Why did Butler get benched for Super Bowl 52, and did it cost the Patriots their sixth Lombardi Trophy?

Bill Belichick gave almost no answers. Malcolm Butler had no answer, either, but lots of emotion, wild guesses and dejection. To be fair, the questions were complicated.

There’s a question in there, though, that’s easier to answer: Is this one of the worst and costliest coaching blunders ever in the Super Bowl? That answer is yes. Is it the all-time worst and costliest? It’s hard to find another, even with 52 years of competition.

There isn’t a large library of even questionable coaching moves in recent Super Bowl history, much less outright bizarre or indefensible ones. The aforementioned slant by the Seahawks. Last year’s decision by the Falcons to keep throwing with a chance to work the clock and put the win over the Patriots away. Andy Reid’s clock management the last time the Eagles and Patriots played in 2005. Bill Callahan running a Raiders offense against the Buccaneers that Jon Gruden knew like the back of his hand.

For now, they pale in comparison to Belichick leaving a vital defensive player on the bench while the other team ran up 538 yards and 41 points in a track meet of a game.

The Eagles beat the Patriots on Sunday, but by benching Butler, Belichick gave them a ton of help.

“You’re gonna see me playing football next year. I don’t envision not playing,” Brady said. “You’re at the end of the race but you’ve got your biggest mountain to climb right at the end. Hopefully all the lessons we’ve learned have allowed us to be at our very best for this moment and that’s what it’s going to take and that’s what we’re prepared for and that’s what I go out and expect our team to do.”

Brady became the oldest player to be named NFL MVP this season, claiming his third league MVP honor Saturday. He led the NFL with 4,577 yards, becoming the oldest quarterback to lead the league in passing yards, with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Brady is under contract through the 2019 season and expects to fulfill that contract. He and Patriots coach Bill Belichick have already won five Super Bowls together, heading into Sunday’s game against the Eagles. Making his eighth Super Bowl appearance, Brady told his wife he’d like to win two more Super Bowls before he retires and has said he’d like to play until he’s 45. It remains to be seen, but we do know we’ll see Brady in a Patriots uniform for a 19th NFL season. bills_043

Browns hire Scot McCloughan to help with 2018 NFL Draft, report says

As the NFL draft is quickly approaching, the Browns are under pressure to make decisions that will help rebuild their franchise coming off of a winless season.

The former Redskins general manager will work closely with Dorsey in a reunion as the two served together with the Packers under general manager Ron Wolf.

The seemingly robotic nature of an athlete like Brady often takes the human element out of the public’s perception. The decisions he makes about his career are not met with the same standards as those made by your average Joe. The public is selfish, and it assumes Brady, as a football player, is not susceptible to career-altering moments in life.

But Brady is a father of three, and he has never been shy about expressing how much his family means to him. News broke during the week leading up to last year’s Super Bowl that Brady’s mother had been dealing with an illness, and she hadn’t been able to attend her son’s football games that season like she always had. Brady’s dad was able to attend just one.

“And I said to them, ‘This is probably something I should have told you two weeks ago, but this is the longest two weeks of your life, and this is going to be the longest 24 hours-plus of your life. The game, at this point, cannot get here quick enough. But it’s going to slow down even more.”

While Favre revealed he kept the message “lighthearted and fun,” he wasn’t holding back when it came to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

“We know the Patriots. They’re a tremendous team. Their quarterback is the greatest to ever play. Bill Belichick is the greatest coach to ever coach. You know what they’re about,” Favre said. “They’re going to play the whole game. Don’t ever say — kinda like last year, ‘We have it won and we’re going to go to the drive-thru.’ That’s not a good idea.”

Last year, the Falcons found themselves with a 28-3 lead against the Patriots, but couldn’t hold on as they fell in overtime 34-28.

It may seem like there’s no connection between the Eagles and Favre, who played for the Packers for the majority of his career before spending a year with the Jets and two with the Vikings. However, Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson and Favre played together in Green Bay.

