Monthly Archives: January 2018

It’s said there will never be a Winter Classic game like the first one.

Two iconic franchises with history between them, and just history in general: The Leafs and Wings played an alumni game doubleheader at Comerica Park because they had so many darn great players who wanted in.

It was played in an iconic venue, the Big House, that held 105,491 hockey fans that day — not an outdoor game attendance record, but close enough. The elements were punishing, with snow falling and wind whipping and temperatures that actually froze the ball inside the officials’ whistles.

Impossible as it might seem, the game was actually good! Jonathan Bernier saw 43 Red Wings shots sail his way, and Detroit needed a late third-period goal to force overtime. Toronto won in a shootout on a Tyler Bozak tally, sending half the stadium back over the border happy. (It also made the 3.57 million average viewers for CBC’s broadcast in Canada, a regular-season record, quite happy.)

One of the show’s biggest punchlines — which pokes fun at the Jacksonville Jaguars and quarterback Blake Bortles — has become a real-life evolution from bad to good.

The 11-6 Jaguars picked up their first NFL playoff win since 2007 last weekend, dispatching the Buffalo Bills 10-3. Bortles — a notorious underachiever since being the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft — was the first quarterback in nearly two decades to rush for more yards (88) than pass (87) in the victory. Jacksonville faces the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC divisional-round playoff at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

It’s been very funny, because the team has been the butt of all jokes on the show for two years, and now suddenly here they are winning a playoff game on the back of Blake Bortles, Mande told USA TODAY Sports by phone on Thursday.

Close your eyes and think about the Winter Classic, and this game is what you see: 71,217 frozen puckheads, some of them shirtless, watching those baby blue Penguins jerseys peek out through the consistently falling snow. Seeing the players’ breath. Seeing them battle the elements. In the end, seeing Sidney Crosby win the game in the shootout with the flurries falling, as if Gary Bettman himself had scripted it.

The hype was off the charts for the game, just to see whether the NHL could pull off a rink build in seven days and an event of this magnitude. That it launched both the Winter Classic and Stadium Series franchises is a testament to its success.

Even Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was among those who typecast Keenum as a just-in-case second-stringer. Zimmer acknowledged recently he didn’t gain full confidence in Keenum until the 11th or 12th game of the season and, when Teddy Bridgewater was cleared to play in mid-November, Zimmer never declared Keenum the starter for more than a week at a time.

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Hurts isn’t interested in playing the role of the superstar athlete.

If it’s true you should dress for the job you want, not the one you already have, Jalen Hurts would wear a monk’s robe instead of the jersey of Alabama’s starting quarterback. The perpetually stoic sophomore gives the impression that he would rather take a vow of silence than answer questions about his football ability.

He’s his father’s child, living out longtime Texas high school football coach Averion Hurts’ motto: I ain’t gonna laugh if it isn’t funny. I ain’t gonna dance if there ain’t no music.

On the flip side of the same coin, the Nets have a tough upcoming schedule. Brooklyn’s snowy January features games against basketball juggernauts: Boston, San Antonio, Toronto, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, and Minnesota again. The Nets also play the 76ers and both the Knicks and Pistons twice. That’s 11 games Brooklyn could feasibly lose and fall from 15-24 to 15-35.

But for Atkinson, it’s the influx and development of talent that’s made the biggest difference in helping change the culture in Brooklyn. The Nets aren’t a joke anymore. You have to take them seriously, and that’s just the first step.

One almost wishes the rain that fell earlier on Jan. 2 had continued, because at least then this game would have had some personality. Instead, St. Louis dominated the last 40 minutes, treating the Blackhawks — by this time, outdoor game overexposed — like a team of jobbers that were hired to put over the local talent.

It gave us an alumni game that featured Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Martin Brodeur on the same team. It gave us perhaps the best St. Louis Blues jerseys ever created. And it gave us copious amounts of Nelly.

As much as Saints All-Pro Cam Jordan admires his father, Steve, and effusively praises the former Minnesota Vikings tight end, he hasn’t been able to resist the urge to be his own man.

Cam Jordan never wanted to play tight end, and acknowledged on Thursday that he doesn’t always follow his father’s advice, either, particularly when it comes to his playful antics and comments when engaging the media.

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the Pistons have become one of the NBA’s best at manufacturing points.

Yes, he stepped out of bounds. But the Greek Freak’s game-winning dunk over Westbrook was still an impressive display of athleticism and aggression with the game on the line. It was the NBA’s third game-winning dunk in the final five seconds of a game this season after there were none in all of 2016-17. It was also the 52nd contested dunk for Giannis Antetokounmpo, most in the NBA according to Second Spectrum. — Vincent Johnson

Take for instance their movement on offense. According to Second Spectrum, Detroit utilizes over 107 off-ball screens per game, nearly 10 more than the second-ranked Warriors. The fulcrum for all of that action? Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond, who rank first and second in total screens set. Per Second Spectrum, Harris has set over 100 more off-ball screens than any other player in the NBA. — Micah Adams

In last weekend’s wild-card round playoff triumph over the Panthers , Jordan not only had a sack, a tackle for loss, a QB hit and two batted passes, but he also forced Cam Newton into a pivotal intentional grounding penalty. That play turned a second-and-10 at the Saints 21-yard line with 41 seconds left into third-and-23 at the New Orleans 34 — with just 19 seconds to go after a 10-second runoff for an offensive penalty in the final minute. The Panthers could not recover in a 31-26 loss.

