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Bill Belichick’s bizarre punt leads to Ravens’ long scoring drive

AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Getty Images

Bill Belichick is usually one of the NFL’s more aggressive coaches when it comes to going for it on fourth down. But not today in the AFC Championship Game.

Belichick has already punted three times while in Ravens territory, and the last of those punts came with the Patriots facing fourth-and-8 from the 34-yard line. Belichick apparently thought the windy conditions in New England made it unlikely that Stephen Gostkowski would make a 52-yard field goal, but it’s surprising that he didn’t just go for it instead of punting the ball back to the Ravens.

And punting the ball back to the Ravens turned out to be a mistake: The Ravens marched down the field on a 10-play, 87-yard drive and scored a touchdown on a five-yard pass from Joe Flacco to Dennis Pitta to take a 14-13 lead.

It’s been a hard-hitting, back-and-forth battle in New England. With the Super Bowl on the line, Belichick may want to take a few more chances with Tom Brady’s arm, and not put so much on Zoltan Mesko’s foot.

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Zach Orr says he’s “forced to walk away” because of neck condition

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 11: Linebacker Zach Orr #54 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates in the first half of the Buffalo Bills vs. the Baltimore Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ravens linebacker Zach Orr is retiring not because he wants to, but because doctors are telling him he has to.

Orr says an MRI on a herniated disc revealed that he has a rare neck condition that could result in a serious, life-changing injury if he continued to play. As a result, he’s walking away from football at age 24.

“I’m blessed and thankful that I’m able to walk away from the game in good health,” Orr said.

After initially making the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2014 by playing special teams, Orr emerged as a very good starting linebacker in Baltimore during the 2016 season. There was talk that he could be due for a big contract this offseason, but now he’s done playing football entirely.

Still, Orr seemed to be in good spirits, saying that he’s going to stay active in his community and in mentoring young men. Ravens coach John Harbaugh and G.M. Ozzie Newsome both called Orr a fine young man who has a bright future ahead of him. Just not on the field.

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NFL confirms games at Wembley Stadium in Weeks 3-4 of 2017

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars throws the ball over Eric Weddle #32 of the Baltimore Ravens during an NFL game on September 25, 2016 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. The Ravens defeated the Jaguars 19-17. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL has confirmed the two games that will be played at Wembley Stadium in London in Week Three and Week Four of the 2017 season.

The Jaguars will “host” the Ravens in Week Three on Sunday, September 24, and the Dolphins will “host” the Saints a week later on October 1.

Jacksonville has agreed to give up a home game each year to play in London. The Dolphins agreed to give up one home game as part of the deal that awarded Miami the Super Bowl in 2020.

The NFL has also confirmed that the Browns will play a “home” game against the Vikings at London’s Twickenham Stadium, and the Rams will play a “home” game against the Cardinals there. Those games are expected to take place in Weeks 7-8, although specifics have not been announced.

The Rams are giving up one home game in each year that they’re playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Browns gave up a home game just because they’re a rebuilding team that doesn’t have a huge ticket demand.

The Raiders are also expected to play a “home” game against the Patriots in Mexico City in 2017.

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Jordy Nelson dealing with illness, still could play Sunday

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 8:  Trevin Wade #31 of the New York Giants tackles Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers in the second quarter during the NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on January 8, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Getty Images

Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson is dealing with an illness in addition to broken ribs as the Packers finalize preparations for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game in Atlanta.

Nelson missed last week’s win in Dallas due to injury. Packers Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters that the illness kept Nelson away from the team facility Friday because the Packers worried it might be contagious.

If Nelson gets healthy, McCarthy made it sound like he could be in uniform Sunday. McCarthy said Nelson practiced more on Thursday than the team anticipated he would and is “making progress.”

Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison are all battling injuries, but McCarthy said all three wide receivers “will be given every chance” to play Sunday.

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NFL denies that it gave Lady Gaga a mandate not to mention Donald Trump

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 30:  Lady Gaga performs during the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on November 30, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret) Getty Images

The story is a couple of days old, but it’s inauguration day, so anything regarding the incoming or outgoing president takes on extra relevance. reports that Lady Gaga, who’ll headline the halftime show at Super Bowl LI, has been asked not to mention politics or Donald Trump during the event.