After finishing 28th in total yards allowed in back-to-back seasons, the Redskins’ defense improved to 21st under coordinator Greg Manusky in 2017.

On June 23, about a month before NFL training camps opened, Dr. Harry Edwards, the well-known Cal-Berkley sociology professor and one-time adviser to Kaepernick, sent an email to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Edwards implored Goodell to use his influence to make certain Kaepernick signed with an NFL team.

Rookie Jonathan Allen, the team’s first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft, made an impact up to the point he injured his left foot, requiring surgery ultimately ended his season. But even with Allen healthy, the line needs help. Matt Ioannidis proved a valuable contributor, as did Stacy McGee. But there wasn’t enough quality depth up front to consistently rattle quarterbacks or stuff running plays.

But the unit backslid in points allowed (from 19th to 27th), surrendering 24.2 points per game, a lot for an injury-strapped offense to overcome.

The show of defiance comes hours after Trump on Sunday morning renewed his demand that NFL owners fire or suspend players who kneel during the national anthem in protest, again urging that fans should boycott the sport to force change.

“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast,” Trump wrote. “Fire or suspend!”

The loss dropped the Redskins to 4-6 and also proved costly in the personnel department. The latest injury to strike the team was to running back Chris Thompson, who was carted off the field with his leg in an air cast.

Who knew that, at this point, the Los Angeles Rams-Minnesota Vikings game would be so intriguing? Both teams were 7-2, but the Rams’ winning streak ended at four as Minnesota won its sixth straight with a 24-7 victory.

The Patriots have embraced the identity of a power-rushing team.

Their No. 10 ground attack against the Jaguars’ No. 21 run defense is the key to opening up everything else in the offense. Even though Rex Burkhead is expected to return, Dion Lewis should keep dominating touches. Because of Lewis’ much-improved work between the tackles and still-dynamic ability as an outlet receiver in open field, he keeps the Patriots at their most unpredictable and versatile.

The Jaguars have been much better in stopping the run since they acquired tackle Marcell Dareus at midseason. He’ll be in there for base 4-3 sets. If the Patriots go two-back with fullback James Develin as a lead blocker for Lewis, it will help, but that would also limit the number of receiving options.

Expect New England to be patient about establishing power, because Brady will need it to keep the “Sacksonville” pass rush at bay early and wear it down late. Balance is critical for Brady to hit on any big pass plays.

The Christian Hackenberg experiment continues to go poorly. Hackenberg started for the Jets against the Lions, with the hope being that he could manage to start and put some throws together, maybe put a little heat on Josh McCown, maybe give Jets fans some hope.
is fault, and that’s why Hackenberg is being pulled from the game at the break.

Todd Bowles told CBS Hackenberg is done for the night. On Hack’s performance: “We’re not giving him a chance. We have to block for him.”

The Packers are going to want to let Bennett, who is a strong run blocker as well, diversify their formations. But they’re also going to want to use him as a short-yardage red-zone weapon. Good luck covering him with a linebacker like that.

“They don’t have to do it here in front of the flag,” Rose said. “It’s just the wrong place to do it. .?.?. There’s five people in our section in my row that we have tickets together, my family. Two of them didn’t come today. And the tickets are going to waste. They didn’t want somebody else to have it. They wanted that seat to be empty. I respect that.”

Korver said that it is on the Cavs’ players, as the oldest roster in the league, to lift themselves up.

Sports, that wonderful, horrible, meaningful, meaningless, inspiring, cynical, beautiful entity, just completed another wild feat. It took 2,390 miles of ocean and shrank it. It urged Hawaii and the United States mainland into a fresh realm of spiritual juxtaposition. It continued to redefine, according to Hawaiians, how Hawaiians perceive themselves.

Last Saturday, a 24-year-old quarterback in his first NFL playoff game threw a touchdown pass to himself, commanded a wacko second-half comeback in a loud road stadium and forged a clinching-play block that deserves to prove unforgettable. On Monday, a 19-year-old quarterback entered the College Football Playoff national championship after halftime, redefined the tenor of that humongous game, became its most valuable player and threw a game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass so eye-pleasing that it will prove unforgettable.

