The Eagles damned the Patriots’ final Super Bowl drive with good kickoff coverage

There are two gadget plays you probably remember from the Super Bowl. One was the now immortalized Philly Special. The other is the drop by Tom Brady on his own reception attempt.

But there was a third attempted by New England in the game, and while it was only a minor disaster in the grand scheme, it got the Pats’ final drive off to a rather inauspicious start.

As with everything the Patriots do, it’s about exploiting tendencies. Philadelphia kicked off nine times in the game. Six of them went for touchbacks.

Slater’s referring to this when it comes to leverage. Look at the acres of space on the backside.

Maybe New England had seen the way Philly covered kicks during the bye week and put this play in the bag of tricks just in case.

There are acres of space because the Eagles’ coverage team is keyed on Lewis returning the ball to his right. Had the Patriots sprung the trick on this earlier kick, it probably would have worked. But this might have been the play they noticed Philadelphia’s tendency to overplay a kickoff and lose its leverage.

Police chief William Baker spoke to the media Tuesday morning and confirmed local and state police were investigating a break-in at Gronkowski’s home, but would not comment on the items listed as missing.

“There were items stolen. We’re not going to release the nature of the items stolen. Obviously the people who committed the theft know what was stolen. It’s an investigative advantage for us to know that as well and not share it with the public, so I won’t have any further comment on that.”

Gronkowski has not commented publicly on the break-in, but reports out of Foxborough say law enforcement spent much of Monday night at the home gathering evidence.

Billionaire ‘frontrunner’ emerges to purchase Panthers

Billionaire David Tepper, who has a five-percent stake in the Steelers, is the frontrunner to purchase the Panthers, reported.

Tepper, 60, is the founder and president of Appaloosa Management, a global hedge fund firm based in Miami Beach. He’s worth an estimated $11 billion, according to Forbes.

McShay said he believes the Browns still need to address the quarterback position, which is no surprise because hey, EVERY mock draft has the Browns taking a quarterback. He added, This pick obviously changes (or is up for grabs via trade) if Cleveland lands Kirk Cousins in free agency. Between off-field issues for Rosen and his tools and intangibles on the field, Darnold should be the pick. I understand why Kiper went with Josh Allen in his first mock, but Darnold is a little safer. He’s the best of the bunch at this point.

McShay wrote, Ridley is the clear No. 1 wideout in this class, and while I don’t think he’s a true No. 1 NFL wide receiver, he’s much better than his stats in a run-heavy Alabama offense indicate.

The other receiver taken in the first round is Christian Kirk, who McShay sees going to Carolina. It’s no secret that the Panthers need to get Cam Newton weapons, and Kirk would be a good start.

Freestyle skiing picked up steam with the men’s aerial event, where Oleksandr Abramenko delivered Ukraine’s first gold medal in Pyeongchang. In long track speed skating, Japan’s Nao Kodaira won gold at the women’s 500m, denying South Korea another win in one of the country’s most popular sports (Sang-hwa Lee got silver).

The United States is falling behind the pack a bit, sitting in a tie for sixth place with five golds, three silvers, and two bronzes. Their overall count took a big hit when gold medal contenders like Lindsey Jacobellis, Mikaela Shiffrin, and Nathan Chen failed to podium in their respective events. The Americans bounced back a little bit with Nick Goepper taking silver in the men’s ski slopestyle, but that was it for their Saturday efforts.

While Manning is No. 1 on the wish lists of both networks, ESPN is far more aggressive in its pursuit, the New York Post reports. ESPN is willing to back up the truck and is going all-out to recruit Manning as their new Monday Night Football analyst, sources said. For a frame of reference, Jon Gruden, who left the MNF analyst role to become coach of the Raiders, was believed to be the network’s highest-paid employee with a salary of more than $6.5 million.

My belief is that he’ll be back six to eight weeks from the time of surgery pretty comfortably.

As Rock M. Nation notes, four weeks from now would be Jan. 10, when Mizzou has a home game against Georgia.

On Nov. 26, just days after the surgery, Porter questioned the original timeline in a Snapchat post, writing whoever said it was gonna take 3-4 months to recover lied.

Who said that? Well, Mizzou. It seemed odd Porter would publicly call out the program like that, but perhaps this is another indication that the Tigers just wanted to be cautious with the initial diagnosis. That way there was no pressure from fanbase on Porter to return this season if he was unable to.

Make no mistake, back injuries are terrifying for athletes even if most recover fully. That’s even true for a 19-year-old like Porter Jr.

The most famous recent example of a basketball player to undergo a microdiscectomy is Dwight Howard. Howard had the procedure done in April 2012 before he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Anyone who saw him play in LA knew he didn’t look like the same agile, limber center that dominated the league as a member of the Orlando Magic even six months after the surgery.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan added a gold to his country’s count with a brilliant showing in the free skate. American Nathan Chen had an even better showing, but a poor short program in the preceding round hurt his total score and he did not podium. Japan also got a silver from figure skating thanks to Shoma Uno, while Spain picked up its first ever figure skating medal and fourth ever Winter Olympics medal with Javier Fernandez securing bronze.