“Lady Gaga was told by the NFL that she cannot say anything or bring anything up about the election, or mention Donald Trump,” said.

The league denies it.

“The Super Bowl is a time when people really come together,” the league told in a statement. “Lady Gaga is focused on putting together an amazing show for fans and we love working with her on it; we aren’t going to be distracted by this.” The league also called the matter “nonsense from people trying to stir up controversy where there is none.”

There is no controversy yet, but it would hardly be the first time the Super Bowl halftime creates controversy. From Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction to M.I.A.’s middle finger, the league has had unfortunate events during the gigantic stage that the biggest event in American sports provides.

Regardless of anything the NFL has or hasn’t said to Lady Gaga about what she can or can’t say or do, her rights and responsibilities undoubtedly have been outlined in detail in the contractual documents that were signed weeks ago. And if the league didn’t have the foresight to ensure that Lady Gaga won’t create some sort of spectacle via an attempt to interject politics into a musical event, the league has only itself to blame if/when she does.

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Report: Ravens’ Zach Orr to retire at age 24

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 18: Inside linebacker Zach Orr #54 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts after making an interception in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at M&T Bank Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

After becoming a starter and having his best season in 2016, Ravens linebacker Zach Orr is planning to retire, at age 24.

Orr decided to retire despite the Ravens attempting to talk him out of it, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. According to Mike Garafolo, Orr played through a cracked bone in his shoulder late last season. He did not miss a game until Week 17, after the Ravens had been eliminated from playoff contention. The Ravens said he missed the finale because of a neck injury.

Just yesterday a report surfaced that Orr and the Ravens were making progress on talks for a new contract, but that is apparently not the case.

Originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of North Texas in 2014, Orr was at first primarily a special teams player but had a strong season last year on defense and appeared to have a bright future in the NFL. Now he appears ready to walk away.

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As youngest head coach, Sean McVay plans to earn players’ respect

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - JANUARY 13:  The Los Angeles Rams announce today in a press conference the hiring of new head coach Sean McVay on January 13, 2017 in Thousand Oaks, California. McVay is the youngest head coach in NFL history.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images) Getty Images

New Rams coach Sean McVay is only 30 years old, an age his players may associate more with a teammate than with a head coach. But McVay isn’t worried about whether players will listen to a coach who’s not much older (or maybe even a little younger) than they are.

McVay said today on PFT Live that he thinks his hard work will earn the respect of players.

“I think that respect will be earned over time,” McVay said. “It’s not something that comes in one day, I think it’s something that will be earned over time.”

McVay said that he and his coaching staff will make the players better, and that’s what players respond to.

“I think the biggest thing is letting these players see by our preparation, our process, day in and day out, how serious we are about our football and how that can lead to us winning games,” McVay said. “It’s about helping these players reach their highest potential, that plan, that process, the way we coach, lead, teach and motivate on a day-in, day-out basis, I think our players will feel.”

That’s ultimately what a coach is judged on: If McVay wins, people will quickly forget that he’s the youngest coach in the NFL.

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Sean Smith, Austin Howard recovering from shoulder surgery

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07: Sean Smith #21 of the Oakland Raiders walks to the locker room before the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on January 7, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cornerback Sean Smith’s first season with the Raiders got off to a shaky start when he was benched in the first game of the season, but he was able to rebound from that low to turn in a solid season in the Oakland secondary.

Smith did that work despite a shoulder injury that forced him to miss one game and led him to an operating room recently. At a Thursday press conference, Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie said that Smith had shoulder surgery and said, via Jimmy Durkin of the Bay Area News Group, that the team expects Smith to be “just fine” for next season.

Smith isn’t the only Raider on the mend after shoulder surgery. Right tackle Austin Howard went for a repair of a torn labrum that he said he initially suffered in training camp.

Howard was able to start 10 regular season games and their playoff loss to the Texans after the injury.