“I think it’s just getting back to playing as one unit,” he said. “Like, playing as a team. No matter what our schemes are, no matter what’s going on, we’ve got to trust each other at both ends of the floor. It’s a very general thing to say, but there’s a lot of truth to it. There’s definitely problems on both sides of the court right now. I think playing together, playing with effort and energy is probably a common theme on both sides right now.

But his downfall has been epic. He has not demonstrated he can make the transition from prospering in the gimmick offense of his rookie season with the Redskins to being able to thrive as a more traditional NFL pocket passer. He has not been able to remain healthy and in the lineup. He has not provided evidence he can avoid drama like this week’s dust-up with Moss. Is this a big deal? No. But it’s enough to tilt the odds of returning to the NFL further against Griffin.

But Griffin should have simply let it go. Any NFL team that would consider signing Griffin at this point would do so with him being a No. 2 or a No. 3 quarterback in mind. He’s not going anywhere as a starter. But no team wants a second- or third-string quarterback who cannot coexist peacefully with coaches and teammates, and who might take to social media to settle scores and create a minor uproar in the process.

The case shifted to New York, where the league had filed a lawsuit seeking to have Henderson’s ruling affirmed. Henderson upheld the suspension imposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.jaguars_029

Just the ability to stay and practice at home during the week will be huge in preparing for whoever they face in the Super Bowl.

When a team gets a play like the “Minneapolis Miracle” to survive and advance in the NFL playoffs, you can’t help but think it’s a team of destiny. For starters, Case Keenum’s narrative is a little like Kurt Warner’s in terms of a higher-powered, feel-good story. You also can’t ignore the fact that they will be the first team positioned to play a Super Bowl on its home field.

Defense wins championships, and Minnesota has plenty of it on every level. — V.I.

“Colin Kaepernick’s goal has always been, and remains, to simply be treated fairly by the league he performed at the highest level for and to return to the football playing field,” a statement released by Kaepernick’s legal representatives said.

Kaepernick’s grievance accuses teams of conspiring to keep him out of work in violation of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. And there was every reason to believe Sunday that he will remain so, given the postgame declaration by Packers coach Mike McCarthy that young backup Brett Hundley is his new starter at quarterback and third-stinger Joe Callahan moves up to second on the depth chart.

The NFL has independent medical personnel who can keep players off the field. But something is not working. Even if the NFL finds the Texans did not violate the protocol, that would simply be an indictment of the protocol.

“I just coach the team,” Bill O’Brien said when asked about Savage reentering the game, laying responsibility off to the Texans’ medical staff. That is the problem: The NFL and its teams have not made protecting dangerously concussed players, even the ones most obviously and likeliest to be impacted by brain injury, a priority.

The end of the Jaguars’ victory over the Seahawks was ugly and could lead to discipline, Sean Quinton writes. Michael Bennett sparked a fight by diving at an offensive lineman’s knees in victory formation, and the scuffle led to the ejections of Sheldon Richardson and Quinton Jefferson. Things took a nasty turn when Jefferson tried to climb into the stands to confront a fan who had thrown a drink at him on his way into the locker room. “What would you do?” Jefferson asked reporters. Those fans should be banned from the stadium if not prosecuted. But, man, you can’t go climbing into the crowd. Jefferson will probably get suspended, and it would be justified, even if he’s also worthy of sympathy.

Todd Gurley’s non-catch helped the Rams get a FG at the end of the first half vs. Falcons

Todd Gurley’s near-reception made for a weird ending to the first half of the Falcons-Rams Wild Card game.

After an incredible Robert Woods catch, the Rams tried to find Gurley to get in the end zone before the half with 14 seconds left.

Save for a few stylistic differences—Diggs relies on sudden, quick-twitch bursts while Thielen’s cuts are smoother—they are wired similarly as receivers. Both excel at disguising their routes, like pitchers with the same release point for fastballs and curves.