The evening also saw the women’s super-G event, where American Lindsey Vonn was hoping to medal. Unfortunately, she struggled and finished tied for sixth place. Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic won a surprise gold with a time of 1:21.11. Anna Veith of Austria took the silver, while Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein won the bronze.

In the women’s slopestyle finals, also late in the evening, Sarah Hoefflin and Mathilde Gremaud of Sweden took gold and silver, with Isabel Atkin of Great Britain managing a surprising bronze.

Luck spent his first three seasons in the NFL taking every significant snap for the Colts.

Yeah, so I’m in the middle of sort of a little bit of throwing, but strengthening and preparing my shoulder to be able to handle the throw load that is part of being an NFL quarterback, Luck said. So the focus right now is still strengthening all those muscles and making sure that my shoulder can handle it. … And as much as I have to catch myself — as much as I want to grab a ball and throw it a million times — I know I have to build up to be able to handle that point, and right now I’m in that building phase still.

His past three seasons, though, have been full of injuries. He has missed 26 games over the past three seasons because of shoulder, rib, kidney and concussion injuries. He hasn’t played in a game since Week 17 of the 2016 season.

It’s a similar problem on defense with Seabrook and Keith. The latter remains a solid top-pairing defenseman even though he clearly doesn’t have the same legs as he used to, but Seabrook looks like a fraction of himself on the ice. And while the coaching staff has at times worked to ease the load on Seabrook to make him more effective, he’s averaged nearly 22 minutes per game this month. Unsurprisingly it hasn’t gone great.

Man, we connected right away, Souza said. His personality and mine kind of match up, the way we think. What an amazing man he is.

Lovullo wouldn’t say what would be done at second base with Drury gone to the Yankees. The Diamondbacks still have plenty of middle infield help.

One possibility would be to shift Ketel Marte from shortstop to second. Ahmed would mostly play at short with Chris Owings filling in all over the infield as well as in the outfield. Daniel Descalso also can play just about anywhere.

Earnhardt, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, will serve as the grand marshal and give the command for drivers to start their engines. Other notables in attendance include former NFL quarterback and five-time MVP Peyton Manning, Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron, and Chipper Jones, one of baseball’s newest Hall of Famers.

As anticipated, the scene surrounding Danica Patrick’s car prior to the race was chaotic. Among those wishing Patrick well before her final NASCAR race was her family and close friends, along with boyfriend and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Howley is the only Super Bowl MVP from a losing team, on the Cowboys’ side in a mutually ugly 16-13 loss to the Baltimore Colts.

Howley did record two interceptions in the game, but it wasn’t like the Colts, even with QBs Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall struggling as much Dallas’ Craig Morton, didn’t have a worthy winning offensive candidate.

That was Mackey, the transcendent Hall of Fame tight end. Not only was Mackey’s effort strong with two catches for 80 yards — including a 75-yard TD that tied the game in the second quarter — but it also would have been a bonus to further the legacy of well-respected competitor.

“Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!” he wrote. And a few hours later, he posted a video to demonstrate what standing for the anthem looked like.

Come Sunday morning, again weekending at his resort in New Jersey, Trump lurched between topics. His administration’s “great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico.” His “wonderful Secretary of State,” who was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korea.

The president had not mentioned the NFL again by noon, as football fans across the country prepared for pregames, and perhaps more knee-drops.

But his tweets had done their work. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) was pushed to weigh in on the protests on a Sunday news show.

Taylor finished with six catches for 81 yards — a cleaner line than that of Dawson. It was hard to figure out who to dub MVP since everybody on a star-studded defense came through.

As Trump castigated football players, a humanitarian crisis unfolded in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, which had been left without power and isolated by a hurricane the previous week.

As The Washington Post reported, top White House aides had gone dark for days as the island’s residents struggled to survive — as Trump “fixated on his escalating public feuds with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with fellow Republicans in Congress and with the National Football League.”

By Thursday, the administration was defending itself against accusations of negligence. The acting homeland security secretary spoke of Puerto Rico’s recovery as a “good news story” on TV.

The Rams are in the playoffs as the NFC West champ.

The Saints and Panthers have secured postseason spots. The Saints will be the NFC South champions if they beat the Buccaneers, which would relegate the Panthers to a wild card and the No. 5 seed.

The competition for the second wild card and the NFC’s sixth seed comes down to the Falcons and Seahawks. The Falcons, the defending NFC champs, are in with a win at home over the Panthers. The Seahawks need to beat the Arizona Cardinals and hope the Falcons lose.

Rosen and the Browns … The Browns already are on the clock, having wrapped up the top overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft. Their new general manager, John Dorsey, presumably won’t repeat the mistakes of his predecessors and go out of his way to avoid drafting a prospective franchise quarterback.