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Broncos planning to give Paxton Lynch a chance to be starter

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 24:  Quarterback Paxton Lynch #12 of the Denver Broncos warms up before the game against the Houston Texans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

With a new head coach and a new offensive staff in place in Denver, the Broncos have an opportunity to go in a new direction.

That direction is apparently not a trade for a veteran such as Tony Romo.

According to Mike Klis of KUSA, the Broncos are prepared to give 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch a chance to win the starting job this offseason, and want to push him toward that goal.

That means OTAs and minicamps will be more significant than normal, if they’re trying to determine if he’s ready to handle it.

If not, there’s some level of trust in Trevor Siemian, and his experience could still be a factor.

But if the Broncos are making it known they want Lynch to have a chance to make the job his own, it could signal that they’re not about to invest heavily in a contract such as Romo’s.


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Report: Chiefs G.M. is “best bet” to be next Packers G.M.

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 29:  Former Green Bay Packers General Manager and current Kansas City Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey greets former staff members prior to the preseason game at Arrowhead Stadium on August 29, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers are going to keep at least one of their top personnel lieutenants, but the future of their General Manager job could be decided from outside the organization.

With Eliot Wolf pulling out of the derby to become the 49ers General Manager and Brian Gutekunst reportedly the favorite for the job, one of the potential heirs to Packers G.M. Ted Thompson’s job will remain.

But according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the “best bet” for Thompson’s replacement could be Chiefs G.M. John Dorsey.

There are a number of factors at play here. Thompson’s contract runs through the 2018 NFL draft, though there has been some speculation he could walk away if the Packers win the Super Bowl.

Dorsey, who came up through the ranks with the Packers, also has a contract through the 2018 draft. And the work he’s done with the Chiefs has certainly been good enough to merit an extension, if he wanted it. But if Thompson were to leave after this season, the Chiefs could prevent Dorsey from returning to Green Bay, where he played five seasons and worked in personnel from 1991 to 2012, with one year in Seattle stuck in between.

But the Packers have a deep bench in the personnel department, which makes the future there so intriguing.

The 34-year-old Wolf has been considered a possible if not eventual replacement for Thompson, and he got a raise and is expected to get a new title this offseason. That’ll be three promotions in five years for the son of Hall of Fame G.M. Ron Wolf, seemingly putting him on the fast track.

But if team president Mark Murphy wants someone with more experience, the 56-year-old Dorsey could be more appealing to them.

There are a lot of plates spinning here, but it’s clear that Dorsey’s ties to Green Bay are still deep. And like his dad, who went from the Raiders to the Buccaneers before getting the Packers job, Eliot Wolf may one day have to leave home to have a chance to run a team. They blocked him from interviewing with the division-rival Lions last year, but their willingness to let him talk to the 49ers could also be a sign of their future intentions.

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Friday morning one-liners

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 01: Quarterback Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks to pass against the Dallas Cowboys during the third quarter of a game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 1, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defatted the Cowboys 27-13. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

Mel Kiper’s first mock draft has the Bills taking Clemson QB Deshaun Watson.

A list of players the Dolphins could check out during the East-West Shrine Game.

DT Alan Branch will be part of the Patriots’ plan to slow Le’Veon Bell.

Jets owner Woody Johnson is headed to England.

Running through some of the offseason decisions the Ravens face regarding current members of the roster.

Five reasons to think the Bengals can make a quick return to the playoffs.

Can Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams build a unit as tough as his words?

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley would like to see the Steelers putting more points on the board.

Ranking the Texans’ roster from 1-50.

Is it good news that Colts QB Andrew Luck was playing hurt?

Jaguars coach Doug Marrone does some work on international relations.

Breaking down the Titans defensive line.

A special teams coach is the latest addition to Vance Joseph’s first Broncos staff.

The Chiefs will need a new assistant special teams coach.

Ten moves by Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie that reshaped the Raiders.

San Diego doesn’t know yet what will happen to Qualcomm Stadium with the Chargers bolting town.

The Cowboys will likely be in the market for a pass rusher.

Musing about Adrian Peterson mentioning the Giants as a landing spot.