Foles ended up doing just enough in the game. He completed 23 of his 30 passes for 246 yards. While he didn’t throw a touchdown, he also didn’t turn the ball over. It was enough, as the Eagles’ defense limited Atlanta’s offense all evening, especially on the Falcons’ final drive, which ended at the Philadelphia 2-yard line.

The Eagles will now host the winner of Sunday’s Vikings-Saints game in the NFC Championship.

Speaking of the Panthers . . . this season the MVP “debate” has been an annoying cycle of people touting “contenders” who can’t objectively be selected over Tom Brady, then (as is the current state of discourse in this country) throwing a hissy fit when you point that out. Because somehow it’s disrespectful to suggest someone is merely the second or third or fourth most valuable player in the NFL this season.

We mentioned it earlier, but the broken foot suffered by Notre Dame forward Bonzie Colson is one of the season’s most disappointing pieces of news. Colson was a frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year and likely All-America selection leading the Irish in points, rebounds, blocks and steals at the time of his injury, which is a huge blow to Notre Dame’s season. The Irish, particularly T.J. Gibbs and Rex Pflueger, have picked up the slack in their first week without him, but the ACC is only going to get harder from here. There’s a chance Colson returns in March, but Brey has said he’s not going to risk Colson’s health before the spring’s NBA tryouts. It would be a shame if this is how Colson’s time as a college player ends, but he’s had a heck of a career.

You may not see a crazier finish this season than this back-and-forth between USC and Stanford on Sunday night. Wow.

After Arizona’s loss to Colorado on Saturday, Sean Miller said his players “really struggle playing for me” and that he has “a hard time reaching our guys.” The Wildcats had seemingly recovered from their disastrous 0-3 trip to the Bahamas in November and it’s obvious Miller doesn’t want to risk a minor setback becoming a prolonged one.

However, the play would be reviewed, and the officials ruled that Sanu didn’t come down with the catch. The ball moved on Sanu’s way down, and it would be fourth down for the Falcons.patriots_118_a38140db53e830fa-180x180

Former Browns coach Mike Pettine to be Packers defensive coordinator, report says

Mike Pettine is getting back in the game.

The former Browns coach is expected to be hired by the Packers and serve as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator, ESPN reported, citing unidentified sources.

Pettine, 51, served as defensive coordinator for the Jets from 2009-12 before spending the 2013 season in the same position with the Bills. He then took over as head coach for Cleveland in 2014 but was fired in January 2016, finishing with a 10-22 record as the Browns dropped 18 of his final 21 games with the team.

Scales is an All-American linebacker who has been a centerpiece to the Hoosier defense for the last four seasons. He is a good overall athlete who possesses solid speed and lateral agility. He has quickness as a blitzer and can get a good jump to put himself in position to provide pressure on opposing QBs. He is solid as a run defender, displaying good gap discipline, and he keeps his shoulders square when he’s filling at the point of attack.

Scalres raps up effectively as a tackler but does have some issues finishing in space. He flashes stack-and-shed ability at the point of attack, but he needs to build consistency in doing so. In coverage, he has the hip fluidity to transition vertically in man coverage. He projects best working as a hybrid linebacker and should be able to stay on the field on all three downs.

They laugh. As if Adam was ever anything but obsessed with this sport. Tackle football didn’t start until seventh grade around Detroit Lakes, Minn., so Thielen would gather up ratty old pads discarded by the local middle school, slip into a Moss or Carter jersey, and play full-contact against his friends in the snow. “Nothing better than that,” he says. “It’s crazy how things worked out.”

Crazy. This word comes up a lot. Crazy how, throughout his Detroit Lakes High career he planned to play D-III basketball—right up until a scout from Minnesota State discovered him at a summer all-star game and offered a $500 football scholarship.

Even so, the 6′ 2″, 200-pound Thielen senses his long-shot origin story is becoming well worn. “Every broadcaster wants to talk about that,” he says. “It gets a little annoying. I want to be respected based on how I play, not what I had to overcome.”