Defensive player of the year: Aaron Donald, DT, Rams … The rise of the Rams brings Donald’s excellence into the spotlight. He is the game’s most disruptive force on defense, causing turnovers and applying pass-rush pressure from the interior. Donald gets the nod over Jacksonville’s Calais Campbell and Dallas’s Demarcus Lawrence.

Coach of the Year: Sean McVay, Rams … The youngest head coach in modern NFL history turned Jared Goff into a franchise quarterback, made the most of Gurley’s talents and transformed the Rams into contenders. If anyone had suggested when McVay was hired that he’d accomplish all of that in Year 1, it would have seemed far-fetched. McVay finishes ahead of Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson, Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone and Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer.

That player is still going to be monitored by the medical staff as the game progresses. They are going to touch base with that player, they’re going to look at the emergence of any new symptoms, they’re going to continue to maintain contact with that player both verbally as well as visually. They are going to watch that player as they go back on the field and make sure there are no visible signs of head trauma as they go on.”

Both of these players were a flaming mess last season, but not inside McVay’s fascinating offensive machine.

Dallas takes over the top spot in the rankings and went 4-0 against AFC teams in 2016, but second-year pros Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott haven’t faced a defense like the Broncos.

Opposing quarterbacks had a league-low 69.7 passer rating against Denver in 2016 and it finished the season as the No. 1 rated defense per Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent. Prescott and Elliott also saw their production suffer when facing a Top 10 DVOA defense last season compared to their production against everyone else.

Not unlike Patriots teams past and present, this season’s Rams have the ability to score in bunches. There’s scant playoff experience on this roster, but that simply doesn’t matter with McVay at the wheel. This squad is ready to fly.

Weakness: One of the league’s sauciest special-teams units has lost its ultra-reliable kicker. Greg Zuerlein was shipped to injured reserve with a back injury in late December, and his absence generated immediate on-field consequences — and looms as a genuine concern. Signed-off-the-street booter Sam Ficken hails from a brokerage firm in Connecticut. No lie. While he nailed a pair of field goals in Sunday’s loss to the Niners, Ficken also botched an extra point and missed a 36-yard attempt in a tight win over the Titans in Week 16. Color me concerned.

The Packers are re-signing third-string quarterback Joe Callahan, Rob Demovsky reports. It seems like a trivial move, but it could signal the Packers’ intention to shut down Aaron Rodgers for the season. The Packers’ playoff hopes have evaporated, and so it would make no sense to risk his health in the final two games of the season. Rodgers underwent surgery to repair a broken collarbone. He returned this week in a 31-24 loss in Carolina after missing eight weeks.

Hernandez is not the first high-profile CTE case, but it could be one that resonates with both fans of the NFL and parents of youth players. Recent studies have shown that playing football before age 12 could result in long-term mood and behavioral issues. Some of the most high-profile CTE cases involved players who committed suicide, such as Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters, but Hernandez marks the first former NFL player who was diagnosed after being convicted of a heinous crime.

It has been a season overflowing with controversies for the PR-conscious league.

As always, these rankings combine my first-hand evaluation of players, copious input from MLB scouts and executives, and the player’s performance to date. Age and position also factor heavily into rankings, as players up the middle are more valuable (as they’re scarcer) than those on the corners, and players who succeed while young for the levels where they play tend to become better big leaguers.

Player rankings are team-agnostic: A prospect would get the same ranking or evaluation if he played for Miami that he would if he played for Colorado. Any numerical grades assigned to players are on the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 is major-league average and 80 is Billy Hamilton’s speed or Joey Gallo’s power.

“Given that dynamic, I knew we had to get more aggressive about getting our message out and more agile in promoting and protecting the game and the league. I believe we’ve accomplished much of that by becoming a more transparent organization that every day tries to drive the narrative we all believe in so strongly. I emphasize ‘try,’ as we’ll always have days where our best offense requires playing tenacious defense.”

Trump said at a speech in September that owners should fire any players who protest during the anthem, igniting a passionate national debate about the protests and patriotism. The league and many owners expressed support for players, although Jones said he would bench any player who protested during the anthem.

When did you start getting so disillusioned?

Oh, it’s been a long time. Like a lot of people, during the Snyder ownership I’ve not always been real happy. It’s been a long time coming. You put your heart and soul into being a fan. People want to be a sports fan to bring a little joy into their lives. And when you realize it doesn’t, you’re just like, “Why am I still doing this?” I mean, I still hold out hope that this thing turns around and it’s not a disaster every year, but they just never seem to take any steps forward. Just up and back all the time. It’s just a culmination of years of there not being a whole lot of fun associated with being a Redskins fan.

I don’t know. I’m not really sure. Partway through the last couple of years, all my T-shirts and hats — and I only have one jersey now — I’d literally have them in a stack in my closet, ready to just get rid of everything.