QB Carson Wentz’s mobility is something the Eagles like about him.

A look at the Redskins’ cornerback depth.

Roy Anderson is the new assistant secondary coach for the Bears.

Lions fans will have upgraded Wi-Fi at games in 2017.

Packers RB Ty Montgomery admires how calm QB Aaron Rodgers remains when he’s under pressure.

Grading the Vikings cornerback play in 2016.

WR Julio Jones feels the Falcons are the most complete team for the first time in his tenure.

The Panthers could use some help at defensive end.

Mark Ingram’s big year was part of the picture at running back for the Saints.

A ranking of the top young players with the Buccaneers.

Will the Cardinals hold onto DE Calais Campbell?

Moving to L.A. landed the Rams a role on a prime time sitcom.

The 49ers’ wait for Kyle Shanahan may be coming to an end.

A discussion of backup quarterback possibilities for the Seahawks.

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Reggie McKenzie “not the type” to wait on deals for Derek Carr, Khalil Mack

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 24:  Quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiders drops back against the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter on December 24, 2016 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Raiders won 33-25.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Drafting defensive end Khalil Mack and quarterback Derek Carr in 2014 was a major part of the turnaround for the Raiders that pushed them to 12 wins and a playoff spot this year.

Now the Raiders have to work on keeping those two players in Raiders uniforms for years to come. Carr has one year left on his rookie deal and the team has an option on Mack through the 2018 season, which makes it little surprise to hear General Manager Reggie McKenzie say that signing them is a priority as the team moves into offseason mode.

“The good thing is we do have time, but I’m not the type to wait until the last minute,” McKenzie said, via the San Jose Mercury News. “Those two guys are not only great players, but they’re great men and they are true Raiders and I want to make sure we do the best that we can to make sure they stay Raiders.”

Salary cap management will be a big deal as Carr, Mack and other young players move into their second contracts, something that McKenzie said he doesn’t feel threatened by at this point while noting that the team will “continue to strive to get good players for a lesser amount.” After years of struggling to find players worth building around, that’s not the worst problem to have.

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Donald Trump got a phone call from Tom Brady

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady chats with Donald Trump (Photo by Donna Connor/WireImage) Getty Images

Despite a “Make America Great Again” hat being spotted in his locker early in the campaign, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has tried to keep under wraps his support of Donald Trump in the closet.

The Later-Today-To-Be-President outed Brady last night.

“Your friend Tom [Brady] just called,” Donald Trump said at a Thursday night black-tie dinner, in comments directed to Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “He feels good. He called to congratulate us. He feels good.”

How Brady and/or Mrs. Brady feel about that comment remains to be seen.

I’m not talking politics anymore, guys,” Brady said in November, via Phill Perry of “I’m just not. I got other things to worry about. Just speaking with my family, it’s just a bad idea. I know, you guys, I told you I would, then after I told you I would, I changed my mind.”

In September 2015, Brady made it clear that he’s not interested in or knowledgeable about politics.

“I don’t even know what the issues are. I haven’t paid attention to politics in a long time,” Brady said. “It’s actually not something that I really even enjoy. It’s way off my radar. . . .

“I try to have fun with certain things, you know, but some things a lot of times get taken out of context. I think you are just more careful with what you say because you don’t want certainly a big headline with you as saying something that’s going to take the attention away from your teammates or what you’re trying to do.”

On one hand, there’s nothing wrong with calling the incoming president to congratulate him the incredibly rare honor, privilege, and power he’s about to receive. Whenever a personal friend is about to become the President of the United States, it’s probably a good idea to at least give him a phone call.

On the other hand, the potential for friction and distraction when it comes to such a polarizing figure (and, hopefully, Americans who otherwise can agree on little can at least agree that he’s polarizing) makes it smart to keep that support under wraps. Which Brady had successfully done in recent months. Until last night.

It surely won’t matter come Sunday night. But it also surely gave Brady at least a mild cringe to hear that Trump had shared with the public a phone call that Brady undoubtedly intended to be private.

