That’s the biggest thing. When you have interceptions, there’s a difference. All it takes is a few plays and it shows you can be a playmaker out there. … Being smaller and stuff like that can help me to get to those plays and help me run a little faster to get there.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brown is the NFL’s second-leading tackler since entering the NFL in 2014. His 504 total tackles on defense are second only to Wagner, with 518, and among good company: Kuechly ranks third with 498, Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David ranks fourth with 481 and Mosley is fifth with 469.

“When you’re one of the top tacklers in the league, I think it says something,” Brown told ESPN. “Everybody wants to say, ‘They’re all the way down the field,’ and all that. But you got to tackle them eventually or they will just score.”



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