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From 4-12 to Super Bowl LIII: This Rams’ turnaround is on Sean McVay

The Rams, to that point, did not have a first down in the game. The Saints had seven and were rolling. The Superdome crowd was so loud, the building was shaking. Rams quarterback Jared Goff put tape over the earholes on his helmet to give him a chance to hear anything. His coach, Sean McVay, sent the punting unit out onto the field with instructions not to punt.new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap

“It goes back to the confidence in the players,” McVay said later. “At that point, I felt like we needed a little bit of momentum.”

Punter Johnny Hekker completed a 12-yard pass to cornerback Sam Shields (no typos there, that’s what actually happened), and something in the game shifted. The Rams would pick up three more first downs on that drive, which ultimately resulted in a field goal and L.A.’s first points of the game.6

“He’s a coach that knows his team,” Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth said in Sunday’s 26-23 overtime win. “He knew we needed to do something to get things going our way, and he believed his team could get it done. That sounds simple, but it’s actually huge.”

A coach can’t coach if he doesn’t know his team, and McVay knows his. Two years into a head-coaching career that began at the inconceivable age of 30, McVay is completely in tune with the roster he already has coached to 26 wins and a conference title. In his short time there, he has helped transform the Rams from a 4-12 mess to a juggernaut. While all of these teams are out here trying to find the “next Sean McVay,” the actual Sean McVay is going to the Super Bowl.cheap official nike nfl jerseys

“Certainly, when we hired him, getting to this part of the mountaintop this soon, that wasn’t something you could imagine,” Rams GM Les Snead said after the game. “The idea was for him to come in and help us create a winning environment, and to create an environment for Jared to succeed. There’s a lot more than goes into a being a head coach than just being a quarterback guru, and obviously we believed he had those qualities.”

Saints, Drew Brees suffer Super disappointment in NFC title game

The top-seeded New Orleans Saints lost their first home playoff game in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era on Sunday with a 26-23 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game, ending the coach and quarterback’s shot at a second Super Bowl together. Here’s a recap of the season and what’s next:

Season grade: Near perfection. The Saints came oh-so-close to their second Super Bowl trip in franchise history — a long nine years after Payton and Brees first hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy. But the Saints ultimately couldn’t hang on Sunday after jumping to a 13-0 lead — thanks in large part to a controversial no-call by the officials on New Orleans’ final drive of regulation. And it was a call Payton said he and the Saints will “probably never get over.”

The Saints made a great run at it, earning the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a 13-3 record, and the age-defying Brees posted the best passer rating of his career this season before turning 40 on Tuesday. But Brees’ interception on the opening drive of overtime set up the Rams’ game-winning field goal. Said Payton: “Man, I was proud of these guys. It’s been a great season, it’s a great group of guys that’s worked extremely hard. To come off a tough loss like we did last year and put ourselves in this position — right there in a position inside the 10-yard line to go to the Super Bowl — I’m proud of every one of ’em.“cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

Season in review: The end was stunning after the Saints felt destined to reach the Super Bowl for most of the season — and for most of Sunday’s game. But now the 2018 season will always be remembered for the officials’ decision to not call pass interference on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman against Tommylee Lewis in the final minutes of regulation and for Brees’ throwing just his third interception in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome all season when he was hit as he threw on the opening drive of overtime.5

Brees acknowledged the loss was even harder to take, knowing he might not get many more chances like this. But he said, “I plan on being here next year and making another run it.”

Brees’ 18th season was one of his best, as he finished the regular season with an NFL-record completion percentage of 74.4 and career-high passer rating of 115.7. He threw for 249 yards with two TDs and the interception on Sunday. At his hottest point, in the middle of the season, he threw a total of 15 TD passes during a four-game stretch in which the Saints averaged 44 points per game. But it wasn’t just “all Brees, all the time” for one of Payton’s most balanced teams yet. The Saints had five players named either first- or second-team All-Pro for the first time in franchise history — including first-team wide receiver Michael Thomas, who set team records with 125 catches and 1,405 yards. And their run defense finished second in the NFL, led by defensive end Cameron Jordan, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and linebacker new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap Demario Davis, among others. The Saints relied on their defense to win several games down the stretch as the offense struggled a bit because of depth issues at receiver and injury issues on the offensive line. The highlight of that defensive surge came when cornerback Marshon Lattimore intercepted two passes in the divisional-round playoff win against Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, that defense couldn’t quite hang on enough after an outstanding start to Sunday’s game. Former Saints receiver Brandin Cooks helped the Rams catch up with two big plays in the second and third quarters. Then, the Rams quickly marched downfield for a game-tying field goal attempt late in regulation and kicked the 57-yard winner in overtime.