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Aaron Rodgers: “Size matters” when it comes to his hands

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) celebrates after winning an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. The Packers won 34-31. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins) AP

When NFL evaluators descend on Indianapolis late next month for the Scouting Combine, people will laugh about their obsession with the measurements of the quarterbacks. But for all the jokes, there was a practical application of those numbers on display last week.

When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was being sacked from behind by Cowboys safety Jeff Heath, he didn’t lose the ball he had in his right hand. Why not?

Size matters,” Rodgers said, via Rob Demovsky of

When he was at the Scouting Combine, his hands measured 10 1/8 inches. Assuming they haven’t grown since then (or that he hasn’t had them stretched), that makes them officially large.

“His grip strength has got to be fantastic,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I totally thought the same thing. During the game, I said, ‘That’s amazing that the ball did not come out.’”

Anything under 9 1/2 inches is considered small, and can make it harder for a quarterback to grip the ball well enough to spin it in inclement weather. Or in Rodgers case, to secure it without fumbling while being drilled from behind with 18 seconds left in a tied playoff game.

“That was a huge play because if the ball comes out right there, that’s probably the game for them because they’re already in field goal range,” Packers pass-rusher Julius Peppers said. “I think when he absorbed that hit and held onto the ball, that was just a great, instinctive play that probably saved the game for us.”

Instincts and big hands, neither of which you can teach.

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Kyle Shanahan: No deal yet, focusing on Packers this week

FILE - In this Dec. 18, 2016, file photo, Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan walks on the turf before the first half of an NFL football game between the Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers, in Atlanta. Broncos general manager John Elway began his third coaching search in six seasons with a visit to Kansas City on Friday to interview Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub. Elway and his committee, which includes team president Joe Ellis and player personnel director Matt Russell, will then travel to Atlanta to meet with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan over the weekend. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File) AP

Kyle Shanahan admitted being distracted. For the five minutes it took him to get ready for a press conference, anyway.

Via Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Falcons offensive coordinator said all the right things about not having a deal in place with the 49ers yet and all his focus being on Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Packers.

No, there’s definitely no understanding of that [a deal with the 49ers],” he said. “I think there’s some interest, obviously. I had my interview a couple of weeks ago. I’m looking forward to a chance when you can speak to people again. It’s a pretty good situation to be in, as far as where a team is at right now. It’s the coolest moment I’ve had in my career. I used to think the rules weren’t that cool. I love the rules. It makes it very simple.

“My friends growing up hear this stuff. My wife hears this stuff. Everybody wants to ask me what’s going on. I don’t know. I’m in my office looking at film all day and there’s nothing I’m allowed to do about it. I think I’ll have an idea after the game. I don’t know what day that will be. Right now, I truly don’t care.”

He said the league rules which prevent him from having his second interview with the 49ers until next week were helpful, considering he has kind of a big game coming up Sunday.

“I had to think about what I wanted to say to you guys,” he said. “But it’s not a distraction. Rules I thought weren’t cool rules, they really are. . . . I wanted to win a payoff game my entire career and I got to do that last week.  Now we have a chance to play for a Super Bowl. That’s pretty much what’s consuming my mind. It’s something we’re enjoying and I’m not going to miss this opportunity.”

Of course, he also has all the leverage here, as the 49ers were turned down by Josh McDaniels, and even Tom Cable has thanked them for the opportunity. So when the time comes for Shanahan to sit down with them next week (when he’ll meet potential General Manager hires), he’ll have a tremendous negotiating position.

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John Pagano interviews for defensive coordinator in Washington

John Pagano AP

Add another name to the long list of candidates to be the next defensive coordinator in Washington.

John Pagano, who spent the last four years as the defensive coordinator in San Diego, has interviewed for the top job on Jay Gruden’s staff, according to Liz Clarke of the Washington Post.

Gruden has been looking for a new defensive coordinator since firing Joe Barry two weeks ago.

Other known candidates for the job include former Browns head coach Mike Pettine, former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, longtime NFL defensive assistant Rob Ryan and former Bills defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. Gruden has also considered promoting his own outside linebackers coach, Greg Manusky.

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