Hurts became the first true freshman ever to start at QB for Saban and led the Tide to an SEC championship and the CFP, culminating in a loss to Clemson in a title-game rematch. But a funny thing happened after his auspicious start in 2016: Hurts wasn’t developed.

I think we protected him a bit last year, Saban said over the summer. It didn’t enhance his development and sometimes later in the year when people played us in a way where we needed to be able to throw the ball, we may not have been efficient as we would have liked to have been. That’s probably our fault as coaches because we protected him, instead of developed him as a young player.

Late in the season, against stiffer competition, it showed. Defenses pressured Hurts into difficult passing situations, and he struggled to move the ball downfield consistently.

After the departure of Lane Kiffin, new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was brought in to remedy that. The former New England Patriots assistant had learned under Bill Belichick and had future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady on speed dial.

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Someone noticed he wasn’t wearing any Alabama gear.

Not that he had any doubt about the outcome. Jones didn’t attend the game, even though it was held at the Falcons’ home stadium, and insisted that he went to bed before halftime.

I was out, he said. I didn’t learn (the score) until the next morning. I was like, ‘Oh, that was a good game.’

No need to rub it in, he quipped.

When you’re accustomed to things, Jones said, trying to hold back a smile, you don’t brag.

The league’s domestic violence policy, implemented in 2014, requires a six-game suspension for first time offenders, whether or not a player is ever charged or convicted of a crime. But since its enactment, Goodell’s discipline has been protracted, erratic and undependable. Former New York Giants kicker Josh Brown, for example, initially received only a one-game suspension for being physically violent with his now former ex-wife in more than 20 incidents, including when she was pregnant (the suspension was eventually increased by six more games).

Until Goodell agrees with the players association that he won’t be both the judge and jury in player discipline disputes, any discipline imposed by Goodell especially discipline stemming from domestic violence accusations will continue to be questioned. Fans can expect Goodell’s disciplinary powers to be a contentious point of negotiations when the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2020 season.

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That’s on head coach Doug Pederson and both coordinators, Frank Reich and Jim Schwartz.

Every team we face from here on out, obviously they’re playoff-caliber teams, Pederson said. It’s going to be a dogfight each week. You can’t make the assignment errors and mistakes and expect to win a post-season game moving forward. We’ve got some work to do still in these next couple of weeks.

There are always two or three saves in every game that are game-changers. He just sticks to his instincts. Sticks to his positioning, said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh of Lundqvist.

Lundqvist kept the game tied — and got help from his defense on a Sabres’ overtime 2-on-1 — until J.T. Miller ended it at 2:43 of OT after a Jacob Josefson tripping penalty gave the Rangers a power play.

The last seven or eight minutes, I know the next goal is going to be a winner, said Lundqvist. It’s going to be really hard to come back from that. So every chance we had or they had, everything was on the line.

That included a two important points in the Eastern Conference standings, as the Rangers moved past the Columbus Blue Jackets into third place in the Metro Division, with 47 points. But it also included permission to look back fondly at the 2018 Winter Classic.

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Nebraska QB Tanner Lee declares for NFL Draft

Tanner Lee will skip his final year of NCAA eligibity as a quarterback with Nebraska.

Lee announced Thursday via Twitter that he has made a decision to declare for the NFL Draft while thanking the Huskers for the opportunity of a lifetime.

After weeks of prayer and consideration with my family, I’ve decided to enter the NFL Draft and pursue an opportunity that I feel is best for myself and my family at this time, Lee wrote.

I cannot thank Husker Nation enough for making it so special. I will be a Husker for life. I want to wish Coach Frost and his staff the best of luck, Nebraska is in great hands.

Frost runs an offense that requires a quarterback who can both run and pass, but Lee is known as a pocket passer and likely would not have been a good fit for Frost’s fast-paced spread system which requires a mobile quarterback.

Lee, who transferred from Tulane in 2016, completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 3,143 yards adding 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions leading the Huskers to a 4-8 finish this season.

The frustration of a disappointing season got the best of the Dolphins (6-10) with 6:21 left, when receiver Jarvis Landry, running back Kenyan Drake and offensive lineman Jake Brendel were ejected following a fight . Landry was cited for disrespecting an official, and Drake for throwing his helmet 20 yards in anger. Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were called against both teams.

The undisciplined Dolphins, who came into the game with the second-most penalties in the NFL, had 14 for 145 yards.

Meanwhile, for the Bills, 17 seasons of frustration ended.

The locker room is electric, man, said guard Richie Incognito, who finished a season above .500 for the first time in his 11-year career. We have been working so hard for this. So much has been said about it. And now the monkey is off our back. We’re in the postseason, and we’ve got new life.

Buffalo punctuated the memorable victory with a 1-yard touchdown run by Williams for the first score of his career.

I thought, `Try not to screw it up. They’re not going to call it again if I screw it up, he said.

He and his teammates celebrated with choreographed back flops in the end zone.

I was a little surprised at the touchdown celebration, Taylor said. I was the only one who wasn’t aware of falling down.

Golf great Jack Nicklaus wore Bills gear and a smile watching from the stands as his grandson, tight end Nick O’Leary, caught Taylor’s 26-yard touchdown pass.

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