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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.

Premier League will lose its most unique player when Mousa Dembele leaves Tottenham

Promising young footballers are regularly compared to a current or former great and it’s usually based upon a couple of attributes: the new Thierry Henry, the new Lionel Messi, the new Ronaldo. They rarely live up to the billing, but it’s a useful shortcut for describing their style. It’s difficult, though, to imagine anyone being an accurate “new Mousa Dembele” — not because the Belgian was so magnificent that no one could possibly come close, but because Dembele is unlike anyone else before or since.
Rewind to summer 2010, when Dembele joined Fulham. They’d just been defeated in the Europa League final, had lost Roy Hodgson to Liverpool and appointed Mark Hughes as their new manager. Dembele was a promising signing, having won the Eredivisie with Louis van Gaal’s AZ, but he was regarded as a forward. The Guardian’s report described him as “the Belgium striker” while noting that “he can also play on the wing.” Hughes said he was “strong and quick, and will add another dimension to our attacking options.”nfl cheap jerseys nike

Dembele came off the bench against Manchester United and then made his full debut at Blackpool, where he played just off Bobby Zamora and assisted both goals in a 2-2 draw. The next weekend he was again Zamora’s strike partner in a home clash with Wolves. Zamora suffered a broken leg in the first half but Dembele came to Fulham’s rescue with two goals, securing a dramatic 2-1 win.

“We hope Moussa can get the goals — there’s a big onus on him now that Bobby’s out,” said Hughes. That made sense: he’d managed two goals in two starts. Yet despite playing the remainder of the season up front, Dembele didn’t manage another goal until his final game of the season, a 5-2 home defeat to Liverpool. In fact, he was so lacking as a goal-scoring threat that his position changed entirely.6

The crucial change came in a home contest against Stoke the following February. When one journalist dared to tweet (presumably having been tipped off by a dressing room source) that Dembele would be starting alongside Danny Murphy in the engine room, he was widely mocked. This was a forward and a relentless dribbler; Fulham played two aggressive wingers. How would Martin Jol, who had replaced Hughes, be brave enough to use him in a midfield duo? But, sure enough, that’s what happened. With new signing Pavel Pogrebnyak playing up front and scoring on debut, Dembele was now a deep central midfielder.

“Dembele was playing in a deeper role than usual and the Belgian was clearly enjoying being able to dictate the play,” read the match report on Fulham’s website.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“Dembele was impressing for the hosts despite playing in an unusual role alongside Danny Murphy in central midfield,” read the Daily Express. “The Belgium international was leading the Stoke defenders a merry dance.”

That set the tone for the rest of Dembele’s Premier League career: opponents found themselves unable to get close. This was 2012, a period when Barcelona still dominated European football and Spain were about to complete their hat-trick of international successes, a period when midfielders were essentially all about passing. But Dembele, while very reliable in possession, was largely about dribbling. It’s difficult to think of another central midfielder so adept at turning away from pressure, at slaloming past opponents to launch a quick break.

India must turn ‘Sorrow of Sharjah’ at Asian Cup into fuel for fire

Japan’s J League started in 1993. At the same time, the national team was doing well in qualification for the 1994 World Cup and what would be a first appearance on the global stage. Going into the final game against Iraq in Qatar, the Samurai Blue just had to win to book their ticket. The goal was duly scored, and at halftime the team’s Dutch coach, Hans Ooft, wrote “45 minutes to the World Cup” on the whiteboard in the dressing room. Iraq equalised soon after the break, but Japan restored their lead and were in front with just seconds to go.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Then it happened. Jaffar Osman Salman rose in the area and his header looped ever so slowly, ever so painfully, over the head of the goalkeeper. Suddenly it was 2-2, Japanese players were sinking to their knees and South Korea, who had already won their game and were lying down on the turf thinking it was all over, were celebrating instead.5

Years later, Ooft theorised that the heartbreak of 1993 had been an important turning point in the history of Japanese football. To have something so valuable in your hands, only to have it snatched away in the cruelest way possible, had two effects.

Qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup was a fine achievement, but that was nothing to thrashing Thailand in the opening game. Thailand have been the dominant team in Southeast Asia, a stronger region than South Asia, for much of this decade. They expected to win comfortably against India with three of their players in the J League, but they lost 4-1. India then went on to face the host United Arab Emirates, the third-placed team from 2015, a team that wasn’t that far from qualifying for last summer’s World Cup and a team a couple of levels above India in Asian terms. The U.A.E., led by former Serie A and Asian Cup-winning coach Alberto Zaccheroni, won 2-0, but India impressed once again and had they been more clinical and the crossbar a little thinner then a deserved point would have come their way.nfl cheap jerseys nike

It left the Blue Tigers needing a point against Bahrain in the final game. When you only need a draw, it can make for a difficult situation. Do you attack, defend or do a bit of both? India defended and did so too deeply. It very nearly worked, but a careless tackle from captain Pronay Halder in the dying seconds prompted the referee to point to the spot.

Oklahoma City Thunder get a lift from the bench against San Antonio Spurs

After a scoreless first half against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, looking out of sorts and showing signs of frustration, he was trying to find some spark, something to ignite him. He’s an emotional, temperamental player, and it wasn’t just the first half against the Spurs. It was the past few games, in which he wasn’t shooting well, wasn’t finishing at the rim and, in his mind, wasn’t helping his team.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

Schroder scored 19 points in the Thunder’s 122-112 win over the Spurs — all in the second half — and did so in the kind of flurry that takes over a game and swings it dramatically in one direction.

His first bucket came with 2:47 left in the third, a patented stutter-step floater in the paint over a leaping Spurs big. A minute later, he pulled confidently from the wing, splashing a 3. A minute after that, he knifed to the rim, took some contact and finished a tough layup. He slapped the floor in frustration, said something to the official and was dinged with a technical. It was just collateral damage to keep the motor running hot. He capped the quarter with a driving layup at the buzzer, helping turn a nine-point halftime deficit to a six-point lead heading to the fourth.6

“I think a lot of times players can lose confidence,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He doesn’t — at all. He almost gets irritated, he gets upset, he gets mad … in a good way.”

Schroder has been a revelation this season coming off the bench, restoring some order to a tried-and-true Thunder method of having a dynamic second-unit scorer and creator to complement Westbrook. But the past few games were rough, with him hitting just 11-of-32 in a three-game losing streak and 19-of-73 (26 percent) in the previous six games. Schroder’s 3-point percentage had been slipping, his shot selection had been growing more questionable, and not coincidentally, his scoring had been down. He felt like he was letting the team down.cheap official nike nfl jerseys

“He wasn’t letting nobody down,” Westbrook said. “He’d missed shots — that’s normal, that’s a part of the game. Tonight he played well, aggressive, made some shots and was big for us.”

Schroder often plays the part of complementing the main course, but he has the ability to feature. He sets the table for the entire second unit, which, as a collective, produced on Saturday. Abdel Nader scored 15 on 6-of-6 shooting, and Patrick Patterson added 13, hitting 3-of-3 from 3.

Sony Michel’s big day bodes well for Patriots against Chiefs

New England Patriots rookie running back Sony Michel had earned a reputation for performing on the biggest stage at the University of Georgia. And in the biggest moment of the Patriots’ season, he delivered a standout performance in a 41-28 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC divisional-round playoff game.

Michel’s emergence couldn’t have come at a more important time, and the Patriots will need it again in next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS).cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Keeping the ball away from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be critical, and Michel — who was supported by bone-crunching fullback James Develin, unsung blocking from tight end Rob Gronkowski and an offensive line determined to impose its will — showed he can be relied upon to be a go-to guy in a playoff game.6

“He had a great game, and he’s just had a great year. He’s just battled and fought hard,” said quarterback Tom Brady. “I really love Sony as a person and his commitment to the team. He’s just been a lot of fun to be out there with, made a lot of hard yards. It’s great to see.”

The 31st overall pick in the draft, Michel finished with 129 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns. He became just the third player in the past 25 postseasons with three rushing touchdowns in the first half of a playoff game, joining Ricky Watters (1993) and LeGarrette Blount (2013).cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Michel also became the only player in the past 25 postseasons with 100 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in the first half of a playoff game. In 2018, only one player had 100 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a single half — Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who was voted second-team All-Pro

Fans who followed Michel at Georgia won’t be surprised, as the humble, soft-spoken 23-year-old was the offensive star of the Bulldogs’ double-overtime win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl last year. He had 11 carries for 181 yards with three touchdowns in that game, along with four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown.