Colts enter offseason drama-free for first time since 2014

Former coach Chuck Pagano and former general manager Ryan Grigson’s fractured relationship hurt the franchise, and there was three years of nonstop talk about quarterback Andrew Luck’s right shoulder. All those issues factored into three straight seasons of missing the playoffs.nfl cheap jerseys nike

It was evident the Colts didn’t have to worry about those things this season because they had a new head coach, a general manger with a clear vision and a healthy quarterback.

The result?5

Their best record — 10-6 — since, well, the Colts didn’t have any distractions when they finished 11-5 and reached the AFC Championship Game in 2014.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

“It’s going to be the first normal — if there is such thing as a normal — offseason,” general manager Chris Ballard said. “But it is going to be nice to just be able to dial in, ‘All right, here’s the things we need to get better at.'”

The only coaching change Frank Reich and Ballard have to worry about is finding a new offensive line coach, as Dave DeGuglielmo was fired and assistant offensive line coach Bobby Johnson is headed to the Buffalo Bills.

One of the biggest factors that helps Ballard is that there are no longer any lingering doubts about Luck’s health. It took 25 minutes until Ballard was asked his first question about his quarterback during his 48-minute season-ending news conference this week.

The Colts will have more than $120 million in salary-cap space as they attempt to go from “good” to “great” next season. Ballard was steadfast in saying they will look to sign free agents, but he’ll do it judiciously because he wants to “stay the course” in his desire to build through the draft.

Can Andy Reid rewrite the book on ‘Playoff Andy’?

Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs won a very important football game here Saturday night. Their 31-13 victory over the Colts was the franchise’s first home playoff win in 25 years — since Joe Montana was their quarterback. It came one year and six days after the Chiefs coughed up an 18-point halftime lead and lost a home playoff game to the Titans. Saturday’s win came at the expense of the same quarterback — Andrew Luck — who engineered a 28-point second-half comeback to beat them in a playoff game five years ago, in Reid’s first season as Chiefs coach. This was a demon-exorcising victory, and Reid knew it.

“I’m into history; I love history if it makes you better,” Reid said. “That was the important thing for our guys — don’t get caught up on all the stuff that happened in the past. They’re out in the community. I’m not. I’m locked down in my office, so I don’t hear all that stuff, but they’re actually out there. So just keep it positive and move forward.”china nike nfl jerseys cheap

But the moving forward matters when you’re talking about the Chiefs in January — and when you’re talking about Andy Reid in January. There have been too many collapses, too many near misses, too many teams that were too good to go home as early as they did, for that not to be a part of these twin stories. The Chiefs always blow it in the playoffs. Reid always blows it in the playoffs. Death, taxes and those two things.5

So the fact that Reid’s Chiefs won Saturday matters, because it means they host the AFC Championship Game next week. Win one home game, Andy Reid, and you go to the Super Bowl for the second time in your otherwise brilliant 20-year head-coaching career. Win one home game, Chiefs, and you go to the Super Bowl for the first time in 49 years. Decades of frigid frustration sit 60 good minutes away from erasure.

“This is a new era, new team, new mindset,” Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones insisted. “We’re changing the culture around here.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

They might be. Spending the week before the game in this town, I expected to find Chiefs fans gnawing their fingernails to the nubs with memories of last year, five years ago, all those playoff disappointments. But fans felt pretty good about this game, and as lifelong Chiefs fan Allen Roberson told me Wednesday night, “Mahomes is the difference.”

That would be young Patrick Mahomes, the 23-year-old superstar quarterback to whom Reid turned over his playoff team a year ago without any guarantees that he could handle it. The Chiefs made last year’s playoffs with Alex Smith at quarterback, and even after Smith’s career year, they traded him to Washington the week of the Super Bowl, anointing Mahomes the starter after a rookie year spent sitting on the bench.

‘Money Badger’ Michael Badgley continues to make clutch kicks for Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers kicker Michael Badgley is playing postseason football in January for the first time, and enjoying every minute of it.

“It’s the playoffs,” Badgley said. “During the regular season, every point matters. But in the playoffs they matter even more. With the team we’ve got, as long as I can go out there and get my side of the job done, we’re definitely a threat, so it’s awesome.”

An undrafted rookie out of the University of Miami, Badgley at this time last year was beginning his pre-draft preparation.

But fast forward to this year, and Badgley has been the soothing balm to the Chargers’ kicking woes.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

In his latest effort, Badgley buried a franchise postseason-record five field goals, including a long of 53 yards, in his team’s 23-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. He’ll be called on again this Sunday when the Chargers play at the New England Patriots in a division-round game.5
Because of his clutch performances, Badgley earned the nickname the “Money Badger” from Chargers fans on Twitter.