The Saints nearly destroyed the Vikings’ postseason aspirations with a late field goal

The Minnesota Vikings have exorcised their playoff demons late in their Divisional Round showdown with the New Orleans Saints. Two years after Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal that would have locked down the team’s first postseason win since the 2009 season, Kai Forbath calmly drilled a 53-yard field goal that gave Minnesota a 23-21 lead with just 1:34 left in the game.

You could say he was excited:

The Khans didn’t own the Jaguars the last time they made the postseason, so this is a totally new feeling for them, but one they’re bringing back to lifetime Jaguars fans.

His dad and team owner Shad Khan told the Florida Times-Union before the game, “If you’re not having fun now, you’ll never have fun. You’ve got to enjoy the moment. If you can bottle it, imprint it on the brain, you want to do that.”

It looks like the Jaguars are having fun.

The Falcons learned the hard way at the end of last year’s NFL playoffs that defense especially in the fourth quarter still wins championships. They applied their lesson well to begin this year’s NFC playoff run with a 26-13 wild-card upset of the Rams.

Atlanta didn’t win as easily as the score indicated. Los Angeles may have been the prettier team for most of the night, save for a return-game meltdown. Bottom line: it was the third consecutive conference playoff game the Falcons won by double-digit points.

We invited them and we rented the restaurant for 15, 16 people, Rapaglia said. I invited the presidents of the biggest leagues we have. New Jersey did the same. I never saw the girl in my life. Then we took some pictures. Look at the other possibilities. It’s like a lottery: eight, nine people running! We’ve been friends with Sunil for years. And we believe in his ability, and he’s a great guy for the game. Believe me.

Payton’s first challenge flag appeared to be a consequence of peer pressure. Case Keenum floated a 27-yard pass to Jarius Wright that the wideout corralled while diving to the turf. Replays showed the ball was clearly controlled after an initial bobble, but the enthusiasm of his players on the sideline and a Vikings offense rushing to get the ensuing play off forced the veteran head coach to call on the referees.

That was an understandable mistake — Minnesota’s hurry-up offense pressed the issue, and Payton seemingly went with his gut. His second challenge, however, was less forgivable.

Sam Darnold declares for 2018 NFL Draft after 3 years at USC

Shortly after Josh Rosen declared for the 2018 NFL draft, USC quarterback Sam Darnold followed in his footsteps. Darnold made the news official with an Instagram post on Wednesday evening.

As they lined up for their field goal attempt, the Jaguars jumped and were called for a neutral zone infraction on the play, giving the Bills a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line:

Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.

He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.

Andrews said she told Payton, “You have to tell him.” Payton then said he would tell him and let him know he had the choice to stay or go.

Swinging back to that Seahawks offense . . . the good news is that they made some history a week ago: Seattle became the third team since 1950 to have more penalty yards than offensive yards in a game and still win. The bad news is that, over the last three games, they rank 32nd in the NFL in total offense (228.7 yards per game, less than the Bryce Petty-led Jets and the Savage/Yates/Heinicke-led Texans). And those numbers were boosted by Russell Wilson Bortlesing Blake Bortles in Bortles’ own backyards (in the Week 14 loss at Jacksonville, Wilson threw three interceptions as Seattle fell behind 27-10 before TD passes of 61 and 74 yards in the final 10 minutes salvaged the stat line).

On the replayed down, Adoree’ Jackson muffed the punt, which was recovered by the Chiefs:

It was quite the NFL’s version of “ball don’t lie.” Or at least, it appeared it was going to be that way.

After being given a second chance, the Chiefs ran three plays resulting in a loss of two yards. On fourth-and-12, Harrison Butker attempted a 48-yard field goal from the Tennessee 30, and it was no good.

So by the end of everything happened, all that happened was that the Chiefs gave the Titans nine yards.

Football can be weird at times, and it’s always unpredictable.patriots_018_7b0b1a017dd7d943-180x180