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.

Asian Cup: Qatar, Japan, Uzbekistan win opening games

Qatar and Japan won their opening games at the Asian Cup on Wednesday, but for both teams it’s all about 2022. Quite literally for Qatar, who are hosting the next World Cup that year and scored their first goal at 8:22 p.m. — or 2022 — Qatar time.

Japan’s quest for a record fifth title started with a 3-2 victory over Turkmenistan, while Qatar earned a 2-0 win over Lebanon amid political tension with the host nation.

After giving up an early goal, Japan — who have a young squad that’s been rebuilt with an eye on the next World Cup — scored three in quick succession to turn the game around.

Yuya Osako scored in the 56th and 60th minutes, the latter following a goalkeeping error, and Ritsu Doan made it 3-1 in the 71st.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

Arslanmurat Amanov scored with a long-range shot to give Turkmenistan — the Asian Cup’s second-lowest-ranked team — the lead in the 26th minute. Ahmet Atayev converted a penalty toward the end after a foul by Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda.6

After losing to Belgium in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup, Japan are trying to rebuild. Coach Hajime Moriyasu left some experienced players off the team for the Asian Cup, including midfielder Shinji Kagawa and forward Shinji Okazaki. He is instead giving more prominence to players like Gonda, whose last competitive international game was in 2013.

Japan are unbeaten in six games since the World Cup, five of those victories.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

In the other Group F match, Uzbekistan beat Oman 2-1. Eldor Shomurodov scored the winning goal in the 85th minute.

Uzbekistan finished the match with 10 men after defender Egor Krimets was sent off in stoppage time for fouling an opposing player who was through on goal.

Qatar dominated possession but lacked a cutting edge against Lebanon before Iraqi-born Bassam Al-Rawi curled in a free kick in the 65th. Almoez Ali made it 2-0 from a rebound 14 minutes later.

Earlier, Lebanon thought they had scored their first major-tournament goal since 2000 through Ali Hamam from a corner, but it was ruled out for a foul away from the ball.

Kane reminds Chelsea of what they’re missing as Spurs grab advantage

When Stuart Pearce was England Under-21s manager, he went to visit Pep Guardiola at Barcelona. The two spent a few days together, Guardiola offered various pieces of advice on all aspects of the game, but as the two men parted he turned around and offered one final suggestion: “By the way, get a Messi in your side.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Mauricio Pochettino might say something similar about Harry Kane.

Kane’s first-half penalty was the difference between Tottenham and Chelsea in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semifinal at Wembley on Tuesday. It was a penalty awarded after the VAR ruled Kepa Arrizabalaga had fouled Kane in his area, a ruling that came after Kane’s run was adjudged to have been kept onside by Cesar Azpilicueta. The latter proved controversial, with Maurizio Sarri slamming the decision, citing “the pictures on our camera,” which revealed that “Kane was offside, clearly offside.”5

“I think we deserved more, because in this match we played better than the opponents,” he explained, in plain-enough terms. “We were in control of the match. We played about 70 balls in the opposing box, against 11 balls from Tottenham. Eighteen shots against seven, I think. Five goal opportunities against two.”

All of which is the sort of analysis that you can paint as either a good or a bad thing for Chelsea. Good that they dominated, particularly in parts of the second half, but the fact they didn’t convert that dominance into goals and a victory must be a concern.

Which, in turn, emphasised the glaring difference between the two teams at Wembley. Kane’s goal may have been only a penalty, but where the England captain is concerned, for “penalty” you can read “goal.” He’s missed only one of his past 14, that against Liverpool last season, a failure that dogged him for a full seven minutes before another came along, which he of course buried.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

Those seven minutes perhaps encapsulated one of the main reasons why Kane is so good. It’s like he has one of those memory erasers from “Men In Black,” but rather than making him forget extra-terrestrial encounters, it wipes misses from his brain, freeing him from the self-doubt that might lodge in the brains of others.