“I have a lot of confidence in that young man because he has a lot of confidence in himself,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said.

Badgley said one of the reasons for his success is the meaningful relationships he’s quickly developed in the locker room, starting with veteran punter Donnie Jones and long-snapper Mike Windt, and expanding to the rest of the team.new nike nfl jerseys cheap

“Just in the locker room, becoming friends with everybody,” Badgley said. “And then when I go out there and get the extra point or the field goal, that makes more of a difference than a lot of people know.

“So it’s awesome with the locker room and camaraderie we’ve got with the whole team. It starts day one when you first get in. You have no idea, but you’re looking around like, ‘Oh, there’s Philip [Rivers] and there’s Antonio [Gates].’ It’s one of those things where you want to just make the kicks and develop trust.”

Raiders shut out of Pro Bowl for second time in franchise history

Sure, Robert Mueller is busy at the moment, but Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden might want to drop the special counsel a line.

“If he’s not a Pro Bowler,” Gruden said of Raiders tight end Jared Cook last week, “I hope there’s an investigation.”

Not only was Cook snubbed, but so too was center Rodney Hudson, who had gone to the NFL’s all-star game after each of the previous two seasons and is having the best season of his career.

In fact, for the first time since 2003 and for just the second time in franchise history, the Raiders had no players selected for the Pro Bowl. Cook, Hudson and left guard Kelechi Osemele were named as alternates for the AFC squad.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

Raiders offensive lineman Jon Feliciano let his feelings on the snubs known on Twitter.6

This is what happens to 3-11 teams. But this is not what is supposed to happen to teams coached by Gruden, right?

Hudson has not given up a sack and ranks first in pass-blocking efficiency and sixth in run-blocking, per Pro Football Focus. He was bypassed in favor of the Pouncey brothers, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Maurkice and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Mike.

Cook, meanwhile, has career highs in receptions (63), receiving yards (848) and touchdown catches (6) and was passed over in favor of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce (93-1,220-10) and the Indianapolis Colts’ Eric Ebron (59-662-12).

Keep this in mind, though, because while the Raiders are in last place in their division, the Steelers, Chargers, Chiefs and Colts are all in the playoff race.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

It was a similar situation for struggling Raiders teams in 1989, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2014, when they had one player selected in defensive lineman Howie Long, punter Shane Lechler, defensive end Derrick Burgess, Lechler and fullback Marcell Reece (three straight years).

Two years ago on this date, the Raiders were 11-3 and led the NFL with seven Pro Bowl selections. No investigation is needed to figure out what has happened in Oakland since.

Light Patriots Pro Bowl class highlights need for blue-chip talent boost

Quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Stephon Gilmore are the New England Patriots’ only Pro Bowlers in 2018, which is the team’s lowest total since 2008, the last time the franchise didn’t qualify for the playoffs.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

While the Pro Bowl isn’t always the most accurate barometer of success, the light Patriots class does serve up a reminder of sorts as it pertains to the future health of the club: More blue-chip talent is needed. It would be even better if it is homegrown blue-chip talent.5
Such an infusion of youth and talent is needed after drafts in 2016 and 2017 haven’t provided as much in that regard. The 2015 class, with defensive end Trey Flowers and right guard Shaq Mason, was better.

It was Brady’s 14th overall selection, tying him with Peyton Manning, Tony Gonzalez, Bruce Matthews and Merlin Olsen for most in NFL history, and it’s his 10th straight, which is the longest active streak.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

Gilmore’s selection serves as a reminder that the Patriots made a shrewd move to pounce on him as an unrestricted free agent in the 2017 offseason, opening up their financial vault with a five-year, $65 million deal. They essentially chose Gilmore over Butler, and it was the right call from a long-range team-building standpoint. Gilmore is the more well-rounded player, with the ability to match up against a wider variety of receivers.

To land high-end talent on the free-agent market like Gilmore, it costs a premium, and that’s not a sustainable approach on a yearly basis.

So the most effective way to go is drafting and developing.

The Patriots, with their lightest Pro Bowl class in the last decade, would greatly benefit from a boost in that area.

Tevin Coleman’s career day gives Falcons something to ponder

All Coleman could control was how he performed with nothing except pride on the line. His 5-9 Atlanta Falcons were officially eliminated from the playoffs Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Miami Dolphins. Yet despite the Falcons’ losing record, Coleman played with sense of purpose, as if something was on the line during a 40-14 win over the Cardinals. Perhaps he was playing for his future.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

Coleman’s career-high 145 rushing yards and on 11 carries, including a career-long 65-yard sprint and a 43-yard touchdown run, came in the midst of an important evaluation period. It was just the second time Coleman has rushed for 100 yards this season and the Falcons averaged a league-low 81.2 rushing yards per game entering the day. Maybe Coleman, now in his fourth year, didn’t do enough to catapult into consideration as the team’s primary back of the future, but his explosive burst through the gaping holes gave the Falcons something to ponder.6

The Falcons have a well-documented decision to make regarding how they want to proceed at running back. Two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman, who has missed most of the season following groin surgery, is likely to remain the No. 1 guy — when healthy — with four years and $24.75 million left on his contract. It seems unlikely Freeman will return this season, although coach Dan Quinn didn’t it rule it out, with Freeman eligible to return off injured reserve next Sunday.

The Falcons have a variety of decisions to weigh leading into 2019, and Coleman isn’t the only player trying to make a strong impression before this season concludes. Defensive end Vic Beasley Jr., the eighth-overall pick in 2015, has been widely criticized for his lack of production after posting a league-high 15.5 sacks in 2016. But Beasley, who hopes to secure a long-term contract with his contract expiring, has shown flashes in recent weeks. He deflected two Josh Rosen passes in Sunday’s win. Teammate Deion Jones intercepted one of those tips and returned it 41 yards for a momentum-shifting touchdown. Beasley also had one of the Falcons’ season-high seven sacks.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

“Every game, my goal is to make a statement, to show the team, coaches, fans what I’m capable of,” Beasley said. “With it being the end of the year, and our season hasn’t gone the way [we] wanted it to go, that makes it even more of a challenge for us.”

There were others who deserved high marks. Defensive end Bruce Irvin, who was released by Oakland before signing with his hometown Falcons, had 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss and three quarterback hits as he tries to secure at least another year with the team. Wide receiver Justin Hardy, in the last year of his deal, caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Ryan.

Colts are a team nobody wants to face in playoffs after blanking Cowboys

Need further proof the Indianapolis Colts are a team nobody would want to face if they make the playoffs?

Beat a Houston team on a nine-game winning streak? Check.

Beat a Dallas team on a five-game winning streak the following week? Did that, too.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

And what made ending the winning streaks of the Texans and Cowboys even more impressive? The Colts used different blueprints for success.

The Colts used Andrew Luck’s arm in one game and then switched it up with an impressive running game and their best defensive performance of the season against the Cowboys.5

That’s a recipe for a team that’s capable of winning in any facet — and why the Colts have won seven of their past eight games and posted their first shutout in more than four years by blanking the surging Cowboys 23-0 on Sunday.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

The Colts (8-6) have also continually talked about not worrying about what other teams in the playoff hunt are doing because it does them no good if they take care of their own business.

Winning the AFC South is major obstacle for them because they trail the Texans by two games with two games left in the season. But making the playoffs as a wild-card team is right there in Indianapolis’ sight, depending on what teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore do the rest of the season. The Colts haven’t been to the playoffs since 2014.

“We’re playing great football,” receiver T.Y. Hilton said. “Right now you’re either the train or you’re on the tracks. Right now we’re rolling, so you better get on the train.”

The NFL’s odd offensive holding blip: What happened

On the other hand, the spikes we have seen this season are unusual and not necessarily the result of judgment errors or poor technique by players.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale They are intentional, purposeful changes in enforcement. The league has acknowledged some and been silent on others.

It began in the preseason with a two-stage slowdown in calling the new use of helmet rule. The league issued a clarification after officials threw 51 such flags in the first 33 preseason games. There were only 20 calls over the final 32 preseason games, and then just eight in the first 12 weeks of the regular season.6

In Week 4, the league announced a clarification to stem a wave of roughing the passer flags. After calling an average of 11.3 per week in the first three weeks, officials slowed its pace by about 45 percent to an average of six per week.

The holding extravaganza was less public, though. Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira said on Fox Sports during Week 14’s Thursday Night Football game between the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars that the league had issued a “point of emphasis” and was “trying to get more holding calls.” The league would not confirm this when I inquired.

The motivation behind the holding spike is less clear. Why would the league want to make it harder for linemen to protect quarterbacks in a year of unprecedented passing numbers and improved television ratings?cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Entering Week 13, the league was about 10 percent below last season’s pace on offensive holding calls. But after 14 weeks, the numbers are almost identical. There have been 691 holding calls this season, compared with 690 calls at this point in 2017.

Is it possible that NFL players are holding at the exact same rate as they did in 2017? Perhaps. But what’s clear is that the foul is now being officiated at precisely the same rate.

Considering that offensive holding is the most common NFL penalty at this moment, it’s worth pointing out a larger trend. In 2014, NFL officials threw a total of 4,093 flags for all types of penalties.